15 Muscle-Building Foods: What to Eat to Gain Muscle

Muscle-building foods, like chicken breast, salmon, milk, cheese and tofu, tend to contain higher levels of protein. Protein can come from an animal source (like meat and eggs) or from a plant source (like beans, avocado, and peanuts). 

The body also needs carbohydrates, like whole wheat pasta or bread, to function, as well as healthy fats, which are found in foods like salmon, tuna and avocado. These foods help to boost energy and physical stamina during workouts and help with post-workout muscle recovery. 

If you are unable to obtain enough protein to reach your health goals through just food, you can consider using protein supplements, like creatine or whey powder, as prescribed by a registered dietitian or doctor. Read more about using supplements for muscle growth.

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List of foods to eat for muscle gains

The best muscle-building foods during a hypertrophic phase include: 

1. Chicken

Chicken is rich in protein and contains low quantities of fat. Therefore, consuming this food for lunch or dinner alongside a regular exercise routine can help with muscle gains. See which exercises you can incorporate into your workout routine to gain leg muscle mass. 

2. Red meat

Red meat is also rich in protein and contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen in the blood, which can help with physical performance during a workout. 

3. Salmon

In addition to protein, salmon is a fish that is rich in omega-3. This is a healthy fat with an anti-inflammatory effect which improves blood circulation and prevents muscle loss. Check-out tips from our personal trainer about how to gain muscle mass

4. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of albumin, which is the main protein present in egg whites. This food also contains iron and B-complex vitamins which improve oxygenation and the transport of nutrients throughout, which are factors that can contribute to muscle growth. 

5. Cheese

Low-fat cheeses can be rich in protein and calcium, which is a mineral that can improve strength and muscle contraction. It is a great option for breakfast or as a snack. 

6. Tuna

Tuna is a fish that is rich in omega-3 and is an excellent source of protein, which can contribute to muscular hypertrophy. This food can be consumed as a snack before or after a workout. Read more about exercises that specifically target chest muscles to gain upper torso muscle mass.

7. Milk

Milk is rich in protein an minerals, like calcium and magnesium. It can stimulate muscular contractions and improve stamina during workouts, which can lead to muscle mass gains. 

8. Peanuts

Peanuts are a source of protein as well as magnesium (an important mineral for muscle contraction), B-complex vitamins (which are necessary for energy production in the body) and antioxidants (which help with muscle recovery after exercising). 

9. Avocado

Avocados contain mono-saturated fats which make them a great energy source. This can boost power and provide the body with antioxidants. Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, which help to improve stamina and muscular strength, and can promote muscle recovery following a workout. Potassium is abundant in avocados, and can help prevent muscle weakness and cramping during exercise. 

Avocados can be consumed raw, in salads or in pre or post-workout smoothies. 

10. Beans

Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein, and when they are consumed with grains, like whole wheat rice, whole pasta, or corn, it can provide the body with a high quantity and a high quality of of amino acids that are essential for muscle growth. 

Ideally, your diet for muscle-building should incorporate protein into every meal. You should include foods like cheese, eggs, yogurt, and meat, even during snacks. This approach will provide your muscles with a good quantity of amino acids to promote muscle growth.

11. Tofu

Tofu is a plant-based food made from soybeans, which are rich in protein and contribute to muscle growth. Because it is contains great quantities of potassium and phosphorus, tofu can help with stamina and performance during workouts. 

12. Lentils

Lentils contain great amounts of iron and plant-based protein, which can improve oxygen transport in the blood. This can lead to better physical performance which promotes muscle mass gains. 

13. Amaranth

Amaranth is a pseudocereal that is rich in high quality protein, and is a source of fibers, vitamins and minerals, like calcium, potassium and zinc. This pseudocereal can be purchased as flour, grains or seeds, and can be added to smoothies, fruit or veggie salads, yogurt and cereal. It can also be used to prepare pancakes or eaten as a substitute for pasta or rice. 

14. Buckwheat

Like amaranth, buckwheat is a pseudocereal that is rich in protein, carbohydrates, potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber. It can be eaten in its full grain form or used as a flour. It is a great option to include in your lunch or dinner. 

15. Turkey

Turkey is a type of white meat that is rich in protein and low in fat. It also contains high amounts of B-complex vitamins, mainly niacin, which is a vitamin that is essential for energy production within cells. Turkey is rich in potassium and magnesium, which can improve physical performance, as these minerals are important for muscular contraction. 

Nutritional information for muscle-building foods 

The following table outlines the calories, protein and fat for the foods specified above. The amount of nutrients listed corresponds to 100 g of each food:

Food Calories Protein Fat
Cooked chicken breast  194 cal 32.1 g 7.3 g
Low-fat meat 219 cal 35.9 g 7.3 g
Grilled salmon 273 cal 20.7 g 21.1 g
1 boiled egg 75 cal 6.5 g 5.4 g
White cheese 240 cal 17.6 g 14.1 g
Peanuts 589 cal 25.4 g 47.7 g
Tuna 166 cal 28.4 g 5.8 g
Avocado 114 cal 1.1 g 10.5 g
Skim milk 35 cal 3.5 g 0.2 g
Beans 76 cal 4.7 g 0.5 g

Tofu

64 cal

6.6 g

4 g

Lentils

93 cal

6.3 g

0.5 g

Raw amaranth 371 cal 13.56 g 7.02 g
Buckwheat (as a whole grain) 343 cal 13.25 g 3.4 g
Skinless turkey breast 105 cal 23.4 g 1.3 g

These foods should be incorporated into a healthy and balanced diet that also contains sources of carbohydrates, like whole wheat rice, whole wheat pasta and fresh fruit. 

Meal plan for muscle gain

The following table outlines an example of a meal plan that contains the best food for building muscle. It is based on a routine that incorporates exercise in the morning, a few hours following breakfast: 

Main meals Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Breakfast 1 cup of natural, unsweetened orange juice + 2 scrambled eggs with tomato and onion + 1 slice of whole grain bread  1 Greek yogurt + 1/2 a cup of granola + 1 cup of diced fruit 1 cup of unsweetened coffee + 2 medium pancakes prepared with oatmeal, banana and cinnamon + 1 tablespoon of peanut butter 
Morning snack 2 boiled eggs + 2 slices of avocado + 2 pieces of whole wheat toast  1 cup of skim milk with 2 teaspoons of cacao powder + 2 pieces of whole wheat toast with 1 teaspoon of peanut butter  1 protein yogurt + 1/2 banana, sliced + 1 teaspoon of chia seeds 
Lunch 120 g of grilled chicken with 1/2 cup of whole wheat rice and 1/2 cup of lentils + arugula salad with cherry tomatoes seasoned with apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of olive oil + 1 slice of melon  1  serving of oven-baked hake fish with 1 cup of buckwheat and 1 cup of cooked spinach seasoned with 1 tablespoon of olive oil + 1 orange 120 g of grilled turkey breast with sweet potato chips and 1 cup of boiled broccoli and carrots, seasoned with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and balsamic vinegar + 1 pear 
Afternoon snack 1 sliced apple lightly drizzled with peanut butter  2 small oranges  1 cup of fresh fruit 1 tablespoon of oat flakes 
Dinner 120 g of grilled salmon with 2 medium baked potatoes (with the peel) and asparagus seasoned with olive oil  1 baked eggplant stuffed with tuna, vegetables and grated white cheese 1 wrap made with sliced chicken, sauteed vegetables (peppers, onion and carrots) and lettuce 
Bedtime snack 1 high-protein yogurt

1 boiled egg

1 cup of skim milk

The quantities indicated in this meal plan can vary depending on your age, sex, activity level and health history. This meal plan can also vary depending on when you exercise. You should see a registered dietitian to determine the best eating plan for you. You can also check out these additional tips for gaining muscle through diet

Supplements for muscle growth 

Supplements for muscle growth should be recommended and monitored by a registered dietitian, who can assess the necessity of supplementation and indicate the best type for you and your health goals. Learn more about creatine supplementation and how to take it.

In addition, a registered dietitian can create an individualized diet plan that promotes muscle gains while taking several factors into consideration, like type of exercise, age, current weight, sex and health status.