Cottage cheese historically has been a staple food on a weight loss diet, but you may be wondering if it provides similar benefits for bodybuilders with specific muscle-building goals.
- Cottage cheese is good for bodybuilding because it’s high in protein (24 grams per cup), which is 70% of the total calories. Numerous studies have shown that a diet high in protein benefits muscle and strength during resistance training.
- Low-fat cottage cheese (2% or less) can be a good pre-workout snack when paired with fast-digesting carb sources, such as fruits or cereal. It also makes for an excellent pre-bedtime snack, promoting muscle protein synthesis.
- Many bodybuilders cite that cottage cheese is an excellent snack in a cutting phase because it “fills you up” with relatively low calories. When hunger is reduced, it helps you to eat less overall calories throughout the day.
Eating Cottage Cheese for Bodybuilding: Overview
Calories and Macronutrients in Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a low-calorie snack at 180-200 calories per cup.
It is also a high-protein food with some variation in protein and fat depending on the milk fat percentage.
Cottage cheese ranges from 0% milkfat to 4% milkfat. Lower-fat options contain more carbs, whereas higher-fat options contain slightly less carbs but more fat.
Low-fat (2%) cottage cheese offers the following per cup:
- 185 calories
- 24 grams of protein
- 9.5 grams of carbs
- 5 grams of fats
- 220 calories
- 24 grams of protein
- 6 grams of carbs
- 10 grams of fats
Since the calorie difference is minimal, the best cottage cheese for you will be based on the macronutrients.
Generally, most bodybuilders want to maximize their protein, so the lower-fat option is recommended.
This will ensure you get the most protein without consuming a ton of additional fat that may impact body composition. This is especially important for bodybuilders who are cutting.
For bodybuilders who are bulking, a higher fat percentage is beneficial if you are consuming additional calories to hit your surplus.
However, a better option is to stick to a lower percentage of cottage cheese and pair it with a fat-dense food such as nuts.
Micronutrients in Cottage Cheese
As a dairy product, cottage cheese’s two micronutrients are calcium and B vitamins.
Cottage cheese is a good source of calcium (22% of daily needs per cup), which is vital for bone health, especially as we age.
Vitamin B12 is vital for bodybuilders as it supports building muscle due to its role in regenerating methionine (an essential amino acid) for muscle protein synthesis.
B vitamins are also involved in metabolic processes and are essential for turning food into fuel for the body. Specifically, these nutrients are involved in the breakdown of carbs, fats, and proteins into energy for the body.
Here is what Ciaran Fairman, Ph.D., CSCS, CET, and assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina, says about B vitamins:
“Deficiencies in B vitamins can arise from either poor absorption or inadequate intake of certain foods or overall calories. People at increased risk for deficiencies in certain B vitamins include older adults, vegetarians and vegans, and people who are drastically cutting weight through excess exercise or by lowering their calories. The B vitamins play an important role in the body’s ability to produce energy, so it’s important to keep these levels high, whether through diet or supplementation.”
- Want to learn more about high-protein foods? Check out our article Bulking Foods For Bodybuilding.
Pros of Eating Cottage Cheese
1. Cottage Cheese Is a Low-Fat Protein Source
Cottage cheese is high in protein, which is necessary for bodybuilders to build muscle.
Since it’s also low in fat, by including cottage cheese in your diet, you can get enough protein without ingesting too many calories that can impact your body composition.
For a lean physique like most bodybuilders are looking for, research shows that you want to aim for 5g of protein for every 1g of fat.
This will ensure you are getting the fat you need for healthy hormones and enough protein to maximize muscle building.
Cottage cheese with a 0-2% fat percentage has this ratio or better, making it an excellent protein source for bodybuilders.
Cottage cheese is also particularly beneficial for vegetarians as most other high-quality protein sources are meat.
2. Cottage Cheese Keeps You Full for Longer
Cottage cheese is high in protein and takes longer to digest. This keeps you full for longer after you eat and is especially helpful for bodybuilders who are cutting.
When you are fuller and more satisfied after you eat, you are also less likely to find yourself reaching for a snack between meals.
Many snacks like nachos or granola bars are high in calories, causing you to eat more than what would result in successful weight loss.
Here’s a quick tip from Samantha Boesch, a Health and Fitness Author:
“Switching out super sugary desserts for some cottage cheese topped with fruit or honey is a great way to satisfy a craving and eliminate calories from added sugar.”
3. Cottage Cheese Is Easy To Consume
Cottage cheese is easy to consume on the go or add to a snack or meal, which is helpful for bodybuilders with a busy lifestyle.
Cottage cheese can easily be packed in Tupperware and eaten on the go. Add nuts, fruit, and cereal to make it more of a complete snack.
Cottage cheese is also great when bulking and is a meat substitute. My bodybuilding clients who are bulking often tell me they start to lose their desire for meat and don’t enjoy it.
When this happens, I recommend trying a vegetarian protein option like cottage cheese that is more enjoyable to eat.
4. Cottage Cheese Has Mostly Casein Protein
Cottage cheese consists of approximately 80 percent casein protein, which digests more slowly, causing a more gradual release of amino acids in the bloodstream.
According to research, eating 30 to 40 grams of casein before bed can result in a sustained increase in muscle protein synthesis that supports recovery and growth.
Cons of Eating Cottage Cheese
1. Cottage Cheese Has Lactose
Cottage cheese is a dairy product, which means it contains lactose that’s known to cause digestive issues for some.
Experts estimate that approximately 68% of the population is lactose intolerant. This means that they experience some sort of digestive discomfort, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc., after consuming a food that contains lactose.
For bodybuilders who aim to maximize their gym performance, experiencing these symptoms during a workout is not ideal.
Digestive discomfort may also interfere with you getting enough protein for muscle growth.
Fortunately, for those who are lactose intolerant, there are lactose-free cottage cheese options available for purchase at most grocery stores.
2. Cottage Cheese Can Be High in Sodium
This is not something to be concerned about for most bodybuilders as their diet is generally high in whole foods and low in processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium.
However, you should purchase a low-sodium cottage cheese if you have a health condition (such as high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease) or eat many other high-sodium foods.
3. Cottage Cheese Can Be High in Fat
Cottage cheese ranges in fat percentage, with 4% containing 10g of fat per cup. This is an additional 90 calories per serving.
While this may not seem like a lot, it can quickly add up if you consume it often and are unaware of these calories.
I recommend reading the label and opting for a brand between 0-2% fat.
Best Times To Eat Cottage Cheese For Muscle Gain
Cottage cheese is an excellent choice to eat before a workout as it’s high in protein and provides some carbs.
However, you’ll want to pair it with other carb sources for more energy. Fruit or cereal is an excellent option as they are quick digesting.
Choose a low-fat version to avoid digestive issues, and eat it at least an hour before training.
After a workout, consuming carbs and protein is important to restore energy and encourage muscle strength and growth.
Cottage cheese is a high-protein food you can eat after training, but there may be better options.
While protein-rich, cottage cheese consists primarily of casein, which digests more slowly, leading to a more gradual release of amino acids.
This could be great at night (more on that in a moment) but may not be ideal after a workout when you’re in need of a quick amino acid boost to kickstart recovery and limit muscle breakdown.
Better protein foods to have post-workout include meat, fish, eggs, and whey protein powder.
Finishing off the day with cottage cheese is a fantastic way to reach your protein target (at least 0.8 grams per pound) and boost protein synthesis during sleep.
According to data, subjects ingesting 40 grams of casein protein before bed (equivalent to slightly more than a cup of cottage cheese) saw a 22 percent increase in protein synthesis compared to placebo.
Research also suggests that pre-bed casein ingestion reliably boosts muscle protein synthesis without limiting fat burning.
Does Cottage Cheese Help Muscle Growth?
Yes, cottage cheese helps muscle growth as it’s a high-protein food that is easy to incorporate into snacks or meals to help you reach your daily protein goal.
Research suggests for bodybuilders, this intake is about 0.8-1g of protein per 1lb of body weight.
For a 180lb bodybuilder, this means eating between 144-180 grams of protein per day. In this example, 1 cup of cottage cheese represents 13-16% of their total daily protein intake.
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.
Healthy Cottage Cheese Recipe for Bodybuilders
These protein pancakes are the perfect high-carb and low-fat meal to give you plenty of energy throughout your workout. Top with fruit and maple syrup to add quick carbs into the meal for an extra boost.
- ½ cup cottage cheese
- ½ cup oats
- ½ cup egg whites
- ½ tsp baking powder
- Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot, spray with oil. Pour the mixture into the pan to create 3-4 pancakes.
- Let the pancake sit for 5 minutes until the pancake is bubbling.
- Flip over and let cook for another 3 minutes until golden brown.
- Top with berries, nut butter, and maple syrup.
This recipe makes one serving with 317 calories, 35g protein, 37g carbs, 4g fat. For a higher calorie option, add additional toppings.
Other Cottage Cheese Recipes
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Yogurt or Cottage Cheese Better for Bodybuilding?
Cottage cheese contains slightly more protein per 3/4 cup than Greek yogurt, but Greek yogurt is better for bodybuilding, as it’s lower in sodium, which can help prevent bloating, and has more calcium.
Calcium is necessary for bone health and muscle contractions, which can help you train with more intensity.
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About The Author
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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