Top Muscle-Building Foods: Your Complete Nutritional Guide

Top Muscle-Building Foods: Your Complete Nutritional Guide
December 30, 2023
Viking Beast

So… you want to build some (or a lot of) muscle? That’s awesome.

I assume you want to change up your diet and learn about the best foods to build muscle. Well, you’ve come to the right place!

There are a lot of “top 25 muscle-building foods” articles out there, but in my opinion, these leave you without much practical information.

I’m going to take a different approach.

Allow me to take you on a journey of not only a complete list of the best foods to build muscle, but a complete overview of what to do to support your muscle-building gym efforts.

Eating enough calories to build muscle

Let me start with the basics of building muscle.

No matter which foods you’re going to eat from the complete list below, you won't build any significant muscle without enough calories.

If your body needs 3000 calories to repair your muscles and make them stronger after a hard gym session, but you’re only eating 2000 calories then it doesn’t matter which foods you eat.

You won’t achieve your goal of building a lot of muscle.

I see people make this mistake all the time. They go to the gym 3-6 days a week and I see them working out HARD, but even after years of training their bodies don’t change.

Don’t make this mistake.

You can find an estimate of how many calories your body needs to sustain the same weight using an online calorie calculator.

Simply search for a calorie calculator in Google.

Just add 100-300 calories to this number and see if you’re making progress.

If you’re gaining fat, then start eating less. If you’re not gaining muscle and strength add 100-300 calories again.

Note: you don’t need to eat more than 100-300 calories over your maintenance number of calories. A “dirty” bulk (eating 500-1000+ calories over your number of maintenance calories) is useless. It won’t help you build more muscles, you’ll just gain a lot more fat. I’ve been there and done that, so trust me on this one.

The three fundamental food types to build muscle

Everybody has probably heard that you need a lot of protein to build muscle. This is true and you should eat protein to maximize your gym results.

However, protein is not the only thing you need, which is why I hate those top “25 muscle-building foods” lists containing mostly just high-protein foods.

What you need to achieve your desired muscle growth is a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Why you might ask? Well, fair question.

Why foods high in protein will help you build muscle

A delicious chicken recipe

When you go to the gym and destroy the weights, you destroy your muscles a little bit as well.

When you’ve completed a workout, there will be micro-tears in your muscles.

The protein (more specifically amino acids) in food will help to repair your muscles and make them grow, so next time your muscles will be better prepared to handle the weights you lifted during that workout.

You need muscle-building foods high in protein to maximize your gym results.

Why foods high in carbohydrates will help you build muscle

Three loafs of bread

While you’re smashing your workout in the gym, your body has a desperate need for energy. That energy has to come from somewhere.

Now what we don’t want is that your body is getting that energy by breaking down your muscle tissue.

That’s where the carbohydrates from food come into play. By eating carbohydrates your body will have a different energy source “glycogen” available to use instead. So, these foods are just plain out amazing, because they’re muscle-sparing.

You need muscle-building foods high in carbohydrates to maximize your gym results.

Oh, and carbs taste good. Pancakes rule the world (no you can’t change my mind).

Why foods high in fats will help you build muscle

A lot of almonds

When you see a huge bodybuilder on your phone or elsewhere, the first thing you probably think to yourself is “steroids”, right?

While that’s more likely than not to be the truth, there’s no doubt that having high levels of testosterone and growth hormone in your body is good for muscle growth.

Well, eating foods that contain “healthy” fats can increase the good “HDL” cholesterol in your body.

This will in turn increase the growth hormone your body releases, which then also increases the available amino acids, that you need to build muscle.

Fats help you to keep healthy hormone levels, which are extremely important inside and outside the gym.

You need muscle-building foods high in fat to maximize your gym results.

Well, that’s all great, but now just tell me which foods I can eat.

Best protein sources to build muscle

Best animal-based foods to build muscle

  • Eggs
  • Chicken, turkey
  • Salmon, tuna, kinds of seafood (fish, lobsters, etc.)
  • Greek yogurt, Cottage cheese
  • Milk
  • Beef jerky
  • Whey protein powder, isolate protein powder
  • Lean beef, lean pork
  • Bison
  • Certain cheeses.

Note: Greek yogurt has slow-released proteins (casein protein), which is ideal at night, so you can optimally build muscle during your sleep.

Best plant-based food to build muscle

  • Edamame
  • Quinoa
  • Chickpeas
  • Tofu
  • Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds
  • Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.
  • Lentils
  • Beans, black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, etc.
  • Soy protein powder, soy milk, vegan protein powder
  • High protein vegetables (broccoli, spinach, etc.)
  • Tempeh

Best carb sources to build muscle

Extra (complex carbs) health

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oats, quinoa
  • Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta

Other good (simple carbs) sources

  • Cereal
  • Rice, rice cakes
  • Regular bread/pasta
  • Pancakes
  • Bagels
  • Muffins
  • Mashed potatoes, etc.

Note: if you’re struggling to get in calories, then simple carbs will be your friend because they’re easier to digest and eat at higher volumes.

Best fat sources to build muscle

  • Fatty fishes (omega 3-6)
  • Eggs
  • Seeds (chia, pumping, etc.)
  • Nuts (peanuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.)
  • Nut butter (peanut butter, almond, etc.)
  • Butter
  • Healthy oils (olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, etc.)
  • Cacao (80%+ chocolate or powder).

How much to eat from each source?

So, my guesses are you got pretty hungry looking at so much food.

But the question remains, how much of these foods should you eat to build muscle?

A simple guideline to follow here is to keep your protein intake at around 1.8-2.2 grams per kg or 1 gram per lb. of bodyweight.

Keep your fat intake above 20% of your total calories for the day. This amount is the bare minimum your body needs to function properly.

You can play freely with carbohydrates and fats, to see what you like most.

An example

A male, around 90kg or 200lbs, needs 3000 calories a day to build muscle.

200 grams of proteins (200 grams * 4 calories/gram) = 800 calories or 200 grams of protein.

30% fat intake of daily calories (3000 calories * 30%) = 900 calories

Fat is 9 calories/gram (900 calories / 9 calories/gram) = 100 grams of fats.

Remaining calories from carbohydrates (3000 calories - 800 calories - 900 calories) = 1300 calories of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are 4 calories/gram (1300 calories / 4 calories/gram) = 325 gram of carbohydrates.

Final words

The end of an article, but another step in your muscle-building journey.

I hope I’ve been able to give you more, than just a complete list of the best foods to build muscle.

A short recap: eat enough food, the three fundamental macronutrients are all important (protein, carbohydrates, and fats), a list of the best foods to eat for each, and how to divide your calories for optimally building muscle.

I have just one wish for you left. May the muscle gods be generous on your journey.

What’s your favorite muscle-building food?