Diet and nutrition are two of the primary building blocks of every weight management program. Whether you want to bulk up or cut down those extra fatty layers, a well-balanced diet along with regular exercise can aid you to reach all of your weight goals. And muscle building includes both. Generally, a bodybuilding program starts off with bulking you up and building a lot of muscle mass and then it goes towards cutting all the extra fat so you are left with healthy, lean body muscle. So, don’t be alarmed if you start putting on some weight in the initial phases of your bodybuilding regime.

While a protein-rich diet is highly emphasised upon when it comes to building muscle mass, it is not the only nutrient your body needs. Sufficient amount of carbohydrates, fats and other micro and macronutrients make up a well-balanced diet and keep you healthy while you are busy shaping those muscles.

But what exactly to eat for muscle gain?

Read on to find out.

  1. Bodybuilding diet
  2. Bodybuilding foods: what to eat to build muscles
  3. Takeaway

Bodybuilding, unlike other sports, gives a lot of value to an athlete's appearance. Specific weight training and endurance exercise are a must for building and strengthening muscles. Various supplements and foods are used to provide for the specific energy and diet requirements. Regular exercise along with a proper diet can help you build muscles even if you are not a professional bodybuilder.

However, energy metabolism is a tricky process. Human bodies are made to utilise carbohydrates and proteins much before it starts burning its fat reserves. That is why any weight loss program takes patience and time. Taking a low-fat, high carb diet may not be as helpful as believed, studies indicate that all the extra carbs in our bodies are converted to and stored in the form of fats inside our body. Also, fat oxidation (fat burning) rates are slow in some people.

It has been suggested that fat oxidation increases with fasting. In a clinical study on non-obese people, fasting on alternate days was found to increase oxidation of fats. However, post-fasting calorie intake was higher among all the subjects. Since every training program has rest days, a low-calorie diet on your break days followed by a high-calorie diet on your muscle training day would be a perfect option to fulfil the energy and nutrient requirements of your body and to burn fat.

According to a study published in Sports Medicine, a bodybuilding diet should include about 15 to 20 % of fats, 25 to 30 % protein and about 50-60 % carbohydrates.

Now you have an idea about the macronutrient requirement of the body to assist in building muscle mass. Let us move on to the specific foods that would help you gain that lean body mass naturally.

Dairy products for bodybuilding

Dairy products are the most easily available and rich protein sources. They are not only rich in essential amino acids but also provide a good source of nutrients which promote muscle buildup and good health. Let us have a look at some common ways you can add dairy to your bodybuilding diet.


Milk is probably one of the most feared and underestimated foods when it comes to any kind of weight loss or weight management program. Partly because of its high-fat content and partly because of all the many rumours about its health threats. But again any food could be harmful when in excess, so can be milk.

Truth is that milk is one of the healthiest foods which provides a major portion of your daily nutritional requirements. It contains whey and casein, both of which provide essential amino acids essential for building muscles.

Studies demonstrate that milk consumption along with resistance training significantly improves muscle growth.

Further, whey protein has been found to be more beneficial than soy proteins in building lean muscles as it is readily absorbed by the body.

Though casein slows down the uptake of protein, it might just be an added benefit in the form of a gradual supply of milk proteins.

Additionally, milk contains calcium and vitamin D which are considered essential supplements for bodybuilding women.

The total milk requirement depends on the person and body type. However, about ½ litres of fat-free milk per day has been found to improve muscle mass in clinical studies.

Cottage cheese

Just like milk, cottage cheese is rich in muscle building amino acids. However, it does not contain as much whey and is rich in casein instead. It helps you gain muscle mass gradually. Also, cottage cheese hosts a good amount of calcium and vitamins which aid in strengthening bones and improving metabolism. Depending on the variety, the protein and fat content of cottage cheese may vary. You can opt for a variety suitable to your needs. And what’s more, it tastes good and there are a million ways to cook it. Add it in your breakfast salad or make a healthy cheese sandwich. The choices are endless.


If you are lactose intolerant and are not a cheese fan, you can still opt for a dairy source: yoghurt. Yoghurt supplies you with all the benefits of dairy products along with improving your gut microflora. It is easier to digest and the prebiotic benefits of yoghurt aid in improving digestion too!  Just ensure to consume in moderation. The casein to whey ratio of yoghurt may vary depending on the source. But, it contains enough to add to your bodybuilding requirements.

Studies suggest a higher fat loss on consumption of yoghurt along with an otherwise high-calorie intake. Yoghurt is a yummy addition to any meal but you can add fruits, nuts or honey to make it healthier along with giving it some flavours.

Eggs for muscle building

Eggs are probably the first thing that most people think of when talking about muscle building foods. And for a good reason. Eggs are rich in proteins, specifically an amino acid leucine which is very important in the synthesis and maintenance of skeletal muscles. Most people prefer to use only egg whites and discard the yolk, but recent studies indicate that whole eggs are more beneficial in building muscle mass than just the egg white. This is because egg whites lack certain amino acids, vitamins and nutrients which are present in the yolk. Also, consuming yolk improves the body’s ability to absorb egg white proteins. So, don’t throw away half of your nutrition and take whole eggs instead.

One large egg contains about 6 gram of protein, you can take about 1 to 3 servings of egg per day, but it would vary as per your total protein intake. It is the best to cook eggs before consuming them as raw eggs pose a threat of infections like salmonellosis.

Meat for building muscles

Meat is yet another protein-rich food that is highly sought after for its muscle building benefits. 100g of lean chicken contains about 30 g of protein and the recommended daily allowance for chicken is about 200 g per day.

Chicken breasts, in particular, are the best protein source for bodybuilding since they are low in fat and have all the goodness of essential amino acids present in chicken. Removing chicken skin also gets rid of the extra fat, leaving you with healthy protein.

Additionally, meat supplies a good amount of vitamin B12 and chicken and poultry are rich in niacin. Lean meat also improves the absorption of other nutrients in the body, making it the perfect supplement for a healthy diet.

However, it’s better to opt for roasted meats instead of fried alternatives which would increase your total fat intake.

Fish for bodybuiilding

Fish is one of the best choices for building muscles. Not only is it rich in proteins but also contains healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids) which help maintain optimal health and is good for the heart. Omega-3 fatty acids help in improving muscle development, as demonstrated by studies. Also, fish contains vitamins and minerals which just add to its health building benefits. Fatty fishes like trouts, salmons and sardines are the best for muscle building.

However, most of the healthy and fatty fish are quite costly which makes it lose some of its charm. If that is one of your problems, you can opt for fish oil that doesn’t give you fish protein but you can still reap the muscle building benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Further, some people aren’t fond of the taste of fish. This can be easily amended by adding some flavours and garnishes to fish. 100 g of canned salmon or tuna contains about 20 g of protein. You can add about 100g of fish to your daily protein diet.

Water for building muscles

Water might be the last thing that comes to your mind when it comes to muscle building but it is the most important. First of all, water is one of the major components of human bodies. It is essential to maintain cell structure and functions and also helps in detoxifying the body by flushing out all the waste from body tissues and blood. As a result, a well-hydrated body is much more resistant to infections and disease.

Water plays a role in protein anabolism and it also stretches the muscles which aid in muscle growth in the long term. Water helps in transporting all the minerals and nutrients to muscles and maintains electrolyte balance. Additionally, it helps in providing a regular oxygen supply to your muscles keeping them from being fatigued. It is best to take 6 to 10 glasses of water per day to remain hydrated and to reap all the benefits of your weight training and diet program.

(Read more: Dehydration prevention)

Fibre rich foods for muscle growth

Fibres may not build muscles directly but they can definitely be a smart addition in a bodybuilding diet. Now the question arises, how would fibres be good for muscle buildup?

Well, first, water aids in improving digestion and absorption of certain nutrients. Second, it bulks up the food in the intestines making you feel full for a longer period and improving satiety. This reduces snacking on unhealthy and quick calorie foods, making your exercise and diet regime work faster. Additionally, some types of fibre aid in expelling extra fats and cholesterol out of the body, which is one of the primary goals of every bodybuilding routine.

Adding fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and oatmeal along with nuts like almonds and pistachios make sure that you get enough fibre for your day. However, the daily recommended requirement for fibre is about 25g and it is important to maintain adequate water intake along with a fibre-rich diet to avoid clogging of your gut and to keep off constipation.

Soyabeans for bodybuilding

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, soybean may be your protein of choice. It is a plant-based protein which is well known for its weight loss benefits. It promotes muscle building and cholesterol loss.

Preclinical studies suggest that taking soy protein with regular exercise helps reduce exercise-induced muscle damage along with improving muscle function. Though whey protein and milk are better muscle builders than soy protein, the latter has some other benefits on the cardiovascular system and metabolism which somewhat covers for this lack.

Also, it is a good source of fibres and healthy fats which makes it the perfect supplement for improving and maintaining overall health. Soy protein can be easily incorporated in your daily diet by taking soy nuts, tofu, soymilk or soynut butter. Tofu sandwiches, salads and grilled tofu are just some of the ways to keep it interesting.  

Bodybuilding takes a lot of determination and hard work. A combination of balanced diet with strength-building exercises is the best way to improve muscle tone and bulk up on some lean muscle. Dairy foods and eggs are some of the best dietary additions for building muscles. Fish and meat also provide you with essential nutrients and healthy fats which promote optimal muscle growth. But, if you follow a vegan diet, you can opt for soy proteins. Nevertheless, it is important to add adequate water and fibre to your diet too along with other nutrients and minerals to ensure proper digestion and the release of extra toxins from the body.


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