14 Best Vegetables For Building Muscle (Rated By Dietician)

As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve noticed that the foods my clients ignore the most when it comes to muscle building are vegetables.   

However, vegetables can increase your muscle-building efforts in three distinct ways:  

(1) Some vegetables are higher in calories and can help you increase your caloric surplus (eating more calories than you need to maintain your weight).

  • Examples include potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and corn.

(2) Vegetables have specific micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that indirectly support muscle-building processes within the body.

  • Examples include carrots, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and onions.

(3) Vegetables can help you recover quicker from tough workouts.   

  • Examples include beets, broccoli, asparagus, peas, cucumbers, and peppers.

In this article, I am going to provide you with the key benefits of vegetables, who they are ideal for, and whether certain vegetables are better to eat before or after workouts. 

With this said, while you can build muscle without vegetables, you should always consume them throughout your entire day, not just around your workouts. This will ensure you are getting enough nutrients to stay healthy. As a general rule, strive to have at least 3-4 portions of vegetables per day.

High-Calorie Vegetables

high-calorie vegetables

Calorie-dense vegetables have a lot of calories in a small portion. 

They are good to add to your diet to help you achieve a caloric surplus (eating more calories than you burn each day). A caloric surplus is essential when you want to gain weight. Muscle-building is a very expensive process, so if your body doesn’t have calories to spare, it won’t turn on the muscle-building process. 

Since these types of vegetables are high in calories, you don’t need to eat a lot of them to hit your calorie targets at each meal, which can prevent you from feeling overly full.

These types of vegetables are also higher in carbs, which can give you more energy to get you through hard workouts when you’re trying to build muscle. 

In this group, we find potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and corn. 

1. Potatoes

Potatoes

Potatoes are an excellent source of calories and carbs. One medium potato baked has 161 kcal, 36.7 g carbs, 3.8 g fiber, 4.3 g protein, and 0.2 g fat. 

Potatoes are especially good before a workout, so long as you remove the skin.  

This is because most of the fiber located in potatoes is found in the skin, and fiber slows down how fast your body can use the carbs for your workout. If you take the skin off the potatoes, you get a good source of fast-acting energy before your training session. 

More energy before your training session means working harder, allowing your muscles to grow stronger. 

Potatoes are also very high in potassium. One medium potato offers 926 mg of potassium, representing 26% of your daily recommended intake. If there is not enough potassium in your diet, you could get muscle cramps and muscle weakness, decreasing your performance.

  • Why they’re good: They provide energy.
  • Who they’re for: Those in a caloric surplus. 
  • When to eat: With fiber after a workout, without fiber before a workout. 

If you’d like to learn more about how potatoes can help you build muscle, read my other article Are Potatoes Good For Bodybuilding?

2. Sweet Potatoes 

Sweet Potatoes 

Sweet potatoes are another excellent source of carbs to help provide energy throughout the day. One large cooked sweet potato has 162 kcal, 37.3 g carbs, 5.9 g fiber, 3.6 g of protein, and 0.3 g of fat. 

Since they are high in fiber (they have 24% of the daily recommended fiber intake), they provide you with a steady glucose release (meaning they don’t cause drastic energy spikes and crashes). However, if you eat sweet potatoes 30-60 minutes before a workout, it’s better to remove the fiber (i.e. remove the skin) since it can cause stomach problems. 

Eating sweet potatoes after your workout can help replenish the energy lost. This allows for better muscle recovery and prevents the protein from being used as energy so it can be used for muscle building instead. 

  • Why they’re good: They provide energy.
  • Who they’re for: Those in a caloric surplus. 
  • When to eat: With fiber after a workout, without fiber before a workout. 

3. Squash

Squash

Squash is another vegetable to consider when looking to increase your carb intake. One cup of butternut squash has 63 kcal, 16.4 g of carbs, 2.8 g of fiber, 1.4 g of protein, and 0.1 g of fat. 

While it might not have as many calories or carbs as other carb-dense vegetables (like corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes), it can be advantageous to those who want to include carbs but don’t have a very high energy requirement (for example, a woman on maintenance, or a man on a caloric deficit. 

It is also high in antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, and lutein, which are components that help reduce inflammation in the body, leading to better muscle recovery. 

You can include it before or after a workout, but if you do include it before working out make sure to peel the skin off to remove the fiber. A high fiber intake before working out can lead to gastric problems which can result in decreased performance. 

  • Why it’s good: It provides energy.
  • Who it’s for: People that want to include carbs in their diet but don’t have a very high caloric intake. 
  • When to eat: Before or after training. 

4. Corn

Corn

Corn is another vegetable that is high in carbs. One cup of corn has 125 kcal, 27.1 g carbs, 2.9 g fiber, 4.7 g protein, and 2.0 g fat. Like the other carb-dense vegetables, it provides energy for your day. 

However, since it is very high in fiber, you need to be careful where you decide to include it—adding it before a workout can lead to stomach problems like bloating or stomach cramps that can affect your performance. 

If you decide to add it after a workout can help replenish the energy lost during training and lead to muscle growth. 

  • Why it’s good: It helps replenish your glycogen stores, aiding in muscle recovery. 
  • Who it’s for: Those in a caloric surplus. 
  • When to eat: After a workout.

If you’d like to learn more about how corn can help you build muscle, read my other article Is Corn Good For Bodybuilding?

Nutrient-Rich Vegetables

nutrient-rich vegetables

Vegetables are very high in vitamins and minerals, which are essential to keep our bodies healthy and functioning correctly. While you can find several micronutrient supplements in stores and online, it is not the same as having the real deal. 

Synthetic vitamins and minerals (while they can benefit someone with a poor diet or a very high nutrient requirement) cannot be compared to those found in vegetables. In vegetables, you don’t only find vitamins and minerals but also other nutrients like antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body. 

Including at least 4-5 portions of vegetables per day can provide you with the necessary nutrients to help your body function properly. 

Nutrient-rich vegetables have a high content of vitamins and minerals but a low number of calories in a small amount of food.

1. Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are high in protein compared to other vegetables like celery. This gives you an extra boost in muscle building, especially for people looking to gain muscle and those who follow a plant-based diet. 

Mushrooms are a great source of vitamin D. One study even showed that leaving mushrooms under a UV light for 15-120 minutes increases the vitamin D content by another 10 mcg per 100 g of food.  

Consuming vitamin D can improve your performance and your strength. In a study that involved 419 people, vitamin D had a significant effect on bone health and therefore muscle strength. Those with low levels of vitamin D (<20 ng/mL) had less arm and leg strength than those with higher levels of vitamin D. 

An increase in your muscle strength means you can lift more weight, putting more stress on your muscles. This allows your muscle fibers to have more microtears, leading to muscle gain as they repair themselves after your workout. 

  • Why they’re good: They give you a protein boost. 
  • Who they’re for: People having a hard time reaching their protein intake or those who follow a plant-based diet.  
  • When to eat: After a workout.

If you’d like to learn more about how mushrooms can help you build muscle, read my other article Are Mushrooms Good For Bodybuilding?

2. Spinach

Spinach

Spinach is high in calcium, folate, and vitamin K. One cup of spinach offers 145 mcg of vitamin K, 181% of the daily recommended value. Vitamin K has a special function in the mitochondria (our internal powerplants). 

In one study, 26 participants were given either 150-300 mcg of vitamin K or a placebo for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, there was a 12% increase in aerobic capacity in the individuals who received the vitamin K supplement. This means that they had a better cardiovascular ability leading to better performance. 

Achieving a sufficient amount of vitamin K with spinach is not very difficult. You would need to consume one to two cups of spinach daily to achieve the desired 150-300 mcg of vitamin K. 

  • Why it’s good: Its high vitamin K content can increase your cardiovascular capacity. 
  • Who it’s for: Those people looking to increase their aerobic capacity. 
  • When to eat: After a workout.

If you’d like to learn more about how spinach can help you build muscle, read my other article Eating Raw Spinach For Bodybuilding: Can It Help Add Muscle?

3. Carrots

Carrots

Carrots are very high in potassium. One cup of chopped carrots has 12% of the daily recommended potassium intake.

This essential mineral helps regulate muscle contractions, helps muscle function, and ensures that the muscles can communicate with each other and other structures in the body. Without adequate potassium levels, you are at risk for muscle cramps. 

Furthermore, data collected from over 16,558 people found that those with a higher potassium intake had lower odds of low muscle mass. 

  • Why they’re good: They boost your potassium intake. 
  • Who they’re for: People who frequently experience muscle cramps during or after a workout. 
  • When to eat: After a workout.

If you’d like to learn more about how carrots can help you build muscle, read my other article Are Carrots Good For Bodybuilding?

4. Onions

Onions

Onions are high in an antioxidant called quercetin. Besides helping reduce inflammation, it can also aid in muscle growth. 

In a study conducted by researchers in Iran, 60 male students took quercetin for 8 weeks. After those 8 weeks, those who took a combination of quercetin and vitamin C experienced increases of 1.5 kg of lean mass compared to only a 0.1 g change in the placebo group.  

Adding onions to your diet can help improve your muscle recovery thanks to their powerful antioxidant capacity (how many unhealthy molecules it can remove from the body), but it can also help increase your muscle mass. 

  • Why they’re good: They increase your antioxidant capacity.  
  • Who they’re for: People looking to increase their lean body mass.   
  • When to eat: Before or after a workout. 

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are known for their antioxidant capacity. They contain a compound called lycopene, and research shows that it has great antioxidant properties.

One study showed that well-trained individuals who took a tomato powder supplement for one week saw a 12% improvement in their antioxidant capacities compared to a 9% increase in the placebo group. 

As such, tomatoes are a great addition to your diet if you’re looking to reduce inflammation in your body. Adding some tomatoes before or after your training can give you the essential nutrients for muscle growth. 

By reducing inflammation in your body, your muscles have the perfect environment for them to grow. 

  • Why they’re good: They increase your antioxidant capacity.  
  • Who they’re for: People looking to reduce inflammation.  
  • When to eat: Before or after a workout. 

Vegetables For Muscle Recovery

vegetables for muscle recovery

After training, you need carbs, protein, and anti-inflammatory substances (like antioxidants) to lead to better muscle recovery. This means you are less likely to get sore after your workout and can experience less fatigue buildup, meaning you will have enough energy for your next workout. 

Vegetables like beets, broccoli, asparagus, peas, and peppers all have properties that help good muscle recovery. 

1. Beets

Beets

Beets are widely known for improving individuals’ aerobic capacity. This vegetable is high in nitrates which are needed to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps increase the blood flow to your organs, leading to better oxygen and nutrient delivery. 

Results from a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that cyclists who drank 0.5 L of beet juice per day for 6 days finished a 10 km time trial 12 seconds faster than their previous times. 

While drinking beet before training can help improve your performance, drinking it after training provides you with a good intake of antioxidants and potassium. This reduces inflammation and helps you replenish the electrolytes you lose during a workout.

Electrolytes are minerals that help regulate your fluids, heart rate, and muscle contractions. When you sweat, you lose some electrolytes. Losing too many can increase the chances of muscle cramps. Consuming foods high in electrolytes, like beets, can help reduce the chances of muscle cramps. 

  • Why they’re good: They increase your nitric oxide levels. 
  • Who they’re for: People looking to increase their blood flow and have better recovery after workouts. 
  • When to eat: Before or after a workout.

2. Broccoli

Broccoli

One of the benefits of broccoli is that it has excellent recovery capacities. Broccoli is high in vitamin C and antioxidants. This potent combination helps reduce inflammation in the body. 

A study found that people who consumed 250 g of broccoli per day reduced their inflammation markers (proteins that increase when there is inflammation in your body) by 48%. 

Reducing inflammation in your body allows you to recover better after workouts. This is because less inflammation means you’ll experience less soreness after a workout, creating an optimal environment for your body to repair and grow your muscles. 

Also, it has a higher protein content than other vegetables, since 100 g of broccoli has 2.5 g of protein (the same as half a small egg). Other vegetables like celery only have 0.7 g of protein per 100 g. 

So, if you are having a hard time reaching your protein intake, broccoli can aid in getting your daily requirements. 

  • Why it’s good: It helps reduce inflammation in the body. 
  • Who it’s for: People looking to have better muscle recovery.
  • When to eat: After a workout.

If you’d like to learn more about how carrots can help you build muscle, read my other article Is Broccoli Good For Bodybuilding?

3. Asparagus

Asparagus

Another vegetable that is high in antioxidants is asparagus. One antioxidant found in asparagus is glutathione, which can help boost your immune system and improve insulin resistance

In a study done on 75 resistance-trained males for 8 weeks, they were given glutathione + citrulline, citrulline malate, or a placebo. For the first 4 weeks, those taking glutathione and citrulline had a 0.7 kg lean muscle gain compared to no lean gain in the placebo group. This suggests that glutathione can increase muscle strength leading to more muscle mass. 

Thanks to this potent antioxidant capacity, it is a great vegetable to include after a workout to reduce inflammation and improve muscle recovery. 

  • Why it’s good: It helps reduce inflammation in the body. 
  • Who it’s for: People looking to improve muscle recovery.
  • When to eat: After a workout.

If you’d like to learn more about how asparagus can help you build muscle, read my other article Is Asparagus Good For Bodybuilding?

5. Peas

Peas

Peas are ideal after a workout since they give you calories and protein, two essential components that you need for muscle recovery and growth. One cup of peas contains 117 kcal, 20.9 g carbs, 8.2 g of fiber, 7.9 g protein, and 0.6 g of fat. 

One cup of peas gives you the same protein as one large egg. While this amount might not be enough for most people looking to build some muscle. It can help those with a hard time reaching their protein requirements (like those following a plant-based diet). 

It is also very high in carbs and fiber. A combination that helps restore your glycogen stores after training, leading to better muscle recovery. 

  • Why they’re good: They have a good amount of protein. 
  • Who they’re for: People following a plant-based diet.
  • When to eat: After a workout.

6. Cucumbers 

Cucumbers 

Cucumbers have high water content. Around 96% of the cucumber is water. After training, you need to replenish the water lost through sweat, making cucumbers an ideal food to add if you want to increase your water intake without relying on liquids. 

Also, cucumbers are high in antioxidants which are essential to reduce inflammation in the body and help you recover better. In a 30-day study, participants found that their antioxidant levels were slightly increased when they consumed a cucumber powder supplement. 

  • Why they’re good: They help you replenish the fluids lost during training. 
  • Who they’re for: Those having a hard time staying hydrated with liquids alone. 
  • When to eat: After a workout.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Vegetables Good For Muscle Growth?

Yes, vegetables like potatoes, corn, squash, and sweet potatoes can help muscle growth since they add calories to your diet, making it easier for you to reach a caloric surplus. Other vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, spinach, peppers, and beets provide nutrients that help support muscle growth. 

Are you eating the right foods for your bodybuilding goals?

What To Read Next

If you’re looking for other foods that are ideal for building muscle, check out the following links:


About The Author

Brenda Peralta

Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist.  In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.