Eating for mass can be exhausting. Physically consuming the volume of food required to hit your daily calorie target is often the hardest part of a mass gainer’s diet.
But even when you have to hit those lofty macros and calorie intakes, quality remains more important than outright quantity.
Adding quality muscle mass requires wholesome, nutritious foods and supplements – not the hollow calories we get from junk, fast and convenience foods.
For this reason, sticking to nutrient-dense foods that contain the greatest combination of macronutrients will bulk your body the right way. Here are 10 calorie- and nutrient-dense foods to help you get the most from every bite.
#1. Red beans
Red beans, the most common of which is red kidney beans, packs a double whammy as they’re a great source of carbs and protein.
A one-cup serving (177g) of these legumes contains 16g of protein and 40g of carbs and packs a whopping 210 calories.
When these beans are combined with whole grains such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, they provide a high-quality complete protein that has an amino acid profile.
They also have a favourable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, which is important to reduce inflammation. Omega-3 also inhibits muscle breakdown while increasing the anabolic capacity of amino acids.
Red kidney beans are a rich source of important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium, which are vital for optimal muscle function and metabolism.
They are, however, high in fibre, which can slow digestion and make you feel full before your meal has ended. It is a good idea of including a small portion of red kidney beans across numerous meals, instead of one big serving.
The protein in eggs has the highest biological value of any whole food, which means they are rapidly digested and absorbed. And at 7-8 grams of protein per egg, they are also one of the more affordable sources of protein available.
The cholesterol found in the egg yolk is an essential building block for important anabolic hormones that support muscle and strength gains. They’re also a nutrient-dense food, as they contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and a whole host of vitamins and minerals folate, vitamins B2 (riboflavin), B6, B12, D, and E, and iron, phosphorus, and zinc.
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#3. Sprouted grain bread
Sprouted bread is made from whole grains or legumes that have been allowed to sprout (or germinate). There are various types of sprouted grain bread available; some are made with added flour, and some with added gluten, while others are made with very few additional ingredients, and therefore contain no sugar or other allergens.
When grains sprout they become ‘living’ food, which significantly boosts their nutrient density, as well as their protein and enzyme content.
A comparison of nutritional analyses shows that sprouted grains contain about 75% of the energy from carbohydrates, a slightly higher protein content, and about 40% of the fat, compared to whole grains.
Sprouted bread can also be made from a combination of whole grains and legumes such as millet, barley, oats, brown rice, corn, rye, lentils and soy.
One slice of this combined whole grain sprouted bread can contain up to 80 calories, with 15g of carbs and 4g of protein. The protein content is also highly bioavailable and contains up to 18 amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids.
Salmon is not only a rich source of high-quality protein but also contains the long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which are important for the regulation of cell activity.
These fatty acids are considered ‘essential’ because our bodies cannot produce them and they are essential for optimal bodily function.
Research into EPA and DHA supplementation also suggests that these fatty acids support muscle protein synthesis, and limit muscle protein degradation. They also seem to enhance nutrient partitioning by increasing insulin sensitivity, which ensures glucose, amino acids and fatty acids are more efficiently absorbed into muscle cells.
This type of fish is also rich in key nutrients, such as selenium, vitamins D and B12, and niacin.
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Nuts are a calorie-dense, nutritious food source, many of which are rich in protein. A serving (28g) of cashew or almonds, for instance, contains 150-170 calories, and contain a blend of protein, healthy fats, and fibre.
Almonds are also a great choice as they have one of the highest protein contents. They are also a rich source of manganese and vitamin E.
Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for all the reasons already mentioned. In fact, a single serving (28g) of walnuts contains serving has more omega-3s than a 114g piece of salmon.
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#6. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is a must-have dairy item on your mass gain shopping list as it’s a muscle-building powerhouse. It contains both whey and casein protein, which provides a burst of amino acids after a meal, and a steady supply of them long after the meal has ended thanks to the slow-digesting casein.
Certain cottage cheese products (the natural and/or organic kind especially) also contain live cultures, which are good bacteria that can help break down and absorb more of the nutrients from the food you eat. Cottage cheese is an excellent source of vitamin B12, calcium, and other important nutrients.
With about 30% of their calories from protein, lentils have the third-highest protein content by weight of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp. They’re also a great source of carbohydrates.
One cup of cooked lentils contains 18g of protein, including the essential amino isoleucine and lysine, and 40g of slow-digesting quality carbohydrates.
And lentils contain folate, vitamin B1, and other important minerals. The insoluble dietary fibre in lentils will help prevent constipation and other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, which is not uncommon when following a mass gain diet.
#8. Sweet potato
This sweet-tasting, tuberous root vegetable is a great starch option because it provides slow-release energy from complex carbohydrates and many nutrients, including beta-carotene, vitamins B5 and B6, manganese, and potassium.
#9. Red meat
When it comes to adding quality muscle, few things beat good quality red meat. A steak has a complete amino acid profile – all essential amino acids – as well as B-vitamins, and a good dose of creatine to boost strength.
Beef also contains saturated fat, which can support healthy testosterone levels, and monounsaturated fat, for heart health. And it is a source of iron and zinc, two crucial muscle-building nutrients.
Chickpeas are another legume that offers a beneficial source of amino acids from plant-based protein.
Chickpeas also contain 45g of slow-digesting carbs per cup, along with 12g of fibre, along with certain dietary minerals, including iron and phosphorus.