The Foods You Need to Eat to Build Muscle

In order to successfully build strong, lean muscle mass, you need to strike the right balance between nutrition and physical activity. Of course it’s essential to challenge your body through weight training, but if you neglect you nutrition, you won’t get the muscle gains you desire and your progress will soon stall.

If you want to maximise your muscle gain results at the gym, then you also need to watch what you’re doing outside the gym. Building muscle is as much about changing your lifestyle as it is about lifting heavier weights.

It’s essential that you focus on the food you’re eating, in particular high-protein foods. However, getting enough carbohydrates and fats are also necessary to give you the energy you’ll need for your workouts. When building muscle you’ll want to consume more calories each day, as part of your muscle gain meal plans. Eating the wrong food can be seriously detrimental to your goals, so we wanted to go through the right foods you need to eat, to build the muscle you want…

Calories for bulking and cutting

First, in order to build muscle, you need to start with a bulking phase, then reduce fat aftwards with the cutting phase. So, naturally you’ll be aiming to consume more calories during the bulking phase.

If you’re unsure when it comes to how many calories you need, the easiest thing to do is to weigh yourself 3 times a week, while recording what you eat, ideally on a calorie tracking app. This way you can get an idea of your current base-line calorie intake.

When you enter the bulking phase, it’s recommended that you increase your calorie intake by around 15%. For example, if you currently take in around 2,500 calories a day, you should aim for around 2,875 (2,500 x 0.15 = 375) during your bulking phase. Then when you transition to the cutting phase, you need to decrease your base-line intake by around 15%. So, if you consumed 2,500 to begin with, you’ll need to cut this to 2,125.

Put simply, increasing your calorie intake as you gain weight in the bulking phase and decrease your intake as you lose weight in the cutting phase, is the goal in order to achieve real muscle gain progression. As a rule you should aim to not lose or gain more than 0.5 to 1% of your body weight per week, whether you’re bulking or cutting. This will ensure you don’t end up losing too much muscle mass when you’re cutting, or gaining too much body fat when bulking.

One of our ambassadors; physio, PT and Mens Physique Champion Josh Bryant, had this to say:

So calorie intake depends on a few factors: your lean body weight, gender, activity levels and if you’re willing to add much body fat. To workout out rough calories for lean muscle building I usually do the following sum: men 16 x lbs of lean weight. Women 15 x lbs of lean weight. Then round up to the nearest 100. Start at this calorie intake and monitor muscle/fat gain. Increase the calories by 200 every 1-2 weeks if your weight has not increased, reduce the calories by 100 per week if you’re gaining too much fat.

I also recommend that you have an intake of around 1g of protein per lb of lean weight. For example, an 80kg man (176lbs) would aim for 176g of protein. The remaining calories then get divided into carbs and fats. Carbs should be the majority of your calorie intake for muscle building as they will boost your performance in the gym. Muscle will only build if you’re progressively overloading your muscles and carbs will assist you in achieving that.


Managing your macronutrients

Once you’ve got your calorie intake down, you can then work out your macronutrient ratio. This is essentially the ratio between how much protein, carbohydrates and fat you take in. Unlike your calorie intake, your macronutrient ratio shouldn’t change whether you’re bulking or cutting. 

Protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, whereas fat contains 9. It’s recommended that you aim to get:

  • 30% to 35% of your calories from protein.
  • 55% to 60% of your calories from carbs.
  • 15% to 20% of your calories from fat.

Muscle building foodsRemember that these figures are just general guidelines. It’s always best to consult with a registered dietitian when determining your individual needs based on your muscle gain goals. This way you can ensure you’re getting the right amounts of nutrition you need to get the physique you want.

So, here are some of the best foods to focus on when building lean muscle mass:

Meats, poultry and fish

There’s no doubt that these food groups are considered a staple for gaining muscle, largely because of the high-amounts of protein they contain. For example, chicken breast is packed with protein; with each 3-ounce serving containing about 26 grams of high-quality protein. Chicken also generally contains generous amounts of the B vitamins niacin and B6, both of which can help your body function properly during physical activity and exercise.

Salmon is one of the best foods around; classed as a superfood this great tasting fish contains around 17 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving. Plus it’s also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in muscular health.

Lean beef is also good for protein consumption, however it’s worth keeping an eye on how many calories you’re taking in when consuming lean red meat. As just 3 ounces of 70% lean ground beef, has around 228 calories and a huge 15 grams of fat.

There’s many sources of protein that are really effective. I usually opt for chicken breast, cod or protein powder if I’m trying to keep my fat intake a bit lower as they are lower in fat. However, If I need to increase my fat intake then I’ll go for steak, eggs or salmon…

Vegetarian sources

Of course, meat, poultry and fish aren’t the only effective foods for muscle gain. There are other great sources of protein that are perfectly suitable for vegetarians too. Dairy products such as yoghurt, cottage cheese and low-fat milk have impressive levels of both calcium and protein.

There’s also oatmeal, quinoa and rice, along with an abundance of fruits and vegetables that are effective for muscle gain. Such as spinach, which is one of the most nutrient-dense leafy green vegetables you can choose, or broccoli which is also high in protein and includes all the essential amino acids.

It’s good to get a variety of protein sources as it will ensure that you consume all 9 essential amino acids that must be obtained from food. Essential amino acids play a vital role in muscle building.

Beans and legumes are also amazing food options for muscle gain; including chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans and pinto beans. Plus, you can always top up your diet with some snacks that also help you to build and maintain lean muscle, such as almonds, walnuts, chia seeds and corn.

The bottom Line

There are so many foods available that can help you achieve all of your muscle gain goals; in terms of packing on muscle mass, maintaining your physique and allowing you to properly recover and grow after a workout.

As well as protein, keep up with consuming carbohydrates and fats, as these provide the fuel you need for exercise and physical activity. Plus, many of the food mentioned contain the essential vitamins and minerals your body demands to operate at its best.

For all the muscle gain foods you need, check out our muscle gain meal plans today! We’ll deliver all the nutritious, delicious and protein-rich meals you need, straight to your door. Leaving you to stay focused and motivated at the gym.