You’ve come here because you’re struggling to gain muscle. It seems easy for other people. But.. you’ve never been able to achieve the same results others can. And you’re not sure why. We’ve been there too. We know how it feels. The key to muscle growth is mastering your nutrition. By eating the best food for muscle growth, you’ll be able to train less often, train safer, and still get the results you’ve always wanted.
Interested? We thought so. Keep reading to learn more about the best food for muscle growth…
How does muscle growth happen?
Before we get into the best food for muscle growth, let’s look at the science. To gain muscle, you need two things:
- A calorie (or energy) surplus
- Weight training (or resistance training) with progressive overload
Why is a calorie surplus needed to gain muscle?
A calorie surplus means eating more calories than you burn every day. The reason why it’s needed to gain muscle is that your body won’t gain muscle if it doesn’t have excess calories. It has other, more important, things to do.
“What’s more important than gaining muscle?” you ask. Living. Your body needs calories to function properly, such as the heart, the brain, and other organs. It also needs calories to digest food and absorb nutrients.
There’s a slight caveat to the above – if you’re brand new to the gym, you may be able to add some muscle without being in a calorie surplus, especially if you have excess body fat. This won’t last for too long, however, so it’s still important to continue reading this article for the best food for muscle growth.
Will you get fat if you eat in a calorie surplus?
There are two methods to be in a calorie surplus for muscle growth. The first: eat everything in sight. The second: eating in a more controlled way, whilst still maintaining a calorie surplus.
If you do the first, you’re likely to get fat. You have no idea how many calories you’re eating. Excuse the pun, but this is a recipe for disaster.
If you do the second, you’ll maximise muscle gain whilst minimising fat gain. Here, we recommend a calorie surplus of between 100 and 500 calories per day.
How many calories do you need to gain muscle?
Use this to get an estimate of the number of calories you need to gain muscle, and use a tool like MyFitnessPal to track this daily. When gaining weight, it’s important to stick to this figure as much as you can. Eating under this even once or twice a week will mean that you won’t hit your calorie target for the week, meaning you won’t be in a surplus. You can’t half-arsed this muscle growth thing, unfortunately!
Adjust your calories accordingly – if you’re not gaining muscle at the rate you want, slightly increase your calories. Be patient though, muscle growth takes time. If you increase calories too quickly, you may end up putting on too much fat.
Do you need to weight train to gain muscle?
Weight training or resistance training involves any exercise carried out against resistance. If you want to gain muscle, you have to train.
Train heavy (whilst still being safe), and apply progressive overload. If you don’t know what this is, it means increasing volume, intensity, frequency or time the body is under tension above and beyond what it has previously experienced.
Essentially, you want to make slight adjustments every session so your body adapts by becoming bigger, stronger, and faster.
Pro Tip: Combine a calorie surplus with weight training with progressive overload, and you’ll be on the way to gaining muscle.
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…
The best food for muscle growth:
Poultry – chicken breast and turkey
Poultry is an excellent source of high-quality protein. Protein is important for muscle maintenance and repair. Poultry can be cooked in many ways, including roasting, baking, stir-frying, pan-frying, grilling, or barbequing.
It’s lower in fat than red meat and a good source of vitamins and minerals. Depending on the type you choose, it’s low in sodium too.
Time for Nandos anyone?
Fish – tuna, salmon, mackerel, cod, prawns, and other types
Fish is high in protein, low in fat, and high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are essential because they ensure the proper function of your body processes, such as your metabolism. To meet your omega-3 requirements, eating fatty fish at least once or twice a week is recommended.
Like chicken, fish can be cooked and prepared in many ways. Baking, grilling, sauteing, poaching, or straight out of a can are common ways to eat fish.
Meat – beef, lamb, pork, and more
Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals in your diet. However, some meat can also be high in saturated fat, so opt for lean varieties where possible.
Most supermarkets have both fatty and lean varieties available, so get to know what’s good and what isn’t. If in doubt, speak to the butcher who will be able to advise you.
When you get home, trim any visible fat before cooking. Once cooked, you can drain ground beef, pork, chicken and turkey on paper towels to remove more fat.
Dairy – eggs, yoghurt, cheese, milk, cottage cheese
Dairy is a popular choice for high-protein food due to the wide variety of dairy products. It’s great for vegetarians and in addition to being high in protein, it’s high in calcium, a crucial nutrient for bone health. Strong, healthy bones are crucial for sustainable, lifelong exercise.
When it comes to milk, a large percentage of the world’s population is intolerant to it (most people are only slightly intolerant), so the benefits depend on the individual. If you can tolerate it, milk is a must-have.
Whey protein is the most popular supplement in the fitness industry for a good reason. It’s a fast and convenient source of protein and usually comes at a reasonable price.
For most people, it’s difficult to get enough protein in their diet from natural sources (at Sports Samurai, we recommend 1g per 1lb of body weight), and this is where whey protein is important.
Whey protein also contains all of the essential amino acids. Here, leucine is the most important, as it is the one that promotes muscle growth. Whey protein is also good for other health reasons, such as lowering blood pressure and helping to treat type 2 diabetes. See here for a full list.
Adding milk, peanut butter, fruit, or anything else you can find at home to your whey protein is a good way to get your daily calorie intake higher.
Treat yourself to a new gym bag or backpack from Sports Samurai…
Oats have been given a separate category because of how good they are for muscle growth. They have a well-balanced nutrient composition and are a good source of carbohydrates and fibre. They contain more protein and fats than most grains.
Oats can be made in many ways. From cooking them in a microwave in less than 2 minutes to cooking them on a stove in about 10 minutes to preparing them the night before and putting them in the fridge for overnight oats, to grinding them completely to make smoothies.
The options are endless. Experiment with adding different ingredients like nuts, milk, whey protein, seeds, fruit, and spices such as cinnamon.
Whole grains – brown rice, brown pasta, brown bread
These are high in nutrients and fibre, helping you to feel full and satisfied. Also, they can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. This is particularly true when they replace the refined grains in your diet.
The reason why whole grains are better than refined grains (e.g. white rice and pasta) is that their bran and germ haven’t been removed by milling. This causes nutrients and fibre to be removed, so you lose the good stuff.
Nuts and seeds – Almonds, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and more
They’re high in fat, low in carbs, and a great source of several nutrients. Nuts and seeds are also high in calories, which can be good for you if you’re struggling to get enough calories in the day from other sources. Like anything, eat these in moderation.
When choosing nuts and seeds, choose the unsalted and unsweetened varieties. They can be eaten as a snack in between meals, as a topping in a salad, or as a butter. What’s not to like about them?
Fruits and vegetables – all types
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals and a great source of fibre.
There are so many varieties of fruit and vegetables and so many different ways to prepare them that it’s impossible to get bored. When you go food shopping, aim to try one new fruit or vegetable each week. To keep costs down, eat fruit and vegetables in season.
Legumes and pulses – Beans, lentils, and peas
A cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, which count towards your recommended 5 daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Varying your protein sources will also vary the amino acids in your diet, which is key to building healthy muscle.
Legumes and pulses are a great option for vegetarians and vegans, but also for meat-eaters. Legumes and pulses blend particularly well with salads, stews and curries.
How can you use the best food for muscle growth daily?
This is a great question. Now that you know the types of food you should be eating, check out the example daily meal plan using the best food for muscle growth:
Breakfast – Oats, topped with nuts or seeds, milk, fruit, and eggs or whey protein
Morning Snack – Fruit, yoghurt or cottage cheese, nuts or seeds
Lunch – Whole grains, meat or fish or poultry or legumes, vegetables, nuts or seeds, fruit
Afternoon Snack – Fruit, yoghurt or cottage cheese, nuts or seeds, whey protein
Dinner – Whole grains, meat or fish or poultry or pulses, vegetables, nuts or seeds, fruit
Evening Snack – Milk, yoghurt or cottage cheese, nuts or seeds, whey protein
This can be adjusted as you wish, so feel free to find what works for you! Just ensure you’re eating the best food for muscle growth described above.
The right nutrition and training with progressive overload is the key to gaining muscle. Keep it simple by using the above best food for muscle growth. All 10 are important but make it work for you, rather than forcing yourself to eat or drink something that you’re not comfortable with.
Pro Tip: Experiment with different recipes and food until you find the right combination that works for you. If you want to gain muscle, you have to enjoy the journey!
Happy muscle gaining!
Let us know your favourite muscle gaining foods or recipes in the comments below.