Although muscle growth requires you to consume a surplus of calories -- you need to eat more calories than you burn through exercise and other activities -- not all high-calorie foods are ideal for muscle growth. In addition to considering how many calories a food will add to your diet, you need to consider the nutrients provided by the food, such as protein. For this reason, ice cream is not an optimal food for muscle growth.
Ice cream tends to be calorie dense, with a typical 1/2 cup of chocolate ice cream containing 140 calories. This comprises 7 percent of the daily suggested intake of 2,000, but is not significantly higher in calories than a protein shake, which contains 110. Although higher calorie foods can aid in muscle gain, the difference of 30 calories is not significant, as an hour-long bodybuilding workout burns 457 calories.
Protein is a vital nutrient for muscle building, as it contains the amino acids your body uses to build muscle and other bodily tissues. Ice cream is low in protein, with just 2 g per 1/2 cup serving; this is 1/4 of the protein in a cup of milk and is 20 g fewer than a protein shake provides. Nutrition researcher Dr. John Berardi notes that higher protein diets tend to be more effective for muscle growth, and that consuming up to 2 g of protein per kg of body weight each day can be beneficial.
Ice cream is rich in carbohydrates, with 17 g in each 1/2 cup. Consuming carbohydrates can be beneficial for muscle gain, as they provide calories you need for recovery and growth. However, most of the carbohydrates in ice cream, 16 g, come from sugar, which can be detrimental for muscle growth and overall health. A high intake of sugar can increase your risk of insulin resistance, a condition in which your muscles are less receptive to taking in nutrients, which may impair muscle gain.
Ice cream is rich in fat, as a 1/2 cup serving contains 7 g of total fat, with 4.5 g of saturated fat. Although fat is high in calories, not all types of fat are beneficial for muscle growth. Ice cream does not provide any omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that can increase your rate of protein synthesis, a key process in muscle growth, according to research from the February 2011 issue of "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."