Best Food For Bulking

Grilled meat on a white plate surrounded by vegetables including broccoli.
Credit: Sam Moghadam Khamseh

Grilled meat on a white plate surrounded by vegetables including broccoli.
Credit: Sam Moghadam Khamseh

Choosing the right diet to bulk up isn't always easy because it can be difficult to strike the right balance between calories and protein. However, our list of the best food for bulking should help you get started.

Of course, protein is something we've used to inform our selection as it's essential to the building, maintaining, and growth of muscle, hence why many people incorporate some of the best protein powders and protein bars into their diets. However, unlike our list of the best food for powerlifting, it's perhaps not our number one priority for putting on mass.

The key to bulking is in fact calories, as you simply need to consume more than you need to maintain your body weight in order to increase your size. Therefore, while protein comes into our selection, we've made sure to pick nutritious foods that are packed with calories to help you successfully bulk.

With all this in mind, we've put together a selection of calorie-dense foods that contain complete proteins, complex carbohydrates, and/or unsaturated fats to ensure you're getting the right nutrients as part of your bulking diet.

We've also answered some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding bulking, like how many calories you need to consume, to help you reach your weight goal. Before that though, let's get into our list...

Best food for bulking

  1. Eggs
  2. Sirloin Steak
  3. Salmon
  4. Cottage Cheese
  5. Edamame
  6. Peanut Butter
  7. Avocado
A collection of white and brown eggs in a carton.
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Credit: Kelly Neil

1. Eggs

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 143
  • Protein - 13g
  • Fat - 9.5g
  • Carbs - 0.7g

We're kicking things off with eggs which, as mentioned in our list of the best foods for protein, are one of the most nutrient-rich foods available if you're looking to build muscle.

For instance, eggs contain vitamin B12 which, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, plays a vital role in the creation of new red blood cells. These cells are important as they carry oxygen to your muscles and so should help improve your physical performance whilst working out.

Eggs also contain calcium. This is important as the Harvard School of Public Health has linked calcium to improving bone density.

Building stronger bones will likely help your body adapt to your increase in weight as you bulk and should help it cope with the huge amount of stress placed on your muscles and tendons whilst weightlifting.

Read More: Best multivitamins

Sirloin steak cut up with broccoli.
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Credit: Loija Nguyen

2. Sirloin steak

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 243
  • Protein - 27g
  • Fat - 14g
  • Carbs - 0g

Sirloin steak ranks high for bulking due to its combination of calorie density and protein content. With approximately 27g of protein per 100g serving, it serves as an excellent resource for aiding in muscular repair.

Furthermore, sirloin steak boasts a noteworthy iron content, a vital constituent of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells responsible for oxygen transport. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a deficiency in iron can lead to early fatigue during exercise because your body lacks the necessary red blood cells to carry oxygen to your muscles, thus showcasing why eating a steak is so great for training.

However, sirloin steak isn't cheap, and you do have to be careful with how much red meat you consume as the National Institute of Health has linked red meat to an increased risk of heart disease. The NHS advises around 70g of red meat a day should be fine for most adults though.

Read More: Best beef liver supplements

Cooked salmon on a bed of rice and vegetables.
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Credit: Sebastian Coman Photography

3. Salmon

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 206
  • Protein - 22g
  • Fat - 12g
  • Carbs - 0g

Seafood-wise, salmon is definitely a food worth considering adding to your bulking diet as it contains 22g of protein per 100g serving and a fairly impressive 206 calories as well. However, the big advantage of salmon is that it contains omega-3 fatty acids.

As touched on in our guide on whether tuna is good for muscle growth, we mention that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with numerous potential health benefits.

For instance, one meta-analysis by Montori et al. found a statistically significant effect of omega-3 supplementation on lowering a type of fat in your blood known as triglycerides. This is vital when bulking as it's likely you'll be consuming more fat than usual as part of your diet.

Moreover, omega-3 has been linked with anti-inflammatory properties. A study by Lalia et al. found a significant increase in muscle growth after exercise following daily supplementation of omega-3. This may have been due to the supplements enhancing participants' muscle sensitivity to protein and resistance training, two elements you'll likely be increasing during your bulk.

Read More: Best cod liver oil capsules

Cottage cheese with ham, soy sauce, and diced peppers in a bowl.
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Credit: Pavel Subbotin

4. Cottage cheese

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 98
  • Protein - 11g
  • Fat - 4.3g
  • Carbs - 3.4g

Cottage cheese is a popular option for a bulking diet due to its rich protein content and a wealth of essential nutrients associated with enhanced muscle-building capabilities.

The substantial protein in cottage cheese predominantly derives from casein, a protein type that is gradually absorbed by the body. This gradual absorption can potentially deter muscle breakdown, and it also extends the time it takes for your body to assimilate amino acids. For this reason, many recommend consuming cottage cheese as a bedtime snack, aiding the body's recovery and repair processes while you sleep.

Read More: Best taurine supplements

Edamame in a white bowl.
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Credit: Fudio

5. Edamame

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 121
  • Protein - 12g
  • Fat - 5.2g
  • Carbs - 8.9g

When it comes to vegetables, you won't find many that contain as much protein as edamame without turning to the likes of vegan protein bars to up your daily, plant-based intake. However, edamame isn't just great for its protein content.

Edamame also contains folate, vitamin K, and fibre, with the latter playing an important role in digestion. Moreover, a cohort analysis study by Pereira et al. found dietary fibre to be inversely associated with the risk of coronary heart disease due to improving participants' blood lipid profiles.

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is also linked to several health benefits. One study by Asbaghi et al., for example, found a connection between folate and reducing inflammation which, in turn, may aid your recovery post-training as well as the fighting of diseases.

Read More: Best EAA supplements

Peanut butter surrounded by peanuts on a black spoon.
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Credit: Corleto Peanut Butter

6. Peanut butter

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 588
  • Protein - 22g
  • Fat - 50g
  • Carbs - 24g

Peanut butter is another common addition to a bulking diet and one we'd recommend as long as you're not allergic. One of the reasons behind this is because it contains all three major macronutrients - protein, carbs, and fat.

You do have to consume peanut butter in moderation though as the fat content is pretty high. However, a large part of this fat is made up of oleic acid which, in one study by López-Gómez et al., was linked to improved insulin sensitivity.

Peanut butter is also fairly rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin B3 (niacin). Niacin is interesting as it has been linked to reducing blood pressure. A study by Zhang et al. supports this as the researchers found that each 1mg increase in niacin intake was associated with a 2% decrease in the risk of high blood pressure.

Read More: Best BCAA supplements

Picture of three avocados, one of which is cut in half.
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Credit: Gil Ndjouwou

7. Avocado

Nutrition from Nutritionix (per 100g):

  • Calories - 160
  • Protein - 2g
  • Fat - 15g
  • Carbs - 8.5g

We conclude our list with avocados known for their high levels of unsaturated fat, specifically monounsaturated fats.

According to, monounsaturated fat can reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood and, therefore, may lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Dietary fat is also an important factor in bulking as it's packed full of calories so should help you gain size and reach your daily intake quicker.

Avocados are also rich in nutrients that can be hard to come by in your average diet. For example, avocados contain magnesium and vitamins B6, C, E, and folate. Magnesium is particularly important as it's involved in over 600 reactions in your body, including the conversion of food into energy and the creation of new proteins from amino acids to aid muscular development.

Read More: Best pre-workout supplements

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Selecting the right food to fuel your body correctly whilst also increasing your size can be extremely tricky and often leads to a ton of questions. Don't worry though because we've answered some of the most common queries right here.

How many calories do you need to eat when bulking?

There's not really a definitive answer to this question as it will depend on your current size, your metabolism, and how quickly you're looking to put on weight.

That said, one review by Iraki et al. recommends consuming 10–20% above your daily maintenance calories for an average weight gain of 0.25–0.5% per week. So, if you require 2000 calories a day to maintain weight, you should be consuming between 2200-2400 instead during a bulk phase.

However, these figures aren't set in stone. Another review by Spendlove et al. found, at a competitive level in bodybuilding, participants would eat an average of 3,800 calories per day for men and 3,200 for women whilst bulking, but would drop to as low as 2,400 and 1,200 calories during the cutting phase, respectively.

So, how many calories you consume appears to come down to your own judgment really. Our only recommendation would be to try not to eat significantly more calories than your current maintenance level as you may end up gaining weight too quickly and reach a point where your body can't adjust accordingly.

What foods are bad to eat when bulking?

While bulking is a good opportunity to consume foods you may not otherwise get to enjoy as much while trying to stay lean, there are several types of food we'd advise you limit as they won't necessarily help you make progress in the right direction.

Firstly, any food that contains an excess amount of sugar isn't great for bulking. They may be high in calories, but more often than not these calories are empty as they offer zero protein and, therefore, next to no benefit for building muscle. Consuming too much sugar is also linked to several negative health effects such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Fried foods are another one to be wary of when bulking as they tend to contain a lot of fat, specifically trans fat. Trans fats are something to consume in moderation as they're linked to numerous health issues. A study by Mensink et al., for example, found trans fats to increase LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol) more so than other diets.

This extends to junk food as well which in many cases is also fried, so comes with similar health side effects. Fast/junk food also tends to lack nutrients and protein, two elements that are essential to maintain whilst bulking despite the temptation to just eat loads of junk food because it's easy calories.

How long should you bulk for before you begin to cut?

The duration of a bulking phase and when to start a cut depends on your specific fitness goals, starting point, and individual factors such as age, gender, and metabolism.

Generally speaking, it's recommended to bulk for around four to six months to gain muscle mass, and then start cutting to reduce body fat and reveal the muscle definition. However, this timeline can vary based on individual goals and progress.

Also, if you're what's known as "dirty bulking" in that time frame, then you're unlikely to be able to sustain a four-month bulk. We wouldn't recommend this either for the sake of your health as a "dirty bulk" involves aggressively gaining weight, usually through consuming a bunch of junk food.

To determine when to start a cutting phase, it's helpful to track your progress through regular measurements of body fat percentage, muscle mass, and strength gains. Consulting with a certified personal trainer or nutritionist can also provide guidance and support in developing a personalised fitness plan.

Should you adjust your diet as you progress through your bulking phase?

Yes, adjusting your diet as you progress through your bulking phase can be beneficial to ensure you continue to hit your fitness goals and weight targets.

One of the reasons for this is that as you gain muscle and increase your overall body weight, your caloric needs may change. It's important to regularly reassess your calorie intake to ensure you're still in a slight caloric surplus, which is necessary for muscle growth. If you're no longer gaining weight or muscle, you may need to increase your caloric intake.

Also, while the general macronutrient ratios for bulking (higher protein, moderate carbohydrates, and healthy fats) are a good starting point, you may find that adjusting the ratios based on your body's response is beneficial. For example, some individuals may need more carbohydrates for energy during intense workouts, while others may require slightly higher fat intake for hormone regulation.

Remember, individual responses to bulking can vary, so it's crucial to listen to your body and make adjustments based on your progress, goals, and overall well-being. Consulting with a nutritionist may also be valuable as they can provide guidance in tailoring your diet to your specific needs.

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