10 Best Foods to Build Lean Muscle

A meal of chicken and rice.
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A diet to build lean muscle needs to be high in calories and revolve around healthy foods. While the overall calorie, protein, carbohydrate and fat content of your diet determines how much muscle you gain, rather than specific foods, certain foods deserve a place in your eating plan. Although it may be impossible to state that any foods are categorically best, foods high in protein, whole-grain carbohydrates and healthy fats rank highly.

The Basics of Muscle Growth Nutrition

Your calorie intake, along with the three macronutrients -- protein, carbs and fat -- are what drive muscle growth. Protein is vital for repairing damaged tissue, while carbs give energy for training. Fats, while also providing energy, are important for hormone function. If you're struggling with building mass, eating more of the right types of food is the solution to new gains.

Pick Your Protein

Eggs aren't just for breakfast -- they're good muscle-building fare at any time of the day. They contain good quality protein, healthy fats and plenty of vitamins and minerals. For a leaner source of protein that's a little different to chicken breast, consider turkey. Skinless turkey breast has 7 grams of protein per ounce and is also packed with B vitamins, zinc and selenium. Another choice is salmon. Salmon is potentially a better muscle-building protein than a low-fat fish, such as tuna or cod, because it's higher in calories. These extra calories are ideal if you're active and looking to build muscle, notes dietitian Karen Ansel. You also get healthy omega-3 fats, calcium and vitamin D.

Fuel Up on Carbs

Fruit provides a natural source of carbohydrate along with a good amount of vitamins and minerals. For higher-calorie fruits, choose bananas, pineapple, or dried fruits such as raisins or dried cranberries. Pair these fruits with whole-grains, such as oats, brown rice and whole wheat bread, or root vegetables like sweet potatoes. Additionally, sweet potatoes are more nutrient-dense than white potatoes, and they supply slow-digesting carbs.

Get Your Fats

Due to their high content of healthy monounsaturated fats, nuts are extremely calorie-dense. This makes it easy to eat a large amount of calories from a relatively small serving, making them a good option if you're struggling to eat ample calories for growth. At 120 calories per tablespoon, olive oil is a surefire way to get in more muscle-building calories too. Between 20 and 35 percent of your calories should come from fats on a muscle-building diet.