Is Cod Good or Bad for Bodybuilding? A Coach Answers

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Many bodybuilders turn to white fish, such as cod, as a low-calorie, high-protein food to eat during a cut.  While I agree that eating cod has many benefits for muscle-building, as a nutrition coach, I also want to share a few drawbacks and risks

Key Takeaways

  • Overall, cod is excellent for bodybuilding because it’s high in protein (31 grams per six ounces), which helps with muscle growth and post-workout recovery. It also promotes satiety (feeling full) and only has 130 calories, making it a good option during a cut.
  • Cod is a single macro food (it has no carbs and only a gram of fat per six ounces), making it easier to calculate your macros. Pair it with other single macro foods, such as potatoes (carbs) and olive oil (fats), for a simple and balanced bodybuilding meal.
  • Despite these benefits, cod contains mercury, which could lead to neurological and cardiovascular health issues at high doses. The FDA recommends limiting your intake to 8-12 ounces per week (equivalent to 40-60 grams of protein). 

Cod Overview


Cod is a fish with a high protein content and virtually no fat or carbs. 

As such, it’s an excellent option for bodybuilders to hit their protein goal without consuming additional fat, which becomes an issue with other protein sources such as ground beef, chicken thighs, or pork. 

A six-ounce serving of cod provides 130 calories and 31g of protein. 

Micronutrients in Cod

Cod is high in micronutrients such as iodine, crucial for healthy hormones, and B vitamins, which help boost energy levels. 

Adding a four-ounce or larger serving of cod into your day will give you your daily recommended iodine. 

B vitamins are also vital for bodybuilders as they support building muscle due to their role in muscle protein synthesis. A three-ounce serving of cod provides 37 percent of your daily vitamin B12 needs.

Here is some insight about vitamin B12 from Registered Dietitian Jill Corleone:

“Vitamin B-12 assists in metabolizing protein and fat. As a bodybuilder, you need the amino acids from the protein metabolism to repair and build your muscles and the fat as a source of energy.”

  • We reviewed 29 different types of fish and ranked them in terms of which are best for bodybuilding. Read our top fish for bodybuilding

Pros of Eating Cod

pros of eating cod

1. Cod Is a Low-Fat Protein Source

For a lean physique, research shows that you want to aim for 5g of protein for every 1g of fat. 

If you choose lean protein sources, like cod, you can easily monitor this ratio throughout the day as you track your macros.  

This will ensure you get the fat you need for healthy hormones and enough protein to maximize muscle building. 

2. Cod Keeps Us Full for Longer

Cod, being a high-protein food, means it takes longer to digest. 

This keeps you full for longer after you eat and is especially helpful for bodybuilders who are cutting and struggling with hunger.

When you are full and satisfied after eating, you are less likely to reach for a snack between meals. 

Here are a few words from Kris Gunnars, Founder of Authority Nutrition: 

“Increasing the amount of protein you eat may help support weight loss by regulating certain hormones and helping you feel fuller longer.”

3. Cod Makes It Easy To Hit Your Macros

Cod only provides protein, making it a single macro food. 

Building a meal with single macro foods makes it significantly easier to hit your macros as you just have to adjust your portion sizes based on your needs. 

I always recommend to my newer bodybuilding clients, or those who are super busy, to stick with meals with single macro ingredients: chicken breast, egg whites, butter, oils (e.g., olive oil), and various fruits. 

If you instead are eating foods with multiple macros, you are constantly finding yourself playing ‘macro tetris’ throughout the day, trying to find foods that will fit your exact needs. 

This can be difficult and often leads to clients going over their macros.

Cons of Eating Cod

cons of eating cod

1. Cod Contains Mercury

Cod contains mercury, which, when consumed in excess, can lead to neurological and cardiovascular issues

The amount of mercury in fish will vary based on the type of fish. The FDA has classified cod as a lower mercury option and recommends consuming 8 – 12oz weekly. 

This is 40 – 60g of protein, likely about a meal’s worth of protein for most bodybuilders. 

Therefore, to ensure you get enough protein throughout the week without consuming too much mercury, it’s essential to get several different protein sources: chicken, beef, eggs, greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. 

2. Cod Doesn’t Work Well for Meal Prep

Cod does not work well for bodybuilders who are meal-prepping their food as it does not store or reheat well. It becomes rubbery and “fishy”, making your meal much less enjoyable. 

If you are making food that doesn’t taste good reheated, you are much more likely to skip it and eat out instead, which can lead to a lot of extra calories eaten that will impact your body composition. 

Instead of meal-prepping cod the traditional way, I recommend keeping the cod uncooked but preparing the rest of your meal in advance. 

Since cod only takes 12-15 minutes to bake, it will still be a quick meal if your carb source and vegetables are already cooked.

3. Cod Does Not Have Enough Fat for Healthy Hormones

Cod contains mainly protein and provides minimal fat, which is critical for your body’s hormone functions (especially testosterone). 

While this may not seem that important for bodybuilders, hormone health is critical for appetite regulation and weight loss.

If you are a bodybuilder looking to lose weight, you can imagine the challenge without good hormone function. 

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to mitigate this by ensuring you consume foods high in fat along with your cod.

Some good examples include nuts, seeds, and olive or coconut oil. 

Can You Eat Cod Before Workouts?

cod for bodybuilding

Yes, cod is a good choice to eat before a workout as it’s high in protein and low in fat. 

However, it must be eaten with a carb source, such as rice, bread, bagels, sweet potatoes, yams or potatoes, to give you the energy you need. 

Consuming cod 1.5 – 2 hours before your workout is best so your body can adequately digest your food.

Fats slow down digestion, so you want to keep them low. 

Can You Eat Cod After Workouts?

Cod is also a great fish to eat post-workout as it provides a high-quality protein source. I recommend a larger 6-8oz serving to ensure adequate protein.

To maximize recovery, add more carbs to your meal. After a workout, consuming carbs and protein is vital to restore energy and encourage muscle strength and growth. 

Ideally, a more complex carb such as rice, yams, or potatoes, is essential. 

Does Cod Help Muscle Growth?

Yes, cod helps muscle growth as it’s a high-protein food to incorporate into meals to help you reach your daily protein goal. 

It’s important to remember that no food alone will lead to muscle growth. It is instead a sufficient training stimulus that is the number one factor. 

However, in conjunction with this, you must also consume enough protein to repair and grow your muscles after your workouts. 

Research suggests for bodybuilders, this intake is about 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Also, remember that cod contains mercury, and the FDA recommends limiting your intake to 8-12 ounces per week.

This means you can’t eat cod daily and rely on it as one of your primary protein sources. 

At best, you can eat it once or twice weekly to diversify your diet a bit and get some extra protein.

How Does Cod Compare To Other Fish For Bodybuilding?

Healthy Cod Recipe for Bodybuilders

As mentioned above, cod doesn’t take long to bake, which makes it ideal for bodybuilders on a tight schedule. The following recipe is easy to prepare and provides a healthy dose of protein, fats, and carbs for a balanced, bodybuilding-friendly meal.Baked Cod

baked cod

You can prepare this meal and place it in the fridge, so all that’s left to do post-workout is bake the fish. The butter and rice provide the fat and carbs needed for optimal recovery.


  • 4 x 6 oz cod filet
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 3 garlic cloves chopped
  • 2 tbsp chives finely chopped
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 lemon thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked rice


  1. In a small bowl, mix the butter, oil and herbs. Add salt and pepper.
  2. Lay the cod in a baking dish and spread the mixture evenly over each.
  3. Top with lemon slices.
  4. Bake at 400 for 13-15 minutes.
  5. Serve with 1 cup of rice.

This recipe makes one serving with 391 calories, 33g protein, 41g carbs, and 10g fat. Increase the rice and consume multiple cod filets for a higher calorie option.

Other Fish Resources


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Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. & Fitschen, P.J. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 20 (2014).

Paddon-Jones D, Westman E, Mattes RD, Wolfe RR, Astrup A, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1558S-1561S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1558S. PMID: 18469287.

Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health: Evaluating the Risks and the Benefits. JAMA. 2006;296(15):1885–1899. doi:10.1001/jama.296.15.1885

Whittaker J, Wu K. Low-fat diets and testosterone in men: Systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2021 Jun;210:105878. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2021.105878. Epub 2021 Mar 16. PMID: 33741447.

Austin J, Marks D. Hormonal regulators of appetite. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol. 2009;2009:141753. doi: 10.1155/2009/141753. Epub 2008 Dec 3. PMID: 19946401; PMCID: PMC2777281.

Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 33 (2017).

Stokes T, Hector AJ, Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 7;10(2):180. doi: 10.3390/nu10020180. PMID: 29414855; PMCID: PMC5852756.

About The Author

Laura Semotiuk

Laura Semotiuk is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She works with athletes and active individuals looking to improve performance and develop healthy nutritional habits and behaviors. She has a passion for cooking, meal prepping, and creating simple and healthy recipes.

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