More than 40% people lifting weights in gym don`t know what to eat when working out to build muscle. They simply see muscle building as a virtue of lifting heavy and eating as much as possible. You are not going anywhere soon if you are among those individuals.

It is better to first have your nutrition right and understand what you need to eat to build muscle naturally. Eating as much as possible may sound to be a solid advice to build muscle. But, your goal is to build lean muscle without gaining too much of fat. If this is your goal, then you must read this complete article.

What to eat to build muscle

We have jolted down every possible detail for you to understand what to eat to build muscle. So sit back and relax, it is going to be a heck of a detailed article. The next time when you lift the weights, we want you to be on the right side of the muscle building game.

Disclaimer: Don`t expect this article to be just another article which only contains the list of muscle  building foods. If you are looking only for the list of such foods, better read our earlier article on Foods to gain weight.

How muscles are built?

You don’t build muscles during the workout. Instead, the muscle building process actually starts after you finish your workout. By lifting weights, you only provide the stimulus for your body to initiate the muscle building process. But, it is what you eat after your workout ever day that will affect your muscle growth.

When you lift weight, you are constantly causing damage to your muscles fibers. This damage leads to muscle protein breakdown in your body. And in order to repair your muscles, your body initiates a rebuilding process which is known as muscle protein synthesis.

It is this process of muscle protein synthesis due to which you gain muscles. When the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown, you build muscles.

We now hope, you have got the basic understanding on what you need to build muscle. The main thing to build muscle is to have muscle protein synthesis in your body. And the rate of which should be higher than muscle protein breakdown. So, how to make this happen?

Eat Protein to build muscle

When you finish exercising, muscle protein breakdown starts in your body. Consuming protein at this time, you enable muscle protein synthesis process in your body. It then further slows down the muscle protein breakdown. This causes you to build muscle and avoid muscle degradation.

The protein contains amino acids which act as the building blocks for your damaged muscle fibres. Your body keeps on aligning amino acids in your muscle to repair and build new muscles. So, it is important you have sufficient amino acids in your body.

Eating protein in your diet daily is a sure way to ensure you having enough amino acids to repair and build muscles in the body. But now the question arises, when and how much protein should you eat to start the muscle building process.

Don`t worry we even have included brief details of these which will come a little later in this article. However if you wish to know the detailed information on daily protein intake, you can read our article on “How much Protein to build muscle“. But before that try to understand some valuable information on amino acids.

A note on Amino Acids

The amino acids are basically of two types namely the Non essential Amino Acids and the Essential Amino Acids. Your Body can`t produce Essential Amino Acids (EAA`s) on its own and has to be consumed from your diet. This is the major reason behind eating protein to build muscles.

Typically there are 3 types of EAA`s (Leucine, Iso-Leucine and Valine). Out of which it is leucine that has the best reputation in accelerating muscle protein synthesis in your muscles [1]. This particular EAA is found in lean portion of protein sources like meat and poultry.

An individual with the goal of accelerated muscle growth can consume leucine directly in right doses from supplements like Whey Protein, Pea Protein or BCAA. However, there are some supplement companies that also manufacture Leucine individually.

Crave Carbohydrates to Build Muscle

You might know that carbohydrates are the most preferred source of energy. Your body needs carbohydrates to carry out important functions in your body. But do they have any active role in building muscle?

Carbohydrates don’t contribute to muscle building directly. But even then, you need to eat carbohydrates to build muscles. When you eat carbohydrates, you store glycogen in your muscles and liver. During the exercise, your body burn up this stored glycogen to fuel your workouts.

But, if you have insufficient glycogen in reserve, your workouts has to suffer. You will not be able to provide enough stimuli to force your muscles to grow.

Not only, are the carbohydrates responsible for supplying energy during workouts. But, you also need to eat after the workout that too in the right type and right amount. Eating carbohydrates post workout spike insulin level in your blood which then transports the nutrients to your muscles.

As, eating protein after workout is important to ensure you have sufficient amino acids in your body. The carbohydrates are responsible for feeding these amino acids to your muscles.

Eating carbohydrates then may not have a direct role in muscle building. But you can`t ditch carbohydrates and think of building muscles. Some studies also indicate that eating carbohydrates post workout can inhibit the rate of muscle protein breakdown in your body.

Feast on Fats to Build Muscle

Feast on fats to build muscle may sound a little alien advice to some individuals. But if you are someone who didn’t know the importance of fats in muscle building then you are missing a lot of your muscle building potential.

Fats are the most calorie dense food and supply your body with much needed energy to perform its functions. But what makes it special in muscle building is that it helps in absorption of various vitamins and minerals your body needs to build muscle. Eating fat helps your body to absorb vitamins like A, E, D and K which all are necessary and has a role in building muscle [2].

Furthermore, testosterone as you know is the key hormone responsible for building muscle. Eating a diet rich in fats can promote testosterone production in your body. Also, right fats increase HDL (Good Cholesterol) which further increases the production of growth hormone and amino acids in body.

Eating right types of fat in right amount can help you build muscle and lose fat simultaneously. There are basically of three types of dietary fat responsible for muscle building. These include Poly Unsaturated Fats, Mono Unsaturated Fats and Saturated Fats.

The Poly and Mono Unsaturated Fats helps reduce bad cholesterol, improve heart health, increase lean muscle mass and reduce fat mass. The saturated fats though considered harmful for heart health. But eating them in moderation can increase your testosterone production when you lift weights.

Unsaturated Fats to Eat to Build Muscle

  • Flax Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Avocado
  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Nuts

Saturated Fats to Eat to Build Muscle (Eat in Moderation)

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Full Fat Dairy Products
  • Poultry with Skin
  • Fatty Fish
  • Red Meat
  • Egg with Yolk

According to a study, a six week Fish Oil supplementation (Unsaturated Fats) has caused a gain of 1.1 Lb of muscle mass and 1.1 lb of reduction in fat mass.

Eat in Calorie Surplus to Build Muscles

Now that you have understood what macro nutrients you should eat to build muscle. It is time you understand the condition that impacts your muscle building strategy. In order to build muscles, you are required to eat in calorie surplus.

By calorie surplus, we mean you should eat more calories than you normally require in your day. So, how does eating more calories help you to build muscle? Muscle building is an energy extensive process. Your body needs to spend a lot of energy to build muscle. And, the only way to ensure you provide enough energy for your body to build muscle is to eat in calorie surplus.

When you eat enough calories, you stay in an anabolic stage. Your body produces all the hormones like the testosterone, growth hormones to help you build muscle. But if you are not consuming enough calories, the muscle building process gets halted. You went into catabolic stage which leads to muscle degradation.

How many extra calories to build muscle?

Eating extra calories is required for muscle building. But that doesn’t mean you go way beyond and start eating like a crazy maniac. There is calorie number for everyone. If you stay at your calorie number, you will build muscle. But if you eat beyond your calorie number, you will be going to gain more of fat than muscle.

The amount of calories you need to build muscle depends upon your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).  The TDEE refers to amount of calories you need in your day to perform your day to day activities. You can easily calculate your TDEE by using a simple equation.

After calculating the TDEE, simply eat about 10% more calories than TDEE to build muscle. You need not to go overboard and indulging in overeating will not help you build any extra muscles. Furthermore, the daily calories you eat should come from 20% Protein, 60% Carbohydrates, and 20% Fats.

Meal Planning to Build Muscle

Now that you have understood what to eat to build muscle, lets then understand how to plan your daily meals to build muscle fast. Though, it hardly holds much value when you are eating enough calories from the required macro nutrients. But, the two meals you need to really put attention are on what you eat before workout and what you eat after workout.

Pre Workout Meal to Build Muscle

Pre Workout meal holds importance as you are required to have enough glycogen reserve to fuel your workouts. Eating Carbohydrates before workout is sure to provide you the fuel needed for the workout. Though the point of focus here is to know that you need sustainable energy throughout your workout

You don`t want jittery energy where it peaks till certain time and crashes even before finishing your workout. The best approach for this is to include a certain types of carbohydrates in your diet before workout. Eating complex carbohydrates before workout provides sustainable energy.

The Best Carbohydrates Foods to Eat before Workout

  • Sweet Potato
  • Apple
  • Brown Bread
  • Oats
  • Strawberries
  • Brown Rice

What about other two Macros?

  • Protein before Workout to Build Muscle

You should include small amount of Protein before workout especially if you schedule your workout in the morning. But if you are having your workout later in the day, you have enough protein in your reserve already. Provided you are consuming ample protein throughout your day.

Consuming protein before morning workout, you are slowing down the muscle breakdown rate after the workout. Eating protein ensures you have the raw material present in your body to start the muscle protein synthesis process after the workout.

Also, the interesting thing about having protein before workout as it increases your anabolic window after workout. This way, you need not to rush for that protein shake immediately after your workout.

  • What about Fats before Workout?

Eating Fat before workout is a big no if you want to build muscle. The simple reason behind this is that eating fats before workout mess up your carbohydrate utilization [3]. Your body is not able to properly metabolize carbohydrates to generate energy as fats slow down digestion.

What about Pre workout Supplement?

Taking pre workout supplements are not recommended as there is nothing better than overall daily nutrition to build muscles. Though there are actually few supplements that can actually assist you in your muscle building strategy.

  • Creatine:

Creatine is a powerful and most often used pre workout supplement in the fitness industry. A 5 Gram dose of creatine before workout can increase your strength by 2 times and build your muscle faster. It is better to include creatine as it facilitates energy production and helps in transporting nutrients to muscles at a faster rate.

  • Beta Alanine:

Taking Beta Alanine before workout helps in reducing muscle fatigue and you can perform your workout with right intensity. Taking 4 grams of Beta Alanine along with 5 grams of creatine can really do wonders in your workout. Using Beta Alanine just for a month can increase your muscle carnosine by 60%. An increased carnosine means your muscle can perform better without getting easily fatigued.

Including the above two supplements is more than enough to ensure an increased muscle gain. However, there are also few other ingredients available that can assist in muscle building. If you also want to include all those ingredients, you can check our list of Best Pre workout Supplements.

Post Workout Meal to Build Muscle

The importance of eating after workout is to ensure you have the raw materials in your body to start the muscle building process. As you know, protein is needed to start the muscle protein synthesis in your body. So, it is the protein that you primarily need to focus on after your workout.

Eat Fast Acting Protein after Workout

The faster your body metabolizes protein, the faster it can start the muscle building process. So, it is important you eat a fast acting protein after your workout. How fast a protein can be utilized in your body depends upon its biological value. The high the biological value is, the fast your body will use it.

  • Whey Protein (BV: 150-100)
  • Eggs (BV: 100 )
  • Milk (BV: 91)
  • Casein (BV: 77)
  • Soy Protein (BV: 74)
  • Wheat (BV: 67)

So, it is the whey protein which has highest Biological Value. Taking whey Protein after your workout is best way to supply proteins to your body at a faster rate. You are not only supplying proteins at faster rate, but you are providing complete protein to your body.

Also, including 2.5 Grams of Leucine or 5 Grams of BCAA with Whey Protein after workout is sure to increase muscle protein synthesis. An increased muscle protein synthesis means faster muscle gains.

What about other Macros after Workout?

  • Carbohydrates after Workout

When you are done with your workout, you have depleted your glycogen stores. So, it is important to also include carbohydrates in your post workout meal. Your post workout meal should contain simple carbohydrates which have high glycemic index.

The Simple Carbohydrates with high GI are best to spike insulin levels instantly in your blood. Include those carbohydrate foods that are high in glucose and low in fructose. The increased insulin levels will transport nutrients much faster to your muscles. You can include simple carbohydrates like

  • White Rice
  • Bagels
  • Potatoes
  • Whole Wheat Bread

However, some people experience a spill over effect and tend to gain fat by including the high glucose foods. Such individuals can include foods containing maltodextrin along with high glucose foods. Waxy Maize is one such supplement that contains maltodextrin and can be a great add on in your post workout meal.

  • Fats after workout

Including Fats in your post workout meal can actually can hinder your post workout nutrition strategy. The main goal of eating a post workout meal is to transit the nutrients to your muscles as fast as possible. But including fats immediately in post workout meal can slow down digestion. If the digestion rate is slowed down, your muscles will not have a quick access to carbohydrates and protein.

What about other meals of the day?

Hitting your daily macro nutrients is one solid advice you need to take to build muscle fast. Nothing holds much importance than completing your daily nutrition if you have to build muscle. Obviously, you are not going to eat the complete daily nutrients in one meal. It is always better to evenly spread the macros throughout the day.

Apart from pre workout meals and post workout meals, including all the three macros in your meals is best to ensure you fulfill your daily nutritional intake. Now you must have known how many macros you need to eat in your day, you can easily spread out them in different meals.

Divide your day into five meals consumed after every three hours. It will help you consume all the required calories with ease without over stuffing yourself. Suppose you need to eat 3000 calories a day. Your day should then go somewhat like this.

Eat to Build Muscle

Furthermore if you need complete Meal Plan to build muscle, you can check our another article on Bodybuilding on a Budget. In this article, we have included 3500 Calorie Meal Plan to help you build muscle easily.

The Bottom Line

Building Muscle is not as difficult as most people think. Knowing exactly what to eat to build muscles can land you in the right place. The main thing required to build muscle is to provide right raw materials for your body to start the muscle protein synthesis. Eating enough macros and providing the right stimulus, your body will gradually start packing on muscle mass.

We hope you have found this article helpful. And, got the clear understanding of what you need to eat when you are working out to build muscle. Still if you have any questions, do let us know in the comment section below.


  1. J.L. Kimball SR, “Signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms through which branched-chain amino acids mediate translational control of protein synthesis
  2. B. Roessner, “5 Vitamins to Aid Muscle Recovery
  3. H. J. J. A. Hargreaves M, “Pre-exercise carbohydrate and fat ingestion: effects on metabolism and performance