Essential Muscle-Building Foods To Add To Your Diet

Essential Muscle-Building Foods

There are two vitally important factors when it comes to building muscle: exercise and nutrition. 

Muscle-building exercises are essential if you want to improve body composition and boost muscle mass—but without the proper nutrition to back it up, you’ll struggle to succeed. 

Putting the wrong fuel in your car won’t get you from A to B—the same goes for your body. You need to pack in the energy and nutrients to get where you want to be.

The world of sports nutrition may seem like a minefield of information to sift through, but it’s not as complicated as some might have you believe. 

Once you know the basics, choosing suitable nutritional options will be second nature, and we can help steer you on the right path. Getting the right balance of nutrition isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and once you start to work out and plan your meals more carefully—you’ll get a feel for what your body needs most. 

Ready to go for those big gains? Let’s go.

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Why is nutrition important for muscle building?

Eating a balanced diet is essential in helping you achieve your fitness goals.

Why? Well, because it provides the necessary fuel you need to work out well and support your muscle health.

When you eat, you give your body the nutrition it needs to function correctly throughout the day. And, when you intend to push yourself harder through intense workouts, you must eat more nutrients to achieve your goals and avoid burnout.

A healthy diet will flood your body with the right levels of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. In turn, you’ll level up your exercise performance and stimulate muscle growth. 

Eating foods that will help you work harder is essential, as you won’t make progress unless you take yourself out of your comfort zone. 

SmartFact: Fueling yourself (1) with the best muscle-building foods in order to work harder and for longer is the recipe for success. 

If you want to build muscle healthily, you’ll need the following ‘big gains essentials’ in your diet…


You need healthy carbs to provide your body with energy, help with muscle recovery, and reduce muscle loss.


This superhero of a nutrient contains essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles and assist with muscle growth and recovery. Basically, protein is a muscle-building powerhouse.

Healthy fats

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known as the ‘good fats’, as they increase levels of healthy cholesterol in your body. These fats also help to promote growth hormones and produce more amino acids.  

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamin deficiencies can impact your body in many negative ways—and it’s essential to keep your levels topped up to help reduce stress, support immunity, and spark muscle growth.

So, which food will get you the carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals you need to push through the barriers and succeed, exactly? 

Let’s look at some of the most essential foods that you should add to your shopping list to help push you to a greater physique and unleash your full potential.

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A seven-day meal plan for muscle gain

If you want to build muscle mass, eating a consistently balanced mix of the right whole foods is key. 

To help you build lean muscle mass the Smart way, here’s a seven-day eating plan you can use as a general guide.


Breakfast: 2 x scrambled eggs with cheese and 4 slices of wholemeal bread.

(36g carbs, 18g fat, 38.9g protein and 617 calories)

Lunch: 2 x protein powder smoothies with almond milk

(74g carbs, 7g fat, 67g protein and 600 calories)

Dinner: 3 x grilled chicken breasts with vegetables

(44g carbs, 17g fat, 118g protein, 800 calories)

Snack: 2 low-fat greek yoghurts

(17g carbs, 2g fat, 49g protein, 283 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,300


Breakfast: A large bowl of granola plus 2 x whole wheat toast

(100g carbs,11g fat, 27g protein, 585 calories)

Lunch: 2 yoghurts with strawberries and banana

(124g carbs, 3g fat, 50g protein and 686 calories)

Dinner: 2 x fried eggs and grilled bacon

(55g carbs, 37g fat, 62g protein and 940 calories)

Snack: An apple

(31g carbs, 18g fat, 7g protein and 291 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,502


Breakfast: 4 pancakes with scrambled eggs and a banana

(80g carbs, 20g fat, 28g protein, 590 calories)

Lunch: A large protein shake with peach or pear

(93g carbs, 7g fat, 67g protein, 689 calories)

Dinner: Chicken salad

(23g carbs, 35g fat, 114g protein and 869 calories)

Snack: 1 bowl of cornflakes and a few slices of cheese

(35g carbs, 14g fat, 16g protein and 337 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,485


Breakfast: Pancakes with eggs plus 2 slices of buttered wholemeal toast

(50g carbs, 14g fat, 80g protein and 675 calories)

Lunch: A large fruit and protein shake and 1 cup of grapes

(56g carbs, 11g fat, 65g protein, 588 calories)

Dinner: 2 chicken sandwiches with cheese

(80g carbs, 30g fat, 84g protein, 940 calories)

Snack: A fruit smoothie

(74g carbs, 1.5g fat, 6g protein and 307 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,510


Breakfast: A bowl of porridge oats and peanut butter on toast

(65g carbs, 27g fat, 71g protein and 780 calories)

Lunch: A large chicken salad with a side portion of almonds

(23g carbs, 31g fat, 63g protein, 620 calories)

Dinner: 200g cooked chicken with sweet potato

(51g carbs, 3g fat, 45g protein 430 calories)

Snack: 50g whey protein shake

(48g carbs, 0g fat, 50g protein 392 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,222


Breakfast: 6 x scrambled eggs, 25g whey protein shake, 100g porridge oats

(75g carbs, 39g fat, 70g protein 932 calories)

Lunch: 300g Low Fat Cottage cheese and 30g Natural peanut butter

(13g carbs, 32g fat, 42g protein 510 calories)

Dinner: 2 BLT sandwiches

(58g carbs, 33 fat, 37g protein and 686 calories)

Snack: 1 cup of grains and 1 serving of yoghurt and raspberries

(43g carbs, 1.5g fat, 25g protein,287 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,415


Breakfast: 1 bowl of cornflakes and 1 apple

(60g carbs, 5g fat, 10g protein, 317 calories)

Lunch: 2 yoghurts with strawberries and banana

(124g carbs, 3g fat, 50g protein and 686 calories)

Dinner: 200g steak, with sweet potato and avocado

16g carbs, 49g fat, 18g protein, 852 calories)

Snack: A tuna sandwich

28g carbs, 6g fat, 2g protein 287 calories)

Daily calorie intake: 2,142

The best foods for muscle growth: What to eat to build muscle?

When planning your meals for the week, you should base it on the demands of your exercise routine. 

Packing crucial energy-boosting foods and those that will help promote muscle growth and repair is important. 

This means getting a decent amount of carbohydrates, high-protein foods, fats, vitamins, and minerals to achieve as much muscle gain as possible. 

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best foods to build muscle and make sure your body is firing on all cylinders.

So, what’s on the menu?

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1. Eggs

There’s no denying that eggs are one of the best foods to help with muscle growth. They’re packed with healthy fats, B vitamins and, most importantly, top-quality egg protein. 

Eggs are high in the amino acid leucine, known for its muscle repair and muscle-building properties. The B vitamins in eggs will also help boost your energy, giving you more endurance in your workouts.

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2. Chicken 

When it comes to quality protein, it doesn’t get much better than chicken. A 100g serving of chicken contains about 30g of high-quality protein packed with essential B vitamins to keep your energy levels up. 

Chicken breast is perfect as it’s not only high in protein, but it’s low in fat. Yes, A good portion of lean chicken is a top-grade source of nutrition for bodybuilding. 

Eating chicken regularly will help keep your protein levels up and give you the necessary nutrients to power you through the toughest of workouts.

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3. Salmon

The health benefits of salmon are plentiful, and we recommend adding this to your menu at least once a week. 

It’s not only great for building muscle strength, but it’s also a great overall health promoter. You’ll get around 20g of protein for each 100g serving and plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. 

Omega-3s are perfect for muscle growth and repair as they help the cells in your body to perform as they should, as well as providing energy to your body. These good fats are essential in muscle building and supporting cardiovascular health. 

Salmon is high in potassium, which can help to reduce post-workout muscle soreness and is a high-quality source of protein that will provide your body with the amino acids it needs to repair muscle tears and build stronger muscles. 

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4. Lean beef

Beef is another quality food full of protein and contains B vitamins, minerals, and creatine, giving you an additional energy boost when you need it the most. 

This popular protein source boasts all nine essential amino acids required to build muscle. You’ll get around 26g of protein per 100g of beef, iron, zinc, vitamin B6 and B12, magnesium and potassium. Beef is one of the best choices if you’re looking to build strong, lean muscle. Epic.

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5. Greek yoghurt

Often overlooked, greek yoghurt is an excellent addition to protein shakes and cereal to give you an added boost of ‘essentials’. 

Dairy products like Greek yoghurt contain whey protein (fast-digesting) and casein (slow-digesting), which are great for helping produce muscle mass. 

Greek yoghurt contains roughly twice the protein of regular yoghurt and a high percentage of calcium—which is excellent for bone health and muscle strength.

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6. Beans

Beans contain a decent amount of fibre, healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus and give you a protein boost of around 21g per 100g of beans. 

Soybeans are a great choice as they also contain a high proportion of vitamin K, which aids in keeping bones and cartilage strong and healthy. Beans also contain iron, which will help to transport and store oxygen in your blood. This, in turn, will improve your muscle function.

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7. Cottage cheese

The ‘secret weapon’ of the bodybuilding diet is surely cottage cheese. It’s not something you’d expect to be on a priority list for a muscle-building diet…but look again.

Just 200g of cottage cheese will give you a 22g protein boost, which includes the amino acid leucine. Leucine is a powerful amino acid which helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, the process of growth and regeneration. 

Cottage cheese also contains slow-digesting casein protein, which will help fuel your body during a workout and with muscle recovery and growth.

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8. Quinoa

It’s time to talk carbs, and if you’re looking for a big carbohydrate boost, quinoa packs a decent punch. 

Carbs are essential for keeping your energy levels up, and during high-intensity workouts, you’ll need to be fuelled to the max. You’ll get around 43g of carbs from 200g of cooked quinoa, 10g of protein, and 7g of fibre. 

You’ll also get a decent magnesium and phosphorus boost. Magnesium is vital for the healthy function of your muscles and nerves—and phosphorus will help to reduce muscle soreness after a workout.  

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9. Peanuts

Increasing your protein intake when you’re working out is important if you want to gain muscle. Peanuts are a great choice when we’re looking to snack in between meals but don’t want to stray off the path. 

Peanuts contain a mix of around 26g of protein per 100g and 16g of carbs, in addition to a decent amount of unsaturated fat. They are also high in the amino acid leucine. Peanuts are also a great way to add calories and nutrients to your diet to fuel muscle gain efforts. 

You should also consider almonds as they contain highly beneficial nutrients, including 21g of protein per 100g and a high percentage of vitamin E, phosphorus and magnesium.

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10. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are an excellent place to start if you want to load up on fibre, carbs and protein. They have numerous health benefits besides muscular progression. 

Chickpeas contain fibre, potassium, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium while supporting cardio health, weight management, and digestion. 

SmartFact: A recent study (2) also found that a lack of selenium may result in cognitive issues, so chickpeas can help you maintain your mental focus.
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11. Porridge oats

If you want to kick-start your day with the best nutritional foundation, you’ll do well to find a better cereal than porridge oats. 

Oats are an epic source of healthy carbohydrates, protein, macronutrients and fibre- the perfect combination for muscle growth and repair. 

As oats contain complex carbs, they’ll give you a sustained energy release so that you can push yourself harder for longer. 

In conclusion? Oats are a premium food and should be at the top of your shopping list. 

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12. Fruit and vegetables

Looking after your general health is important at any time, but it’s essential when you’re pushing harder than usual. 

When you’re taking yourself out of your comfort zone regularly and pushing your heart, lungs, and muscles hard, any chinks in the armour will show up. 

This means taking in the best quality macronutrients possible. Fruit and vegetables contain essential micronutrients, fibre, minerals, and complex carbohydrates, the backbone of any muscle-building program. 

12 bonus foods for muscle gain…

Go for gold with these 12 bonus muscle-building food suggestions, fresh from Smart Protein HQ.

  1. Shrimp
  2. Scallops
  3. Soybeans
  4. Edamame beans
  5. Tilapia
  6. Turkey breast
  7. Pork tenderloin
  8. Bison
  9. Lean jerky
  10. Buckwheat
  11. Tofu
  12. Brown rice
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The best supplements for muscle gain

The primary source of nutrition to power your workouts should come from whole foods. But, dietary supplements can help you to progress to even higher levels of strength. 

Giving your body an extra dose of essential nutrients means that you can push harder and further than before in your efforts to build muscle, and if you want to progress, you need to take yourself out of your comfort zone regularly. 

Your main focus should be supplementation for energy, muscle growth, and muscle repair

Let’s look at those supplements that will give you the added edge to achieve your goals.

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Protein powders

Protein powder is one of the most popular supplements in the bodybuilding world, as it has a multitude of properties which can boost muscle development. 

Studies (3) show that supplementing with protein powder will gain you more muscle mass than through exercise alone. 

Protein powders are packed with essential amino acids—the building blocks of muscle—and help fast-track muscle growth while supporting muscle recovery and tissue repair. 

Protein powder is versatile and you can take it in shake form, which makes it ideal for those with busy lifestyles. 

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, protein powder will help to support muscle growth and help you to progress to the next level.

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Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is an amino acid produced by the body. Creatine supplements can increase your body’s stores of adenosine triphosphate during high-intensity exercise, such as resistance training. 

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy source we draw from when performing high-intensity exercises, such as strength training. 

It also plays a vital role in metabolism and muscle function. Your body can only store enough ATP for eight to 10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. So by supplementing with creatine, you can increase your stores, enabling you to push harder for longer. More reps and more sets equals bigger gains.

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Suppose you don’t maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes in your system. In that case, you’ll likely suffer from fatigue or burnout as you won’t have the endurance to sustain a regular workout regime. 

Electrolytes are minerals which carry an electrical charge and help keep you hydrated and improve your strength and endurance. Electrolytes include calcium, phosphate, sodium, and magnesium. Supplementing with electrolytes will help keep you balanced and strong.

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Mental focus is essential when performing a workout—this is where nootropics can help. Yes, nootropics contain ingredients which will help to keep you mentally strong and focused. 

It’s all too easy to lose concentration towards the end of a workout when you start to flag, and this is where you can lose a number of quality reps. 

Each rep counts; the better quality they are, the faster you progress. Nootropics can also help to perk you up and motivate you on days when you don’t feel ready to work out, as well as reducing stress levels and helping to achieve a better quality workout and more significant gains.  

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A healthy gut is essential to get the best out of your workouts and achieve peak performance. With the range of nutrition you’ll be consuming as part of your routine, your gut must be in great shape to cope with the combination of food in your digestive system. 

A probiotic is full of friendly bacteria with numerous health benefits, including helping immunity and digestion. Taking a probiotic daily will help you to stay healthy and keep active. 

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If you’re looking for an all-around ‘good guy’ in the sports nutritional world, you’ll do well to beat Ashwagandha. It has numerous health benefits, but as far as sports nutrition goes, you can expect it to help with your athletic performance and give you an added energy boost when you need it most. 

It’s also great for cognitive function, helping to combat stress, and supporting your immune system. 

SmartFact: Some studies have shown that this ancient ‘power herb’ is also great for helping to increase muscle mass and strength.

Final thoughts…

Making sure you are eating enough whole food containing the right nutrition to help fuel you up and repair and build muscle is vital. So, if you want to go for those big gains, getting your shopping list in shape should be your top priority.

Taking supplements to add to this nutrition means you will have extra reserves to pull on when you need it most. 

More energy + endurance + focus = bigger, better results.

So, where to start? Smart Protein’s range of supplements has got you covered. Whether it’s an energy boost, muscle gains, mental focus or endurance, we’ve got it all.

Take our quick quiz for personalised SmartSuggestions on the products that will suit your goals best.


Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. BetterHealth:

2. NIH:

3. Ncbi:

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