23 Strength and Muscle Building Foods You Need In Your Diet

If you stick to an 80/20 rule on your diet, 80% consisting of the foods I list (and similar) and 20% of whatever you want (within reason) you will be able to get stronger and build muscle without packing on too much fat.

I’m going to break down these foods into protein, carbs, fats, and misc. Note: most of these foods could land in multiple categories.


Protein is the most important macro nutrient you should factor into your diet because it is quite literally the most basic muscle building block.

Another great thing about protein is it is satiating. This means you get full and stay full when you eat protein.

Protein can get expensive so check out this article on the 11 cheapest good protein sources and tips on how to save money.

This obviously isn’t a comprehensive list of every protein you could eat, but eating a variety of protein is just as important as eating enough.

  • Chicken – Chicken breasts are lean, chicken thighs have more fat; you can do pretty much anything with chicken. This should be something you have in your kitchen at all times.
  • Whole Eggs – You can do a lot with whole eggs from hard boiling to making egg salad. Whole eggs are a great source of a complete protein, nutrients, and vitamins. I highly recommend eating eggs as a whole.
  • Fish – Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna all contain a fair amount of omega 3 fatty acids. These are essential for a healthy and active body.
  • Red Meat – Ground beef, steak, and any other piece that once “Moo’d” is good. Red meat generally has a bit more fat in it which means it is great for muscle building and tastes great.
  • Turkey – Turkey is awfully lean and can be a good replacement for chicken or even beef if done correctly. Ground turkey cooks easy and with plenty of seasoning, it makes for a great meal.
  • Milk – Dairy is great for building muscle. 2% or whole milk will be the best for muscle growth. Make a hearty and tasty protein shake by using whole milk instead of water.
  • Cottage Cheese – A great source of protein similar to casein protein is cottage cheese. I enjoy eating this throughout the day, but eating at night before bed ensures your muscles get protein while you sleep.


Carbs catch a bad rap because if you are fat you probably eat too many but if you stop eating them you lose weight.

The fact is that carbs are a great source of energy and help your body perform at its best. It is very easy to eat too many calories because most foods that are high in carbs are either highly processed or have a lot of sugar in them.

Don’t be afraid to eat carbs; plan your meals in advance so you get the proper amount to reach peak performance and muscle building.

  • Quinoa – Quinoa is catching a lot of popularity and for a good reason. If you haven’t tried it yet, you need to; it’s truly a super food.
  • Oats – Blending oats into your protein shake or eating oat meal is a great way to get some healthy carbs and fiber into your diet.
  • Rice – Different types of rice have different nutrients in them. Try them all out; I like brown the most.
  • Whole Grain Bread – If you’re a bread person, finding a whole grain bread would be the best.


If you eat fat you get fat, right? Wrong.

Fats are extremely satiating, they help regulate hormone production, and they taste freaking good.

Fats also help your body burn fat more efficiently.

The negative side to fats is that it is so calorie dense it is easy to overeat so don’t go heavy-handed with these.

If you are a hard gainer and looking to add more calories without too much more volume of food, use these.

  • Cheese – Like milk, cheese is a great source of protein and vitamins. Cheese makes things taste great and is very filling.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – A little EVOO, salt, and pepper on your salad tastes great and gives you antioxidants and nutrients. Ditch the ranch and try this.
  • Avocado – Avocado is awesome because you can make it take on many flavors. It is very filling and versatile so don’t be afraid to try it out.
  • Sour Cream – Like cheese, sour cream is a great source of vitamins and flavor. Used sparingly, sour cream is great on pretty much anything.


This category holds everything from fruits, veggies, to drinks. Think of this category as your “side dishes and snacks” in your meals.

  • Berries – Berries are a great source of antioxidants and can be eaten on the run. Great for a snack.
  • Greek Yogurt – Eat it with a spoon, mix fruit with it, or mix it into your protein shake. Whatever you do, Greek yogurt will help keep you regular.
  • Spinach – Using spinach instead of lettuce in your salads gives you an extra kick of vitamins and nutrients. Try canned spinach in your dishes too.
  • Tomatoes – I personally used to hate tomatoes but I’ve grown to like them. Eat them raw with a little bit of salt, put them on a sandwich, or eat them with a salad.
  • Oranges – Eat before a workout to help naturally increase your strength and endurance.
  • Apples – Another great fruit to eat before a workout, apples have been shown to increase strength and endurance as well as increase fat burning.
  • Water – I feel dumb for including this, but most of us don’t drink quite enough water. Your body will hold onto water and your performance will suffer if you do not get enough.
  • Green Tea – Green tea has been shown to improve cognitive and physical ability, help keep you healthy, and lowers the risk of cancer.


Obviously, this is not the most comprehensive list of things you should start eating if you want to improve your strength performance and muscle building.

This list is intended to help spark ideas for new recipes and ingredients to start buying at the store.

Speaking of recipes, check out this Chili Lime Chicken with Potatoes and Green Beans recipe. It’s simple to cook and tastes great.


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