Top 7 Foods To Avoid When Building Muscle [That Are CRUSHING Your Gains]

Garett Reid September 1, 2021

Putting on muscle mass is (should be) easy. You eat food, lift weights, and sleep. That basically sums up the cycle but like everything else, people find a way to make things confusing, especially with nutrition. 

Below, I’m going to show you the worst mistakes you’re making with your nutrition that are hurting your growth.

In order to grow muscle, you need to have the right program and your diet in check. However, even with a crappy program, you can still gain muscle if your nutrition is on point; the same can’t be said if your nutrition is messed up. 

Most articles about foods that are bad for muscle growth actually just talk about “unhealthy” food such as pizza or bagels that aren’t necessarily going to prevent muscle growth. On the contrary, these foods often make it easier to gain muscle–but at the expense of your overall health–which I don’t recommend. 

Below, we’ll go over the 7 things you’re eating that are destroying your gains, and some tips to fix your nutrition so you can maximize your muscle building potential.


7 Foods To Avoid When Building Muscle

Food #1: Egg Whites

Whattttt!? Egg whites hurt your gains? Well, not exactly. As with many items on this list there is some nuance. While egg whites don’t hurt your gains, ONLY eating egg whites can. Egg whites are indeed the best source of natural protein; however, muscles need more than that to grow, like cholesterol. Cholesterol is the precursor to all sex hormones, including testosterone which drastically improves strength and muscle size.

Egg Whites

This was proven beautifully with a 12-week randomized trial which had two groups of trainees follow the same program with one difference; one group ate 3 whole eggs post-exercise while the other ate 6 egg whites. The whole egg group improved more on just about every marker, including strength, body fat percentage, and hormone levels.

Further, eating whole eggs post-workout causes greater mTOR activation and muscle protein synthesis post-workout.  Therefore, be sure you include some whole eggs in your diet.

Food #2: Alcohol 

While having a beer or two isn’t going to hurt your gains, it’s also not going to help. But let’s be honest, most people asking about this aren’t having a glass of wine on a Friday night watching Netflix.  

Alcohol can affect muscle growth in two ways. The first is that it can actually inhibit muscle growth through several mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is causing drops in your testerone level, both acutely and chronically. In fact, this has actually been tested in men after performing resistance training.  This study found that men who consumed alcohol after training had significantly lower testosterone levels than a group that didn’t. Alcohol can also decrease protein synthesis and IGF-1 functions.

The second way is indirect but is still a huge factor and that has to do with sleep disruption. Sleeping is literally your body’s way of re-charging. However, this time also accounts for the greatest secretion of many growth hormones such as testosterone and HGH. Get your sleep if you want to grow.

Food #3: Low-Carb Diets

This is an umbrella suggestion to stay away from diets or a mindset that puts emphasis on low-carbs. This is not anti-keto or anything, it’s just that these are not the best diets to use when you are trying to build muscle. While an influencer on Instagram might swear to you, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. And if you’re reading this, it’s assumed that you’re having issues with putting on muscle.

source: @delish

Low-carb diets, specifically Keto diets, have been found to mitigate muscle gain even when eating a hypocaloric diet (more than enough calories). Therefore, save low-carb diets for when you are in maintenance mode or even when the priority of muscle mass isn’t high. However, if you are trying to gain mass, make sure you’re eating sufficient carbs.

Food #4: Foods High In Caffeine 

Again, there’s some nuance here. There’s nothing wrong with caffeine and it has actually been proven to be a very effective ergogenic aid (fancy term for a supplement that can improve performance). However, similar to alcohol, the problem comes from drinking too much caffeine too late, and not being able to sleep. If you do consume caffeine, be sure it doesn’t affect your beauty rest.

Food #5: Vegan Protein (From Natural Foods Only)

The debate between animal and plant protein is long-winded with way too many caveats to address. However, it is clear that diet’s higher in protein (1.4g-2.0g/kg) are ideal for muscle hypertrophy and the athletic population.  Most studies that conclude animal protein and plant protein produce similar gains in muscle hypertrophy use a plant protein supplement. Yes, many trainees also use protein supplements, but it is significantly harder to reach those numbers from a plant-only diet than an omnivore diet. Therefore, if you are vegan, use a vegan protein supplement to increase your protein content.

Food #6: Soy

Soy is one of the buzzwords that hardcore anti-vegans like to use to prove plant protein is gonna kill your gains. In reality, the evidence is unclear as a meta-analysis claimed that there is not sufficient evidence. Many pro-soy drinkers will defend their beverage of choice by saying that the studies that show a negative effect on testosterone use a high amount of soy.

Take this study for example:12 healthy young men had their serum testosterone levels decreased 22% after ingesting 56g of soy powder protein daily for 28 days. After two weeks of stopping, their numbers went back up. Now, resistance training was not part of the study which some have said can mitigate this effect but that just begs the question; “Why not just use a different protein source that definitely won’t?”

While drinking one soy latte won’t cause your voice to lower, there seems to be enough evidence to make you weary if soy is a regular part of your diet.

Food #7: Unhealthy Diets

This is obviously a very broad definition, but one of the biggest killers of testosterone production is an unhealthy diet that is causing you to gain excess fat. Fat contains a compound known as aromatase, whose job is to convert testosterone into estrogen. While this is actually good in moderate amounts, too much fat can cause more conversion than desired. This is why being overweight is commonly related to lower T-levels.  Therefore, if you’re really serious about gaining muscle, clean up your diet, and keep the body fat percentage low.


Don’t Make Gaining Muscle Harder Than It Needs To Be

As you can see, many of the foods on this list impede muscle growth by either affecting your behavior or through manipulation of your hormones.  In order to grow efficiently, muscles need an ideal environment.  However, this is not that hard to create.

  1. Eat your protein (1.6-2.0g/kg)
  2. Eat your carbs   (4-6 g/kg)
  3. Get plenty of quality rest (6-9 hours)
  4. Hydrate (Until your piss is light yellow)
  5. And train hard using a progressive training program

It’s really that simple. Looking to gain weight and muscle mass more effectively? Check out my article on the best bodybuilding supplements for skinny guys wanting to put on muscle.

Garett Reid

Garett Reid has his Masters in Exercise Science (Liberty University) and carries NSCA CSCS and CISSN certifications. He also currently sits as an Executive Council Member for the NSCA Strongman SIG. Garett has been working in the strength and conditioning industry for over 10 years which includes 8 years working throughout Asia (China, Thailand). For the past 2.5 years he has been working as a freelance strength & conditioning writer.

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