9 best high protein foods to build lean muscle mass

Building lean muscle mass obviously depends on how much time you dedicate to the gym. Breaking down muscle tissue by lifting weights or performing high-intensity exercise allows it to rebuild even stronger. But if you’re not fueling your weightlifting with the right foods, your body won’t be able to create the lean, chiseled physique you’re after. Filling your plate with protein-rich foods is key to getting results.

To boost your muscle-building efforts, try including these nine best foods. Not only are they loaded with protein, but they’re also minimally processed, so they won’t add anything extraneous to your diet, though you can add flavor any way you like. And if weight loss is part of your fitness goal, don’t miss our list of the Best High Protein Foods for a Faster Metabolism!


You knew this one had to be on the list, right? Chicken breast has become such a popular choice among weightlifters that it’s almost a cliché, but it’s actually an excellent choice when you’re working on building lean muscle mass.

The reason: In each three-ounce serving, you’ll get about 26 grams of high-quality protein. Since the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people who lift weights consistently consume 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (180-255 grams per day for a 150-pound person), one or more two servings of chicken breast can help you reach your daily goal.

RELATED: 12 Best Protein-Rich Veggies

yogurt with fresh fruit

Pour it into a smoothie, spread it on pancakes, or use it as a substitute for sour cream. However you enjoy Greek yogurt, you’ll reap its high-protein benefits. Due to the way it is strained, Greek yogurt retains significantly more protein than regular yogurt. We’re talking 17 grams per 6-ounce tub!

Also, don’t discount the calcium in Greek yogurt. In addition to its bone health benefits, calcium can help keep your muscles strong. A 2020 study found that being low in calcium accelerated muscle loss in older adults, so adding more of this mineral could have the opposite, positive effect.

tofu bites in a bowl, healthy habits to transform your body after 60

In recent years, vegan and vegetarian weight lifters have debunked all the myths about soy foods that don’t stimulate muscle growth. Tofu offers a plant-based, protein-rich alternative to meat. Each half-cup serving contains 10 grams of protein, and because tofu is easy to combine with grains like brown rice or quinoa, many soy-based meals are packed with protein.

RELATED: 15 Best Vegetarian Sources of Protein

baked salmon with roasted vegetables

You probably know that salmon has a lot of protein (a three-ounce fillet has 17 grams), but did you know that this fatty fish also contains creatine? Many weightlifters supplement their diets with creatine for its muscle building effects, because creatine can enhance muscle cells by pulling water into them. Of course, keep supplementing if you like, but be aware that foods like salmon can also boost your daily creatine levels.

raw egg bowl

It’s no wonder that eggs have become a staple for anyone looking to build lean muscle mass. (Is a weightlifting snack complete without a hard-boiled egg?) Each tiny sphere is a portable packet of 6 grams of high-quality protein. Additionally, eggs contain choline, an essential nutrient for building muscle.

RELATED: 19 Best High-Protein Smoothie Recipes

dried beans, lentils and legumes

We’ll admit that beans don’t contain complete protein, the kind that provide all the essential amino acids the body needs to get from food. But more and more experts believe that for muscle growth and overall health, it’s not necessary to get all nine essential amino acids with every meal. According to the Cleveland Clinic, for example, you don’t need to eat foods with amino acids at every meal, but seek their balance throughout the day.

In fact, beans are a top-notch option for supporting muscle building. Half a cup of cooked edamame contains 9 grams of protein, not to mention iron to carry oxygen to your muscles. Other beans, such as black beans and kidney beans, also contain considerable amounts of protein, as well as iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and muscle-building B vitamins.

flank steak

They don’t call muscle building “strengthening” for nothing! Lean cuts of beef such as flank steak, round roast eye and sirloin of beef with protein, keeping fat to a minimum. A 3-ounce flank steak, for example, contains 24 grams of protein. In addition to being a protein-rich food, beef is also rich in muscle-building nutrients like zinc, selenium, and iron. One study of older adults found that beef intake was associated with more mid-arm muscle.

RELATED: How to Make an Inexpensive Steak That Tastes Expensive

Turkey breast

For another potent protein, head to turkey. Turkey breast meat contains a lot of protein (and even less fat than chicken breast). Each 3-ounce serving comes with 26 grams, and since turkey is endlessly versatile in recipes, it’s easy to include in breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Devour, devour!


Canned tuna makes a convenient, high-protein lunch or snack, with 20 grams per 4-ounce can. But for even more protein (and a more elegant dinnertime presentation), you can opt for fresh tuna. A 90 gram bluefin tuna steak packs 25 grams of protein, and all the omega-3 fatty acids you’ll get won’t go to waste either! Research shows that, especially in the elderly, more omega-3s can contribute to muscle mass gain.

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