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Is Tuna a Good Food for Building Muscle?

author image Jessica Bruso
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.
Is Tuna a Good Food for Building Muscle?
A dish of canned tuna with rosemary. Photo Credit olgakr/iStock/Getty Images

Bodybuilders and people trying to add muscle mass sometimes include canned tuna as a staple of their diets. This inexpensive protein source is a convenient way to increase the protein in meals and snacks, but it isn't a muscle-building miracle food and shouldn't be your only protein source. Just adding tuna to your diet won't increase muscle mass; you'll need to do strength building exercises as well.

Type of Tuna

Chunk light tuna canned in water is your best bet if you want to increase protein while minimizing fat and calories. Each 3-ounce serving has 16.5 grams of protein, 0.8 grams of fat and 73 calories. Choose light tuna canned in oil and you'll get 24.8 grams of protein per serving, but the calories increase to 168 and the fat increases to 7 grams. White tuna canned in water has 20.1 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat and 109 calories per 3-ounce serving.

Strength Training Protein Needs

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein for each kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of body weight per day when you're trying to build muscle. This means a 150-pound person would want to eat between 95 and 122 grams of protein per day. A 3-ounce serving of chunk light tuna canned in water provides between 14 and 17 percent of the daily protein needs of a 150-pound person trying to build muscle.

Other Dietary Considerations

Protein isn't the only nutrient important for building muscle, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also recommends getting about half of your calories from carbohydrates and 20 to 35 percent of your calories from fats. Carbohydrates provide fuel for muscles and helps the body store energy for later in the form of glycogen. Fat helps provide energy to muscles during exercise or other activities. Tuna provides mainly heart-healthy unsaturated fats, including essential omega-3 fats, and you can pair it with healthy carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread or crackers, to get the other macronutrients your body needs for building muscle.

Mercury Considerations

Eating too much tuna could lead to problems with mercury contamination. The Natural Resources Defense Council recommends people weighing 150 pounds or more eat no more than one can of chunk light tuna every three days or one can of white albacore tuna every nine days. Smaller people should eat tuna even less often than this. You'll want to diversify your protein sources when trying to build muscle. Other good options include boneless skinless chicken breast, with 27 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, low-fat cottage cheese, with 14 grams of protein per one-half-cup serving, and eggs, with 6 grams of protein per large egg.

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