Eating to Grow: 10 Best Foods for Muscle Growth

BY David Sautter

Table of Contents

You can spend two hours in the weight room, hammering out set after set, but it won’t mean much if you aren’t eating a muscle-focused diet.

Size gains come from two foundation principles: Tearing the muscle down with training, and building it back up with nutrition. I know that nutrition isn’t the most entertaining part of your fitness journey, but it’s essential.

Let me make things a bit easier for you by providing you with a list of the 10 best foods for muscle growth you can enjoy after your muscle mass workout.

Eat More Than You Burn

Before I jump into the list of muscle-building foods, I’d recommend taking a minute to figure out how many calories you need each day.

To build muscle and gain size, you must be eating more calories than you burn – the opposite of a fat-burning diet. An easy way to calculate your daily caloric needs is with an online calorie calculator.

Based on your goals and current physical activity level, you’ll be given a caloric range to achieve each day. This number is usually 200 to 300 calories more than your caloric maintenance or how many calories you must eat to stay at your same weight.

Top 10 Muscle-Building Foods

Since protein-rich foods contain the most amino acids, the building blocks of muscle tissue, I’ll focus on the healthiest foods with the highest protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving. Many of these foods will also contain heart-healthy fatty acids, digestion-supporting complex carbohydrates, and micronutrients such as zinc and magnesium.

Here are 10 animal and plant-based muscle-building foods that you should start incorporating into your diet.

1. Chicken Breast

Is there any food more associated with bodybuilding and muscle growth than the chicken breast? Cost effective, easy to prepare, and packed with protein, chicken breasts are the ideal muscle-building food. I recommend buying a large pack, cooking them in bulk, and dividing them up for lunch and dinner meals throughout the week.

  • 32 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

2. Hemp Seeds

Many plant foods must be mixed to form a complete protein; for example, eating brown rice with peas. Hemp seeds are an exception, giving you 32 grams of completely bioavailable protein per 100-gram serving. Take note of the fat content: This same serving has almost 50 grams of healthy fats.

  • 32 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

3. Lean Pork Chops

Back to animal sources, we have lean pork chops. Just like with chicken breasts, you can cook these in bulk and interchange them throughout the week for lunch or dinner meals.

  • 31 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds like hemp seeds are a complete protein source. Also high in fatty acids, pumpkin seeds are an excellent snack throughout the day.

  • 30 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

5. Canned Albacore Tuna

Another bodybuilding staple, canned albacore tuna is another cost-effective and convenient option to support your muscle-building goals. I highly recommend only buying brands associated with responsible and sustainable fishing practices to avoid dangerous levels of heavy metals. A few examples include Safe Catch, Wild Planet, and Trader Joe’s.

  • 27 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

6. Wild Salmon

Famously high in omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon also contains 25 grams of protein per 3.5 ounce serving. Wild salmon is recommended but farmed salmon is okay too. Just be sure to limit your consumption of farmed salmon.

  • 25 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

7. Eggs

One egg contains around 6 grams of protein along with zinc and healthy fats. If you’re like most people, you eat more than one egg, so the protein count quickly adds up. Opt for brown eggs over white eggs.

  • 13 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

8. Soybeans

Back to protein-rich plant foods, soybeans have been shown to support cardiovascular health. I highly recommend only consuming fermented or sprouted soybeans; avoid the processed stuff.

  • 13 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

9. Greek Yogurt

Free of carbohydrates and packed with protein, Greek yogurt will quickly become a favorite muscle-building snack.

  • 10 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

10. Chickpeas

Another plant protein, chickpeas are great on their own, as a side dish, or blended to make hummus.

  • 10 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

Do You Have a Favorite Muscle-Building Meal?

What does your muscle-building meal plan look like? Is there a favorite lean mass food that I missed? Need more ideas for what to eat in order to gain size? Let us know in the comments!

While diet and exercise are the foundation to building muscle, supplements such as whey protein also play an important role in your results. 

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