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Want to build muscle? A doctor says you should eat these foods

If you're looking to bulk up those biceps, these are the foods you should be eating

The world of nutrition and muscle growth can be a terribly confusing one. Between the madness of the latest trends in health, fad diets, the newest “must have” workout gear, and toxic weight-loss culture, it’s easy to want to throw in the towel and reach for a box of Twinkies. But tucked in, hidden in all of this confusion, there are some things about fitness and muscle growth that are just always true. The biggest truth of them all is that abs really are made in the kitchen. You can work yourself into a frenzy with a fancy gym membership, but without proper nutrition, your body is just running on toxic fumes.

Muscle building requires a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Dr. Noel Abood, co-founder of Re:vitalize Weight Loss, shared with us his expert advice on the top foods one should be eating for ultimate muscle growth. So if you’ve been frustrated with the results of your workout routine, or are looking to bulge those biceps a bit more, here are some of the foods you’ll want to add these items to your grocery list.

Chunks of uncooked steak sit in a pile.

Lean protein

“Speaking from experience,” says Dr. Abood, “I think many active adults or people trying to build muscle are under-consuming when it comes to protein. For me, it is very easy to run to other food groups to fuel myself and then look at my day and realize the amount of protein I’m eating is not commensurate to my activity level and goals.”

Thankfully, there are tons of lean protein options available. Chicken breast is packed with protein at 40 grams per cup. It is also one of the most versatile ingredients on our list, and the star ingredient of many delicious recipes.

Salmon is another protein-packed option, boasting inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon also contains a good deal of potassium, which will help with muscle cramps after those especially strenuous workouts.

While fatty cuts of beef like ribeye are delicious and full of protein, they do carry more calories than many other options you can find at the butcher counter. Some great options for leaner cuts are top round roast, sirloin, and flank steak. Lean beef also provides a healthy dose of iron and zinc, both crucial for post-workout recovery.

Whole grain food on a wooden table.

Whole grains

“Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats provide complex carbohydrates, which are essential for energy to fuel your workouts,” says Dr. Abood.

Quinoa, especially, has risen in popularity in recent years due to the extensive health benefits it provides. Quinoa is high in protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Not only that, but it is naturally gluten-free. No wonder this humble little seed is so popular.

Assortment of seeds on a rustic wood table.

Nuts and seeds

Easy to toss in the gym bag, nuts are not only convenient, but packed full of protein and healthy fat. A good mix of nuts will provide your post-workout body with many essentials like magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E. “Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats, fiber, and protein, making them an excellent snack for muscle building,” says Abood.

Fruits and vegetables

“Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help support muscle health and recovery,” says Dr. Abood.

This is especially true when one gets a good assortment of different fruits and vegetables. A good goal is to try to eat as many colors (of fruits and vegetables, not M&Ms) as you can every day.

Cup of yogurt with berries

Greek Yogurt

Protein-rich Greek yogurt is packed with Vitamin D, which aids in the body’s absorption of phosphorus and calcium. Abood also reminds us, “Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium, which are both essential for building and maintaining strong muscles.”

Even more muscle-building options:

Bowl of Eggs

Whole Eggs

Egg whites have always been popular in low-calorie diets, but if it’s muscle growth you’re after, you’ll want to whisk in the yolk. Whole eggs are powerhouses of protein, healthy fat, and vitamins.

Three bowls of lentils coming in different colors
Image used with permission by copyright holder


A great option for those sticking to a plant-based diet, lentils are a tremendous source of protein at 9 grams per half cup. They also contain plenty of fiber, carbohydrates, and minerals, in addition to amino acids.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cottage Cheese

Paired with fruit, cottage cheese is a wonderfully protein-rich breakfast at 14 grams per half cup. It also is high in calcium, helping to support strong bone health.

A bird's eye view of soybeans on a cloth.
Image used with permission by copyright holder


Another wonderful meat-free protein source, soybeans are great for muscle growth. Containing all nine amino acids, and packed with 6 grams of protein per half cup, these little guys are the perfect muscle-building snack.

How do I build muscle quickly?

One of the most crucial factors in gaining muscle quickly is also one of the most difficult to get used to. In a culture that’s so often obsessed with eating less, it feels unnatural to eat more to get the body we want. The truth is, though, in order for your body to make muscle, it needs to know that it isn’t starving to death. When we deprive our bodies of the calories it needs, it stores any and all extra calories ingested as fat, thinking it has nothing to spare. In order for your body to understand that you’re trying to pack on the muscles, you need to reassure it that it’s going to get all the fuel it needs in order to do so. For quick muscle growth, you’re going to want to add an extra 250 – 500 calories to your daily intake.

How long does it take for muscles to grow?

Unfortunately, muscle growth isn’t an overnight process. It can be frustrating to spend hours both in the gym, and in the kitchen, only to be discouraged after a few weeks of no noticeable progress. Rest assured, though, that if you’re eating the right foods and amping up your strength training, visible results should appear within eight weeks, depending on your fitness level. Stick with it, and try to be patient.

What are the three requirements for muscle growth?

The three requirements for the body to grow muscle are simple. Eat, train, and sleep. Be sure to get enough of the protein and vitamin-rich foods listed here to ensure optimal muscle growth. Pair this improved diet with strength training that challenges you, and be sure you’re getting enough Zs. When we sleep, our bodies release amino acids, which help build protein. Growth hormones are also released during sleep, which helps repair muscle after a workout. So don’t skimp on that time between the sheets.

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Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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