Is Chili Good For Bulking? What A Bodybuilding Coach Says

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Chili is an attractive dish for bodybuilders because it can ‒ if cooked properly ‒ have a good macro profile and works extremely well for meal prep. But, as a bodybuilding coach, there are some things to be aware of before adding it to your diet. I’ve broken it down below.

Key Takeaways

  • Chili is good for bodybuilding because you can modify the recipe for bulking and cutting. For example, you can cut back on the beans and add celery while cutting and load up on beans and meat while bulking.
  • Chili can be eaten as a post-workout meal to kickstart the recovery process but should be avoided pre-workout since the high fat and fiber content can slow digestion, increasing bloating and feelings of sluggishness.
  • While nutritious, chili can be high in sodium, with one cup having 1,000+ mg. To compensate, limit your sodium intake during other meals and make chili at home (using the tips outlined below).

Chili: Overview

chili nutrient content

Calories

An average cup of chili provides 259 calories, mostly from starchy vegetables (beans and potatoes) and meat, typically ground beef or turkey.

The advantage of eating chili, especially homemade, is that you can easily adjust the caloric contents based on your needs, whether bulking or cutting.  

Since chili is a mix of several foods, you can add more foods to make it more calorie-dense for a bulking phase––for example, beans and potatoes or even calorie-dense toppings like avocado or sour cream. 

On the other hand, you can remove or substitute ingredients with fibrous veggies to make it a less calorie-dense meal for cutting––for example, you might want to cut back on the beans and add more mushrooms or celery, which can keep you full while reducing your caloric intake.

Macronutrients

Chili is a complete meal with all three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fats.

Thanks to beans, chili is considered a high-carb food, averaging 26 grams per cup. 

This is good because a bodybuilder’s carb requirements are typically very high––55-60% of their total calories. Having chili and similar dishes can make it easier to reach that target. 

Next, chili’s protein comes from two primary sources: beans and ground beef or turkey.  

This combination of plant and animal sources makes chili a high-protein meal, with 17.4 grams per cup.  

Finally, chili has an average of 9.7 grams of fat per cup, which comes from the fats found in beef or turkey and some extra fats that you add from the cooking process (olive oil). 

5 Pros Of Eating Chili

pros of eating chili

Chili Is High In Protein

This is beneficial because a bodybuilder’s protein requirements are high––1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram (0.7-1 gram per lb)

For example, if you weigh 200 lbs, you’d need 140 to 200 grams of protein daily

The amount can be difficult to get, so adding high-protein dishes like chili can help.

Chili Is “Macro-Friendly”

If you want to increase your carb intake, add more beans or whole grains like brown rice or quinoa. 

If protein is your biggest concern, add more beef or turkey. Add more kidney beans or quinoa instead of brown rice for extra plant-based protein. 

I’ve written a separate article with my top tips on tracking the calories and macros in chili.

Chili Is Easy To Meal Prep

Chili is one of the best options for those big on meal prep because you can create a large batch and store it in your fridge for three to five days.

Preparing food in advance and storing it in portions makes it easier for bodybuilders to adhere to their nutrition plans. 

You wouldn’t have to spend as much mental energy constantly thinking about what to have for each meal. 

Plus, knowing that you’ve prepared a large batch of food would make you less likely to reach for fast food or other less ideal options.

You can also store chili in the freezer for five to six months.

If you want to have just one quick meal, store it in portions so you don’t have to defrost and freeze the entire batch.

Chili Can Aid In Weight Management

Chili peppers, a key ingredient in chili, are rich in a compound called capsaicin. 

But aside from making you sweat, capsaicin has been shown to elevate your resting metabolic rate to some degree and potentially decrease your appetite.

Both effects can support weight management by allowing your body to burn slightly more fat and help you eat fewer calories without getting as hungry.

High Antioxidant Effects

Many of the ingredients in chili, such as tomatoes, beans, and chili peppers, are rich in antioxidants, which have various positive effects in the body.

The three primary antioxidants in your typical chili bowl are:

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2 Cons of Eating Chili

cons of eating chili

Too Much Fiber Can Keep You Full

Chili has 8 grams of fiber per cup, which is beneficial because the nutrient can help reduce cholesterol, increase satiety, and fight constipation).

However, while some fiber is necessary in your diet, you may want to limit your nutrient intake while bulking. 

As mentioned, fiber increases satiety and slows digestion, making you feel full for long stretches of the day. 

This can make it difficult to get enough calories to maintain the necessary surplus for optimal growth, especially when you’re deep into a bulk and must eat 3,000-3,500+ (or more) calories daily.

Some Chili Recipes Are High In Sodium

One of the main problems with chili is its high sodium content. One cup (254 grams) provides over 1,000 mg, more than seven times the FDA’s recommended sodium dose per serving.  

It also covers 45% of the recommended daily sodium intake (2,300 mg) set by the American Heart Association.

This isn’t a big issue if you otherwise limit your sodium intake (e.g., eating mostly whole and fresh foods), but it could contribute to elevated blood pressure if you eat chili daily, along with highly processed and canned foods.

Can You Eat Chili Before Workouts?

Chili is not the best option to have before a workout. While it provides carbs to fuel your performance, it’s also rich in fiber, protein, and fat, slowing digestion. 

Food that takes longer to digest can produce gastric problems like bloating and sluggishness, impacting your performance. 

Plus, research recommends aiming for up to a gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 80 kilograms (176 lbs), aim for up to 80 grams of carbs.

To get that amount of carbs from chili, you’d need to eat three cups, which is not practical. A better option would be to eat low-fiber carb foods, such as ripe bananas, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pasta.

Can You Eat Chili After Workouts?

You can eat chili after a workout, as it provides protein and carbs, which are crucial for recovery.

According to my colleague Amanda Parker, a certified nutrition coach: 

“Chili can be a great post-workout meal because it contains both carbs and protein, which are the two most important nutrients after a workout; carbs replenish depleted energy stores, and protein repairs muscle damage and encourages muscle growth”

Also, as mentioned, chili has antioxidants, which can help reduce muscle inflammation and support recovery.

That said, research recommends having 0.3-0.5 grams of protein and carbs per kilogram of body weight after training. For someone who weighs 80 kilograms (176 lbs), that would be 24 to 40 grams of both nutrients.

For reference, your average chili bowl offers 26 grams of carbs (covering these post-workout needs) but 17 grams of protein, which wouldn’t be enough.

So, it’s best to combine a bowl of chili with some extra carbs (e.g., a couple of rice cakes) and protein (e.g., low-fat cottage cheese) to make sure you’re covering your needs.

Tips For Incorporating Chili Into A Bodybuilding Diet

incorporating chili into a bodybuilding diet

Enhance Absorption of Nutrients With Complimentary Ingredients

Add ingredients with complementary nutrients that enhance each other’s absorption. 

For instance, vitamin C in tomatoes can enhance non-heme iron absorption from beans

Non-heme iron, found in plants, is more difficult to absorb than heme iron, which is found in animal sources like meat.

Also, Including healthy fats, like those from avocados or olive oil, can improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) found in the vegetables in your chili.

Use Chili as a Versatile Base for Other Meals

Chili can be more than just a standalone dish. 

You can use it as a topping for baked potatoes, a filling for omelets, or even as a sauce for whole-grain pasta.

This versatility ensures you don’t get bored with your meals while still reaping all the nutritional benefits.

Monitor Sodium Intake

If you’re using canned ingredients or pre-made mixes, opt for low-sodium versions to keep your sodium intake in check. 

Excessive sodium can lead to water retention, which may affect your physique and blood pressure.

Look at the sodium content and find canned products with less than 140 mg per serving. 

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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.

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