9 Foods That Really Helps in Muscle-building and Gain Muscle Mass


hough a muscular body is traditionally associated with masculinity, the benefits of higher muscle mass go beyond an attractive physique. Even a large number of women have recognized the advantages of gaining lean muscle are pumping iron to get in a good shape. Increased muscle mass boosts your body’s metabolic rate. Therefore, you burn calories easily and keep the unwanted fats away from your body. Furthermore, the muscles help stabilize your bones and minimize the risk of injuries. To attain the desired lean muscle mass, in addition to exercises, you must modify your diet, because nutrition plays an important role in stimulating muscle development.

The skeletal muscle is the largest protein reserve of the body. It is the body’s major source of amino acids. Androgens, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) are primarily responsible for inducing muscle growth. Insulin plays an important role in suppressing degradation of muscle protein. Synthesis of muscle protein is stimulated by amino acids. Nutrition plays the most important role in increasing the supply of these factors associated with muscle development. [1]

Your body’s muscle building potential could be maximized by eating the right type of food in an adequate amount at the right time. The basic rules of the nutrition for muscle growth are to consume sufficient calories, increase intake of protein, eat good quality food and drink plenty of water. [2]

Calories for Muscle Growth

Muscle growth could be maximized only by consuming more calories than the amount of energy you are burning each day. The daily calorie requirement can be easily met by regulating your protein, fat and carbohydrate intake. One gram of protein is known to provide about 4 calories of energy. You can get the same amount of calories from one gram of carbohydrate. Depending upon the type of fat you are consuming, 8 to 10 calories can be obtained by eating one gram of fat. To increase muscle mass, you should aim for 1.5 grams of protein and 0.5 gram of fat per pound of body weight. To get the recommended amounts of protein and fat you must eat 11 calories per pound of body weight.

In addition to the protein and fat, if you need 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, your daily calorie requirement per pound of your body weight will be at least 15 calories. If you think that 3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight would be more effective in promoting muscle growth, your calorie intake would increase to 23 calories per pound of body weight. At the initial stage of muscle development when your goal is to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat gain, it helps to start with about 1.5 to 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. How the body would respond to carbohydrate intake varies from person to person. Hence, the exact amount of carbohydrate that would help an individual to gain muscle mass can only be determined through trial and error. [3]

In addition to your current calorie requirement, you will need extra 2300 to 3600 calories to increase your muscle mass by one pound. However, the additional calories can lead to muscle growth only when it is combined with resistance training that provides the stimulus for muscle growth. According to a study, 30 to 40% of the extra daily calorie intake is converted to lean muscle mass by resistance training, and the remaining calories are stored in the form of fat. Therefore, you should monitor your calorie intake to ensure that your additional calorie intake is sufficient for synthesizing new muscles. For half to one pound of weekly weight gain, you must consume extra 300 to 500 calories per day. Carbohydrate is a vital source of energy for facilitating muscle growth. Consuming enough carbohydrate is essential for inhibiting the body from breaking down protein for energy. Therefore, 55 to 60% of the additional calories should come from carbohydrate-rich food. [4]

The following are the list of foods must be included for muscle gain:

1. Carbohydrate Foods

To maximize muscle mass and minimize fat gain, you need nutrient dense carbohydrate foods. They ease insulin secretion and support a healthy metabolism. Furthermore, they provide vitamins and minerals that work as cofactors for burning fats. In addition, they supply antioxidants for preserving the optimal functioning of the body cells. Fibers present in the high-quality carbohydrate foods help in increasing satiety and reduces cravings for junk food. Whole grains are the best examples of nutrient-dense carbohydrate foods. Brown rice, multigrain bread, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal are some of the easily available whole grain foods that could be the staple of the muscle-gain diet. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of nutrient-dense carbohydrates. In addition to vitamins, minerals, and fibers, they provide phytochemicals that are known for myriads of health benefits. Some of these phytochemicals are known to help in synthesis and repair of muscles. [5]

2. Protein Foods

You gain muscles when the synthesis of muscle protein surpasses breakdown of muscle protein. If you are following an intense training program, you would need about 1.5 grams of protein per pound of your body weight per day. Studies have shown that higher protein intake, when combined with weight training, promotes muscle strength and increases muscle fiber in the quadriceps. [6]

High-quality protein foods such as eggs, fish, poultry and meat and dairy products are optimal protein sources for promoting muscle growth. They provide all the essential amino acids that your body needs to synthesize muscles. For vegans, there are a number of good plant protein sources such as tofu, nuts, beans, peas, seeds, and peanut butter. As a single plant protein food lacks all the essential amino acids to get all the essential amino acids, vegetarians should combine different types of protein-containing foods. [7]

A 3oz serving of animal protein such as chicken breast, chicken thigh, cod, steak, hamburger or pork chop provides 21 grams of protein. By eating one egg you will get 7 grams of protein. A soy burger contains 15 to 18 grams of protein. By consuming 1/4 cup of nuts you will get 10 grams of protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter provide 8 grams of protein. 1/2 cup of refried beans contains 7 grams of protein. One slice of cheese contains 7 grams of protein. You will get 8 grams of protein by consuming 8 oz of milk. An 8 oz serving of yogurt provides 9 to 11 grams of protein. 1/4 cup of nonfat dry milk contains 8 grams of protein. One scoop of protein powder provides 32 to 45 grams of protein. One serving of amino acid pill is known to supply 10 grams of protein. Though a large number of individuals rely on protein supplements to meet the additional protein requirement of the body, ideally, most of the protein for muscle growth should come from protein-containing foods. [8]

3. Protein Powder

Protein powder is a convenient source of protein for increasing the muscle mass. The right kind of protein powder is known to directly affect muscle growth. Among the different types of protein powder, whey protein is considered to be the best. Whey and casein are the two major constituents of milk protein. Whey comprises up to 20% of milk protein. It is the soluble portion of milk. The rest of the milk protein, which makes up the globular portion of milk, is casein. Whey is an excellent source of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are vital for muscle growth. It is a fast-digesting protein that releases most of the amino acids into the bloodstream within 60 to 90 minutes after consumption. Because of this property, whey is considered to be the ideal post-workout protein food for increasing muscle recovery and growth.

Furthermore, the whey peptides help is relaxing the blood vessels and are good for the cardiovascular system. Whey protein concentrates with 80% whey is commonly used for increasing the muscle mass. However, there is a purer form of whey protein known as whey protein isolate produced by removing more carbohydrate and fat from the whey protein concentrate. Whey protein isolate contains more than 90% protein. Some whey proteins are hydrolyzed and it digests easily. Despite the benefits of whey in stimulating muscle growth, it is capable of sustaining muscle synthesis only for a short period. This necessitates combining whey with casein, which is a slow-digesting protein. Protein powders that combine whey and casein are known to help in long-term muscle gain. [9]

4. BCAAs

Branched-chain amino acids mainly include three key acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. One-third of the muscle protein comprises of these amino acids. Egg, meat, and milk are the natural dietary sources of BCAAs. Unlike the other amino acids, BCAAs are a vital source of fuel for the muscles. The demand for muscle fuel increases dramatically during exercise that rapidly depletes the concentration of BCAAs in the muscle, thereby increasing the breakdown of muscle tissues. BCAA supplementation helps in inhibiting exercise-induced muscle damage and stimulates muscle synthesis. [10] Ideally, 9 to 15 grams of BCAAs can be taken during exercises. For a palatable source of BCAAs, you can choose whey protein. [11]

5. L-Glutamine

Glutamine is one of the most abundant amino acids in the muscle. The demand for glutamine increases dramatically during extreme physical activities. Insufficient supply of glutamine during a vigorous workout can cause muscle breakdown. Supplementing with L-glutamine aids muscle recovery preserves muscle integrity and sustains healthy immune function. Instead of taking one large dose of L-glutamine, it helps to take smaller doses throughout the day. You can take 5 grams of L-glutamine 30 minutes before and after a strength training session and 5 grams of L-glutamine at bedtime. In addition to supplements, there are a number of good natural dietary sources of glutamine such as cottage cheese, fish, almonds, whole-grain toast, and spinach. [12]

6. L-Arginine

L-arginine boosts production of human growth hormone that helps in increasing the lean muscle mass and reducing accumulation of fats. According to studies, L-arginine supplementation is capable of increasing growth hormone secretion at rest. Arginine can also be obtained from a number of foods. Seeds and nuts, especially peanuts, are excellent sources of arginine. Per 100 grams serving of seeds and nuts provides 2 to 3 grams of arginine. Legumes, fish, and chicken are other good sources of arginine. You will get 1 to 2 grams of arginine by consuming any of these protein-containing foods. [13]

7. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body. About 95% of this amino acid is found in the skeletal muscles. It is crucial for the production of ATP that energizes the body cells. It helps in increasing the body’s ability to repair and regenerate muscles. Creatine is present in supplements in the form of creatine monohydrate. When combined with exercise, creatine monohydrate supplement is known to maximize muscle gain and promote fat loss. It should be taken immediately after workout. [14]  To elevate the creatine store in the skeletal muscle, you can take 20 to 30 grams of creatine daily for 5 to 7 days and thereafter reduce the dose to 2 to 5 grams per day. [15]

8. Fat

In addition to carbohydrate and protein, you need an adequate amount of dietary fats to build muscles and increase strength. Your body needs an adequate amount of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fats for recovery and growth of muscles. Research has shown that fish oil, which is a rich source of omega-3 fats, increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis when combined with protein foods. Monounsaturated fats and saturated fats are known to boost the testosterone level, which aids muscle growth in men.

Ideally, polyunsaturated fats comprising primarily of omega-3 fats should comprise 33% of your total dietary fat intake. Monounsaturated fat should provide 33% of your daily dietary fat and rest of the fat in your diet should come from saturated fats. You can also take supplements that provide 4 to 10 grams of fish oil daily. Try to get 1500 mg of the omega-3 fat DHA and 1800 mg of the omega-3 fat EPA daily. [16]

9. Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates and nutrients that are essential for increasing the muscle mass. Despite being a source of fructose, eating whole fruits will not stimulate fat gain. Fruits are high in fiber and water that help in reducing hunger. When your body needs extra sugar before and after workouts, you can snack on fruits. Vegetables are rich in plant compounds that provide multiple health benefits. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are an excellent source of cancer-fighting compounds. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a compound known to fight breast and prostate cancers. Dark leafy vegetables contain carotenoids that help in strengthening the immune system. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Add different types of fruits and vegetables of varied colors to your diet. [17]