Is healthy eating important for muscle growth?

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Of course you would do well to eat as healthy as possible. But does healthier eating also mean more muscle growth?


The relationship between a healthy diet and a lean, muscular body is quickly made. However, it is not as obvious as you might think. In fact, if you focus purely on healthy eating, you can even miss out on gains!

No matter how much YouTube and Instagram coaches screen with their healthy lifestyle, for muscle growth the first thing that counts is that you get enough calories and proteins. If those conditions are met, you can build muscle optimally. Provided your training program and recovery are in order, of course.

And no, in principle it doesn’t matter whether you get those calories and proteins from healthy or less healthy food. Someone who eats a lot of fast food but sticks to the required calorie and protein quota will achieve more muscle growth than someone who eats mainly healthy but systematically takes in too few calories and protein.

Some bodybuilders do the latter: they make the mistake of focusing only on the quality of nutrition and not the quantity, with disappointing results as a result. If you eat healthy, you do not automatically eat optimally for muscle growth or fat loss (depending on your goal). In short, don’t be misled by those health gurus on social media.

To know if you’re eating enough calories and protein, you need to use a calorie app (at least temporarily) .


Does the quality of food have no influence at all on body composition? Well, it has, but especially in the longer term:

  • Healthy food contributes to good health. And that ensures an overall good functioning, which also benefits things such as training performance and sleep (recovery);
  • Thanks to a healthy diet you get an extensive palette of micronutrients, much more than you would with unhealthy food, even if you take a vitamin pill with it. And those micronutrients – such as vitamins, zinc and magnesium – play an important role in muscle building;
  • Research shows that eating a lot of junk food can lead to loss of muscle mass and strength in people over 40;
  • Research shows that a calorie-restricted diet consisting of healthy foods is more effective for fat loss than a calorie-restricted diet with a lot of unhealthy foods. This is probably mainly due to a higher intake of monounsaturated fats, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids: these foods have a relatively high thermal effect and thus increase energy consumption more than other carbohydrates and fats;
  • Healthy food – especially certain vegetables – ensures good fluid removal. This makes you look less fluffy and your muscles are more visible.

So, there are also good reasons to choose healthy food from the perspective of body composition.


What and how much the bodybuilder eats partly depends on his training goal: building muscle (bulk) or fat loss + muscle maintenance (cut).

If you’re bulking, it’s okay to snack now and then as long as you stay within your calorie budget. Keep in mind that in the bulk you only need to eat a few hundred calories above your maintenance level. Bulking therefore does not mean unlimited eating, at least not for natural bodybuilders.

When you are cutting, it is best to eat as much healthy food as possible with a high degree of satiety. If you were to snack a lot during your cut, you would only make it difficult for yourself to stay within your calorie budget.


Besides the amount of food and its quality, timing of meals also plays a role in bodybuilding. According to a meta-study by hypertrophy expert Brad Schoenfeld, muscle protein synthesis is best stimulated if you divide your protein intake into four to six meals daily, with a time span of three to four hours between meals. You eat 20 to 40 grams of protein per meal.


When it comes to nutrition, focus on the following, in order of importance:

  1. Eating enough calories (a small calorie surplus in the bulk, a medium deficit in the cut );
  2. Eating enough protein (on average around 2 grams per kilogram of body weight);
  3. Spreading the diet over four to six meals a day, with 20-40 grams of protein per meal and three to four hours between meals;
  4. Eating mostly unprocessed food with a lot of micronutrients; preferably with the highest possible degree of saturation during the cut;
  5. Possibly using supplements, such as creatine and caffeine.

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