5 min read

What are the Best Foods for Lean Bulking?

Here are our top 10 lean bulking foods: chicken breast, salmon, lean beef, white or brown rice, pasta, whole-grain bread, oatmeal, avocado, olive oil, and peanut butter
What are the Best Foods for Lean Bulking?
Photo by Akemy Mory / Unsplash

Bulking is nothing more than deliberate weight gain in order to put on extra muscle mass and gain strength.

Within bulking, there are two subcategories: dirty bulking and lean bulking.

Dirty bulking is a form of bulking where you have complete and utter freedom in your diet; if you fancy pizza and ice cream, that's alright because nothing is off-limits.

While dirty bulking is great for ensuring you gain weight, you run the risk of putting on tons of extra fat in the process. This is because eating junk food often puts you in too large of a caloric surplus.

Contrarily, lean bulking is a more methodical approach. I like to call it a "clean bulk" because you eat clean foods with lots of good nutrients.

Through lean bulking, you can get all of your macronutrients and gain weight without gaining too much extra fat.

Aiming to eat about 300 to 500 calories over your maintenance is perfect for building muscle slowly but surely.

So, lean bulking is obviously the superior method, but what foods are actually good for lean bulking?

You're in luck: today, I'm covering the top 10 best foods for a lean bulk diet.

1. Chicken Thigh

Macronutrients for one serving (3 oz. skinless chicken thigh)

  • 164 calories
  • 9g fat
  • 0g carbohydrates
  • 20g protein

While nearly every healthy recipe under the sun calls for chicken breast, I'd make the argument that chicken thigh is the preferred cut for bulking.

Chicken thighs contain extra fat when compared to chicken breast; not only does this make it extra tasty, but it adds much-needed calories as well.

Additionally, chicken thigh has many micronutrients like selenium, potassium, zinc, vitamin B12, and iron.

2. Salmon

Macronutrients for one serving (3.5oz wild salmon)

  • 182 calories
  • 8g fat
  • 0g carbohydrates
  • 25g protein

Salmon is excellent for you, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and many micronutrients like vitamin B12, B6, selenium, and more.

Various studies have linked the consumption of salmon to healthy BMIs, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, and healthy cholesterol levels.

While the price of salmon can add up, we think it's well worth the cost if you want to excel through your lean bulking phase.

3. Lean beef

Macronutrients for one serving (4oz cooked 93%/7% ground beef)

  • 170 calories
  • 8g fat
  • 0g carbohydrates
  • 23g protein

Red meat gets a bad rap, but it can be a great food if you seek variety in your clean bulk diet.

It's tasty and can be used in any number of ways: eaten with rice, put in pasta, or even made into a burger.

Lean beef exhibits good fat content with most of the calories coming from protein to help you meet your daily goals.

4. White or brown rice

Macronutrients for one serving (158g cooked white rice)

  • 242 calories
  • 0.4g fat
  • 45g carbohydrates
  • 4g protein

Rice, both white and brown, is an amazing compliment you can pair with any of the previously mentioned protein sources for a lean bulking meal.

The age-old debate within the fitness community is between white and brown rice: which is superior? I'm here to tell you it really doesn't matter.

White and brown rice have about the same nutritional content with the only difference being the whole grains that brown rice retains. Just eat whichever one you prefer.

5. Pasta

Macronutrients for one serving (124g spaghetti noodles)

  • 196 calories
  • 1g fat
  • 38g carbohydrates
  • 7g protein

Pasta of any sort is a great carbohydrate addition for those trying to lean bulk. It's low in fat and has an adequate amount of protein as well.

When possible, try and eat whole wheat pasta for added health benefits. Compared to regular pasta, whole wheat pasta has additional fiber and protein which is great for regulating blood sugar and providing consistent energy.

That said, no harm, no foul if you eat regular pasta. It's a great energy source nonetheless to get you through grueling workouts in the gym.

6. Whole grain bread

Macronutrients for one serving (1 slice whole wheat bread)

  • 80 calories
  • 0g fat
  • 20g carbohydrates
  • 5g protein

Bread is often made out to be the enemy, but I'm here to tell you that is totally blown out of proportion. Not only is bread a delightful treat, but it can be good for lean bulking.

The downfall comes with only eating white, or refined, bread. These loaves of bread are stripped of all the fiber and nutrients that make bread nutritious.

That's why I recommend whole-grain bread for lifters trying to put on muscle mass; whole-grain bread has a well-rounded macronutrient profile with the necessary fiber for sustained energy.

7. Oatmeal

Macronutrients for one serving (40g dry rolled oats)

  • 150 calories
  • 3g fat
  • 28g carbohydrates
  • 6g protein

Oatmeal is one of my favorite carbohydrates for when I'm lean bulking. It's so versatile that I can eat it for breakfast every day without getting tired of it!

The great thing about oatmeal is that while it's high in carbohydrates, it has a low glycemic index. This means oatmeal provides sustained energy and won't spike your blood sugar when you eat it.

Additionally, oatmeal is full of fiber, helping you meet your daily requirements there as well.

8. Avocado

Macronutrients for one serving (100g avocado)

  • 160 calories
  • 15g fat
  • 8.5g carbohydrates
  • 2g protein

Avocado is labeled a "superfood" for its all-encompassing nutritional makeup.

For some reason, fat gets associated with negative outcomes. Luckily, avocado has lots of healthy unsaturated fats that are necessary for brain function and help regulate cholesterol levels.

The best part? Avocado can be paired with many things to create healthy clean bulking meals.

9. Olive oil

Macronutrients for one serving (1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil)

  • 120 calories
  • 14g fat
  • 0g carbohydrates
  • 0g protein

This one is for all my hard-gainers out there. If you struggle to gain weight and you just can't bear to eat any more food, start cooking with olive oil.

Olive oil is extremely calorie-dense because all of its calories come from fat. Better yet, it's the same healthy monounsaturated fat that avocados have.

If that wasn't convincing enough, olive oil has a ton of additional health benefits, like anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

10. Peanut butter

Macronutrients for one serving (2 tbsp, or 33g, peanut butter)

  • 210 calories
  • 17g fat
  • 7g carbohydrates
  • 8g protein

While I wouldn't recommend counting on peanut butter as one of your main protein sources, it's an excellent way to get in some extra calories.

The majority of calories in peanut butter come from fats, making it calorie-dense and therefore conducive to bulking.

If you're a health fanatic like me, consider finding some organic peanut butter to cut the extra sugar from the mix.