The 20 Worst Foods for Your Muscles


(Photo: Corbis)

You’re working hard to get ripped. You’ve been hitting the gym, getting enough sleep—but if you don’t eat the right foods, you’ll slow down your progress. You need to choose meals and snacks that will feed your muscles and fuel your body. A well-balanced diet—that will do just that—includes whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and low fat dairy. Muscles also love branch chain amino acids (BCAA) which can be found in foods like lean meats, poultry, low fat dairy, and peanut butter. But what you should eat aside, there are also foods that can sabotage all your hard work—here are some of the worst 20.

1) Bagels

One store-bought bagel has about 400 calories, all of refined carbohydrates. Add cream cheese and you’re not really getting anything more than saturated fat. Neither the bagel or the cream cheese will do much to help build muscles.

Instead: Choose 1 slice of whole grain bread topped with natural peanut butter.

Related: How to Build Muscle: The Best Foods for Bulking Up Without Getting a Fat Belly

2) Pretzels

Pretzels don’t provide many muscle-building nutrients—just plain old carbs with next to no muscle-building protein or filling fiber.

Instead: If you must have pretzels, choose whole grain and dip them in peanut or almond butter for protein and a boost of healthy fat

3) Alcohol

Regular consumption of alcohol can put more stress on your body, increasing antioxidant demands. The antioxidants that are normally used to help muscle recovery are instead used to help metabolize the alcohol.

Instead: Minimize consumption of alcohol. If you choose to drink, have no more than two servings of alcohol in one day. One serving of alcohol is 12-fluid ounces of beer, 5-fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-prood liquor (like rum or vodka).

Related: Add These 25 Foods to Your Diet to Subtract More Weight

4) All-Purpose Flour

Most cookies, cakes, breads, and other delicious carb-filled goodies are made with all-purpose flour which mainly provides empty calories. If you want to indulge, there are now many recipes you can find that use higher fiber flours or a combination of flours including a 50:50 combination of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour.

Instead: Make your own healthier version of baked goods to enjoy on occasion.

5) Sausages

This processed meat is brimming with calories, sodium, and saturated fat. Plus it contains nitrites, a preservative that helps prevent bacterial grown and maintain appetizing red colors in meat. Nitrites can lead to the formation of chemicals called nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer.

Instead: Choose lean cuts of meat whenever possible and if you’re craving sausage, choose nitrite-free varieties.

6) Pre-Made Smoothies

If you think ordering a smoothie when you’re on the go is the smartest choice, think again. Many pre-made smoothies are loaded with calories (between 600 to 1000 on average) and are overloaded with sugar. Even a scoop of protein powder won’t undo the massive amounts of sugar you’ll be putting in your body.

Instead: Grab fresh fruit instead or make your own smoothie at home so you control the ingredients.

7) Doughnuts

Forgo these beloved pastries that are made from refined flour, fried, and contain no healthful ingredients for your growing muscles.

Instead: Feed your sweet tooth with protein-packed nonfat plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.

Related: Here’s How Your Brain Gets Addicted to Food

8) Ice Cream

One serving (½ cup) of ice cream contains 137 calories, 7 grams of total fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 2 grams of protein. The amount of saturated fat in one serving is 22-percent of the daily recommended max for the day. Most people eat 2 or 3 cups of ice cream in one sitting, making their saturated fat go well beyond the recommended daily amount, which won’t help you get lean or build muscles.

Instead: Choose nonfat Greek yogurt bars that have BCAA’s to help build muscles.

9) Cured Ham

Besides being smoked or cured, these hams are usually paired with sodium-rich sauces which can make sodium levels skyrocket. Too much sodium can get you bloated, hiding that gorgeous chiseled looks you’ve been working so hard to achieve.

Instead: Forgo the cured ham and choose a lean cut of pork instead (like pork loin).

10) Processed Cheese

All cheese contains sodium and fat, but cheese also contains many important nutrients for muscle growth. However, processed cheese contains slightly less protein per ounce compared with unprocessed cheese. Further, processed cheese has a laundry list of ingredient that you just don’t need to be putting into your well kept body.

Instead: Choose 1 ounce of unprocessed cheese like Cheddar, brie, or Parmesan.

Related: 6 Ways to Hack Your Diet

11) Reduced Fat Peanut Butter

When fat is taken out of peanut butter, it’s often replaced with sugar, additives, and preservatives. Plus, some varieties of reduced fat peanut butter contain 1 or so grams less protein per serving compared with the natural stuff.

Instead: Choose natural peanut butter whenever possible.

12) Potato Chips

This starchy tuber is a healthy addition to your muscle-building eating plan but once processed, they lose much of their nutrients including the antioxidant vitamin C.

Instead: Opt for baked fries or baked whole potatoes.

13) Artificial Sweeteners

With no nutritional value whatsoever, these sweeteners are several hundred times sweeter than sugar making your taste buds used to sweeter foods. They contribute nothing to muscle gain and should be avoided.

Instead: Opt for small amounts of natural sweeteners when necessary such as 100% maple syrup, agave, or honey.

14) High Sugar Breakfast Cereals

Some cereals may appear healthy but they can contain much more sugar than you realize. If you find sugar in the top 3 ingredients (or suspect it’s another name for sugar) or 5 grams of more of sugar, then skip it.

Instead: Choose cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and ideally less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. You can even find some cereals with a nice amount of protein to help build muscles.

Related: The 7 Best Protein-Rich Dessert Recipes

15) Granola Bars

Granola bars are a combo of oats, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds with small amounts of fat and sugar. However, some granola bars also add chocolate, candy pieces, or fudge. These bars may have more calories, sugar, or fat than you realize which can sabotage your muscle-building menu.

Instead: Choose granola bars with 200 or less calories. Some good choices include Larabar Fruit and Nut Bars and Kashi Bars TLC Granola Bars.

16) Store Bought Muffins

You may think the bran muffin is your best choice when on the go, but it’s anything but. The super-sized muffins can carry a hefty 500 plus calories each without much nutritional value. Most are made from a traditional muffin batter consisting of refined white flour, eggs, and butter. Just not ideal if you’re trying to eat healthfully to achieve ripped muscles.

Instead: Make your own size-appropriate muffins that are filled with healthy ingredients like flax, whole grain flour, fresh fruit, and nuts.

Related: How to Party and Not Get Fat

17) Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has been touted as being super healthy (and it is pretty darn good for you) but that doesn’t mean it should go on everything. At 120 calories per tablespoon, you can sabotage a healthy meal if you pour it on. Further, coconut oil doesn’t contain omega-3 fats to help reduce inflammation of the muscles (after exercise).

Instead: Choose oils high in omega-3 fats like canola oil. And regardless of what oil you chose, use sparingly at 1-2 tablespoon portions.

18) Butter

Butter is made from cow’s milk and is a not derived in a laboratory like most margarine. But 1 stick (½ cup) of butter contains a whopping 810 calories, 92 grams of fat, and 58 grams of saturated fat. That’s 141% of the daily recommended amount of fat and close to 300% for saturated fat! Your muscles will be crying if you put all that artery-clogging saturated fat in your body!

Instead: Opt for sources of unsaturated fat like olive or canola oil. If you choose butter, then moderate at 1 tablespoon per serving.

19) Pepperoni Pizza

Your typical slice of plain pizza is around 400 calories. Top with processed meat and it can go up a few hundred more calories. Pepperoni is also high in sodium and saturated fat, which aren’t the ideal nutrients your muscles needs to be healthy.

Instead: Make your own pizza at home using whole wheat crust, low fat mozzarella cheese, homemade tomato sauce, and top with tons of veggies.

20) Soda

Soda is basically sugar water with nothing beneficial for your body, including your muscles. Excess caffeine intake from cola can also weaken bones. Plus, drinking lots of soda can displace some of the muscle building foods you could be eating or drinking (like a glass of protein-filled milk!).

Instead: Opt for non or low fat milk or good old water.

By Toby Amidor, MS, RD