As any serious-gym goer will tell you, bodybuilding is more than just a way of working out – it’s a lifestyle. While many people only focus on what they’re doing in the gym, a real bodybuilder knows that what happens at home is just as important. As the old saying goes, the best bodies are made in the kitchen.
Whether you’re planning to compete or just doing it for fun, bodybuilding requires discipline. You need to have clear goals and a carefully structured plan for achieving them. This applies to both your workouts and your diet.
Building (and maintaining!) lean muscle is an integral part of bodybuilding. This requires large quantities of high-quality protein, most of which should come from dietary sources. Here we look at some of the best options for this and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
The importance of high protein foods for bodybuilding
When it comes to bodybuilding, protein is crucial. When you’re bulking, it feeds muscle growth and helps you put on the right kind of mass. Then, when you shred the kilos, it protects your lean muscle mass while helping you burn fat.
What’s more, protein has been shown to help you feel fuller for longer. As such, it can help control your appetite, particularly when you are keeping your caloric intake down. But, to do all of this, most of your protein needs to come from high-quality, lean dietary sources.
Chicken breast and turkey breast
Chicken breast is widely considered one of the best high protein foods for bodybuilding. In addition to being packed with protein (about 31g in a 100g serve), it’s low in fat and salt and contains plenty of essential vitamins. It’s also quite affordable and has a low total calorie profile, making it perfect for both bulking and shredding.
If you get tired of chicken breast, turkey breast is a great alternative. It contains almost as much protein (about 29g in a 100g serve) and similarly low levels of fat and carbohydrates. It’s also just as nutrient-rich, making it a great option for introducing a little variety to your diet.
Both chicken and turkey breast are also high-quality sources of niacin. Niacin is an important B vitamin that helps the body process fats and carbohydrates. This, combined with the B6 and iron they also provide, mean both types of meat help support overall good health.
Tuna and salmon
In addition to tasting great, tuna and salmon can help build muscle and burn fat. They are high in protein and B vitamins, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which provide a range of health benefits. This makes both great choices for bodybuilders of all levels.
When buying salmon, look for a wild variety, like sockeye. In addition to having a stronger flavour, wild salmon also has more protein (about 25g in a 100g serve). It’s also more sustainably caught, meaning there will be plenty of it to enjoy for years to come.
With tuna, fresh yellowfin steaks are the best choice, particularly if pole or line-caught. However, if this is beyond your budget, canned tuna is also a great, cost-effective option. It has almost the same protein content (about 30g in a 100g serve) and is very low calorie – particularly when water-packed.
Eggs have long been a bodybuilding staple. In addition to being affordable, they are high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and rich in good fats and important nutrients. What’s more, they can be prepared in many different ways, allowing for that all-important variety in your diet.
On average, one large egg contains about 6 grams of protein. It’s also packed with important amino acids, including large amounts of leucine, which is critical for muscle building. It even provides high levels of B vitamins, which support energy production and general good health.
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why eggs are such a popular protein food for bodybuilding. Work more eggs into your diet by starting your day with a scramble or shake. Alternatively, hard-boiled eggs travel well and make the perfect high protein snack.
Greek yoghurt and cottage cheese
Dairy products are great for getting a mix of fast and slow-digesting proteins. However, you should choose your dairy carefully, as some products are much better for you.
Greek yoghurt, for example, contains twice the protein (about 10g in a 100g serve) of many other types of yoghurt. It’s also packed with calcium (for strong bones) and probiotics (for a healthy gut). However, you should always choose a plain, full-fat variety, as other options usually contain more sugar.
Similarly, cottage cheese packs in the protein (about 11g in a 100g serve) and amino acids (particularly leucine). However, it’s usually best to choose a low-fat option to keep the total calories down.
Give your gains an extra boost
If you need a little more help getting your diet right, check out our nutrition guide. This gives you all the information you need and even includes detailed eating plans tailored to different fitness goals.
You should also take the time to understand the critical role supplementation plays in bodybuilding and muscle growth. While most of your nutrients should come from dietary sources, supplements can help you fill any gaps. When structured correctly, the right supplementation plan can also further optimise your diet and help you meet your goals.
The most obvious – and widely available – supplement for bodybuilding is protein powder. We particularly recommend whey protein products, which have been shown to help build and protect lean muscle mass. However, with such a wide selection of products available, you need to understand what each does and which is best for you.
It’s also important to remember that muscle growth doesn’t happen during your workout. In fact, what you do over the following 24 – 48 hours has the biggest impact on your gains. It’s during this time your body processes your protein intake and repairs the damage you’ve done. As such, it’s worth also understanding how muscle recovery works and the impact your nutrition can have when at rest.