20 Muscle Building Foods for a Bigger, Stronger You

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Individuals need to focus on both nutrition and resistance training to build muscle. Choose foods rich in protein and low in saturated fat to support muscle building, replenish nutrients, and prevent fatigue. While protein is crucial, don't overlook the importance of carbohydrates and fats for energy.

Balancing nutrition and physical activity is key to achieving your muscle goals. Challenging your body through exercise is essential, but without proper nutritional support, sustained progress is hindered. Here, we highlight the top 20 muscle-building foods rich in protein, including options suitable for a plant-based diet.

1. Almonds

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When it comes to snacks, almonds serve as one of the most muscle-friendly options. Just one ounce (28 grams) of roasted almonds offers 6 grams of protein along with substantial amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E. They are also high in fiber, which is known to enhance feelings of fullness.

Vitamin E helps repair cellular damage caused by exercise, while phosphorus aids your body in using carbohydrates and fats for energy both at rest and during exercise. However, consider consuming almonds in moderation due to their high-calorie content, with just half a cup of blanched almonds providing more than 400 calories.

2. Buckwheat

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Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat; it's not even a grain but rather a seed that can be ground into flour and used as a substitute for traditional flour. As a plant-based complete protein, cooked buckwheat groats boasts approximately 6 grams of protein per one cup (168 grams) serving.

Buckwheat also provides plenty of fiber, carbohydrates, and significant amounts of phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and B vitamins. The impressive vitamins and minerals profile of buckwheat contributes to maintaining overall health and supports the body in performing muscle-building exercises.

3. Chicken Breast

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A bodybuilding staple, a 100-gram serving of cooked chicken breast (meat only) supplies 31 grams of high-quality protein. It is also rich in essential B vitamins such as niacin and B6, particularly vital for those leading an active lifestyle.

These vitamins play a key role in supporting proper bodily functions during physical exercise, a critical factor for optimal muscle gain. What's more, chicken breast is also high in selenium, which protects against cell damage caused by free radicals generated during workouts.

4. Chickpeas

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Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, serve as a rich source of protein and carbohydrates. Just one cup (164 grams) serving of canned chickpeas offers around 15 grams of protein and 45 grams of carbs, making them an ideal option for individuals following plant-based diets and seeking to gain muscle.

While the protein in chickpeas is considered lower in quality compared to animal sources, it still plays a valuable role in a balanced muscle-building diet. Chickpeas can be enjoyed in various forms, whether canned, dried, and soaked, or as part of prepared dishes like dahl.

5. Cottage Cheese

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A single cup (226 grams) of low-fat cottage cheese delivers a substantial 28 grams of protein, including a significant amount of the crucial muscle-building amino acid leucine. It is also rich in slow-digesting dairy protein casein, making it a popular choice for consumption before bedtime.

During sleep, muscles undergo repair; however, after a few hours, a fasting process begins, causing the body to break down muscles for energy. Cottage cheese facilitates a sustained release of amino acids throughout the night.

6. Eggs

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Whole eggs, in particular, are considered a protein synthesis powerhouse. Eating whole eggs after a workout is believed to elicit a 40 percent greater muscle-building response compared to consuming egg whites alone.

Eggs are a rich source of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and essential nutrients like B vitamins and choline. The significant presence of the amino acid leucine in eggs is crucial for promoting muscle gain. Moreover, B vitamins play a critical role in various processes in the body, including energy production.

7. Greek Yogurt

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Greek yogurt is packed with both fast-digesting whey protein and slow-digesting casein protein, providing around 10 grams of protein per 100-gram serving. Some research indicates that the combination of fast- and slow-digesting dairy proteins may lead to increases in lean mass.

Additionally, Greek yogurt serves as a good source of vitamin D, which promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is essential for muscle contractions, while phosphorus plays a crucial role in the production of ATP, a form of energy utilized by the body.

8. Lean Beef

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A 100-gram serving of cooked 85% lean ground beef boasts 26 grams of protein, making beef a longstanding and ideal choice for muscle-building foods. It contains a favorable combination of muscle-building proteins, including essential amino acids, creatine, and B vitamins.

Research suggests that incorporating lean red meat into one's diet can enhance the amount of lean mass gained through weight training. When aiming for muscle gain, it's advisable to choose beef that supports this goal without introducing excessive calories.

9. Lentils

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One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils offers 18 grams of protein and 40 grams of slow-digesting, high-quality carbohydrates. This makes lentils an excellent protein source for those focused on a plant-based diet. Achieving a balanced amino acid profile is possible by combining lentils with whole grains, such as brown rice.

Lentils are not only nutritious but also cost-effective and have a long shelf life. With a quick cooking time of just 10 minutes, they can be easily incorporated into various dishes -mixed with brown rice, sprinkled over a salad, or enjoyed as a standalone side dish.

10. Oysters

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With approximately 20 grams of protein and only 5 grams of fat per 100-gram serving, oysters boast an impressive nutritional profile. Notably, oysters contain over eight times more iron and nearly 50 times the amount of zinc (around 5.3 mg per medium-sized mollusk) compared to chicken.

Oysters stand out as a rich source of zinc, surpassing any other food. Similar to magnesium, zinc is a crucial mineral for protein synthesis, making oysters a top food choice for supporting muscle growth.

11. Pork Tenderloin

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Pork tenderloin, a boneless cut of meat from the loin, offers a substantial 23.1 grams of protein and just 2 grams of fat per 4-ounce (113 grams) serving. Research indicates that pork shares muscle-building effects similar to those of other protein-rich foods like beef and chicken.

Furthermore, a single serving of pork tenderloin provides around a third of your daily vitamin B2 requirements, a vital nutrient for breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It is widely available, easy to prepare, and a convenient option for grilling.

12. Protein Powder

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A well-rounded diet should primarily focus on whole foods, but there are times when dietary supplements can be advantageous. If obtaining sufficient protein from food sources is challenging, adding protein shakes to your daily routine can be a helpful solution.

Among the most popular are dairy protein powders, including whey and casein. Other protein powders use sources such as soy, pea, chicken, or beef protein. Whey protein, in particular, naturally contains all 20 amino acids, making it an easily digestible and suitable choice for post-workout supplementation.

13. Quinoa

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Quinoa is exceptionally nutritional with high protein, balanced amino acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and it's gluten-free. While protein is essential for building lean muscle, having the energy to stay active is also necessary, and carbohydrates in foods can help provide this energy.

A cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa provides about 40 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and substantial amounts of magnesium and phosphorus. Magnesium is crucial for the proper functioning of muscles and nerves, essential components every time you engage in movement.

14. Salmon

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A 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of salmon delivers around 17 grams of protein, 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, and various B vitamins, making it an excellent option for both muscle building and overall health. Omega-3 fatty acids promote muscular health and may help increase muscle gain during exercise.

Some research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may enhance insulin sensitivity, leading to reduced levels of insulin circulating in the bloodstream. This is beneficial as insulin is associated with promoting fat storage.

15. Seeds

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Seeds are a nutrient-dense food, offering healthy fats, fiber, and minerals like zinc and magnesium. A cup (128 grams) of roasted sunflower seeds provides 24.7 grams of protein, while a cup (129 grams) of roasted pumpkin and squash seeds contains around 39 grams of protein.

Additionally, seeds like chia seeds and flax seeds are also beneficial for muscle building. Incorporate seeds into your diet by enjoying them as a snack or sprinkling them on salads, breakfasts, or vegetables.

16. Shrimp

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Shrimp is almost pure protein, offering 19 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbs, and 1.44 grams of fat in each 3-ounce (85-gram) serving. Adding shrimp to your diet is a simple way to obtain muscle-building protein without consuming too many additional calories.

Similar to many other animal proteins, shrimp is rich in the amino acid leucine, essential for optimal muscle growth. Despite its association with holiday gatherings and cocktail parties, shrimp is a humble source of lean protein in a virtually fat-free package.

17. Tuna

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Tuna offers around 30 grams of protein in each 100-gram serving, along with substantial amounts of vitamin A and various B vitamins including niacin, B6, and B12. Additionally, tuna provides essential omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients play a crucial role in promoting optimal health, sustaining energy levels, and enhancing exercise performance.

Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may have benefits in improving muscle size and strength while slowing the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. This makes omega-3 fatty acids particularly important for older adults.

18. Turkey Breast

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Turkey breast is a significant source of protein, offering 30 grams of protein per 100 grams when cooked. The same serving provides 32 mg of magnesium, making it an impressive addition to a health-promoting meal plan.

Low levels of magnesium have been associated with muscle cramps and depression, as noted in a review published by Pharmacological Reports. Turkey breast is high in zinc, another essential mineral that supports protein synthesis and helps maintain healthy levels of testosterone in the body.

19. Walnuts

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Just 100 grams of chopped walnut halves offer 15.2 grams of protein and 9 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, potentially contributing to muscle building. Additionally, walnuts are rich in vitamin E, with research suggesting that this vitamin may provide protection against physical stress during exercise.

Furthermore, walnuts present an impressive combination of phytosterols, healthy monounsaturated fats, and the amino acid l-arginine. This unique blend contributes to increased calories and high levels of nitric oxide, a natural substance in the body that aids in stimulating muscle recovery and growth.

20. Venison

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Venison, like other game meats, is lean, protein-rich, and surprisingly tasty. A mere 100 grams of cooked venison contains 30 grams of protein with very little fat.  Venison also contains L-glutamine, an amino acid that aids in muscle recovery and reduces soreness.

In a study conducted in Canada, supplementation with L-glutamine was observed to accelerate recovery and reduce muscle soreness after exercise in 16 participants. Nevertheless, additional studies are necessary to further explore and confirm these findings.

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