10 Best Foods To Lose Fat & Build Muscle | Yes, You Can Do Both!

Losing fat while building muscle is the ideal scenario for transforming the body and feeling energized and healthy. This post will cover the 10 best foods to lose fat and build muscle. We’ll also discuss the role that exercise plays as you move on to a fitter you.

Overhead view of a bowl of pink hummus made from beets, which makes a great appetizer or a healthy snack .

Sometimes nutrition is confusing. You know, figuring out what food is the healthiest to eat and when is the best time to eat it. 

I know all about that and have addressed both food and dieting quandaries in my posts about intermittent fasting, hidden sugars, and inflammatory foods, among others.

But one thing I haven’t covered yet is how the food we eat can work for us to lose fat and build muscle. 

Yes, it is possible to do both. I’m not kidding! It’s actually called Body Recomposition.

Let’s dig into this a little deeper.

To lose weight, we have to burn more calories than we are eating. But this calorie deficit is only necessary when you want to lose weight.  

If you are looking to lose fat, yet gain muscle instead, you need to take a different approach. You see, losing fat isn’t necessarily about losing weight. It’s about getting rid of fat and putting lean muscle in its place. 

When you cut calories, your body uses energy stores to function properly. The result is a loss of fat and weight, but as well, there is a loss of muscle mass. 

That’s why it is important to eat healthy foods like protein, carbohydrates, good-for-you fats, and fiber so that we can continue to gain muscle mass. So, we must take in nutrients that help us to build lean muscle.

The goal here is to aim for fat loss, but at the same time, muscle gain

An overhead image of a meal prep container with Healthy Chicken Fajitas made with Fajita Chicken, Fajita Bell Peppers and Lime & Cilantro Black Beans ready to be stored in the fridge.

10 BEST FOODS TO LOSE FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE

What are the best foods to lose fat and build muscle? Remember, it’s essential to exercise in combination with eating well to reach your goals. Foods that can help you get in the shape you want are listed below: 

1. FULL-FAT DAIRY

You know me, I can never say enough good things about Greek yogurt. On the fat loss side, Greek yogurt contains conjugated linoleic acid, known to burn fat and promote weight loss. As for muscle building, slow-digesting dairy proteins contribute to muscle gain. Cottage cheese is another protein-filled snack that helps to fill you up.  

Overhead view of three eggs in a cast iron pan, cooked and ready to add to Homemade Breakfast Burritos.

2. EGGS

Eggs stay with you and help promote fullness. Additionally, the protein in eggs can increase your metabolic weight for several hours after you eat them. The amino acids in this ultra-nutritional food increase muscle gain. So, eggs are one of the best foods to lose fat and gain muscle.

3. FISH LIKE SALMON, TUNA AND TILAPIA

The mega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon not only reduce inflammation but are also one of the best foods to help you lose fat. How? Fish helps lessen the production of cortisol ( a stress hormone that can lead to increased fat storage). It’s good for both heart and muscular health.

Straight on view of a large white bottle of whey protein, ready to add to a smoothie as a nutritious source of protein for muscle building.

4. WHEY PROTEIN

Whey protein is thought to protect and conserve muscle in the body when losing weight. That’s a pretty impressive characteristic of this food. Whey protein is easily added to smoothies and other nutritional drinks. It can keep you full and promotes fat burning, too.

5. APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is one of my go-to hunger reducers. Now that I follow an intermittent fasting eating regimen, I drink a lot of water (one of the must-do’s!). I add apple cider vinegar, and doing so helps stave off hunger.

As well, the acetic acid in the vinegar is thought to lessen the accumulation of fat in the stomach and increase the body’s ability to lose fat. To learn more about the weight loss benefits of ACV, watch my video about it.

6. MEATS (LIKE LEAN BEEF AND CHICKEN BREAST)

Vitamins, like B6, in particular, are known to give you the stamina you need during exercise. Lean beef, turkey, and chicken are considered essentials for gaining muscle. These proteins boost the body without a heavy calorie load, and that’s why they are so beneficial. 

Side view of a mason jar with Quinoa Stackers, including apple cider vinegar, feta cheese, red onion, quinoa, and tomato.
7. QUINOA

Quinoa is a carbohydrate that provides the nourishment required to keep your energy up when exercising and throughout the day, in general. Athletes who are ready to run a marathon, for example, will fuel their body with a meal that includes carbs as a way to maintain stamina.

8. BROWN RICE

Brown rice has a bit of protein but, more importantly, is another useful source of carbs. Considered almost as good as whey for muscle building, brown rice is gluten-free, It contains vitamins and minerals key to providing energy when you need it.

9. NUTS LIKE ALMONDS AND PEANUTS

Nuts have a fair amount of calories but also have components like phosphorus, which helps the body build protein and use carbs for energy. Magnesium is found in nuts, too. It regulates muscle function and builds protein.

Side view of summer corn edamame salad, filled with cooked quinoa, sliced red onions, edamame, and fresh corn.

10. BEANS AND LEGUMES

Chickpeas, edamame, and kidney beans are all excellent ways to add protein to the diet. Edamame, in particular, contains the all-important folate that helps with muscle strength. Beans, like black or kidney beans, are packed with iron and phosphorus (aids in protein building.)

AVOID PROCESSED FOODS TO LOSE FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE

Processed foods are really a lot of empty calories that do not provide nutrition at all. Sure, they fill you up and satisfy hunger for the moment, but they do nothing for your body.

The simplest reason for avoiding processed foods is to know exactly what you are putting in your body every time you eat. Look at it this way, the best way to have control over what’s in the calories you eat is to eat food in its natural state.

An orange is an orange, plain and simple and a chicken breast, is well, chicken. Healthy, wholesome foods that are naturally good for you should be the mainstay of your diet.

Foods that have hidden sugars, unhealthy fats, and ingredients you can’t pronounce or even attempt to understand should not be in your grocery cart. There are also a lot of fake healthy foods out there that trick you into thinking you are eating well, when in fact, you aren’t at all.

Remember these tips when avoiding processed foods:

  • Foods that claim to be low sugar or sugar-free will have ingredients like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose
  • Fat-free items are typically fat-reduced but sugar-increased
  • There are lots of names for hidden sugar, like maltodextrin, barley malt, sucralose, glucose-fructose, and corn syrup solids
  • Gluten-free items can contain a lot of sugar, salt, and fat, so read the labels carefully
  • Instead of refined white flour when baking, look to whole wheat flour, cassava flour, chickpea flour, or almond meal

Just don’t eat from a package! It’s as simple as it sounds. To easily stay on track with healthy eating, take a look at my meal prep video, and start making healthy meals ahead of time.

Overhead view of a healthy sauteed beef and broccoli flowerets meal in a cast iron pan, with a wooden serving spoon resting on the pan.

EAT PROTEIN EVERY DAY TO LOSE FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE

Protein is essential to both fat loss and muscle gain. For fat loss, include protein in every meal to have an increased thermic effect. You see, protein-rich foods help to increase your metabolism because your body requires more energy to digest them.

Which foods increase the thermogenesis, or fat burning process?

  • Chicken and turkey
  • Sardines, salmon, tuna
  • Cottage cheese and full-fat yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Red meat like pork and beef

EAT FULL-FAT DAIRY TO LOSE FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE

Including full-fat dairy in your meal offers many benefits. For one, dairy products are high in protein. The combination of fast- and slow-digesting proteins are thought to contribute to lean muscle mass growth. 

As well, full-fat dairy helps you feel fuller for longer. Naturally, because you won’t be reaching for snacks as a result, your calorie intake will be lower. Studies also show that fat-producing cells are inhibited by enzymes in milk proteins.

People often go for the low-fat versions of dairy products, not realizing that the fat is replaced with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. Instead, better choices are full-fat yogurt, cheese, and butter.

Overhead view of Spinach Salad With Warm Bacon Dressing on a white plate with two forks resting on the side of the plate.

EAT VEGGIES WITH EVERY MEAL TO LOSE FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE

Veggies provide the fiber needed to keep the digestive system working and processing the food you are eating. Aim to fill half of your plate with nutrient-dense vegetables for optimum digestive health.

These veggies add a power-packed boost to your plate:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash 
  • Peas
  • Collard greens
  • Carrots
  • Brussel sprouts

HEALTHY FATS ARE GOOD FOR YOU

Don’t be afraid of the word fat. A lot of people, especially when they want to lose fat, think that cutting fat out of the diet is a must-do. In fact, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Fat supplies energy to the muscles when you are going about your day, and especially when you are exercising. What fats should you include in your meals? Almonds, avocados, fatty fish like salmon, and extra virgin olive oil are all good choices. 

Overhead view of a bowl of Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai with peanuts, chicken, and spaghetti squash noodles.

EAT ONLY UNPROCESSED CARBS TO LOSE FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE

Packaged foods contain processed carbs that are not going to benefit you in any way. Get your carb count from unprocessed foods, and don’t fill up on carbs unnecessarily. Look to fiber-filled veggies and healthy proteins as your primary food items, and add in some good carbs to round out the meal. 

Carbs do fuel your muscles, but you’ve got to choose your carbs wisely.

  • Brown rice
  • Whole grain bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa

EXERCISING BUILDS MUSCLE MASS AND HELPS YOU LOSE FAT

The great thing about exercising is that a lot of exercises will burn fat and build muscle, both at the same time. It’s neat, too – a kind of bonus, actually – that as you build muscle mass, your body burns more energy. This effect even works when we are at rest.

So, to me, that is an incentive to move as much as you can. It’s a great reason to work out with intensity to get full benefits.

That’s why when I exercise, I like to use weights. To me, there’s just something about pushing myself to the limit. And to boot, lifting weights can boost your metabolism. 

It’s been proven that hours after you have completed a strength training exercise, your resting metabolic rate is still elevated. So, the intense weight lifting session you powered through is continuing to give you calorie-busting benefits. 

If you are someone who loves a cardio workout but wants the lean muscle mass building effect of weight training, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) may be for you. How does it work? Short bursts of exercise, like jumping rope and sprinting, can help to burn calories in quick exercise intervals. These bursts can be done throughout the day, freeing up time to concentrate on your strength training sessions.

Whichever type of exercise gets you moving is the best kind. Don’t be sedentary. Move your body and combine that movement with strength training to lose fat and build lean muscle mass.

Notice that I did not say lose weight. Weight training is not known for helping people to lose weight. More importantly, through strength training, your body composition changes, and the fat is replaced by muscle. So, even though the scale isn’t changing, your clothes will fit differently. You are on the way to a healthier and more fit you.

Lift weights at least twice a week, or if you can, take part in a strength training workout at least every other day.

Side view of a white bowl containing Roasted Acorn Squash Soup, garnished with red onion and apple slices.

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Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

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