Foods for Building Muscle Mass: What To Eat For Optimal Muscle Growth

Are you looking to build muscle mass? Maintaining muscle mass is important as you age. Along with exercise, diet plays a critical role in helping your body maintain muscle. Eating the right foods not only helps you gain muscle weight but also ensures that your body can recover and rebuild after exercise. To help you on your way, here’s what to eat to add muscle bulk and strengthen your body. Let’s go get them gains!

Protein's Role in Building Muscle Mass

steak and herbs

When looking for foods to build muscle, the first thing to consider is protein. Protein is essential for muscle growth, as it breaks down into amino acids and provides the body with the building blocks it needs to create new muscle tissue. The goal is to aim for foods that are high in quality, complete proteins such as lean red meat, poultry, eggs or fish that will provide your body with the essential amino acids it needs to sustain muscle growth.

Red meat is a great go-to protein choice for muscle building as it contains creatine, carnitine and BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) which have been shown to increase muscle growth and strength. Not only this, but quality red meat is a great source of iron and zinc, which facilitates the oxygenation of muscle tissue and cellular repair post-workout.

Great sources of protein include:

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Grass-fed red meat
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

These foods provide the body with essential, bioavailable amino acids for muscle growth.

Healthy Carbs Help You Build More Muscle

Healthy carbs including oats and whole wheat bread

In addition to protein, foods high in complex carbohydrates are essential for muscle energy and aid in the maintenance of muscle mass for long periods. This becomes especially important for marathons, long distance or trail running. Complex carbs provide sustained energy for intense workouts and help fuel muscle recovery.

Examples of complex carbohydrates include foods such as:

  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Whole wheat bread

Fruits & Vegetables

Did you know that fruits and veggies can be considered carbohydrates? Yes, they have other macronutrients, notably fibre and some protein. However, most fruits and veg fit into this category, while providing some fantastic plant polyphenols and antioxidants for extra health benefits.

Choose fruits and vegetables such as:

  • Broccoli & cruciferous vegetables
  • Leafy greens - spinach, rocket, lettuce, herbs
  • Root vegetables - sweet potato, parsnips, carrots, beetroot
  • Apples, bananas and oranges
  • Tropical fruits like pineapple, pawpaw and mango
  • Berries - blueberries, raspberries and dried berries

Healthy Fats for Improved Performance

healthy fats

Eating healthy fats helps promote the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin K. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that are critical for optimal muscle function. Omega 3 has been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect on muscle tissue, which helps enhance recovery and reduce soreness after exercising. Additionally, omega 3 can improve the efficiency of energy production in the body during exercise, leading to improved endurance and better performance.

Some excellent sources of healthy fats include:

  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Wild-caught fish
  • Eggs
  • Chia seeds

Is Whey Protein Better Than Soy Protein For Building Muscle?

Supplements can be beneficial when used correctly. Two popular supplements in the body-building and sports nutrition realm are whey protein (WPI) and soy protein. Both have some evidence supporting their use in improving muscle recovery, boosting performance during exercise, and helping build muscle mass.

Both soy protein and whey protein have some similarities, but also demonstrate some key differences that should be considered when deciding which is best for you.

Soy protein is derived from soybeans and is a plant-based source of protein. It is high in essential amino acids and is rich in B vitamins. Whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production and is derived from cow's milk. It is a complete protein source that contains all nine essential amino acids and has been found to help build muscle more effectively than soy protein. Whey protein can also be consumed in various forms, such as in a powder, protein bars or shakes.

When trying to decide on which type of protein to choose for muscle building, consider your dietary needs and preferences. Evaluate the pros and cons of each option before making a decision.

Enjoy A Balanced Diet To Help Promote Muscle Growth

The foods above provide the essential nutrients your body needs to build muscle mass. Resistance training along with boosting your protein intake are the key elements to big gains in muscle growth. Keep things in balance by enjoying a mix of foods, including quality protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables in your diet. You'll soon be well on your way to achieving your muscle-building goals.


Muscle Building Green Hulk Smoothie

This super green, super delicious smoothie will set you up for gaining Incredible Hulk-Esque muscles. Well, maybe not quite, but it's full of protein, healthy fats and leafy green spinach for maximum macronutrient and muscle-building effects. Make your own nut milk to really amp up the protein and creaminess. Enjoy it for breakfast or as a post-workout smoothie!


  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk or whole almond milk
  • 1 scoop (30g) protein powder
  • 1⁄2 cup natural Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 tablespoon organic chia seeds
  • 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon
  • Ice cubes to blend if needed


Combine all ingredients in a blender and enjoy

Article References

Devries, M. C., & Phillips, S. M. (2015). Supplemental protein in support of muscle mass and health: advantage whey. Journal of food science, 80 Suppl 1, A8–A15.

Fielding, R., Riede, L., Lugo, J. P., & Bellamine, A. (2018). l-Carnitine Supplementation in Recovery after Exercise. Nutrients, 10(3), 349.

Phillips S. M. (2011). The science of muscle hypertrophy: making dietary protein count. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 70(1), 100–103.

Plotkin, D. L., Delcastillo, K., Van Every, D. W., Tipton, K. D., Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2021). Isolated Leucine and Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation for Enhancing Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 31(3), 292–301.

Rawson, E. S., Miles, M. P., & Larson-Meyer, D. E. (2018). Dietary Supplements for Health, Adaptation, and Recovery in Athletes. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(2), 188–199.

Reis, C. E. G., Loureiro, L. M. R., Roschel, H., & da Costa, T. H. M. (2021). Effects of pre-sleep protein consumption on muscle-related outcomes - A systematic review. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 24(2), 177–182.

Spriet L. L. (2014). New insights into the interaction of carbohydrate and fat metabolism during exercise. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 44 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S87–S96.

Tang, J. E., & Phillips, S. M. (2009). Maximizing muscle protein anabolism: the role of protein quality. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 12(1), 66–71.