If your goal is to build muscle, then you need to ensure that you’re training hard, sleeping well, and eating right.
When it comes to eating right, it’s equally important that you avoid certains foods as well.
This is because certain foods don’t have the right caloric or macronutrient requirements for building muscle.
The 3 foods to avoid when building muscle are:
- Low Calorie Vegetables
- Low Carb foods
In this article, I’ll explain specific foods that fit within these categories that should be avoided if your goal is to build muscle. As well, I’ve included what you can substitute for them so that you can optimize protein synthesis (i.e. muscle growth).
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The Worst Foods For Building Muscle (And What to Eat Instead)
What we’ve done is taken the food list above and broken them into 4 categories of foods to avoid:
While everything is great in moderation, there are certain food categories that should be avoided or at least minimized in your diet, to fuel your goal of building muscle even further.
From these three categories below, we’ve curated our food list and explained why they don’t help you build muscle.
Alcohol is an obvious choice for what to avoid when trying to build muscle (or cut, for that matter).
While it doesn’t mean that you should never have a beer or a glass of wine, be aware of the effects that alcohol can have on the body and how it can slow down your process in building muscle.
This study tested the effects of alcohol consumption following training.
It illustrated that consuming alcohol after exercising reduces the rate of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis (MPS), which is the process in which protein is used to repair damaged muscles due to exercise.
So, if you want to build muscle, then be careful when it comes to consuming alcohol, especially if you’ve had a tough workout.
While it’s okay in small quantities, drinking it in large quantities after your training will have the opposite effect of what you want so it’s best to steer clear.
Related Article: Is Beer Good or Bad For Bodybuilding (Science-Backed)
What to have instead:
Instead of alcohol, drink water.
Staying hydrated is important for muscle growth as it gives you optimal health and performance conditions to get the best out of your workout. It also will replenish all the fluid you lost during your workout.
If you want something other than water, then you may be pleasantly surprised that chocolate milk is a great alternative to drink post-workout.
In this study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, 5 men and 5 female cyclists were given chocolate milk, an isocaloric carbohydrate only supplement, or a placebo drink immediately after performing exercise and during their 4 hour recovery window. After this time, they each performed a subsequent 40km time trial.
There were positive effects for those drinking the chocolate milk as it can aid in restoring muscle glycogen which in turn helps prevent muscle catabolism. This was illustrated as the cyclists who were given chocolate milk as a recovery drink had significantly shorter times than the other two groups.
Avoid low-calorie vegetables
Yes, vegetables are so important for your health, despite what fitness goal you’re trying to achieve.
However, eating mainly low-calorie vegetables when you’re trying to build muscle, can make it harder for you to achieve the calorie surplus necessary to do so.
Vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli and white mushrooms have very little calories so it may be wise to choose other vegetables to make up the bulk of your vegetable intake, especially if you’re already struggling to hit your calories.
What to have instead:
Try eating vegetables that are still nutritious, healthy and are higher in calories such as avocado and parsnip.
Also, try to fill your plate with starch-filled vegetables like potatoes.
The starches in these vegetables aid muscle growth as it assists in replenishing glycogen levels, which make them great to eat right after training.
Not to mention, filling up on them will give you plenty of glycogen, aka energy, so that it can fuel your strength training, which is necessary to build muscle.
Avoid Low-Carb Food
The foods that fit into this category are konjac noodles, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice and lettuce buns.
Carbohydrates are so important when it comes to building muscle.
However, most people tend to avoid carbohydrates or only prioritize protein when bulking.
While protein is extremely vital to muscle growth, however, so are complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy and so we need it to reduce fatigue, to improve performance and to have energy.
They also play their part in rebuilding muscle after intense exercise.
Without enough carbohydrates in the body, more nitrogen gets excreted from the body, as illustrated by this study. This is the opposite of what we want because nitrogen is an important part of amino acids and we need amino acids to form muscle.
It’s important to keep a positive balance of nitrogen in the body as it contributes in building and repairing tissue, such as muscle. Therefore, it’s essential to retain enough nitrogen to fuel the muscle repair and building process.
In addition, carbohydrates replenish glycogen levels.
Glycogen is what gives us energy and it’s important to keep these levels full so that we have spare energy on hand when needed. If there’s not enough glycogen in the body, however, then muscle gets broken down to be used for fuel instead.
If you’re following a low-carb diet, then you risk promoting muscle catabolism, i.e. muscle loss.
What to have instead:
Fill your diet with complex carbohydrates.
If you’re worried about high-calorie content, complex carbohydrates are broken down slower in the body than simple ones so you’ll remain fuller for longer and won’t have the urge to eat as often.
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Other Worst Mistakes You Can Make For Building Muscle
Here are some of the top mistakes I see when it comes to building muscle:
Not eating enough protein
Protein is the building block of muscles and is built from amino acids. While the body naturally produces some ‘non-essential’ amino acids, there are some that the body can’t and these we have to get from food, known as ‘essential’ amino acids. When you consume them, your body breaks them down to then be used to build muscle, as well as other parts like hair.
According to this study, consuming more protein than what your body breaks down during MPS is beneficial when trying to promote muscle growth. In fact, the study states “protein intake was shown to promote additional gains in lean body mass beyond those observed with resistance exercise alone.” Supplement your training by hitting your daily protein intake to see muscle growth results.
Not getting enough sleep
Getting sufficient sleep is non-negotiable when it comes to building muscle. It aids in promoting muscle synthesis and helps replenish muscle glycogen. If you don’t get enough sleep, then you don’t restore as much muscle glycogen as you could, which can be detrimental to your performance the next day.
Not only will muscle glycogen be affected but also HGH (human growth hormone).
This is integral in your muscles repair and recovery process as it’s what allows our body to process amino acids in the protein we consume.
Our body produces HGH when we start relaxing into a deep sleep. This is typically in stage 2 of the sleep cycle. Then, in stage 3, HGH is released into the bloodstream, where it can travel to the muscles and initiate the repair and recovery period.
So, as you can see, without sufficient sleep, we miss out on all these vital muscle growth processes, which can hinder the ability to gain size and strength.
Not training properly
Constantly challenge your muscles during strength and resistance training to break them down, so that they can then grow back bigger and stronger. Taking it easy during exercise will cause your muscles to adapt to the stimuli that you present it with, for example, hitting the same weight for the same number of sets and reps week after week, and it won’t be pushed to grow.
In this study, the effects of a single-set exercise or a three-set exercise on muscle strength was tested. While there were positive effects from single-set workouts for the subjects, overall, three-set resistance training stimuli yielded better results.
Push yourself during your exercises so that your body is constantly being challenged. Without the challenge, it cannot grow.
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About The Author
As a health and fitness writer, Emily combines her two passions—powerlifting and writing. With a creative writing degree under her belt, she spends her mornings lifting weights, her nights putting pen to paper, and eating too many snacks in between.