Is Ice Cream Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? A Coach Answers

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Several nutrition clients have asked me whether they can enjoy treats like ice cream, especially if they have bodybuilding and physique goals. Here’s my answer.

Key Takeaways

  • Ice cream is not the best food for bodybuilding because it is usually overconsumed and has poor nutritional value. However, it can be helpful when you need to eat more calories (like in a bulking phase).
  • Despite being a processed food, ice cream can help increase diet adherence.  In other words, by enjoying it occasionally, you may not feel as deprived, which will help you stick to your diet longer-term.
  • Given its poor nutritional profile, though, it’s best to pair ice cream with some fruits to boost vitamin and mineral intake. You must also eat more veggies and other nutritionally dense foods to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs and isn’t getting from ice cream.

Ice Cream: Calories, Macros, Nutrients

ice cream for bodybuilding

Calories

The calories in ice cream are high, depending on the brand you purchase. Generally, they range from 140 to 290 calories per serving, with basic flavors being lower than flavors with chunks included.

If you prefer more basic brands and flavors, you’re looking at fewer calories per serving.

Ice cream servings are generally about ½ cup, but this could vary from brand to brand. 

The ½ cup serving is easy to overestimate, so if you struggle with portion sizes, it may be best to measure it out to keep the calories in check.

Macronutrients

The macronutrients in ice cream are carbohydrates and fats with little to no protein. 

The ratio of carbs to fats will vary from brand to brand, but generally, there will be more carbs per serving than fats.

The primary macronutrient in ice cream is carbohydrates from the sugar content of ice cream, which gives it its delicious flavor. 

There are typically between 17 and 33 grams of carbs in a ½ cup serving of ice cream, depending on the brand and flavor you choose.

Ice cream also has a good amount of fat because of the milk fat used to give it its creamy texture. You can expect anywhere from 7 to 14 grams of fat in a ½ cup serving of ice cream.

Ice cream products marketed as “lighter” or “low-calorie” versions have reduced the fat and carb content of the ice cream by decreasing the milk fat or using sugar alcohols to replace some of the sugar. 

These changes in the ingredients will reduce the total carb and fat content of the ice cream, which in turn lowers the calories per serving.

The protein content of ice cream is incredibly low at around 4 grams per serving, even though it is a dairy product. 

Micronutrient

Ice cream contains an adequate amount of calcium because it is a dairy product, but the sugar content of ice cream tends to overshadow the calcium you’re getting per serving.

It’s fair to say that there are some micronutrients in ice cream Calcium, in particular, is decently high, but it is not the best choice if our health is our top priority. 

You could easily get calcium from other dairy products, like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, which have less sugar and more protein per serving.

That said, if you’re eating enough micronutrients throughout the day from other foods, having a serving of ice cream isn’t going to prevent you from being healthy.

Alternatively, if you don’t think you’re getting enough micronutrients in the meals and snacks you’re eating throughout the day, you could add fruit to a serving of ice cream and bump up the nutrient quality of that snack.

4 Pros Of Eating Ice Cream For Bodybuilding

pros of eating ice cream for bodybuilding

1. Ice Cream Is Satiating

Ice cream is satiating because it has a higher sugar content and some fats to keep you full.

After eating ice cream, you will be satisfied and less likely to reach for more food (which is not necessarily true for other treats like donuts). 

Ice cream can be a perfect inclusion to end the day because ice cream is so satiating that after you eat it, you typically don’t feel the need to keep snacking. 

If you can reduce snacking by including more satiating treats, you can consume fewer calories, even though ice cream is a calorie-dense food.

2. Ice Cream Can Help Diet Adherence

Ice cream can help with diet adherence because including it in your diet from time to time will allow you to feel less restricted and deprived, which helps keep motivation high when dieting.

Ice cream is a fun food that tastes amazing, which is even more enjoyable when we’ve been dieting down to improve our physique. 

Including ice cream in your diet while still hitting your calorie and macronutrient goals can help keep you on track with your goals.

3. Ice Cream Can Help You Consume Additional Calories

Ice cream is high in calories, but this can be useful when you’re trying to eat a surplus of calories to bulk or simply trying to reach your calorie and macronutrient goals when you’re behind your targets.

Higher calories are not always a bad thing; they are vital when you intend to add muscle mass, but sometimes, it can be challenging to eat enough to hit your daily calorie and macronutrient goals.

“Personally, I started having ice cream once a day, sometimes mixed in a protein shake, and other times eating after dinner. You can have fun with it as long as you understand how it fits within your macros and you use more calorically dense and “dirtier foods” as a tool in your bulking diet, rather than a hall pass to eat like an idiot.”

Mike Dewar, Strength Coach and Writer

4. You Can Make High-Protein Ice Cream

Store-bought ice cream doesn’t have the best nutritional value, but you can side-step that by making it at home and boosting its protein content.

While it may sound complicated, a delicious protein ice cream can have as few as five ingredients and take ten minutes to prepare. Then, all you have to do is pop it in the freezer and enjoy.

I’ve shared two homemade ice cream recipes below, one boasting an impressive 27 grams per serving.

You can also mix whey protein powder with ice cream to easily boost the protein per serving.

3 Cons of Eating Ice Cream For Bodybuilding

cons of eating ice cream for bodybuilding

1. Ice Cream Is High In Calories

The calories in ice cream can also negatively impact your goals if you’re trying to diet and improve your physique through fat loss. 

Excess calories could put you over your calorie and macronutrient targets for the day, so it’s important to track your ice cream consumption as part of your overall caloric intake.  

If you’re in a cutting phase and have fewer calories to consume throughout the day, eating too much ice cream can take away from the food you can eat for the rest of the day.

2. Ice Cream Is Low In Micronutrients

One of the downsides to eating ice cream is that it’s low in micronutrients, and for your body to function optimally, you need to consume adequate micronutrients throughout the day.

Ice cream doesn’t have much to offer in the micronutrient department. 

If you’re eating it too often and not actively trying to get enough vitamins and minerals during the rest of the day, you may not be getting adequate amounts.

3. Ice Cream Is Easy To Overconsume

The main downfall of eating ice cream for bodybuilding is that it’s easy to over-consume, which can derail you from reaching your bodybuilding goals.

It can be challenging to consume ice cream in moderation because it is super delicious, and it is hard to estimate the portion size visually. 

I recommend measuring out the ice cream if you’re someone who is trying to be more strict with your calorie and macronutrient intake. 

If you have difficulty keeping ice cream in the house without eating the entire tub, it may be best to keep it out of the house until you stop dieting and transition to a bulking phase.

Check out my other articles:

Can You Eat Ice Cream Around Workouts? 

Pre-Workout

Ice cream is generally not recommended before a workout because it is high in fat, which takes longer to digest. 

In addition, some people find they cannot eat dairy products before working out.

If you consume ice cream as a pre-workout meal, you should do so 2 to 3 hours before training to allow for adequate digestion.

Post-Workout

Eating ice cream post-workout is okay because the carb content of ice cream will be great for replenishing the energy stores you’ve depleted while training. 

However, you also can’t forget protein––one of the essential macronutrients you need post-workout for muscle growth and recovery.

The main issue with consuming ice cream following a workout is that it lacks the protein to repair muscle damage and encourage muscle growth.

To make ice cream a good post-workout meal, you must incorporate some protein with the carbs and fats.

I asked Dietitian Brenda Peralta about eating ice cream before and after workouts. She stated:

“A high-fat dairy is not a great choice to include before a workout. It can lead to gastrointestinal problems and bloating. If you are going to include it in your diet, have it at least 2-3 hours before the workout. It would be a better choice to include after a workout. However, remember that it won’t provide as much protein and is needed, and is high in sugars and fat.”

Does Ice Cream Help Muscle Growth?

ice cream helps muscle growth

Ice cream can help muscle growth because it has more calories for a small serving, and our body will be more likely to build muscle when extra calories are available.

The calories in ice cream will help to encourage muscle growth because it can help you achieve your caloric surplus more easily to give your body some excess energy for the muscle-building processes.

However, you must ensure that you’re consuming an adequate protein intake and getting a good training stimulus for muscle growth. 

Ice Cream Recipes For Bodybuilding

So far, we’ve established two things about ice cream:

  • It has plenty of carbs and fats
  • It lacks protein

The following two recipes attempt to fix the issue while still providing the delicious taste you look for in ice cream.

Homemade Ice Cream Sandwich

homemade ice cream sandwich recipe for bodybuilding

To eat ice cream pre-workout and have it appropriately digested, you need to incorporate it in a way that maximizes the number of carbs you’re having for energy and minimizes the amount of fat to speed up digestion.

This is why I’ve created a homemade ice cream sandwich with homemade cookies to be paired with your favorite ice cream!

Makes ten servings: 

  • For one serving: 316 Calories with 48 g Carbs, 4g Protein, and 12g Fat

Ingredients:

  • 160 grams of all-purpose flour
  • 30 grams of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 115 grams unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 100 grams of white sugar
  • 100 grams of light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 16 oz (1 pint) of ice cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray two baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix until well combined.
  4. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until the batter comes together.
  5. Using an ice cream scoop, drop the batter onto the greased cookie sheets.
  6. Bake cookies for 10 minutes or until the tops become dry.
  7. Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Remove from sheets and allow to cool completely.
  8. Place the pint of ice cream on its side. Cut the ice cream pint into equal slices (slices should weigh around 1.6 oz each).
  9. Sandwich ice cream between 2 cookies. 
  10. Enjoy now, or wrap with plastic wrap and save for later!

Protein Ice Cream

post workout protein ice cream recipe for bodybuilding

After a workout, you should prioritize your protein and carbohydrate intake, but regular ice cream doesn’t fit the bill in the protein department. 

That’s why I’ve created protein ice cream that gives you the ice cream consistency you love but with enough protein to fuel muscle repair & growth.

Makes one to two servings

  • Dividing into two servings: 216 Calories with 21g Carbs, 27g Protein, and 5g Fat
  • For the whole batch: 432 Calories with 41g Carbs,  54g Protein, and 10g Fat

Ingredients:

  • 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
  • 20 grams sugar
  • 20 grams of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon xantham gum
  • 240ml milk of choice
  • 360 grams ice

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Enjoy!

More Ice Cream Recipes From FeastGood.com

Reference

Tunick, M. H., & Van Hekken, D. L. (2015). Dairy Products and Health: Recent Insights. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(43), 9381-9388. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf5042454

About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath.  She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.

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