Foods That Build Muscle: What To Eat And When


Foods That Build Muscle

Working out is only part of the muscle-building puzzle. You also need to eat the right foods at the right times. Here is are foods that build muscle.

What are those foods?

When should you eat them?

The info is right here!

For many of the people I work with whose main goal is to gain muscle, the main thought that comes to mind is long hours in the gym. Diet doesn’t come to mind. But, your body needs quality nutrition and calories to feed the growing muscles.

What do you need?

When do you need it?

How much of it should you consume?

We’ve got all the answers!

Top Types of Foods That Build Muscle

Top Types of Foods That Build Muscle

Protein for Muscle Gain

First of all, protein is vital. It has long been an accepted belief amongst bodybuilding and strength training athletes that eating high levels of protein is the way to gain strength and put on size. It’s widely believed that you need between 1 and 1.5 times your body weight in grams of protein. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then you should eat between 150 and 225 grams of protein per day if you want to consistently gain muscle. If you’re overweight, substitute your ideal body weight and calculate in grams.

Protein, which contains amino acids, is your body’s main building block to repair and maintain muscle tone. It is either complete or incomplete. Complete proteins have the entire array of essential amino acids. These are responsible for your body’s muscular rebuilding process. They come in chicken, whey, steak, dairy and fish.

On the other hand, incomplete proteins (such as beans, soy or tofu) do not have all of the essential amino acids and thus need to be combined with other protein-rich foods that contain the missing amino acids, or you’ll need to supplement to make up for the deficiency. My top choices of proteins that are great for building muscle include red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, as well as dairy like milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.

Rule of thumb: If it bleeds or breathes, it’s a complete protein. There are lots of non-animal complete proteins available, as well. That means you can still build muscle as a vegetarian. Some complete vegetarian proteins include soy, quinoa, buckwheat, chia, hempseed, beans or legumes with rice.

You Need Carbs

Carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel for energy production. They are readily used for both short-term, intense bouts of exercise and long-duration activities like running and even your daily work activities. Carbs are used throughout the day and can help sustain your muscles through intense workouts, as well as to combat daily fatigue.

Unfortunately, they’re also partly responsible for obesity as it’s so easy to just consume too many unnecessary carbs each day. But, as with protein, poor amounts of carbs can and will compromise your muscle building, daily performance, mental capacity and energy for exercise. Understanding the balance between using carbs for fuel and using them for pleasure is the difference between obesity and staying fit and muscular.

It’s vital to note that after a strenuous workout, you can opt for foods listed higher on the glycemic index (GI) scale. The GI measures how much a food you eat raises sugar within the blood. In other words, the higher the GI number, the more it spikes blood sugar. On the other hand, the lower the GI number, the less it raises blood sugar. What’s important to note is that large changes in blood sugar prevent the use of fat as fuel and, if continued over time, can promote obesity and heart disease.

In fact, in a recent study it was found that people who consumed diets high in simple sugared foods (such as white bread, potatoes, and jam), which, as you can imagine, are higher on the GI scale, had higher body mass indexes (BMI) than those who consumed more complex sources of carbs (which are lower on the GI). These include whole-wheat grains, nuts and low-fat dairy products. But, post workout, you have a need to get the blood sugars back up, so choose the best options.

If you don’t eat enough carbs, your body won’t have energy reserves and will break down your muscles instead! To build muscle, your diet should consist of somewhere between 40 and 60% carbs or about 1,500 calories per day.

Carbs commonly get a bad reputation in the nutritional world. It’s wrongly so. Why? Because complex carbs are broken down slowly and have a low-glycemic index (not as much sugar), they are acceptable to eat after a workout, and especially in the morning at breakfast. Try to select carbs low on the GI. They are healthier and release their energy more slowly. Some good examples include brown basmati rice, quinoa, rolled oats, sweet potato, wholemeal rye bread and wholemeal spaghetti.

You Need Fats

You read that right!

They are just as important. Fats, over time, have endured their share of abuse. “Fats are bad!” is a common misconception. But, in fact, some fats are actually good for us and may even help to fight off unwanted body fat and build muscle.

Essential fats are so named because they can’t be produced within your body on their own. They need to be supplied by the foods you eat or supplements you take. Thus, the term “essential.” Saturated fats, on the other hand, (such as butter, deep fried foods, and whole-fat dairy products) have long been labeled as bad. That’s rightfully so, as they serve little purpose. But, they come (in small amounts) with some meat we might eat.

We should ideally keep our fat intake below 20% of our daily calories. If you eat the foods I advise, you won’t exceed this amount. But you might consider (especially if you have a fast metabolism) adding two or three servings (no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake) of the good essential fats to your daily nutrition program. This is quite easy to do and will keep you from becoming deficient.

When trying to lose weight, your body will actually use every bit of essential fat for proper metabolic functioning and to restore energy balance. You should get about 20 to 35% of your calories from fats. Eat monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

These are the good fats

They include olive, peanut, sunflower, canola and avocado oils. You can also find good fats in fish, nuts, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds, as well as soy products such as tofu or soymilk.

Stay away from saturated and trans fats. 

These are the bad fats. Make sure saturated fats make up no more than 10% of your caloric intake. You should also be sure that trans fats make up no more than 1% of your caloric intake. Bad fats include ice cream, candy bars, and packaged snack foods. They can also be found in high-fat cuts of meat, lard, stick margarine, vegetable shortening, and fried foods.

The Post Workout Vital Ingredient!

The Post Workout Vital Ingredient!

Your post-workout meal is the most important one you eat. Within 30 minutes after you train, there is a critical nutrient and sugar uptake window where your muscle cells are extremely insulin-sensitive and ready to restore glycogen for muscle repair. This meal should ideally consist of about 20 grams of whey protein, along with about 50 to 60 grams of simple carbs or sugar.

At this time, you are actually trying to maximize insulin release to shuttle glycogen and amino acids into your muscle cells. Be sure to plan ahead for this meal and never miss it. You could also add two to five grams of creatine supplement to take advantage of this muscle cell insulin-sensitive window. Creatine will be driven into your muscle cells to provide ATP replenishment, cell hydration and even more of an anabolic effect.

Hydration is another vital post-workout factor to think about. It is vital to replace any fluids lost after exercise and training. The general rule is to drink 20 to 24 ounces of water for every pound lost due to sweating.

Research shows that combining carbs with protein in the two hours after interval training nearly doubles the glycogen storage in the body. The optimal ratio is 4:1 (four carbs to every one of protein). An example of this type of refueling would be a whole grain bagel with two tablespoons of almond butter. Restoring your glycogen will provide your body with enough fuel to allow you to work out and train again the next day at the same or even higher intensity.

One to two hours before to going to bed, have a small protein based meal to keep your muscles supplied with amino acids throughout the night when your body is under repair and growing most. Cottage cheese or a good quality Greek yogurt is a great protein choice for this meal.


Simple, it is very slow digesting. It thickens in the stomach. If you don’t like dairy or lactose, then choose some other form of time-release protein. You could try something like egg whites that will not give you heartburn.

On the other hand, there are some very good supplements suited for this meal. You can include some complex carbs in this meal for added taste and to increase serotonin levels to help you fall asleep easier. Don’t go overboard! Carbs allow the amino acid tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier where it can be readily converted into serotonin, the pleasant neurotransmitter, which then converts into melatonin.

Here Are Few More Bonus Tips!

Here Are Few More Bonus Tips!

Creatine helps increase pure muscle mass and helps regenerate muscles when not working out. But, it’s only a supplement. It isn’t necessary or essential to gain muscle mass. Up to 10 grams of creatine, three to five grams taken before and after working out can help boost ATP production, making you stronger during workouts and making it easier to build muscle.

Always eat breakfast. Breakfast is probably the most important meal of the day aside from your post-workout meal. Eating breakfast packed with protein, complex carbs and fiber will get your metabolism going. It will also keep your body from eating its own muscle for energy. Get protein into your breakfast. Omelets, shakes, smoothies and cottage cheese are great sources of protein.

Eat complex carbs for breakfast. While simple carbs such as sugar and donuts are broken down easily and cause a spike in your sugar levels, complex carbs are broken down over longer periods of time and don’t cause spikes in blood sugar.

Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration can mean poor muscle recovery. That’s why you need to make sure you drink lots of water all the way through the day. Sip on water throughout your workout. The recommended daily amount of water for men is about 3 liters. Women should aim for 2.2 liters. Get a water filter for your tap water.

Create a calorie surplus. For most muscle-builders, it’s vital to combine an increase in protein with an increase in calories.


So all your hard work at the gym won’t work against you. You’ve got to build up enough fuel to burn as a way of building up your muscles, but not eat so many calories that they’ll be transferred into fat. There’s an ideal surplus of calories that you can find by calculating your maintenance calorie count and your surplus.

What is your maintenance calorie count?

It is the number of calories you need to consume on an average day, with an average amount of energy output, to maintain your current body weight. For most people with a healthy body weight, this is around 2,000 calories. Eat small frequent meals throughout the day. Just eat less food more often.

Eat at regular intervals to keep from getting so hungry that you splurge when you do eat. Your body will start to get hungry at the times you do eat because you’ve kept a consistent routine.

Take vitamin C.


Simple, it helps in recovery and to stimulate muscle growth. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radical molecules that make workout recovery a challenge. Just 500 mg of vitamin C taken daily will help you maintain a healthy immune system.

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Building huge muscle isn’t that tough. It takes working out. It also takes a solid diet. You need to create a plan and stick with it. Put some of these tips into practice and watch those muscles grow!

By Keith Cormican, RD


  1. Great list of muscle building foods.
    Knew some of them, but got to know a lot more of them.
    Gonna make a whole new list now for the diet chart.
    Thanks a ton.

  2. Athletes have to be fit in order to achieve results in this highly competitive world of sports. Sports like MMA, wrestling and bjj are about fitness and building muscles. To have a muscular body athletes need​ ​to consume proper muscle building​​ foods.


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