Foods You Shouldn’t Eat When Building Muscle

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on August 14, 2019
Last updated on May 23, 2021

You are working very hard to build muscles. You’ve been getting enough rest and sleep and hitting the gym on a regular basis. However, building muscles is not only centered on exercise or weightlifting, but nutrition is also important! To be able to maximize your results from the gym, you should watch your diet, as eating the wrong foods can delay your muscle building goals and progress. This article explains the importance of building muscles and the foods you should avoid to not sabotage your hard work.

pizza, one of the unhealthy foods mentioned

Why Build Muscles?

There are several health benefits associated with building muscles. To be able to build muscles, one must exercise frequently, doing both aerobic and resistance training.

Aerobic exercises, which is often done to reduce body fat, can help improve heart health, thus lowering your risk of heart disease (1). Resistance training, on the other hand, will increase your muscle size and strength. Increased muscular strength can help lower your risk of dying from cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses (2).

Building muscles helps you focus on good nutrition too! Following a healthy eating pattern, which includes nutrient-packed foods, can greatly lower your risk of chronic illnesses (3).

Worst Foods for Building Muscle

While we will name specific foods that you should avoid in your diet, generally, you must limit the following:


Alcohol greatly affects your ability to lose and fat and build muscles. It reduces muscle protein synthesis (MPS), thus limiting muscle growth even after exercise (4). Alcoholic beverages also inhibit proper digestive function. Alcohol can delay the movement of food through the tract and decrease digestive secretions, which is responsible for breaking down food into nutrients for fast and easy absorption (5).

Alcohol intake can impair digestion and absorption of nutrients. This can affect the organs that play a role in weight loss and eventually, muscle building.


Several products contain sugar. You’ll find it naturally in vegetables, fruits, and dairy products or in pre-packed foods. The latter, which includes candies, donuts, cakes, ice cream, baked goods sodas, and sports drinks, is what you should watch out for. They contain high calories but few nutrients (3). Eating foods rich in sugar increases your insulin level and cause fat gain.

Soy Protein

While soy is often used as a meat replacement in most vegan diets, it is something you might want to avoid when building muscles. New studies show that soy protein is not as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle protein synthesis (MPS), under both rested and post-exercise conditions (6, 7).

Low-Calorie Vegetables

While vegetables have a plethora of health benefits, not all will help grow your muscles. One common mistake many people make is not eating enough. Low-calorie vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and celery are healthy and may fill you up, but without providing enough calories. Go for higher-calorie vegetables like broccoli, potato, beans, and avocado.

High Fat Foods

High-fat foods, which includes high-fat meats, buttery products, creams, and heavy sauces, can increase your risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. One study revealed that just 5 days of eating a high-fat diet can change the way in which your muscle processes nutrients (8).

Processed Foods

As many people’s demand for convenience increased, so have the number of processed foods we consume daily. These contain few nutrients and high sugars, which sabotage your efforts to gain healthy muscle mass.

Processed Meat

Lean, natural meats, ground beef, and fish like salmon and tuna are the basics of a muscle-building diet because they are rich in protein. Processed meats are different though. One study revealed that every extra daily serving of processed red meat like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs can increase one’s risk of premature death by 20% (9).

Deep-Fried Foods

Deep fried foods like French fries and onion rings are not helpful when trying to build muscle mass. They can cause inflammation, and in excessive amounts, diseases (10).

Other Specific Foods to Avoid When Growing Muscles

1. Bagels

A single piece of bagel contains approximately 400 calories, all are refined sugars. Top it off with cream and cheese, then you’re totally not getting anything than saturated fat. These ingredients will not help you build muscles. Instead, choose a single slice of whole grain bread and use natural peanut butter as a filling.

2. Pretzels

Pretzels are delicious but aren’t healthy for muscle builders. They are simply old carbs that lack fiber and protein. If you really can’t live without pretzels, buy whole grain and use peanut or almond butter as dips for a boost of healthy fat.

3. Granola Bars

While a combo of oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and a small amount of sugar and fat can make a healthy snack, the addition of candies, chocolate, and fudge, which increases sugar, fat, and calorie contents, can sabotage your muscle-building plan. Always buy granola bars with 200 or fewer calories and without sweet mixtures.

4. Breakfast Cereals

While cereals look healthy, they still contain much more sugar than we think. If your cereal list 5 grams sugar as one of its top ingredients, skip it. Choose those with at least 3 grams of fiber and a nice amount of protein for muscle building.

5. Muffins

Many people grab on-the-go snacks like muffins. However, a plus-sized muffin may contain more than 500 calories without much nutritional value. They are often made from a batter consisting of eggs, butter, and refined white flour. This is not ideal for people who want to get ripped.

6. All-Purpose Flour

Cakes, cookies, bread, and other scrumptious carb-filled goodies use all-purpose flour, which gives you nothing but empty calories. If you feel the need to indulge, look for recipes that use high fiber or whole wheat pastry flours. You can make a healthier version of baked goods occasionally.

7. Sausages

This tasty meat is brimming with sodium, saturated fat, and calories. It also contains nitrites for coloring and preservation. Nitrites can produce nitrosamines, which are known to be carcinogenic. For a healthier option, choose lean cuts of meat or a nitrite-free variety of sausages.

8. Cured Ham

Cured hams are normally paired with sodium-rich sauces. Excessive amounts of sodium can make you feel and look bloated, hiding the muscle mass and body shape you’ve been working so hard to achieve. Go for a lean cut of pork instead of cured ham.

9. Smoothies

If you think you are being healthy by regularly drinking pre-made smoothies, think again. Most pre-made smoothies are filled with calories and sugar. Even a full scoop of protein powder won’t undo the sugar load that you’ll be putting in your body. Why not create your own smoothie using fresh fruits at home to have better control over the ingredients?

10. Soda

Soda is nothing but sugar water. It displaces muscle building drinks like protein-filled milk. Also, caffeine in soda can weaken bones. Drink low-fat milk or pure water instead.

11. Donuts

Who doesn’t love donuts? But if you want to build muscles, you have to forgo these fried pastries made from refined flour. Instead, satisfy your sweet cravings with protein-filled non-fat plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruits and some honey.

12. Ice Cream

While nothing beats a hot sunny day than a cup of ice cream, it isn’t healthy, especially when trying to increase muscle mass. A single serving of ice cream, which is approximately ½ cup, contains 137 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat. Many can easily finish 2-3 cups in one sitting, making their saturated fat go far beyond the recommended daily intake. This will certainly not help you build muscles. Indulge on healthy, non-fat Greek yogurt bars instead.

13. Potato Chips

Potatoes are a good addition to your muscle-building diet plan. However, once processed, they lose much of their nutrients including vitamin C. Eat baked fries instead.

14. Artificial Sweeteners

These are certainly sweeter than sugar! They do not help with muscle gain and should be avoided completely. Instead, use 100% honey, agave, or maple syrup.

15. Butter

A single stick of butter contains more than 800 calories, 92 grams of fat, and 58 grams of saturated fat. That’s over 140% of the daily allowable amount of fat and nearly 300% for saturated fat! Skip the butter and use olive or canola oil.

16. Coconut oil

Coconut oil isn’t very helpful when building muscles, unlike olive or canola oil. It does not contain omega-3 fatty fats that can help reduce muscle inflammation after exercise.

17. Pizza

A single slice of pizza contains approximately 400 calories. Top it with processed meat, then the numbers go up a few hundred more. If you want to get the ideal nutrients for your muscles, prepare your own at home using a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese, and top it with veggies.

Bottom Line

Achieving your desired body and muscle mass requires regular exercise and special attention to your diet. You must always look for nutrient-packed foods, preferably 20-30 grams of protein with every meal or snack, and avoid the above-mentioned food products. Following these tips will help you get all the important nutrients your body needs for growing muscles and securing overall health.


PhentermineDoctors has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.