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muscle building foods

Most training and nutrition advice comes from the genetically gifted. They build muscle easier than most and stay lean while doing so. Does that sound like you? Probably not.

Sure, these guys are dedicated, but their advice probably isn’t ideal for you. They tend to follow a bland diet made of the classic bodybuilding staples. You know what I mean…

…The typical muscle building foods every bro knows are “essential”. In case you aren’t 100% certain here is a list:

  • Chicken
  • Tilapia
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice (probably brown)
  • Sweet potatoes

Sure, this list of foods is comprised of healthy, nutrient dense foods. They will certainly be part of your muscle building nutritional arsenal. They can, however, get pretty boring, pretty quickly. Especially, if consumed frequently and in large quantities. I mean how much chicken, broccoli and brown rice can you really eat?

Eating “clean” all the time is a great way to limit your progress.

Trust me I learned the hard way. Two years of my training life was largely pissed away by being overly restrictive for long periods of time followed by epic blowouts. All that happened was I expended a massive amount of effort for negligible gains. Instead I should have been 10-15lbs. heavier. A complete waste of time and a massive error!

Learn from my mistakes. Instead of trying to stuff yourself full of these “clean” foods you need to know where else you can find nutrient and calorie dense, great tasting food. Doing so will help you to consistently pack away sufficient calories, while hitting your macros, to build slabs of muscle.

A Word of Warning

Many people jump off the deep end when trying to build muscle. They fall into the bulking mindset and think that having a burger, wrapped in a pizza, covered in olive oil with a side of mac n’ cheese will get them hyoooge. Wrong!

That will get you fat!

Muscle building isn’t an excuse to get fat. Getting fat is easy, but it is not desirable. Instead you want to stand out from the crowd. Building a muscular and lean physique will set you apart. It isn’t easy but, nothing worth doing is easy.

So how do you stand out from the crowd?

Get your diet working for you rather than against you. Use the following surprising muscle building foods to get you growing. Some you probably haven’t heard of, while others you didn’t think of as muscle builders. Wise up and unlock your mass gaining potential by introducing them into your eating routine.

1. Quark

Quark is common in northern Europe. It is a type of fresh dairy product made by warming soured milk until the desired degree of curdling is met, and then straining it. The end-product is a soft, white cheese with a protein content like that of cottage cheese, but with hardly any fat.

Quark’s texture is much like Greek yoghurt, although it is generally just a little thicker and more ‘set’.

It packs a serious protein punch with the following per 100g:


12.5g Protein

3.8g Carbs

And only 0.3g Fat

For anyone struggling to eat enough protein I recommend mixing a scoop of protein powder in to 150g of this. You end up with about 45g of protein for about 200kcal. That is a protein powerhouse of a snack! Either eat it straight away as a mousse or stick it in the freezer for 30-45mins and enjoy as a replacement for ice cream.

For an easy to eat snack on the go most supermarkets sell berry flavored tubs of the stuff, which provide about 20g of protein. A quick and easy protein snack to help keep you growing.

2. Skyr

Skyr (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈscɪːr̥], (pronounced "skeer") is an Icelandic cultured dairy product. It has the consistency of strained yogurt but a much milder flavor. It has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years.

I use this stuff interchangeably with Quark. Like Quark it is protein packed and very low fat.

100g gives you:

65 kcals

11g Protein

4g Carbs

And only 0.2g Fat

Traditionally Skyr is served cold with milk and a topping of sugar. I must admit I haven’t tried it like this, but, much like the Quark, I suggest you use it to bump up your protein intake as a dessert option.

The plain version mixes nicely with protein powder and the manufacturers also sell it with various mixtures of berries, apples and cherries. These taste brilliant and you get an extra 10g of carbs per serving.

Keep your fridge stocked with the stuff to get a protein fix when your sweet tooth kicks in.

3. Rice cakes

People normally think of rice cakes as a weight loss food. In fact, when I get these out at work I’m often immediately asked if I’m on a diet.

Rice cakes on their own won’t get you huge. The trick is to use them to cram calorie dense foods in. The rice cake is simply the vehicle for other, more obvious muscle gaining foods to hitch a ride on.

My two favorite combos are:

Rice cakes, peanut butter and banana


Rice cakes, cream cheese and jam (jelly).

My top tip is to use flavored rice cakes like caramel snack a’ jacks. This sweet flavour, with the fats of the peanut butter work beautifully. Likewise, the cream cheese and jelly combo on a caramel rice cake is like having a mini, macro-friendly cheesecake.

The options are endless really. Let your imagination run wild with the concoctions you can create from different nut butters, bananas, honey, cream cheese, jelly, Nutella, chocolate and the like.

4. Baked Beans

Baked beans are generally made with haricot beans. They are a macronutrient powerhouse with the following per 100g:

  • 78kcal
  • 2g fat
  • 5g carbs
  • 7g protein
  • 7g fibre

In Britain, we love these bad boys on toast with some scrambled eggs for breakfast. That right there, is a great way to kick-start your day. The breakfast of champions!

I have heard rumours that, in and around Quebec, they add maple syrup to their beans. Now that is a high calorie option I am going to look into! Probably with some bacon and eggs. Nomnom!

Another great breakfast/brunch option incorporating baked beans is to buy the pack with Mexican spices mixed in and use them as part of a Huevos Rancheros.

5. Bircher Muesli

This versatile option is great either as a quick breakfast, a pre- or post-training meal.

The original Bircher muesli dish was prepared by mixing cream and honey with soaked oats and lemon juice, then while stirring, grating a whole apple into the mixture.

muscle building foods

The recipe is made up of:

  • Apples, "two or three small apples or one large one." The whole apple was to be used, including skin, core, and pips.
  • Nuts, either walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts, one tablespoon.
  • Rolled oats, one tablespoon, "previously soaked in 3 tablespoons water for 12 hours."
  • Lemon juice from half a lemon.
  • Either cream and honey or sweetened condensed milk, 1 tablespoon.

A calorie dense tasty combo if ever I heard one.

There is one problem though. There is hardly any protein in there. This is fine if you are having the Bircher muesli in addition to a protein containing meal. If not, you can use either Skyr or Quark as a replacement for the cream/condensed milk in the original recipe.

Here is my overnight muscle gaining Bircher muesli recipe:

  • Apple (call me crazy but, I don’t use the core and pips – also simply finely dice it rather than grating it)
  • A handful of almonds
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 60g oats
  • 10g raisins (soak the oats and raisins together overnight)
  • 10g honey
  • 150g of quark mixed through just before eating

The macros on this combo come out as:

567kcals, 31g protein, 76g carbs and 16g fat.

6. Trail Mix

I first got this high calorie snack tip from Charles Poliquin. No, not his anabolic avocados from the Dominican Republic, but trail mix. I have to say that over the years it has been a winner for me and countless clients.

This is another perceived “diet” food that can fast track your gains. This snack can be carried anywhere and snacked on throughout the day.

This calorie dense mixture is by no means a diet food. It stands to reason when you think about it. To quote Dylan Willet

…”Trail mix is specifically designed for providing hikers, climbers, and other outdoor enthusiast with an easy to consume, portable, efficient, dense source of calories. It’s very high in fat from the nuts and seeds and also very high in simple carbs from the dried fruits.

A perfect weight gaining food if ever I saw one.

I often use this as a snack washed down with a protein shake on days when I am stacked up, back to back training clients.

For my clients I often recommend that they have a stash of the stuff at work so that they always have a high calorie snack ready to go.  This is invaluable for busy stressed out office workers who can’t leave their desk to grab a meal.

7. Smoothies

Like rice cakes and trail mixes, these are yet another option most people associate with weight loss.

How wrong can they be?

It is easy to create a smoothie containing well over 500 calories with a good nutrient dense mix of protein, fats and carbs.

What is better - they can taste amazing!

Drinking a smoothie means you can cram valuable calories and nutrients into an easy to consume drink. Doing so won’t leave you feeling full. This leaves you with plenty of appetite to stuff your face with the other foods on this list the rest of the day.

Why not try out one of my favorite mass gainer smoothie recipes:

  • 1 banana
  • 50g frozen berries
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 handful of spinach (don’t worry you won’t taste it, but you will get a tonne of vitamins and minerals camouflaged in this tasty little combo)
  • 100ml Greek yogurt
  • Almond milk to make desired consistency

That adds up to a great tasting 473kcals. With 35g protein, 21g fat and 37g of carbs. A muscle gaining meal made easy!

Need more calories, protein, carbs or fats. No problem. Lacking in protein - add another scoop of powder. More fat…an extra spoonful of peanut butter is always a good idea.  Want to bump the carbs up? Simply throw a cup of oats into the mix.

8. Granola

This one fits right in with rice cakes, smoothies and trail mix, in that, it is generally viewed as a healthy fat loss food. Like the other examples, most people are missing a muscle gaining trick.

The base of a granola is oats. Oats are a filling, high fibre food. Because of this it is possible to use granola as a part of a fat loss diet. To do so they will probably taste quite bland. The muscle gain version, however, packs a calorie punch and tastes awesome.

The oats become a very dense source of calories once dried out and sweetened with syrups. Maple syrup granola is my absolute favourite!

Adding nuts such as, walnuts, almonds or pecans is a good start to bumping the calorie content up. Then add some dried fruit like raisins, craisins, dates or blueberries. As I explained in the trail mix example, the dried fruits, nuts, and seeds that provide a hefty calorie boost.

Much like the trail mix, granola can be carried around and snacked on throughout the day. Simply add some full fat milk or yoghurt to boost the calorie content even higher.

Granola has the same flaw as the Bircher muesli, in that, it is low in protein. This can easily be fixed. First up try mixing a vanilla protein shake and pouring this over as your “milk”. Alternatively, use the aforementioned Skyr or Quark as a protein source in place of normal yoghurt.

9. Bagels

Like rice cakes bagels can be used as a vessel to cram in more calorie dense foods in. A cinnamon, raisin bagel topped with peanut butter, anyone? Yum!

Bagels are far more calorie dense themselves than rice cakes. A typical bagel will contain about 230kcals and 44g of carbs. They also rank very highly on the glycemic index making them a great post workout snack. One of my favorite post training treats is a bagel topped with banana and honey.

Bagels are versatile and can be used for both savoury and sweet meals. My favorite savory option is a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. I could easily eat a couple of these in one sitting. They can be a bulking life saver when you consider that just one has the best part of 600kcals, 30g protein and 55g of carbs.

10. Yogurt

It is super simple to turn your standard yogurt into a protein packed dessert. You can make all sorts of protein fluff combos.

Or simply add a scoop of protein powder, mix and then stick it in the freezer for 45 minutes and you have high protein fro-yo.

Simple. Easy. Tastes amazing!

There you have it. 10 great tasting muscle building foods to add to your grocery list. Quit eating the bro approved “clean” foods and start making some progress by embracing the foods on this list. I guarantee that there are some foods on the list you haven’t been eating, but will love. High calorie foods, packing a protein punch that taste great…now that is recipe for muscle building success!

About The Author

Tom is a former skinny kid who was told he was too small to make it as a rugby player. Since then he has added over 40 pounds to his frame and helped hundreds of clients to build muscle and drop fat. More recently he founded Flat Whites Free Weights to provide a hub for his online clients and to share his thoughts on training, nutrition and the ultimate pre-workout supplement…COFFEE

You can contact him at -

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