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The 12 Best Muscle Building Foods

By Dr. Mark Evans, PhD, Optimum Nutrition, EMEA Performance Nutritionist

Key Learnings

  • Diet, Protein and Muscle Building: A calorie surplus and adequate protein is required to build muscle mass.  

  • Protein Rich Foods: Lean meats, such as chicken or turkey breast; fish, or eggs provide the protein to help you build muscle. 

  • Carbohydrate Foods: Whole grains, legumes and potatoes provide the carbohydrates that fuel your workouts.

  • Fats: Fats shouldn’t be forgotten, playing an important role in overall health and wellbeing. Include sources like avocado, nuts and seeds, and olive oil in your diet.

  • Dairy Products: An excellent source of protein and other nutrients, such as calcium. Use full fat versions to provide extra calories.

  • Tips: Use digital scales or portion estimates to help put you in a surplus. Include a protein source with every meal or snack. Add avocado and olive to your salads, cook with olive oil and have nuts and seeds for snacks.


1. Diet, Protein and Muscle Building
2. Protein Rich Foods
3. Carbohydrate Foods
4. Fats
5. Dairy Products
6. Tips

If you’re looking to pack on some lean muscle mass, then incorporating the right foods into your diet is essential. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of muscle building foods and provide you with a comprehensive list of the top 10 options to consider.

Diet, Protein and Muscle Building

Muscle building is a complex process that extends beyond the gym in to the kitchen. To effectively build muscle, it’s not only about the amount of food you consume but also about the quantity, quality and balance of that food. For muscle growth, you will need to be in calorie surplus, meaning consuming more calories than you expend each day. It is advised to consume 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day, depending on your level of activity. This intake should be spread evenly across meals and snacks, with 20-40g of protein consumed every 3-4 hours, ensuring a steady supply of amino acids to the muscles. For instance, a person weighing 70 kg should aim for approximately 84 to 154 grams of protein daily, divided evenly into each meal and snack. If not sure where to start, aiming for of 1.6 grams of protein per kilo body mass per day is recommended.

Protein-Rich Foods

Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and are essential for muscle repair and growth. The following are some key protein-rich foods:

  1. Lean Meats: A typical serving of chicken, turkey breast or lean beef mince (approximately 100 grams) provides approximately 25-30 grams of protein.

  2. Fish: A serving of fish like salmon or tuna offers about 22 grams of protein, along with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

  3. Eggs: One large egg provides about 6 grams of high-quality protein, making it a versatile source for muscle building.

Carbohydrate Foods

Carbohydrates are crucial as they provide the energy needed for your workouts, alongside muscle building and recovery processes4,5. They are the body’s primary source of energy during high-intensity workouts. Individuals looking to gain muscle mass should aim for a carbohydrate intake of 4-7 grams per kilogram body weight per day4. Here’s how these carbohydrate sources can benefit muscle building:

  1. Whole Grains: Foods like quinoa, brown rice, and oats are not just rich in energy-giving carbohydrates but also contain some protein and essential nutrients. 200g of cooked grains provides about 40-50 grams of carbohydrates.

  2. Legumes: Beans and lentils are excellent for plant-based protein and are rich in fibre. 200g of cooked lentils provides approximately 40 grams of carbohydrates.

  3. Quinoa: One of the standout features of quinoa is that it contains all 9 essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body. This makes it an excellent choice for vegans and vegetarians looking to increase their protein intake. 100g of cooked quinoa provides 120 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of protein. It can be used in stir fry’s, salads, or as a side dish.

  4. Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes: Medium-sized potatoes or sweet potato contains about 23 grams of carbohydrates, making it a great post-workout food for muscle recovery.


Fats play a role in general health and wellbeing. Restriction of fat intake is also likely to impair muscle gain because it would be more challenging to remain in a caloric surplus by removing fat from the diet. Reduction in dietary fat intake is associated with a reduction in circulating testosterone in healthy males, a key hormone when it comes to muscle building6. Individuals looking to gain muscle mass are advised to stay in line with recommendations for the general population, with fat intake contributing 20-35% towards total dietary energy intake4. Sources include:

  1. Avocado: A great source of monounsaturated fats, a single avocado provides about 22 grams of fat and a range of vitamins and minerals.

  2. Nuts and Seeds: Foods like almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds offer a balance of healthy fats, protein, and fibre. A handful of almonds (25-30g) provides 14 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients. They can play a significant role in muscle building and maintenance because they are high in calories, protein, and dietary fat (full fat versions):

  1. Greek Yogurt: High in protein and probiotics, 200g of Greek yogurt can contain up to 20 grams of protein, making it a superb option as a part of a muscle building strategy.

  2. Cheese: Particularly cottage cheese, is high in casein, a slow-digesting protein. 225g of cottage cheese offers about 25 grams of protein, making it ideal for providing a sustained source of amino acids.

  3. Whey protein. One serving of Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein provides 24g of protein which can be conveniently added to your shaker or recipes to help hit daily protein requirements.


Integrating muscle-building foods into your diet requires strategic planning to ensure that you’re consuming the right balance of nutrients to support muscle growth. This involves not just selecting the right foods, but also managing portion sizes to create a calorie surplus that is essential for muscle growth, without the risk of overeating.

  • Portion control is vital in managing a calorie surplus. It’s important to consume enough calories to promote muscle growth, but excessive calorie intake can lead to unwanted fat gain. Using tools like measuring cups or a digital food scale can help in accurately tracking your food intake.

  • Focus on incorporating a diverse range of protein sources in your meals and snacks. This could include lean meats, fish, dairy products, and plant-based proteins like legumes and nuts. Each of these protein sources brings different essential amino acids and nutrients, contributing to a more comprehensive muscle-building diet and will prevent you from getting bored of constantly eating the same thing. Include a source of protein in every meal and snack. For example, have a chicken breast or tofu with your lunch, and snack on Greek yogurt or a handful boiled eggs between meals.

  • Fat are important for helping to support your calorie surplus. Add avocado to your salads, cook with olive oil, and include fatty fish in your diet 2-3 times per week. Nuts and seeds can also be great snack options.


In summary, building muscle is a comprehensive process that demands more than just physical training. A well-planned diet rich in the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, along with a calorie surplus, is fundamental to muscle growth. Remember, what you eat is as crucial as your workout routine.


  1. Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. (2018) How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10.

  2. Kerksick, C. M., et al., (2018). ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 38.

  3. Morton,  R.W., et al., (2018) A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein  supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med, 52(6):376–84.

  4. Slater et al., (2019) Is an energy surplus required to maximise skeletal muscle hypertrophy associated with resistance training. Frontiers in Nutrition, vol 6, doi:

  5. Tesch PA, Colliander EB & Kaiser P (1986) Muscle metabolism during intense, heavy-resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 55:362–6.

  6. Wang, C., et al., (2005) Low-fat high-fiber diet decreased serum and urine androgens in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 90:3550–9.