Lean Muscle Diet – 10 Top Mass Building Foods
While those of us in the Northern Hemisphere prepare to embark on fat loss diets designed to strip fat and preserve lean mass, those in the Southern Hemisphere typically have other goals. As the weather transitions from cold to warm North of the equator, the opposite occurs South of the equator.
This means colder temperatures, shorter days, and heavier clothing – the perfect conditions for adding lean mass. Regardless of whether you just finished a fat loss, strength gain, or maintenance phase, your physique and performance can benefit from additional lean mass.
Related: 12 Week Mass Without Fat Plan
To maximize the gain of muscle mass and minimize fat gain aim to consume 200 to 300 calories more per day than you burn. This will equate to an approximate gain of 0.5 pounds per week or 2 pounds per month. If you struggle to meet this guideline, then increase your daily caloric intake by 100 to 200 calories per day until you begin seeing movement on the scale.
While this may sound unnecessarily slow, it’s far better to gain muscle with minimal fat gain than to gain a lot of fat with some muscle mass. Mass-gaining phases using reasonable rather than extreme caloric intakes will require a significantly shorter fat-loss phase afterwards.
The goal of this article to provide you with my top ten list of the most flavorful and nutrient dense foods included in my mass-gain diet. These foods have a moderate to high caloric density and are rich in protein, healthy fats, and minimally processed carbohydrates.
They also have reasonable amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals so that you can add mass without shortchanging your health.
Top 10 Lean Muscle Diet Foods
#1 – Chicken Thighs
The bodybuilding and fitness communities love boneless and skinless chicken breasts because they are low in fat, high in protein, and inexpensive. Sadly, the other cuts of chicken receive far less attention than they deserve. If you’re tired of bland chicken breasts and have some extra wiggle room in your diet, then start eating chicken thighs.
Thighs offer a combination of light and dark meat. One raw chicken thigh (193 grams) including the skin has 426 calories, 31.9 grams of protein, 32.1 grams of fat, and 0.5 grams of carbohydrates.  If you prefer the taste of chicken thighs but cannot afford to consume that much fat in one sitting then remove the skin.
One raw chicken thigh with the skin removed (149 grams) offers 180 calories, 28.3 grams of protein, 6.1 grams of fat, and 0 grams of carbohydrates.  Removing the skin significantly lowers the fat content without drastically lowering the protein content.
Chicken thighs are a good source of niacin as well as a decent source of phosphorus, vitamin B6, zinc, selenium, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid.  My favorite recipe is Rosemary Balsamic Chicken with White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes in the slow cooker.
#2 – Whole Eggs
Whole eggs might be the nature’s perfect food for building muscle and increasing strength. The protein found in eggs has a balanced and complete amino acid profile that digests at a medium speed compared to whey and casein proteins. Furthermore, eggs are extremely inexpensive – sometimes as low at 99 cents for one dozen eggs.
The nutritional profile of an egg depends on its size. One large (50 grams) egg provides 72 calories, 6.3 grams of protein, 4.8 grams of fat, and 0.4 grams of carbohydrates whereas one jumbo (63 grams) egg has 90 calories, 7.9 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and 0.5 grams of carbohydrates.  Eggs are a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. 
Unfortunately, eggs, also known as liquid chickens, have a bad reputation due to their cholesterol content. Depending on the size, one egg contains between 140 and 235 milligrams of cholesterol.  While this number sounds scary high, otherwise healthy individuals should not be concerned.
The Mayo Clinic explicitly states that dietary cholesterol has little impact on total cholesterol levels compared to trans and saturated fats. Cholesterol is critical for normal hormonal function and testosterone production.  Omelets with cheese and vegetables are an excellent way to get healthy fats and micronutrients. Hard boiled eggs are a great on-the-go snack packed with nutrition and easy on the wallet.
#3 – Avocados
Millennials are obsessed with guacamole but you can’t blame them – this heart-healthy fruit is packed with fiber, nutrients, and heart-healthy fatty acids. One cup of cubed avocado (150 grams) contains 240 calories, 3 grams of protein, 22 grams of fat, 12.8 grams of carbohydrates, and 10.1 grams of fiber.  For those consuming 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day just one avocado will meet 33 to 40% of your daily target.
Avocados are the only fruit with such a high fat content but the majority is heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. One cup provides 14.7 grams of monounsaturated fat, 3.2 grams of saturated fat, 2.7 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and zero grams of trans fat. 
Avocados are also a good source of vitamins C, E, K, B6, folate, pantothenic acid, as well as the minerals potassium and copper.  I enjoy smashing up avocados to make guacamole, slicing up this fruit and placing it on my sandwiches, as well as hollowing out the center, adding an egg, and baking in the oven to make an ‘eggocado’.
#4 – Homemade Granola
Granola is not just for free spirits and people who enjoy outdoor activities. It’s an inexpensive, compact, and portable source of high quality calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat. While store-bought pre-made granola sounds innocent enough, it’s often packed with added oils, sugar, artificial colors, and flavors. Homemade granola is not only better for you but also less expensive.
The most common recipe incorporates oats, raisins, raisins, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ, honey, coconut, and a splash of canola oil. One cup of granola has 597 calories, 16.7 grams of protein, 29.7 grams of fat, 65.7 grams of carbohydrates, and 10.9 grams of fiber.  If you’re struggling to gain weight, then incorporate just one cup of granola in to your daily diet and you’ll be well on your way to Gainzville.
This homemade granola is not exactly low in sugar but most of it comes from the natural sugars in raisins and nutrient-rich honey. Granola made with these ingredients is an excellent source of vitamin E, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese. It’s also a good source of riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, potassium, zinc, and copper.  I prefer to mix granola in my yogurt or eat it as a standalone snack.
#5 – Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
The consumption of coconut meat, oil, and water has exploded in the United States over the past five years. Coconut water is low in calories and rich in potassium whereas coconut oil is low in carbohydrates but high in fat and calories. Coconut meat offers a hearty quantity of energy and hormone-supporting fats as well as a nice dose of fiber.
Coconut flakes are produced by drying and then shredding the coconut meat. One ounce (28 grams) of dried and unsweetened coconut flakes provides 187 calories, 2.0 grams of protein, 18.3 grams of fat, 6.7 grams of carbohydrates, and 4.6 grams of fiber.  With just 2.3 grams of net carbohydrates, coconut flakes are an excellent low-carbohydrate treat.
Of the 18.3 grams of fat, 16.2 are saturated which may seem alarming at first, but much of this fat is in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).  MCTs not only optimize normal hormonal function but also are prioritized and utilized like carbohydrates rather than fats.
Medium chain triglycerides are an excellent fat source for providing quick energy without a sugar crash. Coconut flakes are also a good source of copper and manganese.  I prefer mixing coconut flakes in my yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, and sludge made with chocolate protein powder.
#6 – Lean Ground Beef
(At least 85% lean and no more than 15% fat by weight)
In my humble opinion, beef is the best-tasting and most-versatile protein source on the planet. Within the beef hierarchy I believe ground beef is second only to filet mignon. Ground beef comes in a variety of lean to fat ratios typically represented by putting the lean percentage first and the fat percentage second (e.g. 85/15) For those looking to add mass stick with lean ground beef that is at least 85% lean and no more than 15% fat by weight.
I love a good burger made with 80/20 ground beef but the grams of fat often outnumber the grams of protein. Four ounces (113 grams) of raw ground beef that is 85% lean and 15% by weight contains 243 calories, 21.0 grams of protein, 17.0 grams of fat, and zero grams of carbohydrates. Four ounces (113 grams) of raw ground beef that is 90% lean and 10% by weight contains 198 calories, 22.6 grams of protein, 11.3 grams of fat, and zero grams of carbohydrates. 
In my experience the price of ground beef increases exponentially from 80/20 to 90/10 so 85/15 is a nice balance between the two in terms of nutrition and cost. Ground beef is a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, zinc, phosphorus, and selenium. 
I love using ground beef to make burgers, chili, sloppy joe’s, meatloaf, and tacos. You also can’t go wrong by adding a little calcium and protein-rich cheese to any dish involving ground beef.
#7 – Wild-Caught Salmon
While weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise are necessary for building muscle, increasing strength, and improving heart-health, these activities are inflammatory to the body. While moderate, controlled amounts of inflammation are expected and required to build muscle, many weightlifters chronically consume foods that further inflame the body and slow recovery.
Wild-caught salmon is a powerhouse food for fighting inflammation and kick-starting recovery due to high protein and Omega-3 fatty acid content. Six ounces (170 grams) of raw wild-caught Atlantic salmon contains 241 calories, 33.7 grams of protein, 10.8 grams of fat, and zero carbohydrates.  Of that 10.8 grams of fat, 3.4 grams are anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids and just 0.3 grams are Omega-6 fatty acids. 
The standard American diet contains 15 to 17 times more Omega-6s than Omega-3s. Ideally, this ratio should be 1:1 and no more than 4:1.  Wild caught salmon is a great good for bringing that ratio down to where it should be. It’s also a great source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, and selenium. 
Wild caught salmon tends to be one to two dollars per pound more expensive than farm-raised salmon but it has more Omega-3 fatty acids, lower levels of heavy metals, and a lower negative impact on the environment. If you don’t like the taste of salmon but still want to get in your Omega-3s then consider supplementing with a high-quality fish oil supplement rich in EPA and DHA.
#8 – Whole Milk Traditional Yogurt
Greek yogurt has quickly replaced traditional yogurt as the preferred cow’s milk yogurt in the United States. While Greek yogurt offers considerably more protein and fewer carbohydrates, it typically contains less calories than traditional yogurt. While those on a fat-loss diet may benefit from swapping traditional yogurt for the Greek variety, those of us looking to add mass should hold steady and continue consuming traditional yogurt, preferably the whole milk variety.
Eight ounces (227 grams) of plain yogurt made from whole milk provides 138 calories, 7.9 grams of protein, 7.4 grams of fat, 10.6 grams of carbohydrates, all of which are from natural milk sugars.  The fat content is critical for absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A and D that are often added to dairy products. Traditional yogurt is a great good source of riboflavin, phosphorus, calcium, and gut-healthy probiotics. 
If you experience bowel movement irregularity, gas, or poor digestion then probiotic-rich yogurt should become a staple in your diet. I love mixing yogurt with whey protein and sliced bananas and blueberries. You can also incorporate it in to your smoothies, desserts, or consume as a standalone snack.
If you don’t like the taste of Greek yogurt but want less fat and want more protein, then choose yogurt made with low fat or skim milk.
#9 – Bananas
Bananas are a staple fruit and carbohydrate source, especially pre-and post-workout, for those in the weightlifting and fitness communities. They’re extremely inexpensive, taste great, and can be consumed in a variety of ways. One large 8 to 9-inch banana (136 grams) supplies 121 calories, 1.5 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, 31.1 grams of carbohydrates, and 3.5 grams of fiber. 
As you can see, bananas primarily offer carbohydrates which makes their consumption ideal during periods in which you will require or have just expended energy through physical activity. Bananas are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese.  The recipes incorporating bananas are endless.
Some of my favorites include banana bread, consuming them as a standalone snack, slicing up and placing in my yogurt, mixing in my smoothie, and mashing them up to make banana ice cream. To make dairy-free banana ice cream, peel and place one to two bananas in the freezer. Once they’re frozen slice them up and mash them using the kitchen tool of your choice. Add protein powder, fruit, or your favorite low-calorie syrup and enjoy!
#10 – Whole Grain Pasta
Carbohydrate-dense foods like pasta are not just for endurance athletes. After an intense weightlifting or high intensity interval training workout our carbohydrate stores in the form of glycogen are depleted.
Whole grain pasta is an excellent source of high quality carbohydrates and fiber. One cup of uncooked spaghetti (91 grams) offers 320 calories, 12.6 grams of protein, 2.7 grams of fat, 66.8 grams of carbohydrates, 8.4 grams of fiber, and just 2.5 grams of sugar. 
For those who go by cooked measurements, one cup packed of cooked spaghetti (151 grams) contains 225 calories, 9.0 grams of protein, 2.6 grams of fat, 45.4 grams of carbohydrates, 5.9 grams of fiber, and 1.1 grams of sugar.  Whole grain pasta is also a good source of manganese and selenium. 
If you struggle to consume enough rice or potatoes then consider switching to pasta. Comparatively, I find it less-filling and more calorie-dense. One of my all-time favorite comfort meals is spaghetti with meatballs smothered in homemade red sauce and fresh parmesan cheese. If a few helpings of that doesn’t add some meat to your bones, then I don’t know what will!
What foods do you like to eat to during a mass-building phase? Let me know in the comments below!
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