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An old-school thought in the bodybuilding world is that butter is unsuitable.
However, as a Registered Dietitian, my clients know that any food can be included with the right portion size and timing throughout the day.
My job is not to tell clients that they need to restrict certain foods from their diet, but rather, to teach the importance of variety and proper meal planning/structure.
So, let’s talk about butter in more detail, specifically for those who want to obtain lean, muscular physiques.
Is butter good or bad for bodybuilding? Butter is good for bodybuilding since it can help you achieve your higher-than-average daily caloric intake without adding too much volume to your stomach. This is especially important if you’re in a muscle-building phase (bulking), where you don’t want to feel ‘full’ all the time.
While butter is high in fat, even if you’re in a cutting phase, so long as you’re tracking your overall fat intake throughout the day, you don’t need to worry about incorporating it into your diet.
Here are some topics I will explore in this article:
- The nutritional content of butter (calories and macros explained)
- The pros and cons of butter for a bodybuilder
- Whether butter increases testosterone levels
- The differences between butter vs. ghee and which is better
- The differences between butter vs. margarine and which is better
- The best time to include butter (either before or after training)
- Whether butter is good for muscle building
- The best butter for bodybuilding
Butter For Bodybuilding: Overview
Nutritional Content of Butter
You can find the following nutritional value in one tablespoon of unsalted butter (14.2 g).
- Calories: 102 kcal
- Carbs: 0.0 g
- Proteins: 0.1 g
- Fats: 11.5 g
Butter is considered a high-calorie food. In 100 g of butter, you get 717 kcal. This benefits bodybuilders in a bulking phase since it can help you achieve a higher caloric intake.
For example, you get the same amount of calories in one tablespoon of butter as 100g of rice. This means that you can get a lot of calories without feeling too stuffed throughout the day, which is a common complaint among people who bulk.
For those in a cutting phase, it doesn’t mean that you cannot consume butter. You just have to be careful with the portion size to ensure that you are not consuming more than you need. This is where tracking your calories and macros become important.
Related Article: What Happens If You Go Over Your Fat Macros?
Butter is only one macro: fat.
It doesn’t have carbs, and the protein content is insignificant (0.1 g per one tablespoon).
Butter is mainly composed of saturated fats, which can be unhealthy if you consume them in large quantities (more than 7% of your total daily calories).
However, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid butter just because it’s a saturated fat.
Butter is not very high in nutrients.
The only nutrients found in butter are vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
However, these comprise less than 7% of your daily intake.
Nonetheless, even if they are found in small quantities, they still can benefit a bodybuilder.
- Vitamin A. It helps boost your immune system, making you less likely to get sick with a stronger immune system.
- Vitamin E. Besides having a role in your immune system like with vitamin A. It is also a potent antioxidant, meaning that it can help reduce inflammation in your body. This leads to better muscle recovery.
- Vitamin K. It helps decrease your chances of osteoporosis (a bone disease that could lead to fractures).
3 Pros Of Eating Butter For Bodybuilding
The 3 benefits of eating butter if you’re a bodybuilder are:
1. Butter Can Help You Gain Weight
One of the most significant advantages of butter is that it is high-energy dense. This means that it gives you a lot of calories in a small volume of food. To gain muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus (eating more calories than your body needs).
For bodybuilders in a bulking phase, reaching their caloric intake might be challenging (especially if they are new to bodybuilding).
Adding high-energy food allows you to get all your daily calories without feeling too stuffed during the day.
For example, if you want to add 200 kcal to your diet, you can easily achieve this by consuming only two tablespoons of butter.
2. Butter Is High In Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
Butter is source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
In a study done on 134 participants, they were given 3.4 g of CLA or a placebo for 24 months.
Those in the placebo group lost an average of 1.6 kg, while those that took CLA lost 2.4 kg.
However, to consume 3.4g of CLA in butter, as seen in the study, would represent eating 1.1 kg of butter (2.6lbs).
It would be absolutely ridiculous to consume 1.1 kg of butter!
In fact, you likely wouldn’t get the desired weight loss effect because by eating 1.1 kg of butter you’d be consuming too many calories coming only from butter.
Regardless, I thought I’d mention that butter is a natural source of CLA anyways, just in case you weren’t aware of the benefits of supplementing with CLA.
3. Butter Is Easy To Track
Finally, one of the pros of butter is that it is a simple food to track if you’re someone who tracks your calories and macros.
Thanks to butter only having fats in its composition, it can easily be followed (especially for those starting their journey into bodybuilding).
Thus, you won’t have to worry if it will add carbs or protein to your diet. You know it is only going to provide you with fats.
- Related Article: 10 Best High-Calorie Low-Fiber Foods (Dietitian Approved)
3 Cons of Eating Butter For Bodybuilding
The 3 drawbacks of eating butter if you’re a bodybuilder are:
1. Overeating Butter Could Lead To Weight Gain
While you need calories to build muscle mass, if you are not careful and overeat, it could lead to weight gain, which is problematic if you’re in a cutting phase.
From my experience, when clients are gaining weight (fat) and they don’t know why, we realize that it is because they are eye-balling certain foods, like butter, when incorporating them into recipes.
If you are not careful with the amount you put on toast or in the frying pan, you could easily be piling on the calories without realizing it.
2. Butter Could Give You Stomach Problems
Bodybuilders with lactose intolerance or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) could have difficulty digesting butter.
It’s said that over 65% of the population is lactose intolerant.
Lactose is a type of carb found in dairy products. An enzyme breaks down this molecule into something that we can absorb. However, some people don’t provide enough of this enzyme (lactase), meaning that you get side effects like stomach pains, constipation, or diarrhea whenever you have a dairy product.
Not all people that are lactose intolerant will have problems digesting butter. There are different grades of lactose intolerance.
For example, I have some clients that cannot have any type of dairy (including cheese). Some IBS cases (like mine) can have butter and cheese, but not milk. That’s why it’s essential to know your food tolerances/intolerances.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another gastrointestinal issue that can produce stomach problems with certain foods. Dairy products or foods very high in fat (both characteristics found in butter) could lead to stomach pain, bloating, or diarrhea.
Again, not everyone with IBS will have problems with butter. It depends on each person’s digestive capacity. Make sure to always listen to your body and avoid those foods that cause you harm.
3. Too Much Butter Could Lead To Heart Problems
Butter is high in saturated fats. A high intake of saturated fats has been linked to heart problems. However, the problem comes when you overeat saturated fats every day.
The American Hearts Association recommends consuming less than 7% of your total calories coming from saturated fats to reduce the risk of heart disease.
This means that for a bodybuilder with a daily intake of 2,500 calories, you could consume 19 g of saturated fats. If we are talking about butter, this represents consuming around 1.5 tablespoons of butter per day.
If you are consuming more than this, try limiting other sources of saturated fats (sour cream, mayo, or fatty meats) to create more balance in your day.
The rest of the day focus on having healthier fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds.
Related Article: Top 10 Foods High In Calories, But Low In Saturated Fat
Does Butter Increase Testosterone?
There seems to be a connection between the content of saturated fats and testosterone levels. You need some saturated fats to help create testosterone. However, there are little to no studies when it comes to how butter specifically can influence your testosterone levels. Therefore, more research needs to be done.
Butter vs. Ghee For Bodybuilding: Which Is Better?
Ghee has a higher caloric content than butter since it is more concentrated. It also has a creamier and cheesy flavor. For bodybuilders in a cutting phase, go with butter to avoid adding more calories. On the other hand, for those in a bulking phase, ghee is an excellent option to increase your caloric intake.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter. You melt the butter, which leaves the liquid and the solid parts (white specs floating in the butter). Those solids are then removed, leaving a more concentrated butter.
In the following table, I compare the nutritional value of ghee and butter in 100 g of product.
Butter vs. Margarine For Bodybuilding: Which Is Better?
Butter is a better option than margarine because it is lower in trans fats. A high intake of trans fats has been linked to increased cholesterol levels and an increase in the risk of heart disease. While butter is, in fact, higher in saturated fats, having trans fats is worse for your health.
However, not all kinds of margarine are made with trans fats. Check how many grams of trans fats it reports in the ingredient panel. Choose those that are reported to be 0 g. Nonetheless, even though it reports to have 0 g it might still contain traces (since having 0.5 g could be reported as 0).
Read the ingredients list to check if it says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” This ultimately means that it is made with oils that contain trans fats, so you should avoid them.
In the following table, I compare the nutritional value of margarine and butter in 100 g of product.
Can You Eat Butter Before Workouts?
No, butter is not the best option to include before your workout. Fats take longer to digest in your stomach, so they won’t give you the fast energy you need for your training session.
Additionally, it might make you feel sluggish (due to digestion processed) or give you bloating or stomach cramps.
Before a workout, you want to focus on having carbs to help you provide energy. You can get it from rice, fruits, granola, sweet potato, or honey.
Related Article: Should You Eat Fat Before A Workout?
Can You Eat Butter After Workouts?
Yes, you can eat butter after your workouts. It can help you replenish the energy lost during your training session.
However, after a workout, you need protein (chicken, beef, fish, eggs) to help repair and grow your muscles and carbs (quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, rice) to help replenish your glycogen stores.
Related Article: Should You Eat Fat After A Workout?
Is Butter Good For Muscle Growth?
Yes, butter can help you achieve a caloric surplus essential for muscle growth. Without a caloric surplus, muscles wouldn’t be able to grow since it is a costly process for the body.
You still need protein to make muscles grow though, so make sure to pair butter with a high-protein food like chicken, eggs, or fish.
Also, remember that for your muscles to grow, you need to have the right muscle stimulus coming from exercise and have enough calories during the day for several weeks for your muscles to grow.
Related Article: How To Increase Your Protein Intake Without Fat
Best Butter For Bodybuilding
365 by Whole Foods Market Butter Unsalted – Budget Friendly
365 by Whole Foods Market offers a great option for those that are on a budget. It has only two ingredients (pasteurized cream and natural flavors), which makes it an ideal option since it’s not heavily processed.
Since it’s unsalted it has 0 mg of sodium which is a great option to avoid having too much salt in your diet which could lead to water retention.
Grass-Fed Ghee – Best Ghee Option
Grass-Fed Ghee is the best option for those that are looking to add to diet diets. It comes from grass-fed beef so it has a higher quality content of fats. It is lactose-free ideal for those people with IBS or lactose intolerance. Also, it doesn’t have any sodium.
Vital Farms – Best Butter Option
Vital Farms offers a great option for bodybuilders that are looking for the best butter option. It comes from grass-fed cows and it also comes in an unsalted version reducing your sodium intake.
Tips For Incorporating Butter Into A Bodybuilding Diet
Measure The Portion Size
If you add butter to your diet, make sure that you measure the portion size. Use a food scale to check how many grams of butter you are using and track it in a calorie counter app like MacroFactor.
This will help you stay within your daily calorie budget and macro content.
Have Some Variety
Remember that variety is key when it comes to nutrition. Different foods offer different benefits, so it’s always good to have different foods throughout the day.
If you are cooking your eggs with butter in the morning, change the fat you are using to avocado oil or olive oil. It will help create a healthy balance amongst your fats.
Add Butter To Your Recipes
Finally, besides adding butter to your toast or your fish. There are several ways to use butter (or even ghee). Here are my favorite ways to include either one into your diet.
- Moon milk (ideal to have before bedtime, I sometimes add half a scoop of protein powder like casein).
Whenever possible choose unsalted butter. Brands offering salted butter could be very high in sodium which could lead to water retention or make you look puffier.
If you are going with the salted butter, choose one that has less than 150 mg per 100 g of food. That way you ensure that it is low in sodium.
Other Fat Sources For Bodybuilders
About The Author
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.