Foods Men Should Eat If They're Trying To Build Muscle

To help you become a lean, mean muscle machine, we asked personal trainers and nutritionists to weigh in on the matter and tell us which foods will get you in the best shape of your life!

Baby spinach

"Rich in chlorophyll and iron, baby spinach is much easier to eat than full-grown spinach and will help you build muscle by providing calcium, which is required for muscle contraction during exercise. Its high chlorophyll content will also reduce the risk of 'protein breath' — the halitosis that so many fitness enthusiasts have."

— Christian Baker, personal trainer and fitness blogger.

Bison or Buffalo

"These meats are a great source of protein, zinc, and creatine. They are leaner than regular beef, which means you have to cook them for less time or you'll end up feeling like you're eating leather. They also contain more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fatty acid that improves endurance, reduces inflammation, and helps with fat loss."

Maik Wiedenbach, personal trainer and professor of exercise science at New York University

"Grass-fed bison is a protein-dense food that offers more protein per serving than beef, with half the amount of fat. Bison is also a source of iron, which plays an important role in muscle growth and maintaining a high energy level. Bison contains zinc, which promotes recovery from exercise and increases the body's ability to produce testosterone. Lastly, bison is a natural source of creatine, which provides a natural energy boost for intense bursts of exercise."

— Kristina Portillo

Chocolate Milk

"Chocolate milk has a ratio of one to three of grams of protein to grams of carbohydrates, which is the recommended ratio in research around fitness and muscle anabolism (muscle growth).

— Joey Gochnour

Coconut Oil

"Coconut oil is full of MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), fatty acids the body uses for energy, not fat storage. If you are low-carbing, try coconut oil before a workout — it gives great pumps. For those of you on a regular diet, use it in your oatmeal or even cook chicken with it."

— Maik Wiedenbach

Foods High in Vitamin C and Zinc

"You can work out eight hours a day, but if you aren't eating right, you won't get the results you're after. Eating enough protein is the obvious answer. But what people don't always know is that vitamin C helps deliver that protein to the muscles. It also helps minimize inflammation in the muscle tissue, which will allow you to recover faster. Zinc is another key vitamin that is often overlooked. Zinc stimulates enzyme activity, including protein synthesis, which is critical for muscle growth and recovery. So look for foods with vitamin C (try peppers, kale, and broccoli) and zinc (like seafood, meat, and spinach) to get the most out of those proteins."

— Josha Kruvand, personal trainer, certified USA weightlifting coach, AFPA sports nutrition consultant, and owner of Kru Strength + Fitness, a personal training company

Grass-Fed Beef and Organic Chicken

"High in protein and healthy omega-3 fats, grass-fed beef and organic chicken not only help to build muscle, but their omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce joint pain from weight training and encourage fat loss while building muscle."

— Christian Baker

Healthy Carbohydrates

"One thing that many people don't realize is the value of carbohydrates, specifically dextrose. It's possible to supplement a healthy diet with dextrose powder; however, the best food sources are white potatoes and rice or rice cakes. A two to one ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the best post-workout meal you can consume to build muscle — and right after a workout, within 30 minutes or so, is the optimal time for feeding muscle!"

— Kyra Williams, "The Get in Shape Girl," certified personal trainer, and USA weightlifting and USA powerlifting coach 

Heavy Cream or Half and Half

"Milk fat is good for you! There, I said it. It helps build cholesterol and testosterone and delivers vitamin B and high-grade protein. It is an excellent food for hard gainers."

— Maik Wiedenbach 

Peanut Butter Sandwiches

"Peanut butter sandwiches boast a great mix of protein, carbohydrate, and unsaturated fat. They provide solid nutrition for men who want to eat balanced meals to build muscle."

— Joey Gochnour

Pineapple and Papaya

"Both contain bromelain and pepsin, two enzymes that help the body digest protein better. Who doesn't want that? Plus, these fruits boast lots of other beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients."

— Maik Wiedenbach


"Quinoa is a whole-grain seed that contains all nine amino acids. It's low on the glycemic index, which means it breaks down slower in your system and provides energy longer after consumption while reducing insulin spikes. Quinoa is a great source of magnesium, which is necessary for exercise and reduces inflammation. Studies have shown a link between increased testosterone levels and magnesium consumption when combined with exercise. Quinoa is also a great source of manganese and zinc." 

— Kristina Portillo


"Tuna fish is a complete source of protein and provides 25 grams of protein in only 3 ounces (more than enough for most men and women post-workout). In addition, it can be made in advance, comes in portable,

convenient containers, and can be combined with a myriad of other health-promoting accompanying ingredients. I have my clients mix a can of tuna with a tablespoon of olive oil, pickles, diced onions and celery, half an avocado, shredded spinach, diced tomatoes, and salt and pepper, and encourage them to eat it on three whole-wheat WASA crackers or in a lettuce wrap (for those gluten-free folks). The tuna (when consumed 30 to 60 minutes after a workout) is a great source of complete protein to help the body repair and rebuild muscle."

—   Brian Durbin, NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal Trainer in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina