11 Foods To Help You Build Muscle And Tone

Photo of Daisy Whitbread Written by Daisy Whitbread
BSc (Hons) MSc DipION
Photo of Dr. Patricia Shelton Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Patricia Shelton
Evidence Based. References sourced from PubMed.
11 Foods To Help You Build Muscle And Tone

One common reason that people want to build muscle is to bulk up and improve their physique and strength, also known as bodybuilding.

Increasing muscle is also beneficial for weight management. Muscle is an "active tissue," meaning that it uses a significant amount of energy even while the muscles are resting. Increasing your muscle mass, therefore, means your body burns more calories at rest. This can help you both lose weight and keep it off.

Maintaining muscle mass is also beneficial for the aging process. As we get older, we naturally lose some of our muscle mass and strength. Starting around the age of 30, we lose approximately 3-8% of our muscle mass every decade, and after age 60, that rate increases even more. (1)

A loss of muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, is associated with several negative health outcomes, including an increased risk of cognitive impairment, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even death. (2) Sarcopenia can also lead to falls, and generally impairs a person's ability to function and their quality of life. (2) It is therefore beneficial to try and minimize the loss of muscle to maintain good health as we age.

When trying to gain muscle, it is essential to get enough protein, both throughout the day and immediately after workouts. The International Society for Sports Nutrition recommends 1.4 grams to 2 grams of protein per kg body weight per day for muscle building. The exact amount will depend on factors such as gender, body size, and activity levels. (3)

The recommended muscle-building foods below include both plant and animal sources. These include: whey powder, tofu, peas, milk, beans, lentils, eggs, and fish. To build muscle, these foods should be eaten in combination with regular resistance exercise.

Resistance exercise is any type of exercise that causes muscles to contract against a force or resistance. This can be free weights, weight machines, or your own body weight. Examples include weight lifting, pulling resistance bands, squats, lunges, push-ups, and even certain yoga poses. Resistance exercise builds and tones muscles and makes them stronger, as well as increasing bone strength.

For good cardiovascular health, it is also recommended to include 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, like walking, running, cycling, or swimming.

There is some debate about animal vs. vegetarian protein sources. Many bodybuilders are convinced that animal protein is required to build muscle. There are, however, many successful vegan bodybuilders and athletes, and some bodybuilders are also concerned that inflammation caused by animal proteins might actually hinder performance. For this reason, the following list contains a mixture of both animal and plant-based proteins. If you do consume animal foods, it is generally healthy to include a mixture of both plant and animal proteins in your diet.

These muscle-building foods are all high in protein, easy to prepare, and have other health benefits beyond just their high protein content.

Tips for Building Muscle

  • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resistance training (such as weight lifting) to build muscle. This involves training each muscle group two or three times per week on non-consecutive days, by doing 8-12 repetitions per set and 2-4 sets of each different exercise.
  • Don't forget to incorporate rest days between your training days, as they are essential to building muscle. In fact, it is during rest periods that new muscle formation takes place.
  • Caffeine enhances muscle strength, so it can boost your workout and may also decrease muscle soreness post-workout. Take it easy, though, as too much caffeine can actually cause fatigue in the long term.
  • Vitamin C supplements may speed up muscle recovery and reduce pain after intensive workouts. (25,26) The best way to get plenty of vitamin C is to eat 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • 70% of muscle mass is made up of water, and water is essential for building healthy muscles. Hydration is also key to exercise performance and maintaining physical and mental energy. Requirements increase with activity levels and hot weather, so drink accordingly.

Data Sources and References

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