What you eat can really help stimulate your muscles and provide them with the nutrients they need to grow. Aaptiv turned to expert dietitians to learn about the best muscle-building foods.
Are there minimum and maximum protein requirements?
We all know that protein is essential for muscle-building, but what is less certain is how much we should eat. Dominic Gallo, accredited practicing dietitian and owner of DG Dietetics and Fitness, explains, “As per Burke and Deakin’s Clinical Sports Nutrition, the highest protein intake needed for any athlete would be around 1.7g/kg per day.”
Protein requirements will differ depending on each individual, their training, and their lifestyle, but Gallo recommends these amounts as a guide:
- Sedentary men and women require 0.8-1.0g/kg per day
- Endurance athletes require 0.8-1.6g/kg per day
- Resistance athletes require 1.0-1.7g/kg per day
- Female athletes require about 15 percent less than male athletes
There is some misconception that the more protein you consume, the faster or bigger your muscles will grow. However, this is not the case. “There is a minimum requirement of protein that your body requires,” says Demi-Maree Faulkner, accredited practicing dietitian, accredited nutritionist, and sports dietitian. “[But] there is also a maximum amount of protein that your body can store at one time.”
Excessive protein will be stored as adipose (fat) or excreted as urine. Gallo points out that over time, this can “cause issues with kidneys and weaken bones, particularly if using protein supplements, so don’t overdo it.”
Check out our strength training section in the Aaptiv app to help you build more muscle or just tone up!
The Best Muscle-Building Foods for Every Diet
Lean Red and White Meat
Not only are these lean sources packed with protein, but they’re also high in zinc, iron, and vitamin B12, which provides you with energy. Faulkner notes that just 100 grams equal one serving of protein.
Oily fish is one of the best muscle-building foods. It is high in protein as well as omega-3. “A serving of omega-3 healthy fats, which are beneficial for brain function, heart health, and preventing and managing arthritis,” Faulkner explains. They can also reduce the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Aim to put some oily fish such as tuna and salmon on your plate about three times a week for the best benefits.
“These nutrient powerhouses have the highest nutritional quality protein of all food sources,” Gallo says. “[Two] 60g eggs contain 12.7 grams of protein. In addition, they are high in healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) as well as omega-3 fatty acids.”
Faulkner also recommends eggs as a protein source. “They are so versatile. You can use them at any meal or even hard-boil them for a snack,” she says.
Dairy is a great way to reach your protein requirements. Products such as reduced-fat milk, Greek yogurt, and low-fat cottage cheese are good sources. Consume milk and yogurt after a strength session in particular. As Faulkner says, “Milk and yogurt contain a perfect blend of carbohydrate and protein for optimum recovery.”
Don’t forget about soft cheeses, such as the aforementioned low-fat cottage cheese, which is “a fantastic source of slow-release casein protein,” Gallo explains. Providing 12.5 grams of protein per 100 grams, it’s “ideal for an evening snack after a workout, to give [you] sustained protein for recovery overnight.”
So, if you enjoy eating dairy, keep at it. “Dairy foods also contain the perfect amount of both whey and casein protein and are high in calcium,” Faulkner says.
Nuts and Seeds
If you are looking for a vegetarian or vegan protein source, then nuts and seeds are perfect. You can even use your favorite nut butter spread, such as almond butter or cashew butter. Just be sure to choose the natural kind without added sugars to keep it healthy.
Beans and Legumes
“Beans and chickpeas are high in fiber and are a great vegetarian source of protein,” Faulkner says. “One cup of legumes contains one serving of protein. Legumes also help you feel fuller for longer and are so versatile. Put them in Mexican dishes, salads, wraps, and dips, or have them for breakfast.”
There is also a variety of beans and lentils that you can use, including black beans, kidney beans, and brown lentils, to mix things up at every meal.
A staple of every vegan and vegetarian diet is tofu. To get one serving of protein, you only need to consume 200 grams. Not only does it provide protein, but, as Faulkner points out, it’s also great for magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamin B1.
More Tips on How to Boost Muscle
Now that you know the best muscle-building foods, make sure you stay away from foods high in saturated fat (the bad kind). Also, anything high in sugar such as takeout can result in fat rather than muscle gain.
When it comes to protein, try to stick to actual meals. Protein supplements can be a convenient way to get your daily dose in, but they shouldn’t be seen as meal replacements. Gallo says, “They should supplement an already complete diet …”
She advises, “Space your protein out frequently throughout the day, including three meals and one to three high-protein snacks to ensure maximum absorption.”
Check out Aaptiv if you’re looking for strength training workouts. We have workouts for men and women!