Is Chili Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)

Many bodybuilders look for ways to cook their meals in bulk, which leads them to wonder whether chili is a good option. 

Is chili good or bad for bodybuilding? Chili is good for bodybuilding because you can easily modify the ingredients for both bulking and cutting goals.  Another bodybuilding benefit of chili is its high protein content (17g per cup), which aids in muscle growth and recovery.  But, chili can have a high sodium intake, so choosing low sodium broths is key. 

Chili is an excellent all-in-one meal worth adding to your diet as long as you make certain modifications specific to bodybuilding. 

In this article, I’ll discuss: : 

  • The calories and macros in chili
  • The pros and cons of eating chili 
  • When the best time to eat chili is for bodybuilding
  • Whether chili helps with muscle growth
  • Tips to include chili into your diet specific to bodybuilding

Chili For Bodybuilding: Overview

Nutritional Content of Chili

Nutritional content of one cup (254 g) of chili with meat and beans

One cup (254 g) of chili with meat and beans has the following nutritional value. 

  • Calories: 259
  • Carbs: 26.2 g
  • Protein: 17.4 g
  • Fats: 9.7 g
  • Sodium: 1,040 mg

Keep in mind these numbers are just averages, and as you’ll see below, it’s very easy to customize the calories based on which ingredients you choose.  

Calories

A chili’s calories mostly come from the starchy vegetables (black beans and potatoes), in addition to your choice of meat, whether that’s ground beef or turkey.  

The advantage of eating chili, especially if it’s homemade, is that you can easily adjust the caloric contents according to your phase of training (whether that’s 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 this, you can add more beans and potatoes or even other calorie-dense toppings like avocado or sour cream. This will significantly increase the caloric content of the dish. 

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. This will reduce the caloric content of the dish considerably. 

Macronutrients

Chili is a complete meal as it incorporates all three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fats.

Carbs

Thanks to beans, chili is considered a high-carb food, with an average of 26 grams per cup. A bodybuilder’s carb requirements are typically very high. They need an average of 40-50% of their total daily calories coming from carbs. Thus, adding a high-carb food like chili can help them reach this amount. 

Protein

Chili’s protein comes from two main sources: beans and either ground beef or turkey.  This combination of both plant and animal sources makes chili a high-protein meal, with an average of 17 grams of protein per cup.  

Fat

Finally, chili has an average of 10 g of fat per cup, which comes from the fats found in the beef or turkey, as well as some extra fats that you add from the cooking process. 

Micronutrients

Depending on the foods you add, chili can have more or less micronutrients.  Most chili recipes, however, will have the benefit of the following nutrients from the beans, meat, chili sauce, and oil: 

  • Selenium (from meat). It is a potent antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation in your body. This means that you can have better muscle recovery thanks to selenium. Additionally, it helps boost your immune system
  • Iron (from beans and meat). It helps carry oxygen to your organs, which means that it has a crucial job in performance. With the proper oxygenation, you can have an increased gym performance
  • Copper (from beans). Along with iron, it helps carry oxygen to your muscles and other organs. Additionally, it plays an essential role in a healthy immune system, making sure you don’t get sick and spend time away from the gym. 

Are you eating the right foods for your bodybuilding goals?

3 Pros Of Eating Chili For Bodybuilding

pros vs cons of eating chili for bodybuilding

Here are three benefits of eating chili if you are a bodybuilder: 

Chili Is High In Protein

One of the benefits of chili is its high protein content, both from beans (plant-based) and beef (animal protein). It gives you high-quality protein, which means that it gives you all the essential amino acids that your body needs and cannot produce. 

A bodybuilder’s protein requirements can be high. You need 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight on average. This means that a bodybuilder that weighs 250 lbs could have an average intake of 182-227 grams of protein. 

This amount can be hard to achieve. Thus, adding high protein meals, like chili, are essential for a bodybuilder. 

Chili Is “Macro-Friendly”

One of the most significant benefits of chili is that you can adjust the macros depending on the foods that you add. 

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

If protein is your biggest concern, you might want to add more beef or turkey to the mix. If you are trying to increase your plant-based protein, you might want to add more kidney beans or quinoa instead of brown rice

If you want to learn how to track the calories and macros in chili, I’ve written a separate article with my top tips: How To Determine Calories In Homemade Chili.  

Chili Is Easy To Meal Prep

For those big on meal prep, chili is one of the best options. You can create a large batch of chili and store it in your fridge, where it can last 3-5 days.

As a bodybuilder, it is important to prepare in advance and store foods in your portion sizes so that it is easier to follow your macros or meal plan. That way, you are less likely to figure out what you are going to eat next on a last minute basis. The fewer food decisions you make during the day, the more you can stick to the plan and the better results you can obtain. 

The benefit of chili is that you can also store it in the freezer, which can last 5-6 months. If you are going to store it in the freezer, make sure to have it in individual portions, which is especially important for bodybuilding. That way, you don’t defrost the entire batch to freeze it again (this can change the texture of the meal, and it can increase the chances of the food spoiling). 

2 Cons of Eating Chili For Bodybuilding

Even if there are several benefits of adding chili to your diet, there are also some cons that you need to consider. 

High Fiber Foods Can Lead To Gastric Problems

Chili has almost 10 grams of fiber per cup.  Although a high fiber diet can have several benefits (it reduces cholesterol, increases satiety, and fights constipation), for those not used to high-fiber foods, it can produce gastric problems. 

This is especially the case for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or low fiber tolerance. Some of the symptoms you might get are bloating, stomach cramps, and gas. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have chili if you have a low tolerance for fiber or IBS. It means that you need to have a small portion and start increasing the serving size each time. 

Everyone has a different capacity for fiber, so make sure to learn how to listen to your body and understand yours regarding high-fiber foods. 

Some Chili Recipes Are High In Sodium

One of the main problems with chili is its high sodium content. In 100 grams of chili, you can find 405 mg of sodium, which is almost three times the recommended amount of sodium per serving recommended by the US Food & Drug Administration.  

Again, this is not to say that you shouldn’t eat chili, but it’s important to be mindful of how a high sodium dish, like chili, fits into the broader context of your day of eating.  

If you have a low sodium diet overall, where most of your foods are from natural sources, and you don’t cook with salt or eat a lot of canned food, then having 1 bowl of chili a few times per week is totally fine.

However, if you eat chili daily, along with other processed/canned foods, and add more than one teaspoon of salt to your meals, then it might post a risk (i.e. increase blood pressure), especially if you do it over a long period of time. 

Related Article: Are Nachos Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?

Can You Eat Chili Before Workouts?

Chili is not the best option to have before a workout. Although it can provide you with energy thanks to its high carb content, it also has fiber, protein, and fat, which slows down digestion. This means that you won’t use the carbs immediately before your workout. If you eat chili, do it 2-3 hours before working out.

Having food that takes longer to digest can produce gastric problems like bloating and sluggishness, greatly impacting your performance. If you want to include chili before working out, you can adjust it by adding fewer beans, more rice (an easier-to-digest carb), and less meat. That way, it won’t be too heavy. 

Can You Eat Chili After Workouts?

Yes, you can eat chili after a workout. It provides all the macros you need for muscle recovery. After exercise, you need carbs (beans) to help you replenish your glycogen, protein (beef) to repair and grow your muscles, fats (oil), and antioxidants (veggies) to help reduce inflammation. All ingredients found in chili.

Although the amount of protein in chili might not be enough for a bodybuilder’s needs (you might need 30-40 g of protein after training).  So you can always add more beef to adjust it to your macros or drink a protein shake along with your post-workout meal. 

Is Chili Good For Muscle Growth?

Chili is good for muscle growth since one cup of chili provides more than 250 kcal and 17 grams of protein. This helps you achieve a caloric surplus compared to other non-starchy veggies like spinach (less than 30 kcal per cup). 

As seen before, the benefit of chili is that you can modify it any way that you want. If you need more calories to achieve that caloric surplus, you can always add more energy-dense foods. 

Tips For Incorporating Chili Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating chili into a bodybuilding diet

Make It At Home

Whenever possible, make sure to make chili at home. This allows you to control the ingredients and the sodium content that it is going to have. 

If you are making them fresh, when you cook the beans make sure to soak them overnight to eliminate the components that can produce gas in certain people. 

If you don’t know how to make chili from scratch, here is a recipe for turkey chili that can help you. 

Choose The Right Canned Chili

For those that don’t have enough time to make a batch of chili, you can always have the canned version as long as you are careful with its ingredients. 

Make sure to pick a canned chili that you read the ingredients. It sounds like a recipe (something that you can recreate), then perfect! If you read and it has strange words that can only be recreated in a lab, then I would stay away from the highly-processed food. 

Finally, be aware of the sodium content. If you can choose a canned chili with less than 140 mg of sodium, it’s perfect. If not, the maximum that I recommend per 100 g is 200 mg. This might be hard to find since the lowest can have 400 mg per 100 g.  

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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.