The best foods to build muscle include items high in protein and low in saturated fat. That said, exercise and a well-balanced diet that also includes carbs and fats are the best for optimal results.

Nutrition and regular exercise are both very important for muscle building.

Foods that are high in protein play a key role in retaining and building muscle mass.

Alongside resistance training, research suggests consuming 1.4–2 grams (g) of protein for each kilogram of body weight per day to maximize muscle building.

However, it’s important to consume a well-balanced diet that includes healthy carbohydrates and fats. These also play important roles in muscle building, especially for athletes.

Keep reading to learn more about 26 foods to eat that could help you gain muscle.

1. Eggs

Eggs contain high quality protein, which could help benefit muscle building and recovery.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.

Eggs contain large amounts of the amino acid leucine. This is particularly important for maximizing how your body synthesizes protein for muscle gain.

Eggs also contain a range of other nutrients that could help build muscle, such as:

2. Salmon

Salmon is a great choice for muscle building and overall health.

Each 3-ounce (85-g) serving of salmon contains about 17 g of protein, 1.5 g of omega-3 fatty acids, and several important B vitamins.

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in muscular health. Research suggests that taking 2 g of omega-3 fatty acid supplements per day may help build muscle mass.

3. Chicken breast

Chicken breasts are often considered a staple for gaining muscle because they’re packed with protein. Each 3-ounce (85-g) serving contains about 26.7 g of high quality protein.

Chicken breasts also contain generous amounts of the B vitamins niacin and B6. These vitamins may help your body function properly during the physical activity that’s necessary for optimal muscle gain.

A 2018 study found that eating high protein foods like chicken after exercising may help promote fat loss while increasing muscle mass and strength.

4. Greek yogurt

Dairy contains a healthy mixture of fast-digesting whey protein and slow-digesting casein protein.

However, not all dairy is created equal. For example, Greek yogurt often contains approximately double the amount of protein as regular yogurt.

Greek yogurt is a good snack anytime, but eating it after a workout or before bed may be more beneficial. This is due to its mixture of fast- and slow-digesting proteins.

5. Tuna

Tuna contains nearly 20 g of protein per 3-ounce (85-g) serving. It also has high amounts of vitamin A and several B vitamins, such as B12, niacin, and B6.

These nutrients are important for optimal health, energy, and exercise performance.

Additionally, tuna provides large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which may support muscle health. This may be beneficial for older adults because it could help slow the loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs with age.

6. Lean beef

Beef is packed with high quality protein, B vitamins, minerals, and creatine.

Some research has even shown that consuming lean red meat can increase the amount of lean mass gained with physical exercise.

Even when you’re trying to gain muscle, consider choosing beef that supports muscle gain without providing too many extra calories.

For example, 3 ounces (85 g) of 70% lean ground beef contains 235 calories and 16 g of fat. However, the same amount of 95% lean ground beef contains slightly more protein, but only 148 calories and 6 g of fat.

7. Shrimp

Shrimp are almost pure protein. Each 3-ounce (85-g) serving contains 19 g of protein, 1.44 g of fat, and 1 g of carbs.

Like many other animal proteins, shrimp contains a high amount of the amino acid leucine. This is necessary for optimal muscle growth.

Adding shrimp to meals is an easy way to get muscle-building protein without adding too many additional calories.

8. Soybeans

Half a cup (86 g) of cooked soybeans contains 16 g of protein and healthy unsaturated fats. They’re also a good source of several vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K, iron, and phosphorus.

Iron plays a role in the function of organs, bones, and muscle building. It’s used to store and transport oxygen in your blood and muscles. However, iron deficiency can impair these functions.

9. Cottage cheese

One cup (226 g) of low fat cottage cheese packs 28 g of protein, including a hearty dose of the important muscle-building amino acid, leucine.

Like other dairy products, cottage cheese can be purchased with varying fat content. High fat versions like creamed cottage cheese have more calories.

It’s best to choose the type that suits your caloric needs.

10. Turkey breast

A 3-ounce (85-g) serving of turkey breast contains around 26 g of protein and almost no fat or carbs.

Turkey is also a good source of the B vitamin niacin, which helps process fats and carbohydrates in your body.

11. Tilapia

Tilapia is another protein-packed seafood item.

A single (87 g) fillet provides around 23 g of protein, along with good amounts of vitamin B12 and selenium.

Vitamin B12 is important for the health of your blood cells and nerves. This may help you perform the exercise you need to gain muscle.

12. Beans

Many different types of beans can be part of a diet for lean muscle gain.

Popular varieties like black, pinto, and kidney beans contain around 15 g of protein per cup (about 172 g) of cooked beans. What’s more, they’re excellent sources of:

13. Protein powders

While any good diet should focus on whole foods, dietary supplements can sometimes be beneficial.

Protein shakes could help you get more protein into your diet if you have trouble getting enough protein from foods.

Dairy protein powders, such as whey and casein, are some of the most popular. Other protein powders use soy, pea, beef, or chicken protein.

14. Edamame

Edamame is the term for immature soybeans. They’re found in pods and served in a variety of dishes.

One cup (155 g) of frozen edamame provides around 18 g of protein and 8 g of fiber. It also contains large amounts of folate, vitamin K, and manganese.

Among other functions, folate helps your body process amino acids, the building blocks of protein. It may also be important for optimal muscle mass and strength, particularly in older adults.

15. Quinoa

While protein-rich foods are a priority for building lean muscle, it’s also important to have the fuel to get active.

Foods with carbohydrates can help provide this energy.

Cooked quinoa contains about 40 g of carbs per cup (185 g), along with 8 g of protein, 5 g of fiber, and hearty amounts of magnesium and phosphorus.

Magnesium plays an important role in the function of your muscles and nerves, both of which are used every time you move.

16. Scallops

Like shrimp, tilapia, and lean poultry, scallops provide protein with very little fat.

If you’re looking to add protein to your diet without consuming too many calories, these very lean sources of protein may be good choices.

Three ounces (85 g) of scallops provide around 17 g of protein and fewer than 100 calories.

17. Lean jerky

When you’re on the go, you may want high quality protein from meat such as lean jerky.

Many different types of meat can be made into jerky, so the nutrition facts vary. Most fat is removed from lean jerky during processing, so almost all calories in jerky come directly from protein.

These animal sources of protein are high in quality and stimulate lean muscle growth.

18. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a good source of carbs and protein.

Each 1-cup (164-g) serving of canned chickpeas contains around 15 g of protein and 45 g of carbs, including 13 g of fiber.

As with many plants, the protein in chickpeas is considered lower quality than that in animal sources. However, it can still be part of a balanced muscle-building diet.

19. Peanuts

Peanuts contain a mix of protein, fat, and carbs. A 1-ounce (28-g) serving contains 7 g of protein, 6 g of carbs, and large amounts of unsaturated fat.

This serving size of peanuts also contains around 166 calories. If you’re having a hard time getting enough calories to drive your muscle gain, eating peanuts could be a good way to get some extra calories and nutrients.

20. Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a seed that can be ground into flour and used in place of traditional flour.

One cup (168 g) of cooked buckwheat groats contains around 6 g of protein, along with plenty of fiber and other carbs.

Buckwheat has become a popular health food due to its impressive vitamin and mineral content. It contains high amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.

These vitamins and minerals can help your body stay healthy and able to perform muscle building exercises.

21. Tofu

Tofu is produced from soy milk and is often used as a meat substitute. Soy protein, found in foods like tofu and soybeans, is considered one of the highest quality plant proteins.

Each half-cup (124-g) serving of raw tofu contains 10 g of protein, 6 g of fat, and 2 g of carbohydrates.

Tofu is also a good source of calcium, which is important for proper muscle function and bone health.

22. Pork tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat that provides 23.1 g of protein and only 2 g of fat per 4 ounces (113 g).

Some research from 2014 has shown that pork has effects similar to those of other muscle building foods, such as beef and chicken.

23. Cow’s milk

Cow’s milk provides a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Similar to other dairy products, milk contains both fast- and slow-digesting proteins.

Studies suggest that drinking cow’s milk may help promote lean muscle mass and strength when combined with resistance training.

24. Almonds

One ounce (28 g) of roasted almonds provides 6 g of protein and large amounts of vitamin E, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Among other roles, phosphorus helps your body use carbohydrates and fats for energy at rest and during exercise.

As with peanuts, almonds should be consumed in moderation due to their high calorie content. Half a cup of blanched almonds contains more than 400 calories.

25. Bison

Similarly to beef, bison provides about 22 g of protein per 3-ounce (85-g) serving.

However, a 2013 study found that bison may be better than beef in terms of the risk of heart disease.

Replacing some beef with bison is an option if you like to eat red meat as part of your muscle building diet but also worry about your heart health.

26. Brown rice

Although cooked brown rice provides only 6 g of protein per cup (202 g), it has the carbohydrates you need to fuel your physical activity.

Consider eating healthy carb sources like brown rice or quinoa in the hours leading up to exercise. This may allow you to exercise harder, providing your body with a greater stimulus for your muscles to grow.

Plus, some research suggests that rice protein supplements can produce as much muscle gain as whey protein during a weight training program.

Several types of foods and beverages may slow down your muscle building journey. These may include:

Consuming these foods and beverages once in a while won’t negatively affect your ability to build muscle. However, the majority of your calories should come from nutrient-dense, whole foods.

How to gain muscle fast?

Nutrition and regular physical exercise are both key components of gaining muscle mass. A 2019 review suggests that a calorie surplus of around 350 to 500 calories, along with regular resistance training, is beneficial for muscle gain. Research also suggests eating 1.4–2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to help maximize muscle mass.

What foods build muscle fast?

Some high protein foods can help you build muscle mass more quickly than other foods. These may include eggs, chicken, salmon, Greek yogurt, skim milk, and beans, among others.

What foods to eat to bulk up?

Bulking up refers to being in a calorie surplus, which is when you consume more calories than you burn throughout the day. To maximize muscle growth, a clean bulk is better than simply eating high calorie foods. This may include a well-balanced diet of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Some foods include chicken, shrimp, eggs, salmon, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and fruits.

Numerous foods can help you gain lean muscle. Many of them are high in protein and allow your muscles to recover and grow after you have been active.

It’s also important to consume carbohydrates and fats to provide fuel for exercise and physical activity.

Consider using nutrition apps to track your daily protein and calorie intake. This can help you stay on track in your muscle building journey.