9 Best Bodybuilding Foods

Best Bodybuilding Foods

Nutrition is Essential for Bodybuilding Progress

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Chicken, broccoli, yams ... every bodybuilder knows these are three important staples in a healthy, high-protein diet. Not to mention the tasty between-meals snack, canned tuna. It makes your mouth water just thinking about it, doesn't it? But what else do bodybuilders commonly eat - what's on their lists of best bodybuilding foods?

If you look at the nutrient profiles of various bodybuilding foods like we did, you'll find there's no single food that'll give you more advantages than eating an array of smart choices. It's certainly in your best interest however, to emphasize certain foods - or food categories - over others. High-protein foods are critical for muscle growth, but complex carbs are also important. Even a substance as seemingly insidious as sugar plays an important role in muscle building - if you know when to use it, and the right amount to use.

We've chosen the nine overall best bodybuilding foods. With all due respect to a number of high-protein foods like chicken and turkey, we looked at other factors in addition to protein content. The rankings don't mean those foods are for the birds; rather, we just want to remind you that protein isn't the only criterion that determines a good bodybuilding food. In fact, quite often we've simply chosen the best food from within a category of good foods, in which case we've also provided a couple of alternatives that provide similar benefits to the category leader.

Keep in mind that bodybuilders have different dietary needs at different times of day - and from precontest to offseason. Consider these needs as you put together your nutrition plan. In addition, always include a range of foods from within a category, as each food has a slightly different nutrition profile. Eating a range is always smarter than relying excessively on a single choice from within a group, no matter how great that one food may be. Besides, man cannot survive on canned tuna alone.


Why It Made the List: Most bodybuilders don't get enough fats in their diets, and healthy fats in particular get short shrift in most nutrition plans. Salmon is one of the best sources of healthy fats, and it's also a great source of protein. You should try to include salmon or some form of fatty fish at least twice a week, if not more often. Healthy fats provide numerous benefits to your heart, and they also supply the raw materials necessary for hair, skin, hormones and cell membranes. In addition to consuming plenty of fatty fish, strive to take in at least two servings of other foods that are high in healthy fats each day. Good sources of these fats include olive and canola oil, nuts and seeds, avocados and olives.

Good alternatives: Sardines, other fatty fish

Salmon is among the best and the tastiest of the fatty fish, but it's not the only fish in the sea. Sardines are a great source of healthy fats and they're also high in nutrients such as calcium. Other good sources include catfish, yellowtail, trout and mackerel.


Why it Made the List: Some bodybuilders take in a lot of calories in the beverages they consume, but beyond protein shakes and milk, most of these calories provide more sugars and carbs than valuable nutrients (even juices provide far more sugar than they should to be considered a "nutritious" bodybuilding food). Black coffee contains very few calories (10 or fewer per cup), and an 8-ounce serving has up to 200 milligrams of caffeine. While consuming coffee may keep you up at night or make you feel jittery if you're sensitive to its effects, caffeine has significant benefits for bodybuilders. Caffeine is a natural fat-burner. It also gives you energy and focus, so it's good when you want to be active or when you want to concentrate. One of the best times to drink coffee is before you hit the gym, as studies have shown that caffeine can increase the amount of weight you lift.

Good alternatives: Green tea, iced tea

These teas also contain next to no calories when you drink them without adding anything. Both contain caffeine, and green tea also has fat-burning catechins in addition to the fat-burning properties from caffeine.


Why It Made the List: As with healthy fats, fiber is another important component of a nutritious bodybuilding diet that many guys don't consider. Adding a serving of beans to your meals once a day is a great way to get your fiber consumption to where it belongs. Each 1/2 cup serving of black beans contains about 15 grams of fiber (not to mention a hefty 20 grams of protein). Fiber is important for many reasons - for one, it creates volume in your digestive system, which helps your body process all the other foods you're eating. Protein foods such as beef and chicken are calorie dense and devoid of fiber, meaning they can be difficult to digest in large quantities when you're eating few other foods. Adding beans to meals high in tissue proteins is a good way to make sure your system functions optimally.

Good alternatives: Pinto beans, kidney beans, lima beans

When it comes to these legumes, it doesn't much matter which one you choose - they're all loaded with fiber, generally ranging from 11-16 grams of fiber per l/2 cup serving.


Why It Made the List: What's the best fruit to consume? A mixture - especially one that contains dark berries. Fruit provides fiber and each kind of fruit contains a unique dose of nutrients, with berries leading the way in terms of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Many bodybuilders are overly concerned about the sugars in fruit, but they needn't be. A serving or one piece of fruit is relatively low in sugar. Fruit does contain fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and is more likely to be stored as bodyfat than other forms of sugar, but most fruits contain only about half of its sugar in the form of fructose. The fiber will also mitigate insulin release, so you don't need to be concerned about getting fat from fruit. On the other hand, try and avoid fruit juices as the are calorie dense, loaded with sugar and lack the fiber benefit that whole fruit contains.

Good Alternatives: Canned mixed fruit in water, frozen fruit mixtures

While fruit is the best choice, packaged fruit is a definite runner-up. Just make sure you avoid the canned versions that are packed in loads of syrup, or frozen fruit that has sugar dumped into it. Seek out packaged fruit that has a range of fruits (especially berries), when possible.


Why It Made the List: Bodybuilders need a good source of slow-burning complex carbs, and nothing is better than yams. The benefits of yams holds true for bodybuilders seeking to add muscle mass as well as bodybuilders trying to strip bodyfat. Regardless of how many carbs you're consuming each day, it's hard to top yams. Not only are they nutritious and a good source of fiber, but the carbs in yams will stay with you much longer than faster-burning carbs such as those from starchy sources (pasta, white bread, bagels) or from sugary carbs. Yam*; also won't spike your insulin levels the way certain fast-digesting carb sources do.

Good alternatives: Brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread These alternatives provide similar slow-burning fuel. Rotate them in throughout the day in appropriate serving sizes for your bodybuilding goals.


Why It Made the List: Most bodybuilders avoid simple carbs - sugars - as much as possible because they know that sugar is readily converted to bodyfat. Smart bodybuilders also know that simple carbs help to transport dietary protein into muscle tissue when taken within a short window after working out. Consuming sugar causes insulin release, and insulin tends to drive bodily processes including muscle tissue growth. After working out, your body is trying to build and repair muscle tissue. Sugar driven by insulin thus encourages the process, pushing amino acids more readily into the muscle cells so they're ready for use in the regrowth process.

Sugar is also a villain however. When you eat sugar at other times during the day (especially in the absence of fats and fiber), your body is more likely to store these calories as bodyfat. For the best results, take in about 50-60 grams of sugar (dextrose is the best form, followed by sucrose, which is sometimes called table sugar) with 30-40 grams of fast-digesting protein supplements such as whey or soy, within the 30 minutes following your weight-training workouts.

Good alternatives: Sports drinks, soft drinks

Sugary beverages aren't the perfect post-workout food because they often contain high-fructose corn syrup, which is slower digesting. Nevertheless, they're a better option after your workouts than going carb-free. Limit your consumption to no more than 50 grams of these carbs, and make certain you take in good source of protein with these sugar alternatives.


Why It Made the List: Two nutrients that bodybuilders need more of than do everyday people are dietary proteins and saturated fats - yes, saturated fats. These fats are readily converted to testosterone in the presence of hard training, which thus helps you build more muscle mass. Saturated fats also slow digestion, meaning it will take your body longer to digest and process proteins, maintaining a steady supply to your muscles. Furthermore, tissue proteins such as lean red meat are already a slow-digesting form of protein. Eating red meat is thus good because it's like supplying your body with a time-released protein. While whey protein will reach your body relatively quickly, lean red meat takes a few more hours to digest and get fully absorbed, releasing a steady stream of amino acids for a long period of time. Hence, beef is a great food for later in the day or at times when you're going to go several hours without eating again. To further slow the release of aminos, add high fiber foods such as vegetables (#2) or beans (#7).

So why should you go for lean cuts if saturated fats are good for bodybuilders? The reason is that consuming lean meat is a good way to control total calorie intake and you don't need an overload of saturated fats. Only about half of your total fat calories (about 10% of your total daily caloric intake) should come from saturated forms of fat, while the other half should come from healthy forms such as salmon (#9). (Consider that an 8-ounce cut of prime rib has 79 grams of fat, 23 of which is saturated. The same portion of a lean cut of top sirloin has 13 grams of fat, of which 5 is saturated. The savings on calories are 935 vs. 407.) Lean cuts of beef provide all the saturated fats you need from one meal to help maximize testosterone production.

Good alternatives: Whole eggs., lean breakfast meats such as chicken sausage

If you're looking for a slow, steady release of aminos at breakfast, consider a four-egg omelet with one or two chicken sausages on the side. Each large egg will provide about 5 grams of fat, (about 1/3 of which is saturated), and chicken sausages are lower in fat than their pork counterparts, though there is considerable variation from brand to brand.


Why It Made the List: Most bodybuilders don't include enough vegetables in their diets. Some people find vegetables hard to eat in large quantities and very filling for the amount of calories they contain. They are^^H however, nutrient dense and bodybuilders tend to eat foods that don't contain the full spectrum of beneficial vitamins and minerals in the quantities necessary to maximize muscle growth. Broccoli is among the best vegetables because of its excellent nutrient profile and high level of dietary fiber. In general, you should eat a range of vegetables rather than relying on a couple of favorites. Choose dark colored vegetables as they tend to be the most nutritious.

Good alternatives: Spinach, asparagus These are just two alternatives that contain a good balance of nutrients. Mix up your vegetables from meal to meal, day to day, and rotate in as much variety as possible.


Why It Made the List: If you're serious about getting protein without a lot of extra calories, and you want it to get into your system as quickly as possible, then whey protein isolates are the way to go. This form of whey contains 90% or more protein, because it's purified beyond the standards of whey protein concentrates (which are about 70% protein). When taken alone, whey protein isolate has very few calories (25 grams has only about 100-110 calories), and the aminos will reach your system much more quickly than those in most whole-food protein sources.

At times of the day when you want amino acids to reach your bloodstream - and muscles - quickly, opt for fast-digesting forms of protein. These times include first thing in the morning when you've gone several hours without eating (drink a whey shake shortly before you eat your breakfast), and before and after training when you want aminos available to help build and repair muscle tissue. Approximately 30 minutes before your workout, take in about 20 grams of whey protein isolate with 20 grams of complex carbs (whole grain bread). After you finish your workout, consume 30-40 grams of whey protein isolate with 50-60 grams of sugar (see #4).

Good alternative: Soy protein, casein protein, egg whites

Soy protein digests about as fast as whey. Casein is much slower to digest, but is a viable option when you need any form of protein. Egg whites, while slower digesting than whey or soy protein supplements, are among fastest digesting whole food sources.


Would you ever expect to find a food such as a donut on the list of the best bodybuilding foods? Hear us out before you shrug this point off: It's important for bodybuilders to follow a basic diet that relies on core bodybuilding foods, many of which you'll see on the Top 9 list, or listed as alternatives. But it's also important to lead a normal life, meaning that a few cheat foods in your diet here and there won't hurt. One strategy is to have a cheat meal after eating clean for three days. Another strategy that some bodybuilders use is to include a cheat day once a week.

In other words, the foods that you love shouldn't be taboo. The cheat food or foods that you include in your personal nutrition plan should be among your favorites. If you love donuts, eat one or two on Saturday mornings. Doing so will provide a mental break from the rigors of dieting. Equally important, they'll also shock your system a bit - hitting your body with carbs and fat calories. This short-term change will have a long-term effect of creating more lean growth.

If you don't love donuts, don't use them as your cheat food. The important point is that you should include foods you miss the most during your strict diet days. Hamburgers and pizza have an added advantage by being relatively high in protein, and high in calories and fats. The take-home message here is to eat the foods you really want when you get the chance to cheat. Allowing yourself cheat foods will make following a strict bodybuilding diet that much easier the rest of the week - and that much more successful.

If you're feeling adventurous and want to really make the best of your re-feed or cheat meal, especially post-leg training day which takes the most out of you.. consider checking out some famous locations that have been shown on shows hosted by the one and only Adam Richman. We strongly suggest you visit these Man vs Food or Man Finds Food fan sites that have it organized by challenges, cities and states. Listen guys, if you're going to have an epic and worthwhile cheat then you might as well make it last!

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