9 Foods You Should Avoid When Building Muscle

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on August 14, 2019
man lifting a barbell

Building lean muscle mass should really be an important part of a fitness routine for everyone. Both men and women can benefit from increasing the lean muscle mass content in their bodies and reducing fat content at the same time. This leads to an ideal body composition, which has been linked to a number of potential benefits, including a lower risk of certain diseases.

Just like losing weight can be difficult, muscle building isn’t always as easy as some publications would make you think. Many people sign up for a gym membership and think that is all that they need to start growing bigger and stronger muscles, often overlooked just how important role nutrition tend to play.

To build lean muscle mass, you need a balanced diet that is high protein and many other nutrients to deliver the right compounds to your muscle tissue. At the same time, you may need to ensure that you avoid eating and drinking certain items in order to maximize your performance, minimize your risk of gaining excess fat, and reducing the damaging effects that certain types of foods can have on your muscles.

What To Avoid When You Are Building Lean Muscle Mass

Most people tend to focus on including certain foods that are high in protein and other compounds in their diet plan when they are working out to build lean muscle mass. At the same time, they often forget the fact that their diet may contain foods that could actually cause interference with their body’s ability to effectively build more muscle mass – and many of these foods can actually also cause an increase in body fat. The goal of working out is usually the opposite – to reduce body fat content and to increase lean muscle mass.

Here, we look at some of the most important foods that you should avoid when you are trying to build more lean muscle mass.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is a major problem in numerous countries throughout the world, with the most alcohol consumed in Belarus, Lithuania, Grenada, Czech Republic, and France, as well as Russia (1). In the United States alone, over $220 billion are spent on alcohol each year. Excessive alcohol usage has been linked to many adverse effects on the human body.

One of the most important complications that alcohol can cause is liver disease. In some people with heavy alcohol usage, liver cirrhosis can occur (2). This can lead to life-threatening complications and may even require a liver transplant in some cases.

A scientific paper (3) compiled by scientists at the RMIT University in Australia found that alcohol consumption is linked to complications in terms of building muscle mass. In particular, the scientists found that the consumption of alcohol led to an impairment in Myofibrillar protein synthesis following a workout session. What this means is that the alcohol content in beverages consumed by individuals who participated in the study led to a significant reduction in muscle healing after they worked out. This, in turn, means muscle growth is impaired as well.

2. Sausages

Sausages offer a very convenient way to quickly prepare a snack or even dinner for the entire family – simply cook up a few sausages, add them to hot dog rolls, and serve up. There are many variants of sausages available, and many of them are very delicious. The problem, however, comes up when one considers the ingredients that are added to these food items. Sausages are generally packed with saturated fats, nitrates, sodium, and other processed ingredients. Saturated fat has been linked to a higher risk of strokes and heart attacks, and can cause the arteries to become blocked (4).

When arteries are blocked, this causes complications with blood supply. Not only does the addition of sodium further contribute to high blood pressure, but the lack of appropriate blood circulation can actually deprive your muscles of the essential nutrients, including protein, minerals, and more, that are required for effective regeneration of muscle tissues following an exercise routine.

3. Doughnuts

Doughnuts are some of the most popular treats and snacks that people opt for when they become hungry during the day, but this might be one of the worst mistakes that you could make if you are trying to work on your lean muscle mass. Doughnuts are high in calories, yet they do not contain any essential nutrients that your body needs. You won’t only be depriving your body of important nutrients, but you will also not be feeding your muscle tissue with protein and other compounds that are essential for muscle growth.

Additionally, since the doughnut will add to your daily caloric intake, you are risking a gain in body fat instead of lean muscle mass. This further complicates things for you-you would have to start spending more time worrying about cutting down, and this might interfere with the strategies that you are using to grow your muscle mass.

4. Low Fat Peanut Butter

Low-fat food options are becoming very popular, but many people do not realize that these foods are not truly as good as they might seem. Plus, not all fats are bad for you – there are certain types of fats, such as monounsaturated fats, that can actually help to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood and boost the levels of good cholesterol.

When you opt for low-fat peanut butter, chances are the manufacturer loaded the spread with many added sugars in order to compensate for the reduction in fat content. The idea behind the addition of these sugars is to improve the taste of the peanut butter. This is bad for you, as loading up on added sugars is not an ideal strategy for building muscle mass and could really contribute to weight gain in the form of body fat.

5. Granola Bars

One particularly misleading product that you may find on the shelves would be a granola bar. These bars are often promoted as the perfect breakfast bar or a great and healthy snack to have during the day. Unfortunately, as we just said, these promotional phrases are often misleading. Most granola bars on the market contain pieces of candy and fudge or are covered in chocolate. This adds many added sugar to the bar. In turn, you load up on too many calories by having just a bar – and you do not get the ingredients that you may need to build muscle mass.

This does not mean that all granola bars are bad, however. When you do want to have a granola bar, try to look for one that does not have added chocolate or candy pieces. Ideally, the granola bar should have less than 200 calories in total. This way, you won’t be loading up on too many calories, and you won’t be exposed to such a significant amount of added sugars.

6. Pizza

The beloved pizza is something that almost everyone truly enjoys eating, no matter where in the world you stay. This is also a very convenient food – a simple call to a local pizza joint and you get a complete meal delivered to your doorstep in under an hour. Unfortunately, a single size of pizza can give you around 400 calories. That is quite a lot, especially considering the fact that most people won’t stop after having just one slice of their favorite pizza.

When it comes to pizza toppings, options like pepperoni exposes you to many harmful substances. This processed meat contains saturated fat and is high in sodium. These are pro-inflammatory ingredients that are going to cause harm to your body and make you more likely to suffer from cancer – they are not going to do your muscles any favors, on the other hand.

7. Potato Chips

Yet another exceptionally popular snack food that millions of people enjoy on a daily basis, potato chips are also something that you want to avoid if your goal is to increase your muscle mass and not your body fat percentage. While a potato itself in a boiled state is considered healthy and even a good addition to a muscle building program, potato chips contain highly processed versions of potato.

When the potatoes are processed in order to produce potato chips, they lose most of the important nutrients that you depend on when you include this starchy tuber in your muscle building program. Instead, they will make you load up on empty calories with no real value to offer you, except for being turned into fat cells and causing you to gain weight.

8. Ice Cream

Ice cream is one of the most delicious sweet treats that people enjoy – some people prefer a scoop of ice cream just like that, while others would serve their ice cream with some chocolate sauce or perhaps in a crispy cone. If you are trying to increase your lean muscle mass, then ice cream should not be on the list of go-to foods for you. Ice cream might be a delicious treat, but it is full of unhealthy ingredients that are going to contribute to weight gain and inflammation in your body, in addition to blood sugar spikes.

About half a cup of ice cream makes you load up on 137 calories. This serving of ice cream also contains about four grams of saturated fats, plus many sugar. Let’s face it – most people don’t opt for just half a cup of this dessert. In most cases, you may find yourself having a full cup or even more ice cream in a single sitting. This is not something you want in your diet if cutting down on your body fat and increasing your lean muscle content is on your list of goals.

9. Bagels

Another important food that we should look at here would be bagels, an exceptionally popular “snack” food in the United States and many other countries throughout the world. A single bagel will give you an estimated 400 calories – that is without the addition of any fillings like cream cheese. A bagel contains refined carbohydrates – this type of carb won’t do much for your workout or for your goal of building more muscle mass. The cream cheese adds additional saturated fats to your diet, something that promotes a restriction in blood circulation due to a buildup of LDL cholesterol in your blood vessels.

The point in terms of a bagel is that you are essentially going to be loading up on empty calories. You will be feeding your body almost one-quarter of the daily calories that you consume, yet there are no important nutrients that will aid in your efforts to increase your muscle mass.

At the same time, the refined carbohydrates, along with the saturated fats and other unhealthy substances found in the bagel, will actually contribute to an increase in fat.


Diet plays a major role in your ability to build lean muscle mass and shed excess fat that might be present in your body. When setting up a diet plan, it is not only important to consider nutrient-rich foods that can give your body access to the compounds needed for the promotion of lean muscle mass, but it is also essential to consider the foods that may actually make things harder for you. We looked at some of the most important foods that you should avoid adding to your diet when you are trying to bulk up.


(1) https://www.alcohol.org/guides/global-drinking-demographics/
(2) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sorting-out-the-health-effects-of-alcohol-2018080614427
(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922864/
(4) https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats

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