11 Foods That Will Help You Build Lean Muscle

by Rakib Sarwar, RPh on May 29, 2019

If you are looking for a diet to build muscle, stay with us, as we will share the top 11 foods to build muscles and look amazing that are recommended by the nutrition and bodybuilding experts!

We all know that you should consume eggs, meat, and milk to increase your lean muscle mass, but what about other foods? What are those secret superfoods that will change your looks along with your training sessions? Let’s begin and learn everything you need to know for a successful, healthy, and delicious at-home muscle building diet.

The basic principle behind gaining muscle mass

Muscles are responsible for the motoric activities of our body, i.e. they enable us to move each part of our body. Moreover, they protect the bones and internal organs and should make almost half of the body mass!

People usually focus on training, weight lifting and certain body exercises that help build muscles. However, if you are focused on increasing muscle strength and building muscles, it is of the utmost importance to reinforce your training with proper nutrition. You should balance your intake of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat.

To build up your lean muscles, you need the energy you get from food first. Then, you can shape it with training.

Dietary recommendations for physically active people are actually the same as recommendations for achieving the optimal health condition. Fundamental differences are reflected through the increased energy consumption due to intensive physical activity and losing water through sweating. Also, nutritional needs may vary depending on the type of sport you practice.

Therefore, by increasing your body’s physical activity, you also increase the energy needs that you have to meet with the proper intake of food and fluids throughout the day in accordance with the given physical activity.

It is not necessary to look for support in a variety of nutrition supplements and formulations, since the optimum, easily accessible sources of the key nutrients for building lean muscles are already found in natural ingredients we can easily incorporate in our diet (1).

Therefore, practicing a diet to build muscle mass has many advantages over taking food supplements. Natural sources don’t provide only one nutritional component but also give you energy, macro, and micronutrients at the same time.

You should take foods rich in proteins. Experts also point out that you must avoid high-calorie foods rich in sugar, greasy food, and alcohol. You must also be very careful regarding hydration.

Hydration with water is important during your diet to build muscle mass, as it is one of the key elements in the regeneration process. It helps accelerate body cleansing and maintain electrolyte levels to prevent muscle spasms.

Now, let’s find out which foods are the best allies in your diet to build muscle mass.

The 11 best foods for muscle building

There are many different fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and types of meat you should consume for a healthy diet to build muscle mass. However, 11 of them are well-known for their additional values, such as extraordinarily high protein ratio in relation to calories, relaxing muscles after training, increasing blood flow to your muscles and accelerating circulation, etc. Don’t miss the benefits of the following 11 superfoods!

1. Eggs

Eggs are one of the best sources of easily digestible proteins (2). They are very important because of their amino acid composition. As animal-origin proteins such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products provide all the essential amino acids in an amount that suits the needs of the organism, among other foods, eggs are highly appreciated in your everyday diet. This is true when it comes to practicing a diet to build muscle as well.

In addition, the way you consume eggs is very important for building muscles. Namely, eating whole eggs after your training results in higher protein muscle synthesis than after consuming only egg whites.

Thus, our organism has a greater benefit from eating whole eggs than only egg whites or egg yolks. Consuming whole eggs is a cheap and highly cost-effective option to inject a desirable amount of protein into your body, build muscles, and maintain a healthy organism.

2. Whey

Whey is a high-value and low-energy food whose proteins are easily digestible and are almost completely resorbed in your body (3). Most noteworthy, they are essential for building muscle tissue, regulating your enzymes and hormones.

You should stick with the natural whey you can get from the health food stores or even larger supermarkets. 100 ml of whey has only 24 kcal!

Let’s point out that whey is not only beneficial for muscle building, but it can also help you lose weight. Namely, whey can accelerate your metabolism and thus help you lose weight if you consume it up to an hour before and within one hour after your training.

The exact time when you drink whey is very important. Why? After intensive physical activities, such as going to the gym or running, our body slightly loses the ability to produce the amino acids needed to produce energy, strengthen the immune system, and build muscles. Therefore, drinking whey one hour before your training and immediately after your training will provide your body with these valuable amino acids and help increase your muscle mass.

Some people complain about the taste of natural whey. For a better taste, you can add grapefruit juice to your whey drink.

3. Red Meat

Athletes and all of you practicing regular and intensive physical activities have the increased needs for proteins and they also potentially experience increased iron loss. As a result, iron deficiency is among the most common nutritional deficiencies among athletes and sportsmen.

One of the best sources of iron is red meat. At the same time, it is an irreplaceable source of proteins (4). One red meat steak that weighs 200 grams contains about 50 grams of protein and only 6 grams of fat. Considering that it has only 265 calories, this kind of steak is an excellent choice for every one of you on a diet to build muscle mass.

In addition, red meat contains niacin, also known as vitamin B3, which is excellent for the health of the bloodstream and for improving “good” cholesterol.
Red meat also contains good quantities of the following nutrients:

  • Zinc, great for prostate health;
  • Iron, the key ingredient in “delivering” oxygen to the bloodstream;
  • Selenium, which will strengthen your immune system and help fight the diseases.

4. Garlic

Garlic is full of nutrients. It contains calcium, vitamin B1, and phosphorus, which produce the energy and proteins necessary for building muscles (5). In addition, garlic helps relax your muscles. Therefore, it is an excellent supplement after your training.

Moreover, garlic is well-known for its anti-inflammatory effects. If you have had a demanding workout, you should consume a clove of garlic (in any form you prefer) immediately after your training. It will help relax your muscles and prevent serious muscle inflammation.

5. Milk

Milk is an irreplaceable drink when you are exercising and an item you definitely must include in your diet to build muscle mass (6). It provides water, proteins, carbohydrates, and calcium at the same time.

Therefore, it is useful for hydration, muscle hypertrophy (growth), glycogen replacement, and providing minerals and nutrients between two training sessions.
One liter of milk that contains 1.5 % of fat contains 37 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat, and 48 grams of carbohydrates. Also, it has about 400 calories.

The protein in milk is one-third whey and the rest of it is casein. These are the two highest quality proteins whose molecules have the best abilities to pass the cell walls of the muscle fibers. They also have the best chain of amino acids, which implies maximum usability.

6. Bananas

Even though bananas are not the top sources of proteins, they are an invaluable ally in your diet to build muscle mass. Depending on the degree of ripening of a banana, it can be a source of the so-called resistant starch, which is a functional food fiber with favorable effects on health. It is a food with a high glycemic index useful for restoring glycogen after physical activity (7).

In addition, bananas are full of potassium, which is important for proper heart activity. Therefore, don’t forget to take a banana after your training.

7. Ginger

Ginger is an amazing natural supplement to your diet. Except for its strong antioxidant activity, you should know that ginger is an analgesic (8). Namely, only two grams a day will act as an analgesic after long and exhausting training. It will also help regenerate your muscles.

An excellent recipe for recovering your muscles after demanding training is based on ginger. Mix 1 cup of almond milk. 1/2 bananas, 1/2 pears, 1.2 cups of Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped ginger, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Blend these ingredients in your blender and enjoy a delicious and healthy muscle recovery ginger potion.

8. Beet juice

Beet contains nitrates that build the compounds that improve the blood supply to the muscles. That’s why you should drink beet juice after your training. It will help regenerate your muscles (9).

Beet juice improves muscle performance by as much as 13 percent. This means that you simply have to drink it if you regularly exercise or have entered a certain age when the muscle mass weakens.

When you digest nitrates, your body turns them into oxides, a component that stimulates muscle function. This component not only strengthens the muscles, but also improves heart health, which is, in this case, even more important.

9. Cherry Juice

Thanks to the phytochemicals and antioxidants it contains, cherry juice reinforces the recovery process after long-running and sports sessions (10). Also, you should consume cherry juice at least one hour before your training. It will prevent muscle inflammations after your workout.

Where is the catch with cherry juice? Fresh cherry juice contains certain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients that have an instant effect on muscle relaxation and relieving muscle inflammation. One glass per day is sufficient for the beneficial effects of this juice. Moreover, cherry juice will give you more physical strength and improve your overall physical condition.

10. Fish

Fish, especially salmon, is among the superfoods that will build your muscles (11). Salmon can help purify your muscle structure and burn fat. Salmon has a unique combination of the omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B, and high-quality protein.

Moreover, fish contains nutrients that are extremely useful for helping athletes during their fatigue and injury recovery periods. Namely, those nutrients help to regenerate muscles. Salmon contains vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids that play a major role in regeneration after training and in general muscle recovery.

In addition, fish is rich in magnesium, selenium, calcium, and iron, which builds muscles and recovers them after training. You should eat salmon with green salad once or twice a week.

11. Spinach

We all know that spinach gives us strength. However, how does this really work? Consuming a portion of spinach a day makes your muscles far more effective. If you eat 300 grams of spinach, you reduce the amount of oxygen needed to start your muscles or activate them during the time you exercise for up to five percent.

The effect is so powerful that it works after only three days! The secret is not in iron, but in nitrates that are found in spinach. These nitrates help mitochondria to be more effective. It fuels your muscles with energy, making them more effective.

Moreover, eating spinach leads to a difference in energy consumption which equals between three and five percent, which is a significant difference.

In addition, phytoecdysteroids, found in spinach, help increase the muscle mass by 20 percent. Spinach also contains calcium, which helps muscle recovery and prevents muscle spasms during training. In addition, it contains a high percentage of iron which is essential for building muscles (12).

Additional tips:

In addition to these 11 superfoods which will help you build muscles; it is very important to know that you must drink plenty of water throughout the day. Hydration is an essential part of muscle building (13). Your body consists of 70 percent of water. This also means that your muscle tissue is – 75 percent water!

It is recommended to drink 2 liters of water a day. This is the standard recommendation for healthy adults. However, air temperature, i.e. weather condition, your diet, and other factors affect these recommendations. If you practice intensive training, your water needs will increase. As a matter of fact, every 0.5 hours of physical activity require an additional 0.5 liters of fluid.

Secondly, you must take care of your blood vessels. This is important for everyone, regardless of your muscle building diet, exercising, etc. Blood vessel condition is of the utmost importance for a healthy and long life. Moreover, it is very important when you are trying to build your muscles. The muscles are supplied with nutrients and blood through blood vessels. They also provide oxygen. That’s why your general health is very important for your physical appearance as well.

Moreover, you should get enough sleep. Sleep helps in the recovery process and muscle growth. It is difficult to build muscles without proper sleep. You should get at least seven hours of quality sleep each night. During your sleep, most hormones, including the growth hormone, are released, allowing your body to recover and grow. This “growth” implies muscle growth as well.

Physical activity is the key ally in your muscle building process. You can build your muscles through various activities. It’s not just about weight lifting. You can build your muscles by running, swimming, walking down and up the stairs, and countless other ways, depending on the zone on your body and muscle group you want to work on.

Days of rest from physical activity are also very important. This is the time when your body will recover and your muscles will also grow during this period. Therefore, don’t overdo your training. You must allow the muscle structure to repair themselves.

Furthermore, your eating habits heavily affect your muscle building tempo. You should eat 5 or 6 small meals a day. If you have regular and properly arranged meals, your body will use the energy from the food. If you reduce your food intake, you will quickly waste energy supplies in the form of glycogen, and after that, your body will start spending muscle mass. That is something you definitely don’t want to lose.

Also, you should have a small meal before and after your training. This is very important. Otherwise, you won’t have enough energy to exercise. However, pay attention to the timing. You should not eat or drink anything during the last hour before your training.

About 60 minutes before the training, you should have a small meal rich in carbohydrates in combination with liquid (14). This can be a sandwich or a biscuit with freshly squeezed orange juice.

After your training, preferably within the first 30 minutes, you should eat a smaller meal rich in proteins and fast-paced carbohydrates, such as yogurt, banana, and milk. This will provide constant energy to your body and it will not use muscle stocks.

Avoid periods of hunger as these are the times that alert your body in a negative way. Your metabolism will most probably slow down and you will not be able to lose weight and build muscles at the same time.

The Bottom Line

Finally, we can say that eating various foods, including dairy products, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and drinking enough water are the keys to a successful diet to build muscle mass.

Experts recommend eggs, whey, red meat, fish, milk, garlic, spinach, bananas, ginger, beet and cherry juice. Of course, there are many other ingredients and foods that are useful and helpful during this process, but these 11 have extraordinarily beneficial effects on the muscle building process, quality of your muscles, their structure, as well as relaxation after your training sessions and muscle repair process.


(1) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033492/
(2) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303863/
(3) //journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0075408
(4) //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030917401400196X
(5) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3988507/
(6) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569005/
(7) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3355124/
(8) //www.researchgate.net/publication/43342617_Ginger_Zingiber_officinale_Reduces_Muscle_Pain_Caused_by_Eccentric_Exercise
(9) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997419/
(10) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5109721/
(11) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4776937/
(12) //europepmc.org/abstract/med/24921623
(13) //nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-5-15
(14) //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5794245/

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