Kevin started lifting about 9 months ago and he has been noticing some great changes to his body; he is leaning up, getting stronger, and starting to see muscles he didn’t know he had.
He follows a good weight training routine and spends plenty of time reading articles and forums online to get a grasp on the “correct” way train and get bigger.
Kevin runs across statements like this and wonders if what he is doing is best:
- “I eat 10,000 calories a day to get so strong”
- “I eat 2 McDoubles and a milkshake every day post workout to build more muscle”
- “I eat any and everything I can to build muscle”
Kevin drinks his protein shakes, eats his chicken breast, adds in a hamburger or two throughout the week and is seeing decent results… but now he reads this and thinks that he can just eat whatever the hell he wants so he can build more muscle.
You can actually build strength and muscle quite easily by eating pretty much whatever you want; but that is not the best way to do it.
If you want to build strength and muscle without gaining so much fat that you wish you never even started, heed my advice and mix in these foods to your diet.
[bctt tweet=”You can build strength and muscle by eating McMuffins and cheesecake but that isn’t the best way. Check out the 23 best foods to build strength and muscle.”]
23 Strength and Muscle Building Foods You Need In Your Diet
If you stick to an 80/20 rule on your diet, 80% consisting of the foods I list (and similar) and 20% of whatever you want (within reason) you will be able to get stronger and build muscle without packing on too much fat.
I’m going to break down these foods into protein, carbs, fats, and misc. Note: most of these foods could land in multiple categories.
Protein is the most important macro nutrient you should factor into your diet because it is quite literally the most basic muscle building block.
Another great thing about protein is it is satiating. This means you get full and stay full when you eat protein.
Protein can get expensive so check out this article on the 11 cheapest good protein sources and tips on how to save money.
This obviously isn’t a comprehensive list of every protein you could eat, but eating a variety of protein is just as important as eating enough.
- Chicken – Chicken breasts are lean, chicken thighs have more fat; you can do pretty much anything with chicken. This should be something you have in your kitchen at all times.
- Whole Eggs – You can do a lot with whole eggs from hard boiling to making egg salad. Whole eggs are a great source of a complete protein, nutrients, and vitamins. I highly recommend eating eggs as a whole.
- Fish – Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna all contain a fair amount of omega 3 fatty acids. These are essential for a healthy and active body.
- Red Meat – Ground beef, steak, and any other piece that once “Moo’d” is good. Red meat generally has a bit more fat in it which means it is great for muscle building and tastes great.
- Turkey – Turkey is awfully lean and can be a good replacement for chicken or even beef if done correctly. Ground turkey cooks easy and with plenty of seasoning, it makes for a great meal.
- Milk – Dairy is great for building muscle. 2% or whole milk will be the best for muscle growth. Make a hearty and tasty protein shake by using whole milk instead of water.
- Cottage Cheese – A great source of protein similar to casein protein is cottage cheese. I enjoy eating this throughout the day, but eating at night before bed ensures your muscles get protein while you sleep.
Carbs catch a bad rap because if you are fat you probably eat too many but if you stop eating them you lose weight.
The fact is that carbs are a great source of energy and help your body perform at its best. It is very easy to eat too many calories because most foods that are high in carbs are either highly processed or have a lot of sugar in them.
Don’t be afraid to eat carbs; plan your meals in advance so you get the proper amount to reach peak performance and muscle building.
- Quinoa – Quinoa is catching a lot of popularity and for a good reason. If you haven’t tried it yet, you need to; it’s truly a super food.
- Oats – Blending oats into your protein shake or eating oat meal is a great way to get some healthy carbs and fiber into your diet.
- Rice – Different types of rice have different nutrients in them. Try them all out; I like brown the most.
- Whole Grain Bread – If you’re a bread person, finding a whole grain bread would be the best.
If you eat fat you get fat, right? Wrong.
Fats are extremely satiating, they help regulate hormone production, and they taste freaking good.
Fats also help your body burn fat more efficiently.
The negative side to fats is that it is so calorie dense it is easy to overeat so don’t go heavy-handed with these.
If you are a hard gainer and looking to add more calories without too much more volume of food, use these.
- Cheese – Like milk, cheese is a great source of protein and vitamins. Cheese makes things taste great and is very filling.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – A little EVOO, salt, and pepper on your salad tastes great and gives you antioxidants and nutrients. Ditch the ranch and try this.
- Avocado – Avocado is awesome because you can make it take on many flavors. It is very filling and versatile so don’t be afraid to try it out.
- Sour Cream – Like cheese, sour cream is a great source of vitamins and flavor. Used sparingly, sour cream is great on pretty much anything.
This category holds everything from fruits, veggies, to drinks. Think of this category as your “side dishes and snacks” in your meals.
- Berries – Berries are a great source of antioxidants and can be eaten on the run. Great for a snack.
- Greek Yogurt – Eat it with a spoon, mix fruit with it, or mix it into your protein shake. Whatever you do, Greek yogurt will help keep you regular.
- Spinach – Using spinach instead of lettuce in your salads gives you an extra kick of vitamins and nutrients. Try canned spinach in your dishes too.
- Tomatoes – I personally used to hate tomatoes but I’ve grown to like them. Eat them raw with a little bit of salt, put them on a sandwich, or eat them with a salad.
- Oranges – Eat before a workout to help naturally increase your strength and endurance.
- Apples – Another great fruit to eat before a workout, apples have been shown to increase strength and endurance as well as increase fat burning.
- Water – I feel dumb for including this, but most of us don’t drink quite enough water. Your body will hold onto water and your performance will suffer if you do not get enough.
- Green Tea – Green tea has been shown to improve cognitive and physical ability, help keep you healthy, and lowers the risk of cancer.
Obviously, this is not the most comprehensive list of things you should start eating if you want to improve your strength performance and muscle building.
This list is intended to help spark ideas for new recipes and ingredients to start buying at the store.
Speaking of recipes, check out this Chili Lime Chicken with Potatoes and Green Beans recipe. It’s simple to cook and tastes great.
Do you think I missed an ingredient? Comment below and let me know!
12 thoughts on “23 Muscle Building Foods You Need In Your Diet”
What do you think about chickpeas as a source of carbs as well?
I’ve never used them in my meals before but looking at the nutrition on them, I think they would be a great source of carbs since they have a good amount of fiber and some protein. Do you use them in your meals often? Are they easy to prepare?
Yes, I do use chick peas often.
A few years ago I was tipping the scales near 275lbs and a 50 inch waist.
One night I decided to cut out as much processed food as possible and focus on vegetables, protein, nuts and some fruit.
The next morning when I ordered my usual egg sandwich, I asked the chef to sub alot of veggies for the bread and was nervous that I would feel too hungry, so I asked him to include Hummus , avocado and olives as well.
That became my breakfast of choice since, sometimes I mix it up with chickpeas which are very convenient, either out of the can or container. I have yet to learn how to cook chickpeas from scratch.
It would be interesting to know the nutrition in them.
In any case, I have taken off a total of 80lbs at this point and getting closer to my goal of 32 inch waist and 15% bf and what I believe will be 175 to 180lbs.
Every time that I have put bread back into the mix, I have gained weight, a couple of years ago I started with the bread and processed food again and went up 25lbs in only 6 months, so, I think I will stick with the chick – chickpeas that is.
If I have no chickpeas which I have tried, I start to feel a bit too famished.
So in the meantime I will keep them where they are…
Hummus with eggs, veggies , avocado and olives for breakfast as an example.
Chickpeas with tuna fish and cucumber/tomato salad for lunch.
Chickpeas or any other type of bean that you like as black beans or red beans with protein and a vegetable for dinner.
Usually dinner have a bit more time to cook, so just to give you an idea of the type of seasoning I have used recently that works well for broccoli, spinach or asparagus:
1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon coriander
heat the oil with the above spices in them first.
Then take your raw vegetable of choice and mix them into the infused oil.
Cook on medium flame till they start to heat and then lower for a good 15 to 20 minutes till done.
I just did this with broccoli last night and I thought they made broccoli which I have no taste for seem palatable.
And I do throw in the chickpeas as well to that mix to heat and for flavor.
So I think chickpeas are very easy to use/prepare but I admit that I have yet to cook a batch myself.
After writing this I think it is about time to try!
Thanks for sharing with me. That’s great you’ve found luck in that. I have been fighting a lot of stress lately and I’ve gone so far off from eating healthy and gaining weight that it’s embarassing, but I’m getting back on track here shortly. If you would be interested in writing recipe articles, I would be happy to host them. All you would have to do is give a recipe like what you did in the comments and if you could get some pictures of it prepared and any nutritional facts you may know.
I’ve seen people on Food Network prepare chickpeas and it doesn’t look too bad like you said, but canned does sound easy to work with!
Keep up the good work on the weight loss, I hope to hear from you more.
I am sure that anyone here can relate to falling off track and having to get back on.
After 10 months of doing my style strength training and nutrition, I was down to 175lbs and a 32 inch waist from my high of 275lbs and 50 inches.
I vowed that I would never gain an ounce again, I would never touch bread again!
We know how that vow ended.
I started to socialize a bit more because I felt better about myself and little by little, even though I held out for a month or two, I did touch bread again and I think even worse, I stopped doing squats, deadlifts and pushups.
In about 6 months I put on 25lbs and then over the course of the following 6 months another 15lbs for a grand total of 40lbs.
So I was back up to 215lbs by May of this year.
What to do?
The first thing I did was to shout at myself my favorite trigger word – which is Zehhu! which to me means that I have had enough.
Second was to cut out bread again and any other foods that I know trigger my love for Oreos and other junk food that I grew up on and still consider like heaven today.
The third was to get back into the gym and start doing squats, presses, deadlifts and pushups. That is what works for me.
Since May I have gone from 215 to 194 as of today.
This time around I am more interested in fat loss than weight per se, so I am first shooting for 15% bf and will go from there.
I am going to work on a recipe article and will send to you next week.
Good luck getting back on track, I certainly understand the situation and am here to support you like you support us with all of the time and energy you have invested into creating a great site full of information and inspiration!
Have a great weekend Cutty!
Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you are able to get back on track and get things rolling in the right direction.
I’m bad about binging and hiding what I eat so once I get back on my feet into my own place so I have control of what’s in there. I would rather overeat on chicken breast instead of ice cream and cookies like what is here.
I look forward to seeing the recipe!
You have a great weekend as well,
Totally relate to the binging and hiding.
Oreos, snickers, heath bar crunch vanilla, pepperidge chocolate chip cookies, pretzels, chips, bagels, lasagna and pizza have always been my binge of choice (lets not forget root beer), so what that now they made the oreos thinner, will still lead to binges.
A while back I tried to put together a checklist for myself of how to stop binging.
I am sure that there is probably more there than necessary and nothing new, but there might be something of interest or helpful over here.
Do you post a daily meal plan with photos?
Do you think that might help?
I am thinking of doing the same…
Thanks for sharing. We may have to write for each other’s site :).
Once I get my own place I plan on opening up more with my life as in what I eat and get back into posting my training.. I think I am going to try to take as many pics and record everything I eat, including new recipes, etc. It’ll give me a way to not be able to hide as well as a way to hopefully help people who may have the same issues.
I definitely think it would help.
yea, I understand, I am sure that there are others out there who can relate…I have started the posting menus and workouts quite a few times, but no reason to give up.
I saw a site that speaks about the occupational hazards of some sports for men:
“Gymnasts, runners, body builders, rowers, wrestlers, jockeys, dancers, and swimmers are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders because their sports necessitate weight restriction.”
I did not discover deadlifts and squats till a few years ago, but in high school I was into swimming and gymnastics….we were always trying to keep our weight down, especially before competitions, hard to tumble when you weigh too much..
and sure, that would be great if you have some article or ideas that you would want to write or share that I can post on the site, you see mainly I am writing about how strength training is beneficial for mental, emotional fitness/strength – but physically too, so that would be great to have cutty strength in the house.
Sounds great! Yes I knew someone who wrestled and would drop so much weight it ended up making him eat so dysfunctionally that it was scary.
I could write a lot about the mental and psychological effects that strength training has on someone.. it’s saved my life (literally).
Lets keep in touch,
Hey bro I think these ingredients you named here are great and you can make a complete diet with them. I think you missed nuts and peanuts which are a great source of healthy fats, proteins and vitamin E, also are great for snack or before and after training for an extra boost of energy because of the calories and help you burn fat and recover. You also missed the great peanut butter which is basically the same thing and is great for adding to shakes, pancakes, rice cakes and whole bread.
finally I think you missed bananas, which are a great source of potassium and help avoid cramps, great carbs to recover and fill your glucose reserves
greetings from México
Thanks for the food suggestions, I must have spaced them. Hope everything is well in Mexico!