Chicken breasts are a staple protein source for bodybuilders. However, you might wonder if chicken thighs deliver the same benefits and how to incorporate them into your bodybuilding diet. As a dietitian, I’m here to break it down for you.
- Chicken thighs (with skin) have equal fat and protein: approximately 16.5 grams per 100 grams. Removing the skin significantly reduces the fat content, making chicken thighs a good protein source for bodybuilders: 19.7 grams of protein and 4.1 grams of fat.
- Chicken thighs are an excellent source of several essential vitamins and minerals: selenium, phosphorus, niacin, zinc, and vitamin B6, all having muscle-building benefits.
- While chicken breasts and thighs can be in a bodybuilding diet, you likely want to avoid chicken thighs during a cutting phase because they’re higher in fat content (unless you remove the skin entirely and be mindful of the cooking method).
Chicken Thighs Overview: Calories & Macronutrients
You can find the following nutritional value in 100 g of raw chicken thighs with skin:
- Calories: 221
- Carbs: 0.25 g
- Protein: 16.5 g
- Fats: 16.6 g
The nutritional value changes when removing the skin or buying skinless chicken thighs:
- Calories: 121
- Carbs: 0 g
- Protein: 19.7 g
- Fats: 4.1 g
Chicken thighs are very high in calories. In 100 g of raw product with skin, you find 221 kcal.
The other problem that you see with chicken thighs is the cooking method.
They are usually breaded and deep-fried, which can increase the caloric content by an extra 100 calories.
This is why chicken thighs might not be the best protein option to add if you are in a cutting phase.
Other leaner proteins provide the necessary protein intake without adding too much fat.
- Related Article: 15 Red Meats With The Most Protein
Chicken thighs only have two macronutrients: fats and protein.
Per 100 grams, skinless chicken thigh provides 19.7 grams of protein and 4.1 grams of fat. With skin, the macros change to 16.5 grams of protein and 16.6 grams of fat.
This means the protein-to-fat ratio is approximately 5-to-1 for skinless chicken thighs but 1-to-1 for chicken thighs with skin, which is not ideal for bodybuilding.
That’s why I recommend not getting all your protein from chicken thighs and incorporating at least some leaner protein sources in your diet, too (white fish, egg whites, etc.).
Skinless chicken thighs contain several important micronutrients for bodybuilders (per 100 grams):
- Selenium (42% of daily needs). It is an antioxidant that helps decrease inflammation and boosts your immune system. This means you are less likely to get sick, stay home, and train more.
- Phosphorus (26% of daily needs). It is an essential part of the energy you use in your body. It also helps with muscle contraction.
- Niacin (37% of daily needs). This essential B vitamin helps convert the food you eat into usable energy. It also helps keep your digestive system healthy.
- Zinc (14-16% of daily needs). An essential mineral that helps boost immunity.
- Vitamin B6 (35% of daily needs). Like niacin, it helps convert food into usable energy.
2 Pros Of Eating Chicken Thighs For Bodybuilding
Skinless Chicken Thighs Are A Good Protein Source
Bodybuilders’ recommended daily protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
This is a higher target than the average person, so finding foods with the most protein per gram is essential.
If you remove the skin from chicken thighs, you get 19.7 grams of protein per 100 grams, equivalent to other high-quality protein sources, such as shrimp (20.1 grams), tuna (19 grams), and turkey (23.7 grams).
Chicken Thighs Are Tastier and Juicier
The most common complaint among my clients regarding chicken breast is its dryness. They say it’s dry and hard to eat day in and day out.
Dark meat (chicken thighs) is juicier and more flavorful than chicken breast.
This might help a bodybuilder in a bulking phase add the necessary calories since they’re not dreading their next meal.
“Chicken thighs are known for their richer flavor and tenderness compared to chicken breasts. While the leanness of chicken breasts makes them the preferred option on a fat-loss diet, the juiciness and flavor of chicken thighs can make your meals more enjoyable when trying to pack on the pounds.”–Andreas Abelsson, Certified Nutrition Coach and Trainer
3 Cons of Eating Chicken Thighs For Bodybuilding
Chicken Thighs With Skin Have More Calories
Chicken thighs are higher in calories, primarily because of the higher fat content in the skin.
When caloric intake is limited, choosing fat sources from single macro foods, which predominately contain fat, will make it easier to manage your calorie budget.
For example, you can have high-fat sources like olive oil that make tracking your overall fat intake easier.
However, when it comes to protein, opt for leaner sources that don’t add as much fat to your daily intake.
Chicken Thighs Are Higher In Saturated Fat
Since chicken thighs are richer in saturated fats, you must eat them in moderation.
Try to have less than 7% of your total daily calories from saturated fats to reduce the risk of heart disease.
“One of the main reasons for recommending that saturated fat intake be kept to a minimum is the fact that saturated fat consumption may increase certain heart disease risk factors, including LDL (bad) cholesterol.”–Jillian Kubala, Registered Dietitian and Health Writer
Other fat sources, including egg yolk, avocado, and extra-virgin olive oil are better for cardiovascular health and calorie control.
Chicken Thighs Are Higher in Myoglobin
Chicken thighs are higher in a protein called myoglobin. Its primary role is to supply muscle cells (myocytes) with oxygen.
That is why chicken thighs are red-looking compared to whiter chicken breasts.
Lipid (fat) oxidation involves a series of reactions in the body, producing harmful products (free radicals) that might negatively impact food quality and human health.
The author of the study, Sin-Woo Noah, adds:
“In this regard, the thigh muscle contains more myoglobin than the breast muscle, and this would produce a more severe oxidative environment.”
That said, the data applies to one cooking method (sous-vide) and is far from conclusive.
We need more research to conclude whether the specific cooking method of chicken thighs makes a difference and whether it’s healthier to eat chicken breast, which has far less myoglobin.
Chicken Thighs vs Chicken Breast: Which Is Better For Bodybuilding?
Despite the differences, chicken breast and skinless chicken thighs are both excellent for bodybuilding.
Chicken breast is the lower-calorie option that’s great during a cut. In contrast, thighs have more fat and less protein, but they are juicier and make it easier to eat more calories during a bulk.
|Summary||Chicken Breast (100g)||Chicken Thighs With Skin (100g)|
|Calories||Chicken breasts have approximately 25 percent less calories than chicken thighs.||165||220|
|Protein||Chicken breasts have almost double the amount of protein than chicken thighs.||31 grams||16 grams|
|Fats||Chicken thighs with skin have over four times more fats than chicken breasts.||3.5 grams||16 grams|
|Omega-3s||Chicken thighs has five times more omega-3 fatty acids than chicken breasts.||40 mg||206 mg|
|Cost||Chicken breast costs twice as much as chicken thighs.||$2-6 per pound||$4-10 per pound|
Meal Timing: When To Eat Chicken Thighs
Chicken thighs are not the best option to have before a workout.
The main goal of a pre-workout snack is to provide energy. This is achieved through carbs. Since chicken thighs don’t provide carbs, they might not be the best option.
Also, they are very high in fat (with skin), which might make you sluggish before training.
If you include chicken thighs as a pre-workout snack, make sure to have it 2-3 hours before training to ensure you digest it on time.
Chicken thighs are okay to have after a workout. More suitable options might be available to increase your protein intake, but it is better to have them post-workout than before training.
They provide the protein you need for muscle building and boost your overall calorie intake for muscle growth. Also, add a carb source to replenish the energy lost during your workout session. You can add a carb source like corn or quinoa.
Tips For Incorporating Chicken Thighs Into A Bodybuilding Diet
Remove the Skin
Most of the saturated fat from chicken thighs is found in the skin.
Thus, I always recommend to my clients to remove the chicken skin.
You eliminate most calories and saturated fats, which you want to consume in moderation.
The chicken’s skin is almost 50% fat, while only 10% protein (the rest is water).
Breading adds calories and carbs to the mix.
While it may not be a lot (only 50-100 extra calories), it adds up little by little.
Those extra calories might make or break your goals if you are not careful.
Choose the Right Cooking Method
When choosing which cooking method to use, remember that chicken thighs are high in fat.
Try to compensate by having a cooking method that doesn’t require a lot of added fats.
Broiled, baked, or grilled are all great options for having chicken thighs without adding fat.
Be Aware of the Sauces
Most times, chicken thighs are covered in sauces.
Those are sometimes very high in salt, fat, and sugar. This makes it even more caloric.
Try to avoid them, or ask them on the side. That way, you can control the portion of sauce you add.
Choose the Right Side Dish
Since chicken things are high in calories, be aware of which side you decide to add.
Avoid high-fat and high-carb foods like French fries.
Choose healthier carb options like a sweet potato, either grilled or boiled.
Remember to add a veggie source to increase the nutrient intake.
Chicken Thigh Recipes For Bodybuilders
- Spiced Chicken Thigh: This is a simple, delicious, and relatively low-fat meal for bodybuilders. Per serving, it has 253 calories, 33 grams of protein, 12 grams of fats, and only 2 grams of carbs. The original recipe is perfect for bodybuilders on a cut, but you can make small changes to boost the carbs and get more calories in.
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Thighs: While higher in fat, this recipe provides a new and delicious way to eat chicken and get more protein. Each serving provides 526 calories, 45 grams of protein, 37 grams of fats, and 2.7 grams of carbs. I recommend reducing your fat intake on some of your other meals for the day and instead eating more carbs to balance your macros.
- 30-Minute Chicken & Veggies: This combination of boneless and skinless chicken thighs with roasted vegetables is another great way to vary your bodybuilding menu while getting plenty of protein and limiting the fat intake. One serving provides 404 calories, 53 grams of protein, 13 grams of fats, and 18 grams of carbs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Chicken Thighs Good For Muscle Growth?
Chicken thighs are good for muscle building since they have the protein for growth and the calories to help you create a surplus. However, since it is a very fat-dense food (when consumed with skin), you should control the fat in other meals throughout the day.
Can Chicken Thighs Be A Regular Part Of A Bodybuilding Meal Plan?
Chicken thighs can be a regular part of a bodybuilding diet. However, it’s best to eat them without skin, avoid breading, bake instead of fry, and choose a lower-calorie side, such as sweet potato.
How Can Bodybuilders Ensure They Are Choosing High-Quality Chicken Thighs?
Look for chicken thighs with a plump, firm texture, an all-around pinkish color, with no gray areas, and a lack of foul smell. Also, look for thighs labeled as antibiotic and hormone-free.
Can You Get Lean With Chicken Thighs?
Yes, you can eat chicken thighs and lose fat, so long as you track your nutrition to ensure an adequate protein intake and a moderate calorie deficit, resulting in steady, weekly weight loss. Opt for skinless thighs to limit your fat and calorie intake.
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