Hoping to sculpt the perfect body, many people turn to supplements sold with promises to bulk them up faster than they can say “muscle.” When the muscle growth just isn’t happening, they wonder what’s going wrong.
Lucky for us, nature has provided impressive muscle-building foods, packed with protein, amino acids, and vitamins.
1. Lean Red Meat
When many of us hear “red meat,” we’re programmed to think “danger.” What many don’t realize is reasonable amounts of lean red meat are actually beneficial for athletes and bodybuilders, and one of the best sources of protein and other muscle-building vitamins and minerals.
The misconception about red meat comes from its potentially negative effect on heart health. That’s why it’s important to choose the leanest sources of red meat. Processed meats like sausage and hot dogs are generally too packed with fat and cholesterol to aid muscle growth. However, an eight-ounce strip steak reportedly contains 52 g protein to just 6 grams fat— now that’s some serious muscle-building potential!
Lean red meat also contains zinc, which speeds muscle-building reactions, stabilizes protein structures, and regulates hormone levels. It also contains niacin, which surprisingly lowers (not raises) cholesterol and widens blood vessels to improve vascularity and blood flow.
Bodybuilder and nutrition expert Kyle Leon recommends rib-eye, New York, top sirloin, filet mignon, and round steaks as the best muscle-building protein sources.
Fish is high in lean protein and low in carbs, so fish is an excellent choice not only for muscle building but for overall health as well. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Fish is also high in calcium, which provides strength to bones; and magnesium, which aids muscle functioning.
Types of fish high in protein and low in carbs include halibut, Alaskan Pollock, cod, carp, tilapia, salmon, and tuna.
You get more muscle-building benefits from the protein in eggs, calorie for calorie, than from other protein sources. That’s because eggs contain all nine essential amino acids for muscle building, plus nine non-essential ones.
Eggs also have plenty of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, which is used to enhance energy and performance.
Eating just one large egg provides 6.28 grams of protein and all the amino acids needed to build muscle.
4. Whey Protein
Like eggs, whey protein is a complete protein source, meaning it contains all essential muscle-building amino acids. Over and over again, whey protein has proven to be among the most powerful protein sources for muscle building.
In one study, for example, 16 healthy athletic males were divided into two groups: one received 40 g/day whey protein and the other received 40 g/day whey protein combined with amino acids. The athletes who received whey protein and amino acids increased fat-free mass and improved bench press and leg press over a 10 week period.
Where do you get whey protein? Some athletes choose to take whey protein powder, but you can also find it in cheese, milk, and yogurt. Ricotta cheese contains the most whey of any whole food, and also provides 28 g protein.
Oats are slow-digesting carbs, meaning they provide long-lasting energy during workouts. Plus, the whole grain in oatmeal is quickly digested, speeding metabolism.
Oatmeal is also great for fat loss, as it is high in appetite-suppressing fiber. And every athlete and bodybuilder knows losing fat while bulking up improves lean body mass, helping to build a tight and toned physique.
Instant oatmeal often contains a lot of added sugar and even loses much of its nutritional benefits in the manufacturing process. Instead, choose natural oatmeal sources, like rolled or steel-cut oats.
Many people focus only on protein sources for weight loss, forgetting that good carbohydrate sources are also crucial for building muscle. The carbs found in potatoes give the necessary energy to generate lean muscle mass. In fact, potatoes contain a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, which are the body’s main energy source.
Just one medium potato is packed with all kinds of necessary vitamins and minerals, including 45 percent daily value of vitamin C and 10 percent daily value of vitamin B6. Potatoes are also a great source of potassium, and your body needs potassium to release energy from food. And, they contain no fat.