22 Best Muscle Building Foods (Eat Your Way to a Lean Mass)

Working out is the way to build muscle, but in reality, it’s only half the battle. Nutrition is paramount when it comes to building muscle mass.

If you neglect one or the other, you will likely end up with unsatisfactory results.

Not all foods are created equal, some are loaded with natural goodness and vitamins, others have plenty of protein, and some are artificial and contain nothing useful for the growth of our body.

The following 22 foods are all exceptional for building muscle, and the more of them you can incorporate into your diet, the better.

TOP 22 Best Muscle Building Foods

vegetable salad on plate

Chicken Breast

The staple of many bodybuilding diets, chicken is a very popular food in the fitness community.

But what makes it so great for building muscle mass?

In a nutshell: the amount of protein it contains.

Chicken is a protein-rich food, making it a fantastic choice to add to any lunch or dinner. Add to that the fact that it’s quite bland on its own, and you have a food that’s always palatable, and one which can be flavored in any way you like.

Protein is so important for building muscle since it is needed by the body to build and repair tissues. This makes it invaluable in the pursuit of big muscles, as it will speed up the process, helping break down and rebuild the muscles during recovery.

If you’re a Crossfitter I’m sure you’ll be all too familiar with chicken in your diet, but if you need some help forming a solid diet plan for CrossFit, then we’ve got you covered.

In a 100g chicken breast, you can expect an impressive 31g of protein, which is more than enough to keep you full and give your body what it needs to grow stronger.

Eggs

Not only does the humble chicken provide us with a wonderful source of protein for building muscle, but it also blesses us with incredibly nutritional eggs too.

Much like the chickens, they came from, eggs are a quality source of protein. This makes them a good option for any meal from breakfast to dinner, including snacks.

In fact, that’s what makes eggs such an attractive option for a muscle-building diet, their versatility. It’s hard to get bored with the food that can be enjoyed in so many different ways.

You can have them boiled, scrambled, fried, or even in an omelet for plenty of vitamin-rich vegetables!

In addition to the protein, eggs are also a great source of a range of important vitamins, and minerals like calcium, and iron. All of this contributes to making muscle-building food to rival all others.

1 egg typically contains 6g of protein, which might not seem like a lot, but it is considering the size. Plus, when was the last time you ate just 1 egg in a single sitting?

sliced eggs on top of green salad with bread

Lean Beef

Next up, an often underrated food when it comes to muscle-building, we have lean beef.

A food which is more often than not snubbed in favor of chicken, lean beef can hold its own in the protein and muscle-building stakes.

On top of the high protein content, lean beef is full of B vitamins, minerals, and the highly sought-after muscle-building substance of creatine.

Lean beef is a better option than its more fatty counterpart, since it contains much less fat, and its lean nature means it will add up to less calories. This makes it great for portions, meaning you can eat more lean beef than you would be able to regular beef.

100g of lean beef will give you roughly 26g of protein, which is substantial, and not too far away from the chicken breast.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is the best-kept secret when it comes to quality muscle-building foods.

But what makes cottage cheese deserving of its top 5 position in this list?

Well, as with the other foods that are great for developing muscle mass, this is one food that is packed with protein. A personal favorite of mine, I love cottage cheese because it’s something that requires little to no preparation and can be eaten straight after a workout.

If you like cheese at all, this should be your go-to post-workout recovery food. Add some salt, herbs, and throw in a couple of cherry tomatoes for a great-tasting protein-rich snack.

Cottage cheese is also a rich source of B vitamins, zinc, calcium, and other minerals.

100g of cottage cheese will give you a generous 11g of protein, which, considering how quick and easy it is to consume as a snack, makes it a very efficient muscle-building food to add to your diet.

Salmon

The first type of fish on this list, salmon certainly won’t be the last, given how healthy seafood is and the muscle-building benefits it provides.

Out of the best foods for building muscle, salmon is arguably one of the healthiest all-around and tastiest.

Aside from solid protein count found in salmon, the pink fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids.

You may have heard of them before, but what exactly are omega-3 fatty acids?

Falling under the category of good fats, omega-3 fatty acids are found in natural foods from vegetables to fish, which will boost your immune system and positively contribute to your overall health.

100g of salmon will give you around 20g of protein, among plenty of other healthy minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.

If you want a really killer muscle-building breakfast or lunch, cook up some creamy scrambled eggs with toast, and slice up some fresh salmon to have on top.

Eating foods that help build muscle doesn’t need to be boring, or difficult, and this dish proves just that.

grilled salmon fish on plate

Greek Yogurt

Like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt is a great snack idea for those moments when you need something easy and satiating.

Aside from being a great snack, Greek yogurt has around double the quantity of protein than a normal yogurt does. This staggering statistic sheds light on Greek yogurt as one of the best sources of protein out there to eat any time of day.

Being a dairy product, Greek yogurt has the benefit of containing both whey and casein protein, which are digested at different speeds. Having both of these at the same time is a surefire way to ensure your recovery period is as fruitful as the workout that preceded it.

In 100g of Greek yogurt, you can expect to take on 10g of protein, along with generous amounts of calcium, iodine, vitamin B-12, and probiotics which will keep your gut healthy.

For a truly irresistible snack, empty a pot of Greek yogurt into a bowl, then slice and add bananas, almonds, and a generous drizzle of honey.

Whey Protein Powder

A popular option with regular gym-goers, whey protein powder is taken with water or milk as a quick and efficient way of topping up on protein post-workout.

A minimal-fuss option, for those who prefer not to spend too much time in the kitchen after a workout, whey protein powder is one of the best muscle-building foods for that reason.

While we’re on the subject of muscle-building powders, take a quick look at some of the best protein powders on the market, and see if you fancy investing in some today.

This is also a great option for anyone who struggles to reach the required protein intake each day, due to time constraints or whatever else it may be. Whey protein powder can ensure you get your daily protein whatever the circumstances.

Finally, whey protein powder comes in all kinds of weird and wonderful flavors, so that should be helpful to keep it interesting and appetizing enough to form a regular part of your diet.

If you’re skinnier than you’d like to be and you’re looking to bulk up using convenient protein powder, check out our article on the best mass gainers for skinny guys.

white jar with whey protein powder

Tuna

The second fish option on this list, tuna is one of the better high protein foods for muscle building.

Each tin of tuna comes packed with enough protein to keep you going for hours, as well as a variety of essential vitamins like vitamins A, B12, and B6. These vitamins will help you push your limits during your next workout, as they will give you that extra energy needed to perform at your best.

As well as providing plenty of protein, tuna (like salmon) is a fantastic source of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are so important for maintaining good health.

Tuna is very versatile in how you can eat it, which is one of my favorite things about it. Not only is it one of the best foods to gain muscle mass, but it goes great with many other foods.

Tuna is a great simple source of protein which can be added to almost any carbohydrate for a great-tasting nutritional snack.

In 100g of tuna, you will be looking at around 29g of protein, which is a very high number considering its ready to eat straight out of the tin!

Kidney Beans

The first legume to appear on the list, kidney beans are one of the great foods to eat to gain muscle, since they can be used to bulk out meals.

The high fiber and protein content of kidney beans makes them a fantastic muscle-building food will keep you feeling fuller for longer.

My favorite thing about kidney beans is how easy they are to incorporate into a lot of dishes. Whenever you need more bulk in a meal, or an extra dose of protein, kidney beans are there for you.

As well as how well they can be used in the kitchen, kidney beans contain plenty of healthy vitamins and minerals, including iron, manganese, and folate.

In a 100g serving of kidney beans, you will get around 24g of protein. This is a huge amount, especially considering you will probably add another source of protein, like chicken, for a complete bodybuilding meal.

Chocolate Milk

Yes, that’s right, chocolate milk is one of the good muscle building foods out there!

I know it sounds too good to be true, but chocolate milk is a surprisingly good way to up your protein intake, and build muscle.

A better option for post-workout recovery than other sports drinks, you can feel like every day is a cheat day with chocolate milk, but without the guilt.

Drinking chocolate milk after a grueling workout session, with its balance of carbohydrates and proteins, will aid with muscle growth during the recovery period.

Plus, as well as containing plenty of protein and carbohydrates, chocolate milk also has electrolytes which can boost performance during a workout. So not only does it make a great post-workout muscle-building treat, but it’s also an effective pre-workout.

It also contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and a handful of healthy vitamins. What’s not to love?!

A 100ml glass of chocolate milk should provide around 3g of high-quality protein, along with the additional benefits we just outlined.

man drinking protein shake at the crossfit gym

Quinoa

There is more to building muscle than just protein, and quinoa is an example of how you can use food to boost your performance in the gym and take your personal bests to new heights.

A good measure of quinoa in a healthy salad packed full of veg will give you plenty of fuel for your next workout. The high carbohydrate content of quinoa, combined with the respectable amount of protein, makes it an intriguing pre-workout option.

As well as high carb content, quinoa also has minerals like magnesium and phosphorus in abundance, which will help your body run like a well-oiled machine when you’re at your most active.

The versatility of quinoa cannot be understated, as it is great with the main sources of protein (chicken, tuna, lean beef), and can be enjoyed as part of a hearty, healthy salad before or after a workout.

A 100g serving of quinoa will provide a respectable 14g of protein, as well as 21g of carbs, which is more than enough to prime your body and muscles for a heavy bout of exercise.

Soy Protein

The first alternative source of protein in this list of the best muscle building foods, soy protein is the base of the vegetarian diet staples of soybeans and tofu.

Soy protein is considered by many to be one of – if not the – best sources of plant protein available. So if you’re looking for a great source of eco-friendly protein that also tastes great, soy protein should constitute part of your diet.

The most palatable form of this soy protein is arguably tofu. There is a good reason that Tofu is the vegetarians top choice for getting protein in their diet.

Tofu is packed full of protein, as well as calcium which helps with bone and muscle maintenance and growth.

In a 100g serving of tofu, you will find around 8g of protein. While not as protein-rich as other foods on this list, tofu is a great alternative option, which can be flavored any way you like.

Almonds

Nuts, and more specifically almonds, are a fantastic snack food to build on your muscle gains and stay satiated when the hunger kicks in.

A handful of almonds here and there is not only a delicious treat, but will also serve your body well when it comes to building muscle.

Due to their high protein content, and vitamin-rich nature, almonds are a particularly good choice for a post-workout snack.

Almonds can be added to salads for a satisfying crunch and extra protein hit, or eaten alone in those times when cooking seems too much effort.

The period immediately following a workout is arguably one of the most important for replenishing your body with the right nutrients, so stocking up your vitamin and protein levels with almonds is a great idea.

A 100g serving of almonds gives you approximately 30g of protein, which is a staggeringly high number, especially when compared with other high-protein foods.

However, the caveat here is that you should eat almonds in moderation since they are high in calories.

close up almond nuts

Turkey Breast

The third best muscle-building meat on this list, behind the likes of chicken and lean beef, turkey breast is an equally good option if you enjoy eating meat with your meals.

A food which is low in fat and carbs, but high in protein, you could do a lot worse than adding turkey breast to your next salad, or rice dish.

The main gripe a lot of people have with turkey is its bland nature, which means it is nearly always the second choice to chicken for most people, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and incorporate into your diet for some variety.

Turkey breast is particularly tasty in sandwiches, which makes it a nice option for a quick lunch, should you be in a hurry.

A 100g serving of turkey breast will provide around 22g of protein, which while not as high a number as that found in chicken, is still a very decent amount.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are a great alternative to beans in that they provide the same level of satiation, but also contain a high level of carbohydrates and protein.

A great plant-based protein source, chickpeas can be enjoyed by vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters alike.

Chickpeas also have a high number of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them the perfect food to form part of a healthy diet, and one designed for building muscle.

For a simple way to eat chickpeas and soak up the benefits, you can roast them in the oven as you would potatoes, for an irresistible snack that will keep you going throughout the day.

Perfect for any party, sports match, or just as a general snack, roasted chickpeas will also help you with your strength goals.

You can also enjoy the benefits of chickpeas through hummus. Hummus is an amazing dip, which you can eat with broccoli, carrots, and other highly nutritious vegetables.

A 100g serving of chickpeas will provide 3g of protein, 8g of carbs, and plenty of minerals and vitamins.

Oats

A hearty bowl of porridge or overnight oats in the morning is a great way to start your day, especially when it’s cold outside, but did you know it can also be good food for building muscle?

Macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, and protein) are essential for the functioning and growth of the body.

While protein is undoubtedly the best of the 3 for helping the muscles repair and grow, there are also benefits to eating the other 2 when it comes to building muscle mass.

Carbohydrates are especially important due to the body’s requirement for energy and fuel, whether its before, during, or after a workout session. After all, how can you expect to function well in the gym when your body has nothing to burn as fuel?

With that said, oats are a great example of a complex carbohydrate, which will give you a slow release of energy, and set you up well for physical exertion in the day ahead.

They also have a decent amount of protein, making them a good post-workout recovery food option too.

100g of oats will give you almost 17g of protein, and a whopping 66g of carbohydrates!

oats and nuts in grey bowl

Chia Seeds

While they may seem unassuming, and too small to make any kind of difference in your quest for bigger muscles, chia seeds go some way to prove that less is more.

A superfood of sorts, chia seeds are rich in just about everything!

Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and a myriad of vitamins and minerals, chia seeds really have it all.

The fiber-rich nature of the chia seeds will help you to control your diet, especially if you’re aiming for lean muscle gains, and ensure you’re feeling full.

The protein will, of course, set you up well for post-workout recovery, and the vitamins and minerals will give your body the best chance of growth.

In fact, minerals and vitamins are the main benefits of chia seeds, since they are plentiful, and will give you more than your share of the good stuff you need to grow stronger.

A 100g serving of chia seeds will give you roughly 16g of protein, and 42g of carbohydrates.

They are also safe to eat for most people, given that they are gluten-free.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is another food that should be considered more for its energy-providing qualities than its protein content.

With a minimal amount of protein, brown rice isn’t meant as food to build and repair muscles after a workout, but as fuel allowing you to go hard in the gym.

Just like quinoa, brown rice can be used in a variety of ways, and is ideally consumed pre-workout, to make the most of the energy that it gives your body.

As for why you should opt for brown rice over white rice, it’s fairly simple. Brown rice has a higher amount of fiber and protein than its plain counterpart.

If that wasn’t enough, it also has more carbohydrates and fats. Basically, it trumps white rice in every area if you’re looking to bulk and build muscle.

A 100g serving of brown rice contains around 2g of protein, and 24g of carbohydrates.

Broccoli

A common accompaniment to rice and chicken for bodybuilders, why is broccoli a good muscle-building vegetable?

For a start, it’s s dark green, which means it’s packed full of goodness. More importantly, though, broccoli is rich in folic acid, which is instrumental in the reparation of DNA and the production of red blood cells.

This will help your body fight off disease, combined with the high vitamin C content. The last thing you need when you’re trying to step up your fitness game is to be struck down by sickness and be unable to train.

Add to that the high sulforaphane content which can help the body fight off cancer stem cells, and you have a fantastic food to add to your diet.

Try eating raw or cooked broccoli with hummus, or as part of a big, healthy salad with tuna or chicken as the main source of protein.

100g of broccoli will give you around 2.5g of protein – which is a lot for a vegetable – as well as 7g of carbohydrates.

bowl of sliced broccoli

Oysters

If you’re into shellfish, then you’ll be pleased to hear that oysters make the cut of the best foods for building muscle!

Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc in food form, which is useful for protein synthesis, and rebuilding muscles after an intense workout.

Not only that, but oysters are also very high in protein!

While it may be a surprise, oysters are full of the best macronutrient for building muscle. This is a pleasant surprise if you like the fresh shellfish, since I’m sure you know how easy it is to knock back a few in one session.

Oysters provide around 10g of protein per 100g, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and vitamins.

Beetroot

Just looking at the rich purple color of beetroot, you know there must be some health benefits hidden inside.

As it turns out, there are!

Beetroot, in solid or liquid form as juice, has been shown to improve blood flow during aerobic exercise, as well as granting you more energy during your workout.

On top of that, you will likely experience less fatigue if you eat (or drink) it before a workout, and be able to recover more quickly in between sets.

If you ask me, that’s reason enough to jump on the beetroot bandwagon, and harness the power of the mysterious vegetable.

A 100g serving of beetroot provides 1g of protein, and 9g of carbohydrates.

Garlic

A surprising food to end the list of best muscle-building foods, you wouldn’t necessarily expect garlic to turn you into the next Popeye.

However, the bad breath-inducing food actually has a lot to offer us in the way of an increase in testosterone, and a reduction in the stress hormone known as cortisol.

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for building muscle and bone mass in the body, and as such, is imperative to building overall muscle mass.

Garlic can help you stay on top of your blood sugar levels too, which will mean you are less likely to cave and indulge in sweet things when you know you shouldn’t.

Not to mention the endless other healing properties of garlic, I think it’s safe to say it’s worth adding some to your evening meals – especially since it tastes great too!

I hope you’ve enjoyed our breakdown of the top 22 foods for building muscle mass, and that you find some creative ways to get them into your diet.

If you’re crushing it in the gym but struggling to find tips on how to build muscle as a woman, check out this article on our website.

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