Best Diet for Building Muscle: What and When to Eat

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When searching for the best diet for building muscle, you’ll be bombarded by expensive meal plans offered by personal trainers. Although personal trainers are useful, there are ways to manage your meal plans on your own. In this guide, we’ll discuss the best things to eat, when to eat them, and tips for creating the best muscle building diet.

How Do Muscles Grow?

To make the most out of your diet plan, it’s vital to understand how muscles grow. There are 650 skeletal muscles in your body, and when working out, they start to contract. The more efficient your muscles are at contracting, the stronger your body will become.

When you visit the gym and start lifting weights, your muscles will break down. After your workout, the body will begin to repair the damaged fibers in your muscles by forming new muscle protein strands. The more often this process occurs, the larger your muscles will become, also known as muscle hypertrophy.

One of the essential nutrients in this process is protein. The rate your body synthesizes protein must always be higher than the rate of protein that is broken down. This fact is why people who already gained muscle still eat protein in excess.

Best Foods for Building Muscle

As you can guess, protein is the number one ingredient for big and healthy muscles. However, there are other vital components as well, such as amino acids. By ensuring you have a meal plan that consists of both of these ingredients, you’re well on your way to bulking.

1. Meats, Fish, and Poultry

The three most important things to add to your daily meals are meats, fish, and poultry. All three of these ingredients are fantastic sources of protein to help nourish your muscles. Also, they’re lean, which should help to keep fat off your body.

Turkey, in particular, is a great ingredient to add to meals as it has almost no carbs or fats. In a single three-ounce serving, you’ll have 25 grams of protein to fuel your body and niacin. Niacin is responsible for helping you process carbohydrates and fats, which are necessary for energy production.

Recommendations: Extra-lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, turkey, chicken breast, tilapia, cod, salmon, venison, and sirloin steak

2. Dairy

An exciting study from Daily Nutrition found that milk is a phenomenal source for muscle protein gains, especially when compared to soy beverages. In the study, muscle mass gains were just over six percent for milk drinkers and just above four percent in soy drinkers. Researchers also noticed the participants who drank milk had more strength in their leg muscle groups.

With that said, implementing a sufficient amount of dairy into your diet when trying to maximize gains is a great idea.

Recommendations: Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese

3. Beans and Lentils

One of the most critical amino acids, leucine, helps you to get the highest anabolic effect for each meal you consume. It is also the number one amino acid for building muscle, and beans have just over one gram per cup.

The best thing about beans and lentils is that they are simple to combine with everyday meals, whether it’s chili or a salad.

Recommendations: Chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, and black beans

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4. Eggs

One of the most important ingredients you can add to your meal plan is eggs. They are a high-quality source of healthy fats and proteins, not to mention they also have numerous B vitamins. Another exciting aspect of eggs is that they are a convenient source of leucine.

With the combination of B vitamins and leucine, your body will have better energy production so you can stay more alert during the day. Also, you’ll love the increased boost of energy they give you before and after a workout.

5. Soybeans

Although we discussed how milk could be far superior at helping your body build more muscle, soybeans are still a phenomenal source of protein. They also have many minerals, several types of vitamins, and a great source of unsaturated fats. In just half a cup of soybeans, you’ll be consuming as much as 14 grams of protein.

The three main vitamins and minerals found in soybeans are phosphorus, iron, and vitamin K. In terms of muscle repair, iron is particularly important, as blood is necessary for helping your muscles repair themselves. With an iron deficiency, you aren’t likely to experience any form of bulking.

6. Protein Powder

Though you’ll want to put most of your focus on whole foods, protein powders are another phenomenal source of protein when you’re in a pinch. Many dietary supplements can be preferred, especially if you can’t get enough protein into your system by eating whole foods.

Designed specifically to help you gain muscle, these powders contain natural ingredients to boost your productivity in the gym. By drinking a protein shake after a workout, you can get up to 25 grams of protein in one shot.

This nutrient will help your muscles repair themselves and also revitalize all the energy you just expended at the gym. You’ll likely want to try whey protein powders, as they are typically derived from high-quality sources.

7. Carbohydrates

Many suggest that cutting carbs out of your daily diet is a benefit, when, in fact, you need carbohydrates for natural energy. Whole carbs, such as quinoa, are a great alternative to empty carbs, such as white bread. Cooked quinoa contains eight grams of protein and 40 grams of carbs as well as fiber, phosphorus, and magnesium.

As your body goes through its energy, it requires more to stay mentally alert and active. Your body will begin to process the carbs you consume as healthy fuel to get you through the day.

Best Time to Eat Protein

Of course, you’ll want to create a thorough meal plan that ensures you’re eating protein throughout the day. With that said, there is some evidence that suggests you have a specific time frame when protein becomes the most valuable to your muscles. This window of opportunity occurs when your body is in the perfect state to consume nutrients to repair and restore your tissues and energy reserves.

Approximately three to four hours after you have stopped working out, it is essential to get an influx of protein. This reason is likely why protein shakes are recommended to be consumed about 30 minutes after you’ve stopped exercising. This timing, though, may vary depending on the type of meal you are consuming.

Ideally, if you’re mixing your protein into a smaller portion size, it should be eaten within four hours of exercise. If the protein is in a more substantial meal, you have up to six hours to ingest it before you lose most of your muscle repairing potential.

Best Diet for Building Muscle

If you’re not the type of person who has a lot of time to put into developing your meal plan, there is the option of opting for a diet that already exists. From vegan to keto, there are many pre-designed diets you might be interested in. When it comes to building muscle, many find that the keto diet is the best option.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The central premise of the keto diet is to provide your body with high fat and low carb meals to help you become leaner. Many use it to lose weight while others enjoy being on a diet to help build muscle because it doesn’t add a lot of fat to the body. By consuming keto-friendly meals, you’ll be putting yourself into a state of ketosis.

Ketosis is a metabolic state that makes your body far more efficient at burning fat and using it as energy. This state can make it easier to enjoy the foods you love without feeling overly bloated from items such as bread and pasta. Also, you’ll find that implementing whole foods into your diet will be more straightforward.

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The Types of Keto Diets

Unlike most other diets, there are multiple variations of keto that you can consider. The four most popular are the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD), Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD), the Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD), and the High-Protein Ketogenic Diet.

  • Standard: The standard keto diet is the most popular as it’s the most consistent and most comfortable to follow. Your main objective is to keep your meals at a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein level. Ideally, you’ll be consuming 75% fat, under five percent carbs, and 20% protein.
  • Cyclical: If you’re not interested in eating standard keto foods every day, there is the option of the cyclical keto diet. With this variation, you’ll have higher-carb refeeds during your muscle-building experience. For example, you may eat standard keto for five days and then have two high-carb days at the end of the week.
  • Targeted: For the most control, many find that the targeted keto diet is a great option. With this process, you can add carbs as you want, depending on how you often you workout during the week.

Pros and Cons of the Keto Diet

Before jumping headfirst into a giant lifestyle change, such as a new diet, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons. There are plenty of advantages and a few disadvantages to this diet to make a note of.


Here are the benefits you'll enjoy:

  • Weight Loss

By far, losing weight is the biggest motivator for people on the keto diet. This diet helps to trim unhealthy fat from everywhere on your body so that you can start creating lean muscle.

  • Avoiding Low-Fat

If you’ve ever tried to trim some fat before, you know how tough it can be to find low-fat variants of your favorite foods. Luckily, with the keto diet, you’ll be responsible for eating a lot of fatty foods. This way of eating helps to make it feel less restricting when compared to alternative diet plans.

  • Ideal for Endurance

The keto diet has special applications as well, such as being an excellent way for professional athletes to trim fat in less time. It’s also commonly used by bodybuilders to cut weight as well.

  • Less Exercise

It’s quite often you’ll find that people don’t have the time to work out, which is where this diet comes in handy. When you want to build muscle, though, you’ll have to spend time in the gym anyway. With your body boosting its metabolism based on the foods you eat, you’ll be able to burn fat with limited daily exercise.


The drawbacks of the keto diet you need to consider are:

  • Sustainability

The most common disadvantage to the keto diet is that it can be incredibly challenging to sustain over the long haul. Not only will your groceries become more expensive, but your health is a concern as well. It’s best to use the keto diet in moderation in combination with healthier eating habits.

  • Nutrient Depletion

Another significant concern to have with the keto diet is that it deprives your body of a lot of essential nutrients you need for longevity. This is why it’s better used as a temporary solution rather than a permanent one. You’ll find you’ll be lacking essential fibers, vitamins, and minerals required for a healthy lifestyle.

  • Heart Health

Considering your heart is the most crucial organ in your body, it’s essential you do whatever you can to protect it. Unfortunately, a consistent keto diet could lead to heart disease and other illnesses.

The American Heart Association recommends your daily fat percentages should be around five percent daily, not five times that amount.

Final Thoughts

When you begin to build the best diet for building muscle, you’ll need to take several factors into account. You’ll want to consume foods that are not only nourishing, but that also give you vitamins and minerals for long-term sustainability. With that said, it’s far more preferable to develop your own whole food bodybuilding diet rather than relying on yo-yo dieting, such as keto.