Best Food for Bulking: What to Eat for Optimal Muscle Growth?

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All over our social media feeds, health influencers, friends, and family who have the fitness bug are posting their gym routines. Quick clips of workouts that work, snippets of info about what to eat and when- advice for everything is swirling around the internet, and it can be overwhelming. What you eat can be just as important as your workout routine when looking to make those gains and grow some muscle.

Nutrition plays a huge impact on how our bodies function, including how we grow muscles and crush our fitness goals. Providing adequate amounts of essential amino acids, carbohydrates, lean protein, and micronutrients means we provide our bodies with the basics they need to accomplish the goals we set. Consistency in the gym, met with intentional nutrition, is the best recipe for success.

How Does Food Impact Muscle Growth?

So, we know nutrition is important, but how does what we eat impact how muscles grow? It all starts with a caloric surplus, which means taking in more calories than you burn daily. This is the opposite of the deficit we strive for to lose weight, but when building muscle, our bodies need those extra calories to provide the added energy they need to create new muscle tissue. 

Consuming adequate amounts of protein will provide the amino acids we don’t produce on our own, which are necessary for muscle growth. Carbohydrates are essential for providing an energy source and replenishing glycogen in muscles, but the quality of those carbs is important to consider. 

Healthy fats are needed for hormone production, including hormones like testosterone, which are important to those gains. Various vitamins and minerals all have roles to play in muscle function. Balancing your bulking diet to cover these categories will provide optimal nutrition for muscle growth.

What to Eat for Bulking? Best Food Choices

Knowing what nutrients are needed is only half the battle of bulking. The next hurdle is figuring out which foods provide the most bang for your buck. Here’s how to build the basics of a bulking diet:

 

Lean Proteins

Lean proteins are one of the most important ingredients in a bulking diet. Eating high protein means looking for lean proteins, less unhealthy fats, and more amino acids from whole-muscle meat. Chicken breast, sirloin, tuna, fish, and lean ground meats, both turkey and beef, are excellent choices for protein-packed meats. 

Whole cuts are always a great choice, but ground blends that are 90% lean or higher and deli chicken and turkey for sandwiches are other great lean protein options. Eggs are another protein powerhouse to include in your bulking diet.

 

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are generally viewed as simple and complex. While simple carbs like sugar and refined white grains provide temporary energy, complex carbs provide an energy boost, sustained energy, and a way to replace the glycogen we burn. 

Whole grains like oats, quinoa, brown rice, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, beans, and other legumes are all great sources of both calories and energy and should be included in your bulking diet.

 

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are a great calorie-dense option for reaching that caloric surplus and fueling hormone production. Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil for cooking, and salad dressing are all fantastic options for meals and snacks.

 

Dairy Products

Dairy products can provide several great nutrients, namely protein and vitamins. High-protein options like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese help meet protein and calorie intake goals, and vitamin-fortified milk helps reach optimal bone and muscle health. 

Protein Shakes

Protein powders, especially whey-based ones, provide an excellent way to incorporate protein, vitamins, and amino acids into a balanced bulking diet. They are easy to incorporate when prep time is limited and help aid in post-workout muscle recovery. 

Meal Ideas for Those on Bulking Eating Plan

We have the ingredients, but how do we make a meal? Here are a few simple recipes to get you started.

 

Grilled Salmon with Fajita Foil Packets

Salmon is a protein-packed source of healthy fats and an excellent calorie-dense option for a quick grilled dinner. To keep the salmon from sticking to the grill grates, brush both sides with mayo (avocado oil-based mayo is a great choice), and season with a fajita or blackening seasoning of choice. 

On the side, add sliced bell peppers and red onion to a foil packet with olive oil and seasoning of choice. Pairing this dish with brown rice or quinoa makes a well-rounded meal great for dinner or meal prep for the week.

Turkey Enchilada Skillet   

Choosing the right protein and carbs is crucial to boosting calories. Start with lean ground turkey sauteed in olive oil. Add butternut squash or sweet potato and black beans for a boost of complex carbs, broccoli, peppers, onion, tomato, or other preferred vegetables, and a splash of salsa and enchilada sauce to bring your whole-grain turkey skillet together. 

To really make this a bulk meal, serve over quinoa.

Lentil Cacciatore 

A filling stew featuring an often overlooked legume, lentils are high in protein, low in fat, and full of complex carbs. Combine with crushed tomato and tomato paste, red pepper, carrot, garlic, rosemary, and some capers for flavor. Add vegetable stock and simmer until the lentils are tender and the stew has thickened. Serve over brown rice if desired.  

 

Protein Packed Oatmeal

Add a scoop of protein powder to your standard oatmeal to increase the protein content. Add whole-grain granola, fresh fruits, and nuts to complete your breakfast creation. A little dark chocolate is a great way to add a little indulgence to your morning.

Meal Kits Suitable for Bulking

Bulking for those gains doesn’t have to mean cooking every meal from scratch, and several meal kit companies are stepping up to create options for on-the-go individuals and busy lifestyles.

 

HelloFresh

HelloFresh has plenty of options to fit meal preferences, and they cover the nutritional basics well. Focus on meals with lean proteins and complex carbs, and if you are looking to bulk the calories, it can be as simple as adding a larger portion of rice or extra protein. 

With fresh ingredients and clear instructions, these kits are great for learning the basics of creating a healthy meal and are easily adaptable to bulking diets.      

Blue Apron

Blue Apron has a variety of suitable meals, including many that focus specifically on high protein and wellness, which are great in supporting muscle growth and recovery. Their menu is an excellent opportunity to explore new flavors, especially new vegetables and whole grains, and the prepared and ready meals offer extra convenience for time-crunched days.

 

Home Chef

Home Chef is an excellent option for bulking diet plans, as their customizable options allow for extra protein and other tailoring convenience. The flexible recipes are simple to prepare and offer a variety of protein options.

 

Factor

Factor offers several options for bulking plans, including high-protein meal selections, extra protein add-ons, snacks, and even shakes and smoothies to round out your meal plan. These meals are fully prepared for quick preparation. Their wide variety of meals and add-ons makes customizing options easier than ever.

 

Green Chef

Green Chef also offers a healthy selection of high-protein, well-balanced meals to keep bulking on track. They have options for 2, 4, or 6 servings per meal, which makes them a great option to streamline meal prep for the week for packed lunches or ready-to-go dinners.

 

Sunbasket       

Sunbasket is another meal kit option with chef-driven options covering nutritional basics. They also offer protein and snack-only options, which are great resources for creating a balanced bulking diet throughout the day. 

Bottom Line        

When hitting those gain goals, it’s important to remember that no one factor will transform your body overnight. Consistency with diet and exercise is the key to seeing steady improvements and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will go a long way in supporting the work you do inside the gym.

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Related FAQ’s

Proper nutrition and calorie surplus will provide your body with the energy it needs to create new muscles, and maintaining a high-protein, balanced diet will ensure the right vitamins and nutrients are present to support muscle growth.

Lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and micronutrients are all important for optimal muscle development. Chicken, lean ground meats, fish, whole grains, and vegetables are all important foods to include in a healthy diet.

Healthy fats aid in hormone production, and testosterone is a hormone key to building new muscle. Ensuring healthy fats in your diet will help maintain those muscle gains.

Meal timing can be important for building muscle. Proper nutrition after a workout ensures your body has the energy and nutrients to recover and build new tissue. Proper intake before a workout ensures you have the energy to get through without muscle strain. Avoid eating before bed so your body can break down foods in the most effective way.

Be intentional about what you use to fuel your body. Empty calories like refined sugars and grains, white breads, chips, and high-fat sugary snacks will provide calories but not the nutrients your body needs to create new muscles.

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