Avoid These Foods If You’re Looking to Build Muscle Mass

Avoid These Foods If You’re Looking to Build Muscle Mass
  • For many, health and fitness goals might include building more muscle.
  • Your diet and your fitness routine are tied together.
  • Some foods can help you build muscle, but others can actively work against you.

We’re not far removed from the new year and the health and fitness resolutions that often come with it.

You may be well into a new or improved workout routine with a goal of muscle building in mind.

You may even have considered your diet by introducing foods that help promote muscle gain.

“When you have a goal to improve your body composition, muscle strength, and/or even heal and recover from surgery without experiencing muscle loss from bed rest, then you should consider a nutrition plan that includes protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals,” Reema Kanda, RDN, a Clinical Dietitian at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, CA, told Healthline.

But in this instance, a little muscular addition can require a certain amount of dietary subtraction.

“It is important to be mindful of the foods you should limit that may prevent you from reaching your body composition goals,” Kanda said.

In fact, health experts suggest avoiding the following six foods if you’re trying to increase your muscle mass.

Processed meats

“It’s no secret that protein is the macronutrient known for supporting muscle maintenance and growth,” said Jordan Hill, lead registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching.

For many, meat is one of the first and most abundant protein sources that comes to mind. But not all meats are created equally.

“The American Cancer Society recommends limiting or not including processed or red meats to reduce cancer risk, [and] the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting your daily saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories per day,” Kanda added.

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Instead, Kanda recommended focusing on lean protein options such as skinless poultry, low fat dairy, and lean cuts of red meat.

Trans fats

“When it comes to building muscle at the end of the day, the two most important factors (when it comes to nutrition) would be to meet daily calorie and protein needs,” Albert Abayev, RD, clinical dietician at the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Health at Cedars-Sinai, told Healthline.

“Make sure [you] are eating in a 200-300 calorie surplus above maintenance calories and meeting daily protein goals,” Abayev added.

But where that calorie surplus comes from is of critical importance.

Trans fatty acids — or trans fats — are the least healthy type of fat and are generally best enjoyed on a limited basis or avoided altogether. While often high in calories, foods high in trans fats are more likely to cause health problems than help build muscle.

These include fried foods and commercially baked foods, such as:

  • french fries
  • fried chicken, beer-battered fish
  • pastries, pies, and cakes
  • cupcakes, cookies, and muffins
  • frozen pizza
  • biscuits, cinnamon rolls

Instead, “focus on adding healthy fats to your nutrition that come from things like nuts, nut butters, and avocados. This is a great way to reach a calorie surplus while adding nutrition as well,” Abayev recommended.

Added sugars

“Avoid empty calories such as foods high in added sugar,” advised Kanda.

“Excessive sugar intake can promote fat gain when trying to build muscle,” agreed Abayev.

This will not be a helpful outcome for most people trying to build muscle.

Sugars are carbohydrates (carbs), and as a category, carbs do have benefits when it comes to building muscle.

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Hill explained three important functions of carbs related to muscle gain:

  • Carbohydrates are the main energy source that helps support quality workout outputs
  • Carbohydrates assist in protein sparing so that we use carbohydrates for fuel rather than the protein in our muscles
  • Carbohydrates stimulate the release of insulin, a hormone that helps shuttle nutrients into muscle cells, ultimately maximizing the anabolic response

“Unfortunately, many highly processed and packaged foods are not going to optimally fuel your energy towards muscle building,” said Kanda.

In this context, avoid foods like:

  • candy
  • donuts
  • sugary snacks
  • sodas

Instead, replace them with:

  • whole grains
  • fresh or frozen fruits
  • starchy and non-starchy vegetables
  • beans and legumes


For healthy adults, alcohol is already best enjoyed in moderation, but how specifically does it relate to muscle gain?

“The body views alcohol as a toxin, so when consumed, the body works to metabolize the alcohol before anything else. This can negatively impact the body’s efficiency in metabolizing and utilizing nutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins to support muscle repair and growth,” said Hill.

Alcohol can detrimentally affect energy levels and increase the chances of dehydration, she explained.

“From a muscle-building aspect, this is unfavorable because fatigue can negatively impact workout output, and dehydration negatively impacts muscular power and cognitive performance,” said Hill.

Sauces, condiments, and dressings

Sometimes, you might try to do the right thing while you’re unknowingly consuming the very types of things you’re trying to avoid.

Be aware of sauces, condiments, dressings, and other toppings.

“Be mindful that a lot of premade salads come with high calorie dressings that add a lot of calories but not a lot of nutrition,” said Abayev.

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They can also be high in added sugars.

“Focus on having a balanced salad with a lot of protein, add complex carbs, and healthy fats. Use a low calorie dressing. We want to focus on getting our calories from high quality foods that include protein and healthy fats, not high fat dressings,” Abayev added.

Low quality supplements

“Depending on the individual and their training demands, sports foods and supplements may be appropriate and can benefit workout outputs and workout recovery (i.e., muscle repair and growth),” advised Hill.

But do your homework before choosing a supplement.

“Obtain protein supplements from a reputable source that is NSF Certified for Sport or has third-party testing certification on the label,” Kanda suggested.

Takeaway Note

Building muscle mass is a great fitness goal to have, and your diet will play an important role in achieving that goal.

Knowing what not to eat is just as important as knowing what to consume.

Everyone’s health circumstances and fitness goals are unique.

Your doctor or a registered dietician can advise you on the healthiest path toward achieving your goals.


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