What to eat and not eat when building muscle mass

Building muscle mass is a goal that many people share, whether they’re looking to boost their physical performance, improve their health, or simply look and feel better.

Achieving this goal goes beyond hitting the gym; it deeply involves what we eat every day. Understanding the right mix of foods can significantly enhance muscle growth and strength, making your workouts more effective and your results more pronounced.

However, not all foods are created equal when building muscle. While some are like a secret weapon for muscle growth, others can be more of a hindrance.

This blog is here to clear up any confusion and set you on the right path. You’ll learn not only what to eat but what to avoid, ensuring your diet complements your hard work in the gym.

What foods increase muscle mass?

To increase muscle mass, focusing on nutrient-dense foods that balance proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats is essential. Incorporating these foods into your diet can significantly enhance your muscle-building efforts.

Fueling your body with the right foods is crucial for building muscle mass and enhancing both your workouts and recovery [1]. Let’s highlight the best proteins, carbs, and fats to support your muscle-building goals.

Dive into practical meal ideas and nutrition tips to power up your strength training regimen.

Proteins

After putting your muscles through the wringer with a good workout, it’s the protein that steps in to patch things up and make them stronger. Here’s a quick guide to some of the best protein sources to include in your diet:

  • Chicken: Versatile and lean, it’s perfect for adding muscle without the fat.
  • Fish: Think salmon and tuna, which are rich in protein and omega-3s and help soothe and recover muscles.
  • Beef: Packed with protein and creatine for energy, opt for lean cuts to keep things healthy.
  • Plant-based proteins: Lentils, chickpeas, tofu, and quinoa are great for those avoiding meat, offering protein plus fiber.
  • Eggs: A powerhouse of complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids necessary for muscle recovery.

Incorporating these protein sources into your meals can significantly aid in muscle development, offering variety and essential nutrients to support your fitness goals.

Proteins

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are not just about energy; they also play a crucial role in replenishing glycogen stores that your muscles use up during exercise.

Here’s a rundown of some excellent carb sources to keep you energized:

  • Whole grains: Options like brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain bread provide long-lasting energy [2].
  • Fruits and vegetables: Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they ensure your body gets a broad spectrum of nutrients for overall health and muscle recovery.
  • Sweet potatoes: A superior source of carbs, sweet potatoes are also rich in beta-carotene and fiber, making them ideal for sustained energy levels.

Incorporating these carbohydrate sources into your diet helps ensure you have the stamina for your workouts and the nutrients needed for efficient muscle repair.

Balance them with proteins and healthy fats for a well-rounded nutrition plan that supports your muscle-building goals.

Healthy fats

These nutrients are key for absorbing vitamins, reducing inflammation, and supporting the overall health necessary for muscle growth.

Here are some top sources of healthy fats:

  • Avocado: Loaded with fiber and potassium, avocados are great for muscle health and recovery.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are rich in fats and provide protein and fiber.
  • Olive oil: A staple of heart health, olive oil is excellent for cooking or dressing salads to add a dose of good fats to your diet.

Integrating these healthy fats into your meals can boost your vitamin absorption, aid in muscle repair, and support your body’s natural hormone production. Pairing these fats with a balanced intake of proteins and carbs will ensure your diet supports your fitness goals effectively.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients, though needed in smaller amounts, are powerful allies in muscle building and overall health. These vitamins and minerals boost recovery, enhance muscle function, and support the immune system.

Here’s a quick guide to some essential micronutrients:

  • Iron: Found in spinach and red meat, iron is crucial for oxygen transport in the blood, supporting energy levels and endurance.
  • Calcium: Beyond bone health, calcium, available in dairy and leafy greens, plays a role in muscle contraction and heart health.
  • Magnesium: Present in nuts, seeds, and whole grains, magnesium aids in muscle recovery and relaxation, preventing cramps.
  • Vitamin C: Oranges, strawberries, and bell peppers loaded with Vitamin C help repair tissues and reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress.

Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your diet can help ensure you’re getting these essential micronutrients. They might be small, but their impact on your fitness and health is immense, proving that good things indeed come in small packages.

What foods should I avoid to build muscle?

To build muscle effectively, it’s essential to not only focus on what you should eat but also on what foods to avoid. Making mindful choices will help ensure your diet supports your fitness goals.

Certain foods can hinder your progress by contributing to unwanted fat gain, providing empty calories, or impairing muscle recovery. Steering clear of highly processed foods, excessive sugars, trans fats, and alcohol can significantly impact your muscle-building journey. 

When you fail to avoid these foods, you are undermining your muscle-building efforts, hindering recovery, and affecting your overall health [3]. Identifying and limiting these foods can help you achieve better workout and nutrition plan results.

Highly processed foods and added sugars

These items are usually low in nutrients and high in calories, leading to quick energy spikes followed by crashes. This can hinder your workout performance and muscle recovery.

Here are some examples of highly processed foods and added sugars that you must avoid:

  • Sugary snacks: Cakes, cookies, and candies offer little nutritional value and can contribute to unwanted weight gain.
  • Processed meals: Pre-packaged meals and fast food often contain unhealthy fats and excessive sodium, aside from lacking essential nutrients.
  • Sweetened beverages: Sodas and some fruit drinks are high in sugars, providing empty calories without any of the nutrients your body needs to perform at its best.

Opting for whole, unprocessed foods not only supports your muscle-building goals but also enhances your overall health. Choosing nutrient-dense options ensures you get the vitamins, minerals, and energy needed to fuel your workouts and aid in recovery.

Alcohol

Alcohol might seem like a good way to unwind, but it can be a setback if muscle-building is your goal. Here’s why you might want to limit those alcoholic drinks:

  • Slows down muscle recovery: Alcohol can interfere with the process that helps repair and build your muscles after a workout.
  • Dehydrates your body: Staying hydrated is key for muscle function and recovery. Alcohol, being a diuretic, moves you in the opposite direction.
  • Affects sleep quality: Though it might seem like it helps you sleep, alcohol actually reduces the quality of your rest, impacting muscle growth [4].

Enjoying a drink occasionally is likely fine, but regular consumption could hinder your progress. Staying mindful about your intake can help keep your fitness goals on track.

Trans fats and low-quality fats 

Unlike the healthy fats found in avocados and nuts, trans fats are man-made and can wreak havoc on your body. They’re found in many processed foods and can lead to increased bad cholesterol levels while lowering the good kind.

Here’s what you need to keep an eye on:

  • Fried foods: These are often cooked in oils that contain trans fats.
  • Baked goods: Pastries, cookies, and pies might contain trans fats to extend shelf life.
  • Fast food: Many fast food options are prepared with unhealthy fats that can impact your heart health and muscle-building efforts.

Opting for foods with natural, healthy fats supports your body’s recovery after workouts and improves overall health. Remember, not all fats are created equal, so choosing the right ones can make all the difference in your fitness journey.

High-sodium processed foods

High-sodium processed foods

High-sodium processed foods can throw a wrench in your muscle-building efforts and overall health. Here’s a quick rundown on why limiting them is a good idea:

  • Leads to water retention: Excess sodium causes your body to hold onto water, which can blur muscle definition.
  • Raises blood pressure: Regular consumption of high-sodium foods can increase your risk of hypertension.
  • Nutrient displacement: These foods often replace more nutritious options that could support muscle growth and recovery.

Opt for fresh or minimally processed foods when possible, as they allow you to control your sodium intake better. Making this switch can support your fitness goals and contribute to long-term health.

Large amounts of caffeine

While a moderate amount of caffeine can give you a much-needed pre-workout boost, going overboard could set you back. Here’s what happens with too much caffeine:

  • Can lead to dehydration: Caffeine has diuretic properties, meaning it can cause your body to lose fluids, affecting muscle recovery.
  • May disrupt sleep: Quality sleep is crucial for muscle growth. Too much caffeine, especially late in the day, can interfere with this.
  • Could increase heart rate: High amounts of caffeine can cause heart palpitations, making it harder to stay focused and calm during workouts.

Sticking to moderate amounts ensures you get the benefits without the downsides. Remember, your body’s recovery and growth happen not just in the gym but also during rest.

In closing

Building muscle isn’t just about the hours you put into the gym; it’s equally about what you put on your plate. From prioritizing proteins to choosing your carbs wisely, every bite contributes to your muscle-building journey.

Equally important is knowing which foods to avoid or limit, like highly processed options, trans fats, excessive alcohol, and high-sodium foods, which can hinder your progress.

Note that building muscle is a journey that combines dedication in the gym with mindfulness in the kitchen. Every meal is an opportunity to fuel your body for success. Keep pushing forward, stay informed, and celebrate the small victories along the way.

FAQs

What foods to eat to gain muscle mass?

Focus on lean proteins like chicken, fish, and legumes, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and sweet potatoes, and healthy fats from avocados, nuts, and seeds. 

What foods to avoid when building muscle?

Avoid highly processed foods, excessive sugars, trans fats, and alcohol, as they can hinder muscle growth and recovery. 

How do I calculate how much protein I need to build muscle?

Aim for about 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day to support muscle growth. This amount can vary based on your diet, workout intensity, and muscle mass goals.

Can I gain muscle without eating?

No, food intake is crucial for muscle gain because it provides the necessary nutrients and calories to fuel muscle growth and recovery. Without adequate nutrition, your body cannot effectively build new muscle tissue.

[1] https://www.issaonline.com/blog/post/eat-to-gain-musclethe-role-food-plays-in-strength-training
[2] https://www.hprc-online.org/nutrition/performance-nutrition/whole-grains-equal-whole-fuel
[3] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/6-foods-to-avoid-if-you-want-to-build-muscle
[4] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.