Your ability gain muscle has as much to do with what you eat as how hard you push yourself in the gym. But if you include these foods, suggested by Dan Go, a personal trainer and nutritionist, you’ll ensure that your time spent in the gym isn’t a waste of sweat.
1 WHOLE EGGS
Whole eggs provide a quick, easy source of protein at 6 to 8 grams per egg, which is essential for building and repairing muscles post-workout. They’re also rich in vitamins, zinc, iron and calcium, making them one of the most complete muscle-building foods out there.
2 CHICKEN BREAST
For every 100 grams of chicken breast, you get 30 grams of protein with minimal fat. It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to cook and can be served in many different styles and as part of a variety of dishes.
While water isn’t technically a food, hydration is an important part of building muscle. Your body is 70-percent water, and your muscle tissue is around 75-percent water. Keeping your muscles hydrated will help build strength, increase energy levels and aid in proper digestion. Aim for about 0.6 ounces of water per pound of body weight.
4 FISH OIL
Thanks to its omega-3s, fish oil has anti-inflammatory benefits that allow your body to recover faster from an intense workout. That means you can exercise more frequently. What’s more, fish oil might also speed your metabolism. So you’ll not only build muscle but also eliminate more fat to reveal more definition.
5 GRASS-FED BEEF
Grass-fed beef is another food that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also high in good unsaturated fats and loaded with 400 percent vitamin A (as beta carotene) and vitamin E. It’s a perfect substitute for the grain-fed beef you’ll find in your local grocery store.
Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving. It happens to be one of the most under-appreciated muscle-building foods. It’s a fantastic source of protein, and a good source of 11 vitamins and minerals. Turkey also packs selenium, which, according to recent studies, might help prevent some types of cancer.
You might not be able to pronounce it, but if you want a carbohydrate source that helps build muscle, look no further. A 100-gram serving of quinoa packs 14 grams of protein along with essential amino acids, making it a great addition to your muscle-building meal plan.
8 STEEL-CUT OATS
Oatmeal is a healthy, filling grain, and the steel-cut variety adds more flavor to the mix. Oats provide a blend of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins. The body digests steel-cut oats slowly, meaning you stay fuller for longer and maintain consistent blood sugar levels.
Fruit might not be the first thing you think of when you think of building muscle, but pineapple should definitely be included. They’re a rich source of a protein-digesting enzyme called bromelein. It’s been shown to reduce muscle inflammation, making it a great addition to your post-workout meal.
There might’ve been a reason why Popeye ate so much spinach. A 2008 study from researchers at Rutgers University showed that the phytoecdysteroids contained in spinach may increase muscle growth up to 20 percent. The catch? You’d need to eat two pounds of spinach per day to see the same benefits. And while you’re unlikely to eat that much, it shouldn’t stop you from using it in salads, smoothies, stir fries and more.
11 SWEET POTATO
Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient for your body, and they also help you add muscle. Sweet potatoes are one of the tastier and more convenient options to replenish energy stores and fuel the muscle-building process. Additionally, they’re packed with vitamins and minerals to help you maintain normal blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller longer.
12 WILD SALMON
Wild salmon is a powerful source of protein that also packs a punch of omega-3 fatty acids. This two-pronged attack will aid your lean-muscle dreams, and studies show it may also help speed up your metabolism for faster results.
13 WHEY PROTEIN
Whey protein a fast-absorbing protein that’s best served post-workout. It contains amino acids that are critical to building and maintaining muscle. The best part about whey protein is its high biological value — a measure of the efficiency with which protein can be absorbed and used by the body for tissue growth.
Put broccoli and other fibrous vegetables (asparagus, spinach, tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, onions and leeks) on your list of go-to post-workout foods. You should aim to eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and you can’t find a better source of vitamins, minerals and fiber than these. But be careful: If you overcook your vegetables, you’ll decrease their vitamin and mineral content.
15 WILD RICE
Wild rice is an often overlooked muscle-building food. While it doesn’t top the charts for protein content, it does have 3 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein in one cooked cup. So instead of white or brown rice, try this in your lunches and dinners.
16 COTTAGE CHEESE
Some might consider this a dessert, but it’s also one of the best muscle-building foods you’ll find. Just one cup of cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein. And this quick and easy snack is made up of a combination of fast- and slow-digesting proteins, so you can stave off hunger for longer.
17 CHOCOLATE MILK
It seems too good to be true, but chocolate milk can actually help you build more muscle. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, chocolate milk was shown to be just as effective as sports drinks at increasing total exercise output and delaying exhaustion. Plus, it’s delicious!
You don’t have to stick solely to beef for your sources of red-meat protein. Venison and buffalo are two lean sources of protein that are loaded with B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and copper. So why not take a walk on the wild side and switch things up?
19 LENTILS AND CHICKPEAS
Who says you need to eat meat to fill up on protein? These vegetarian- and vegan-friendly foods offer the protein your muscles need, without the high-impact carbohydrate rush that affects your insulin levels.
Big things can come in small packages. Almonds provide an amazing source of protein and fat, but it’s their vitamin E that’s most beneficial to your muscles. The powerful antioxidant fights free radicals and helps you recover more quickly from your workouts.
*Susy joined LIVESTRONG.COM at its inception in 2008. Focused on all things food, fitness and health related, her daily contributions as the LIVESTRONG.COM community manager is an asset to the site and the millions of community members. She has a M. A. in Clinical Psychology.