How to Eat to Build Muscle: The Key Nutrients and Micronutrients You Need

Muscle gain pertains to augmenting the quantity and caliber of skeletal musculature. If we liken the process of muscle construction to a workshop production, essential components such as raw materials and production lines are indispensable. What are the pivotal raw materials required in the “workshop” that engenders muscles? They encompass: ample thermal energy, premium-quality protein abundant in branched-chain amino acids like leucine and isoleucine, fitting carbohydrates, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin D, antioxidant nourishment such as vitamin C, and polyphenols, among others. Hence, in our daily lives, how can we procure these vital nutrients from food to aid in muscle development?


It is not an exaggeration to state that muscles serve as the protein “repository” within the human physique, as approximately 50% to 75% of the body’s protein reserves reside in muscles. Comparing protein to the fundamental raw material for “generating” muscles is indeed apropos. From a microscopic perspective, muscles are constituted of macromolecular proteins such as myoglobin, which transports oxygen, myosin, responsible for contractions, actin, responsible for muscle cell division, and myosin, responsible for cellular movement and intracellular material conveyance.
Sufficient protein intake constitutes a pivotal factor in muscle construction. It is generally recommended to consume 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Attaining 1.2 grams is relatively effortless for an average individual, but to reach 1.8 grams, one needs to consume more protein-rich foods such as lean meat, chicken breast, fish, and the like. However, this may lead to excessive caloric intake and elevated fat consumption if meat selection is inappropriate. Therefore, this is one of the rationales behind many muscle-building enthusiasts opting for protein powder. Ingesting high-quality proteins abundant in branched-chain amino acids like leucine and isoleucine, such as whey protein, can effectively foster protein synthesis in skeletal muscle cells and enhance the glucose uptake capability of said cells.
In addition to sufficient intake, meal frequency is also crucial. Typically, within 1 to 4 hours after a meal, the rate of muscle protein synthesis escalates, while after 4 hours, it diminishes. Hence, regularly consuming protein-rich foods, including lean meat, fish, shrimp, poultry, eggs, and other high-quality proteins, during each meal is more conducive to the synthesis and preservation of skeletal musculature.


Although protein serves as the key raw material, carbohydrates assume an unassailable foundational role in the body’s metabolic factory. Even during muscle building, the human body must ensure an adequate carbohydrate intake. Generally speaking, adults over the age of 18 should consume no less than 120 grams of carbohydrates per day. It is preferable to maintain the energy ratio of carbohydrate supply at 50% to 60%.
Many people equate their desired carbohydrate consumption directly with the amount of staple food they wish to consume. However, this quantity encompasses starch found in cereals, grains, and potatoes, lactose in milk, and glucose and fructose in fruits, among others. From this perspective, carbohydrate intake is varied and abundant, promoting not only healthy insulin secretion but also ideal postprandial blood sugar levels, both of which are vital factors in stimulating muscle synthesis. Ensuring that 50% of daily staple food intake originates from potatoes and whole grains can engender a heightened sense of satiety, mitigate fluctuations in blood sugar and lipids, and provide a stable metabolic foundation for healthy muscle gain.
Aside from the aforementioned main nutrients, muscle building and muscle health also necessitate certain micronutrients, which individuals should consciously obtain from their daily diet.

Antioxidant Nutrients

Antioxidant nutrients are derived from dark-colored fruits and vegetables, primarily encompassing foods abundant in vitamin C, polyphenols, and flavonoids, all of which play a significant role in promoting the repair of muscle cells damaged by oxidative stress.

n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are predominantly found in flaxseeds, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty marine fish. They can facilitate muscle protein synthesis and greatly contribute to muscle building.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Skeletal muscle represents the largest component of muscle tissue, and its well-being is intertwined with bone health. While focusing on muscle nutrition, one must not neglect the health of the bones. In cases of calcium and vitamin D deficiency, it is advisable to primarily increase the intake through dietary sources, and resorting to supplements may not be an immediate necessity. Let’s calculate: 350 grams of dark vegetables + 300 ml of milk + 125 grams of japonica rice + 100 grams of whole grains + 75 grams of lean meat + 75 grams of fish + 100 grams of old tofu + 1 egg can provide 950 mg of calcium. It canbe said that a sufficient calcium intake can be achieved through dietary means!

Foods rich in vitamin D mainly include whole milk, egg yolks, fatty fish, butter, cream, animal liver, and kidney, among others. If dietary intake is insufficient or the requirement increases, it is advisable to consider vitamin D supplements under the guidance of a medical professional.

Steer clear of detrimental habits

Oxidative stress is a natural response in organisms, but excessive oxidative stress can lead to DNA damage and structural impairments in proteins, thereby adversely affecting muscle health. What are some habits that can harm muscles? Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, overexertion during exercise, the use of certain medications, being overweight or obese, and frequent overeating resulting in abnormal blood lipids and blood sugar levels all contribute to oxidative stress. It is evident that avoiding overeating, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight are indirect measures to safeguard your muscles.

Building muscle is not solely about nutrition; it also encompasses one’s attitude towards food, the importance of regular meals, and the control of cooking methods. Nutrition and health are akin to gentle water nourishing plants. Though silent, their effects flourish day by day and night by night. Establishing a balanced dietary structure and fostering healthy muscles are endeavors worth pursuing!