50 Common Foods that Help Build Muscle
Lean Animal Protein Sources
1. Skinless Chicken Breasts
Protein in Chicken Breasts: 43 g per 1 breast
Chicken is a popular protein staple when it comes to building muscle, and with good reason. This cut of poultry provides excellent lean and highly versatile nutrition at an affordable price point. If you’re sensitive to antibiotics, try looking for ‘antibiotic-free’ humanely raised chicken. This helps prevent antibiotic-resistant microorganisms from developing and keep you healthy.
2. Ground Beef (>90% Lean)
Protein in Ground Beef: 86 g per 1 pound
This fan favorite meat is most often used for its muscle building protein and dense amount of supportive nutrients like Iron, Cobalamin, and Vitamin-B6 at 41, 156, and 65% DV respectively. Ground beef’s popularity is as expansive as its growing list of recipes. Just don’t eat it in India. When shopping for ground beef, try to reach for grass-fed and antibiotic-free for better quality.
3. Ground Turkey (>93% Lean)
Protein in Ground Turkey: 90 g per 1 pound
Like beef, ground turkey has naturally high concentrations of lean protein and tastes delicious. This ground-based bird only takes 10 minutes to cook and is available in an endless supply of different recipes. As always, we recommend reaching for grass-fed turkey free of antibiotics.
4. Lean Steak Cuts
Protein in Lean Steak: About 7 g per 1 ounce
Steak is one of richest natural sources of high-quality protein you can find. Regardless of the type of cut you prefer, steak usually provides about 7 grams of whole protein per 1 ounce. So, a humble 3 oz steak for lunch the size of a deck of cards will supply about 21 grams of protein. Like most meats, we recommend antibiotic-free, pasture-raised steak that isn’t factory farmed.
5. Bison / Buffalo Meat
Protein in Bison Meat: 7g per 1 ounce
Basically, Bison an upgraded version of beef in almost every way imaginable. Compared to its cousin the cow, bison is rich in protein, has way lower levels of saturated (bad) fat, and also some beneficial micro-nutrients like iron and Cobalamin . As expected, grass-fed/pasture-raised is your best bet. Because it’s a leaner meat, you’ll have to be careful not to overcook it. That said, make sure it gets an internal temp of 160°F (71°C)- the temp where pink disappears.
6. Boneless Pork Chops
Protein in Pork Chops: 32 g per 1 chop
Pork Chops are an effective source of low-processed nutrient-dense protein. According to the USDA, one boneless chop contains about 40 grams of muscle building protein and is a good source of vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and magnesium. It’s also very versatile and can be eaten with virtually any sides. Check out this list of delicious and easy to prepare recipes.
7. Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast
Protein in Roasted Turkey Breast: 498 g per 1 breast
Lean whole turkey is a great food-prep option and alternative to chicken that many athletes take advantage of. Unless shared with a group, you can expect a whole turkey to last several days of personal consumption. We suggest following a good savory pre-rub recipe for the best results. If budget isn’t an issue, try opting for a humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone free breast.
8. Corned Beef
Protein in Corned Beef: 5 g per 1 ounce
Rich in protein, corned beef has a delicious taste that’s great in soups, sandwiches, and more. It’s also digests slowly and easily which helps you feel fuller, for longer. We recommend trying it as apart of an Irish classic or as a part of a timeless (and tasty) German delicatessen.
9. Beef Jerky
Protein in Beef Jerky: 9 g per 1 oz
As most of you likely know, Beef jerky is a delicious snack that happens to be high in protein. The downside to beef jerky, however, is that it isn’t completely healthy. As such, we suggest you eat it occasionally and in relatively small portions, like as a part of your post-workout snack. Although few in number, you may be able to find healthy jerkies at your local health foods store.
Protein in Pepperoni: 6 g per 1 ounce
Pepperoni, the most famous pizza topping in the world, is also one of the most protein-dense sausages. Made of cured pork and beef, this deliciously mixed sausage can go great on top of a variety of different foods including crackers, sandwiches, or even salads to enhance gains.
Protein in Chorizo: 14 g per 4″ link
Chorizo is a fan favorite when it comes to supplementing good amounts of protein into the diet. It particularly shines in breakfast alongside eggs, however it can also be used to help spice up a pasta dinner or salad. What’s more, Chorizo is fermented, meaning it doesn’t require cooking.
12. Canadian Bacon
Protein in Canadian Bacon: 6 g per slice
Interestingly, the term ‘Canadian Bacon’ is only said in the America. This delicious type of pork back meat is naturally rich in protein and provides about 6 times less fat than regular pork belly bacon, making it a much healthier alternative. Try adding some of it to your morning breakfast!
13. Whole Eggs
Protein in Eggs: 6 g per boiled egg
Throughout thousands of years of human history, eggs have been eaten to build muscle. At $0.17 per 6 grams of protein, this readily available foodstuff is full of healthy nutrients, brain fats, and free of other ingredients. It’s one of nature’s super foods. You’ll like these egg recipes.
Lean Protein Sea Foods
Protein in Sardines: 3 g per 1 sardine
Many pro bodybuilders and athletes regularly eat canned sardines. High in protein, these small fish are delicious, rich in healthy omega-3 fats, and have beneficial nutrients like potassium, iron, and calcium. They’re also low on the food chain, which means significantly less toxins.
Protein in Tuna: 26 g per 3 oz
Tuna is the seafood equivalent of chicken, except a little healthier. This canned fish is a great source of complete protein and essential nutrients, including healthy omega-3 fats, selenium, and vitamin D to name a few. If possible, try looking for a certified sustainable harvested can. There are numerous amounts of different recipes you can prepare. Check these ones out.
16. Wild Sockeye Salmon
Protein in Salmon: 41 g per 0.5 fillet
Also known as ‘red salmon’, this richly textured and highly flavorful fish packs a punch when it comes to muscle-building nutrition. USDA findings show that each half-fillet is nutrient dense at about 41 grams of protein and is also an excellent source of essential nutrients your body needs from the diet like vitamin D, vitamin B12, magnesium, and vitamin B6 to name a few.
Protein in Tilapia: 23 g per 1 fillet
Quality tilapia has gained a reputation for being ‘the fish that goes with everything’. Smaller than tuna and easy to eat, non-imported tilapia is much less contaminated by toxins than tuna or salmon is, but also has less healthy fats. Just make sure you get properly certified tilapia.
Protein in Shrimp: 23 g per 100 oz
According to USDA research, shrimp is high in both protein and other vitamins and minerals. Shrimp is also naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol levels . Before you eat shrimp, ensure you aren’t allergic and check its quality. US law prevents the use of antibiotics in shrimp, however, some imports may still be contaminated.
Protein in Anchovies: 13 g per 1 can (2 oz)
Despite their small size, anchovies are some of the most protein dense fish. Unlike their much larger seafood counterparts (tuna, salmon) anchovies don’t accumulate as many heavy metals as they do. Anchovies are typically stored in a salty brine. We suggest soaking them in fresh water before preparing to eat or cook with them if you aren’t a fan of sodium (water weight).
Protein in Halibut: 30 g per 4 oz
Native to the North Pacific, this white fish is an excellent protein-dense addition to your diet. Moreover, halibut has a wide range of vitamins and minerals, such as Niacin (57% DV), Vitamin B6 (32% DV), magnesium (43% DV), phosphorus (45% DV), and selenium (106% DV) to boot.
High Protein Dairy Foods
21. Plain Greek Yogurt
Protein in Greek Yogurt: 17 g per 1 container
Greek yogurt is better at helping build muscle over regular yogurt because it typically has more than double its protein content. It’s also different from normal yogurt because the liquid whey is filtered out resulting in a thicker, more creamy yogurt. Try adding it to your oatmeal with berries. Because the liquid whey is filtered, greek yogurt is naturally much lower in lactose.
22. Cottage Cheese
Protein in Cottage Cheese: 25 g per 1 cup
Packed full of nutrients, USDA examinations show this mild-mannered cheese curd is high in protein and an excellent source of nutrients like vitamin b-12 at 16% DV and calcium at 18% DV. While great at providing nutrients, cottage cheese has a higher sodium content (34% DV).
23. Cheese (Any Variety)
Protein in Cheese: About 7 g per 1 oz
Cheese is one of the best dairy-based foods you can add to your diet to raise protein intake. You likely don’t need us to tell you that cheese goes well with most food, but here’s a good list of savory recipes anyway. It’s also high in the nutrient calcium which builds strong bones .
Protein in Milk: 8 g per 1 cup
This tasty (and nutritious) liquid is protein dense and is a good source of other important nutrients (vitamins and minerals) like B12, magnesium, and calcium to name a few . And, unlike cottage cheese, milk is low in sodium. If you’re sensitive to lactose, try a milk alternative.
25. Protein Pudding
Protein in Protein Pudding: 20 – 30 g
Protein pudding challenges the age-old idea that dessert is sweet, and thus bad. We highly recommend this simple protein pudding recipe by BOW if you’d like an easy and delicious healthy pudding alternative that isn’t a melted down cup of processed fat-building junk .
High Protein Nuts and Seeds
Protein in Almonds: 30 g per 1 cup
Almonds are among the most helpful nuts an athlete can eat for optimal gains (as long as you aren’t allergic). According to USDA research, almonds are extremely energy dense, high in protein, and also provide a number of healthy complex carbs, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.
27. Sunflower Seeds
Protein in Sunflower Seeds: 29 g per 1 cup
Federal nutrient reports show sunflower seeds to be very nutrient dense. Each dried cup is high in healthy fiber, low in sugar, and is an excellent source of magnesium, vitamin b-6 and iron. It’s also rich in essential omega-3 fats that help to maintain optimal health throughout life .
Protein in Peanuts: 38 g per 1 cup
Peanuts are among the most widely recognized protein-rich legumes to help stack lean muscle mass. They’re also high in beneficial micro-nutrients such as vitamin b-6, iron, magnesium and calcium to name few. Peanuts go well eaten whole, in a cookie, or as part of a great recipe.
Protein in Cashews: 5 g per 100 g
Eating cashews from time to time is a healthy way to increase protein intake. Moreover, USDA research shows 100 grams of cashews will supply about 37% of Iron DV, 20% of B-6 DV, and 73% of your magnesium DV which is great. Add them to a salad, stir-fry, or just eat them raw.
30. Shelled Walnuts
Protein in Walnuts: 15 g per 1 cup
Shelled walnuts are another one of nature’s greatest nutritional foods. In addition to its excellent protein density, walnuts have a wide range of omega-3 fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Some of these extra nutrients are magnesium, vitamin b-6, iron, and even calcium.
High Protein Nut Butters
31. Peanut Butter
Protein in Peanut Butter: 8 g per 2 tbsp
This smooth, pulverized version of its former (whole) self is both nutritious and delicious. Pair it with a multitude of fruits, vegetables, grains, or even try baking with it or making some protein bars. If you enjoy cooking, you’ll definitely like these high-protein peanut butter recipes.
32. Almond Butter
Protein in Almond Butter: 7 g per 2 tbsp
Almond butter has an exceptional reputation among athletes for helping provide the necessary nutrition to build lean muscle mass. Like any nut butter, you can include it in a post-workout shake, have an almond and jelly sandwich, or even eat and consume a tasty guilt-free dessert.
33. Hazelnut Butter
Protein in Hazelnut Butter: 10 g per 5 tbsp
Often found in Europe and also a main ingredients in Nutella (the healthy part), hazelnut butter is delicious and nutritious. We found a huge list of recipes you can use for the perfect meal. When it comes to picking the right spread, try to look for organic and free of excess oils (fat).
34. Cashew Butter
Protein in Cashew Butter: 3 g per 1 tbsp
Like peanut butter, cashew butter is on the higher side of life when it comes to protein density. Made from roasted cashews, this spread provides a decent source of the dietary magnesium at 10% every 1 tbsp. While there are a lot of recipes to pick from, our favorite is cookies.
35. Sunflower Seed Butter
Protein in Sunflower Seed Butter: 6 g per 2 tbsp
Commonly used as an alternative for those with peanut allergies, sunflower seed butter is one the best seed butters available. A quality brand will have rich amounts of good fat, as few processed ingredients as possible, and a solid dose of 3 grams of protein per tbsp (pretty high).
Quality Plant-Based Protein
36. Navy Beans
Protein in Navy Beans: 15 g per 1 cup
This mildly flavored former US Navy staple foodstuff provides large amounts of virtually fat-free protein. Commonly used as part of soups, navy beans are best known for their low score (low is good) on the Glycemic Index and excellent level of various types of essential micro-nutrients.
Protein in Hummus: 20 g per 1 cup
This middle-eastern classic is a healthy wholesome blend of chick peas, garlic, olive oil, lemon, and tahini. On average, each cup provides 20 grams of complete protein with additional vitamin b-6, magnesium, and iron to boot. Try it with some carrots, crackers, or bread for tasty results.
Protein in Lentils: 18 g per 1 cup
Known for their hardiness, lentils are some of the most nutritious legumes you can eat today. Naturally high in protein, expect a variety of fat-burning complex carbs along with healthy b-vitamins, magnesium, and iron. Most lentil food recipes call for using as part of a stew or soup.
39. Green Peas
Protein in Green Peas: 9 g per 1 cup
This cool season vegetable has been used as a food staple for hundreds of years. Rich in protein and a variety of other micro-nutrients, add peas to a soup or side for great tasting results. If you’re looking for a good cooking recipe, this pea stew will make your mouth water.
Protein in Quinoa: 8 g per 1 cup
Pronounced “keen-wah”, this pseudocerial has gained incredible momentum within the natural health foods community. Compared to rice, quinoa is naturally high in healthy complex carbs, but it also has more fiber and roughly double the protein. Here’s 10 ways to cook Quinoa.
41. Whey Protein Powder
Protein in Whey Protein Powder: Varies
Whey Protein powder is an incredibly helpful supplement to have in your arsenal – especially if you’re building lean muscle. While many vegetables have protein, not all of them contain enough of every amino acid and are thus ‘incomplete’. However, whey protein powder has it all baby. Check out our top 10 favorite whey protein supplements here and see why they’re vital.
42. Forbidden Black Rice
Protein in Black Rice: 20 g per 1 cup (steamed)
Historically, black rice or ‘Emperors rice’ was, for a time, exclusively eaten by dynastic Asian elite due to its excellent nutritional properties (hence the word forbidden). Compared to white and brown, black rice typically has more fiber, antioxidants, and protein making it a ‘super’ rice.
43. Sweet Potatoes
Protein in Sweet Potatoes: 4.5 g per 1 cup
Sweet potatoes rank lower than white potatoes on the GI (Glycemic Index) which makes them great alternatives for carbohydrate sensitive individuals. They’re also full of fiber and are made up of a ‘complete’ protein which means you get all the necessary amino acids for lean muscle.
44. Oats and Oat Bran
Protein in Oats: 26 g per 1 cup
If eggs were 50% of the muscle-building equation, oats and oat bran would be the completing other half. This food is a staple in most pro athlete’s diets, and with good reason. Oats are packed full of healthy protein, soluble and insoluble fiber, and other supportive micro-nutrients.
45. Whole Wheat Germ
Protein in Wheat Germ: 40 g per 1 cup
Wheat germ is the kernel responsible for helping a wheat seedling grow. It provides the bulk of nutrients necessary for the new spawn to grow properly. Because it’s so high in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein, wheat germ is thus used by humans. While great, wheat germ is naturally high in complex carbohydrates and does contain gluten.
Protein in Couscous: 6 g per 1 cup
Made from tiny steamed balls of semolina flour, this North African dish is loaded in muscle-building protein and high in dietary fiber (so long as you use whole grain couscous). If you’re looking for a fast, delicious and easy to make meal, check out this one-pot Moroccan recipe.
Protein in Broccoli: 17 g per 1 bunch
There’s a good reason broccoli is the go-to vegetable when it comes to meal-prepping and building lean muscle mass. This is because broccoli is one of the few vegetables that are naturally high in quality protein and lower on carbs. It also has a huge micro-nutrient profile.
Protein in Spinach: 8 g per 10 oz
Spinach is undoubtedly among nature’s finest super-foods. Each 10 oz serving of spinach has 8 grams of whole protein, 10 grams of carbohydrates, and a noteworthy collection of various micro-nutrients at great daily values. If choosing function over fashion, try eating it steamed.
49. Brown Rice
Protein in Brown Rice: 5 g per 1 cup
Unlike white rice- which has everything good removed- brown rice keeps its nutrition. There’s a reason brown rice is an integral part of most pro athletes diets. Simply put, this is because it’s an overall good source of complex carbs that also offers many healthy vitamins and minerals.
50. Brussels Sprouts
Protein in Brussels Sprouts: 3 g per 1 cup
Each cup of Brussels sprouts (about 4 individual sprouts) provides 3 grams of quality protein alongside a healthy level of fiber (3 g) and other various micro-nutrients. Brussels sprouts are particularly high in Vitamin C at 124% per cup. It’s also naturally high in Vitamin K.