Good nutrition must be paired with physical activity if you want to build muscle. While weight training does help you become stronger and gain muscle, if you are not fuelling your body with the right foods, your progress will stall.
How does muscle grow?
During exercise, muscle tears and is broken down. After your workout, your body repairs and rebuilds damaged muscle, usually bigger and stronger than it was before. This process occurs during rest and is aided by the macronutrient protein (but we hope you already knew that!). Protein contains amino acids which are the building blocks for muscle growth and therefore, help to rebuild damaged muscle. Hence, high-protein foods must be included in your diet if you are to gain muscle.
You also need to ensure that you are providing your body with enough energy to build muscle. When you consume less energy than you burn, your body turns to muscle and breaks it down to use as energy, therefore, stunting your muscle growth. This means you must be consuming more calories than you are burning per day.
The amount of calories your body needs depends on a variety of factors such as weight, activity level and gender. If you are curious about how much protein your body needs for muscle growth, check out our article on how much protein do you need per day?
What to eat to gain muscle
As discussed earlier, nutrition goes hand in hand with weight training if your goal is to build muscle. You will need to eat:
Protein - to rebuild muscle
Carbohydrates - to replenish glycogen stores in the muscle and prevent fatigue
Fats - important for hormonal function which triggers more amino acids important for muscle growth
Vitamins, minerals and water - to support a healthy diet and training program
Calories - eat more calories than you burn in a day
Here is a list of foods to eat to will help you to efficiently gain muscle:
Calories 75 | Protein 7g | Fat 5g | Carbohydrates 1g
Eggs are a great source of high quality protein and healthy fats. Eggs contain the amino acid Leucine which is important for muscle growth as well as B vitamins which support energy production.
Calories 284 | Protein 31g | Fat 6g | Carbohydrates 0g
Chicken is super high in protein and also contains B vitamins that help your body’s performance during physical activity.
Calories 71 | Protein 15g | Fats 0g | Carbohydrates 0g
As well as having a high protein content, tuna is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which research has found has the ability to improve muscle growth as well as other general health benefits.
Calories 173 | Protein 16.6g | Fat 9g | Carbohydrates 9.9g
Soybeans are a great source of protein and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. They also contain iron which is important for transporting oxygen to the muscles so they are able to reach optimal function.
Calories 222 | Protein 8g | Fats 3.6g | Carbohydrates 39.4g
Quinoa contains all 8 of the essential amino acids important for muscle growth as well as being a great complex carbohydrate that has a low-glycemic index. This will help avoid blood sugar highs and lows as well as supporting lean muscle growth.
Lean Beef (100g)
Calories 217 | Protein 26g | Fats 11.8g | Carbohydrates 0g
Lean beef is a great source of protein and also contains zinc and iron important for energy and muscle recovery.
Calories 117 | Protein 14g | Fats 7g | Carbohydrates 2.2g
Tofu is a substantial plant-based source of protein and calcium which is good for bone health.
True Protein WPI90 (30g serve)
Calories 111 | Protein 25.3g | Fats 0.5g | Carbohydrates 1.3g
True’s protein powder is a great way to supplement your protein intake. With a high protein content and many delicious flavours to choose from, it’s a quick and easy way to make sure your body is getting the macros it needs for muscle development. If you are after a vegan option, True Protein’s Vegan85 is another great alternative.
To learn more about the benefits of each type of protein powder and how they can help with muscle growth, read our Guide to Protein and Protein Powders.
Importance of a wholefoods diet
Although you may be trying to gain muscle and size, it doesn’t mean you should eat everything in your path. Always try to go for nutrient-rich whole foods. These will provide you with a plethora of benefits and not just extra calories to make sure you are hitting your targets. Whole foods are defined as foods that are not processed at all or are minimally processed. Eating a nutritious diet will help fuel your body so it can grow without leaving you feeling bogged down from a whole lot of preservatives, additives and sugars. The goal should be to gain muscle in a sustainable way that will leave you energised and feeling good on the inside.
A Day on Your Plate
Lunch / Dinner
Beans / Soybeans
If you are wanting to build muscle you need to understand how muscle grows and the importance of protein.
Understanding how many calories your body needs is important in ensuring your body has enough energy to grow muscle.
Incorporating the right foods in conjunction with resistance training and a calorie surplus will help you to build muscle and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.