Muscle-Building Diet: Foods To Eat And Avoid

Complement your workout with a muscle-building diet and recipes to get the best bodybuilding results.

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In this article:

  1. 7 Best Foods to Help You Bulk Up
  2. 3 Worst Foods and Beverages to Stay Away From
  3. Muscle-Building Recipes to Try

Best and Worst Foods for Your Muscle-Building Diet

7 Best Foods to Help You Bulk Up

When you’re trying to bulk up, it’s important to get the proper nutrition that helps you build muscle and survive strenuous workouts. Here are some foods that can help you with this:

1. Lean Meats

If you’re trying to build your muscles, it’s important to incorporate protein-rich foods in your diet. Your body needs grams of protein because it breaks it down into amino acids needed to build muscle mass.

It’s important to choose lean meats because you want protein without the extra calories and fat. Here are a few types of lean meat you can incorporate in your muscle-building diet plan:

  • Sirloin steak
  • Lean ground beef
  • Pork tenderloin

Beef isn’t just a great source of protein, but it’s also rich in minerals and B vitamins. Pork usually has a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating, but lean pork can help build muscle mass as well as beef and poultry.

2. Fish

Apart from being a great source of protein, fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids help stimulate muscle protein synthesis, so foods rich in it make a great addition to any healthy muscle-building diet. Here are a few types of fish rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Tuna

Another fish worth a try is tilapia. It doesn’t have as much omega 3-fatty acids, but it’s a great source of protein and vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 helps keep nerves and blood cells healthy. When people have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it can make them feel weak and tired—symptoms you should avoid when you’re working out.

3. Poultry

Poultry should be a staple in your muscle-building diet. It’s packed with protein.

Here are some types of poultry you can include in your diet:

  • Eggs
  • Chicken breast
  • Turkey breast

Eggs are rich in leucine, an amino acid that plays an essential role in muscle gain. It regulates muscle protein synthesis and signals the need for more amino acids to increase muscle mass.

Skinless chicken and turkey breast offer high-quality protein, vitamin B6, and vitamin B3 (niacin). Vitamins B6 and B3 help transform food into energy—something you need a lot of as you pump iron.

4. Grains

You need to have some carb intake in your diet meal plan, even when you’re trying to gain lean muscle mass. Carbohydrates, like grains, give you the energy you need for extended workouts.

The key is choosing the right types of carbohydrates. Here are some healthy grains you can incorporate in your diet:

  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice

Oatmeal has a low glycemic index. It can provide you the energy you need without the risk of overeating.

Quinoa not only contains carbohydrates, but it also has protein, fiber, and magnesium. Magnesium regulates muscle and nerve function.

Each cup of brown rice gives you about 880 kcal of energy. If you find yourself tiring easily during a workout, you may want to eat some healthy carbohydrates a few hours before you hit the gym.

5. Vegetable

When you’re increasing muscle gains, you need to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. They help keep your bones healthy, convert food into energy, and enhance the immune system.

Vegetables are an invaluable source of various vitamins and minerals. They’re also a great source of antioxidants, which help prevent and repair cellular damage.

6. Fruits

There are also certain fruits beneficial for active people or athletes because of their energy-boosting properties. Here are some fruits you may want to include in your diet:

  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Citrus fruits (oranges or grapefruit)

Bananas are a great source of carbohydrates, vitamin B6, and potassium—all of which can help boost energy levels. Bananas are just as effective as commercial energy carbohydrate drinks.

Citrus fruits and strawberries are rich in antioxidants, which may help prevent fatigue and give you an energy boost.

7. Dairy

The calcium you gain from dairy products plays an important role in maintaining bone health. Apart from this, dairy also provides other nutrients helpful in muscle-building.

For instance, the protein in Greek yogurt can help build muscle mass.

Cottage cheese is another dairy product you may want to add to your diet as it is great for muscle-building because it is rich in protein and leucine.

3 Worst Foods and Beverages to Stay Away From

Certain foods and drinks won’t help you build muscle mass. Here are three types of foods and beverages you should try to avoid:

1. Deep-Fried Foods

Deep-fried foods are usually high in fat, cholesterol, and salt. Diets high in unhealthy fats increase your risk of obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease—all of which are detrimental to your muscle-building goals.

It’s best to avoid eating fast food products like French fries, fried fish, onion rings, and deep-fried chicken. Instead, try to have a healthy snack with you at all times to avoid temptation.

2. Sugar-Filled Foods and Beverages

Foods and drinks high in sugar are usually full of empty calories. This means you’re filling up with calories that don’t offer any nutrients.

Avoid snacking on candies, cookies, ice cream, soda, and even sports or energy drinks. Over time, these snacks and drinks may even promote unhealthy weight gain, which may make it more difficult to build muscle mass.

3. Alcoholic Beverages

Excessive and regular alcohol can keep you from bulking up. One study shows alcohol reduces the body’s ability to synthesize protein.

It can impair muscle recovery which can affect your workouts.

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Muscle-Building Recipes to Try

Now that you have an idea which foods you should and shouldn’t include in your diet, it’s time you incorporate them into your daily recipes.

1. Pasta with Hearty Sauce

This recipe can give you ample carbs for energy before your workout or strength training and help replenish glycogen stores after the activity. It also gives you protein from the chicken breast.


  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 28 g whole-wheat penne pasta
  • 85 g cubed chicken breast

Just follow the instructions on the label on how to cook the pasta and then cook the other ingredients in olive oil, except the sauce.

Combine the sauce with the pasta before serving. You can sprinkle some cilantro on top to spice up this dish.

2. Grilled Steak with Avocado-Tomato Salad

Pork or beef steak is rich in protein, and you can use this recipe either for lunch or dinner. avocados contain Avocado contains healthy fats that help with satiety.

What you need are top round steak (113 g), avocado (half), and a tomato. Cut both avocado and tomato into smaller slices and make them into a healthy salad.

3. Strawberry Cream Smoothie

You can also enjoy a muscle-building smoothie. Protein powder can supply your body with the added protein you can use for activities that need high energy like workouts.

Strawberry has polyphenols responsible for protecting cells from damage. What you need for this recipe are:

  • 3/4 cup yogurt
  • 5 strawberries
  • 1 Tbsp flax seeds
  • 1 scoop protein powder

Blend all the ingredients until smooth.

4. Chocolate Nut Shake

This protein shake recipe provides the right amount of the macronutrient protein you need in a day because of the all-natural peanut butter ingredient. Peanut butter can also give you the potassium that can aid in decreasing the risk of muscle cramps after a workout.

What you need are:

  • 2-3 cubes of ice
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 2 cups chocolate milk
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder

Melt the peanut butter first, so you achieve a good consistency when you mix it with the other ingredients. Then, combine all the ingredients together.

5. Spinach Omelet

Making an omelet requires eggs as the primary ingredient, which is a great source of high-quality protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats.

Secure these ingredients:

  • 1 peach
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 slice cheese (cut into small pieces)

Combine eggs, spinach, cheese in a bowl and mix them well before cooking. Cut peach into small slices and insert them into the omelet’s fold.

6. Bibb Lettuce Burger

If you love burgers, you can include it in your muscle-building diet plan with this recipe. Lean beef is rich in creatine, various minerals, B vitamins, and high-quality protein that may help raise the amount of lean mass gained when paired with weight training.

Creatine Definition: A compound formed in protein metabolism. It is involved in the supply of energy for muscular contraction.

The ingredients you need for this recipe are:

  • 3 cups green beans
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp ketchup
  • 2 slices red onion
  • 2 slices tomatoes
  • 227 g ground beef (lean)
  • 2 leaves lettuce

Create your own patty using ground beef, and don’t forget the burger buns. Use the patty as your base for your burger and then pile the remaining ingredients in your order of preference.

7. Berry Overnight Oats

What’s good about this recipe is you prep it overnight so you can easily grab it in the morning, especially when your time is limited. Oats are a great food option for a healthy muscle-building diet because they contain carbs to help fuel your workout.

What you need for this recipe are:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened milk of preference
  • 1 strawberry
  • Blueberries

Mix all the ingredients well in a bowl and then place it in an airtight jar before storing it in the fridge overnight.

8. Brown Rice with Ground Beef

Aside from being one of the best protein sources, beef also possesses muscle-building nutrients like zinc and iron. Zinc contributes to the synthesis of muscle protein.

Iron ensures your muscles are functioning properly.


  • 453 g lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 1/2 cup green beans
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 3 cloves garlic

Cook rice first. In a separate skillet, cook beef and garlic until meat is no longer pink.

Add the remaining ingredients, except rice, until well cooked. Place them on top of your rice and serve.

9. Salmon Fillet with Sweet Potato and Salad

You can also enjoy seafood recipes such as this when you try to gain muscles. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and B vitamins, which are all important for building muscles.

Your salad is a great source of nutrients for growing muscles like zinc, plant-based protein and carbs, and potassium. Make sure to load your salad with mostly leafy greens because they have the highest nutrient content.

What you need are:

  • 1 serving pineapple
  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 1 baked regular-sized sweet potato
  • 1 large salad (with veggies of your choice)

Make sure to season fillets with pepper and salt to taste before cooking them.

If you want to make your salmon fillet sauce more flavorful, add a little amount of lemon juice. You can also add some lemon wedges around the fillets.

Building muscle mass requires commitment inside and outside of the gym, which includes the best muscle-building diet plan. If you want to maximize your exercise and bodybuilding results, it’s important to be mindful of your diet.

Your diet can set you back, or it can help you reach your goals. If you’re at a loss about where to start, contact the LIV Health team today.

Our integrative health concierge’ can help you with your fitness goals. It isn’t always easy to make lifestyle changes, but a little help can go a long way.

What other foods or beverages do you incorporate into your muscle-building diet? Do you have tips to make your workout routine more effective in building muscles? What are they? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 2, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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