Kidney Beans Are Bodybuilding’s Best-Kept Secret: Here’s Why

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Kidney beans capture bodybuilders’ attention because they offer high protein and carbohydrate content. Still, you may wonder how beneficial they are and how you can fit them into your muscle-building diet. Let’s break it down.

Key Takeaways

  • Kidney beans benefit bodybuilders because they are high in calories (215 calories per cup), making it easier to achieve the necessary surplus for bulking and muscle growth.
  • Kidney beans are rich in complex carbs (37 grams per cup), providing energy and supporting muscle recovery. They are also rich in fiber, which promotes satiety and gut health.
  • Canned kidney beans can be high in sodium (as much as 758 mg per cup). Go for lower-sodium options, cook dry kidney beans, or limit your intake to 2-3 times weekly to control your sodium intake.

Kidney Beans: Overview

Nutritional content of one cup of canned kidney beans (256 g)


Kidney beans are high in calories, with one cup providing 256 calories. However, the exact value can vary between different brands.

For example, some companies add sugars and fats to increase palatability (taste), increasing the caloric content. 

Kidney beans can work for cutting and bulking, and the preparation method usually determines when you may use them in the broader context of your meal plan.

For example, you can add kidney beans to a high-calorie dish, such as a casserole, while bulking. 

During a cut, you can add kidney beans to a salad (e.g., lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, and herbs).

Plus, as Sara Haas, RDN, LDN points out: 

“Kidney beans are incredibly versatile when it comes to cooking. Their neutral flavor profile and mild nuttiness make them a great addition to salads, soups, wraps, and bowl meals.


Kidney beans are a relatively balanced food with all three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fats.

One cup of kidney beans has 37 grams of carbs, which is great, given that a bodybuilder typically aims to get 55-60% of calories from that nutrient. 

However, unlike other high-carb foods (e.g., rice or yams), kidney beans are also high in protein, with one cup providing a respectable 13 grams (slightly more than the amount in two large eggs).

For bodybuilders following a plant-based diet or those struggling to hit their daily protein target (1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram), eating foods like kidney beans can help you reach your protein goals.

Finally, even though kidney beans have some fat, they are not a high-fat food. However, that depends on the brand; some add oil to the mix. Always check the nutritional label.

On average, kidney beans have less than 5 grams of fat per can, especially when buying raw (or ‘whole’) canned kidney beans.


One benefit of kidney beans is they are rich in nutrients, including:  

  • Zinc (10% of daily needs for men and 14% for women in one cup). It is a potent antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation, supporting muscle recovery. Additionally, zinc supports immune system function, reducing the risk of the common cold that can keep you away from the gym.
  • Manganese (20% of daily needs for men and 25% for women in one cup). It plays an essential role in calcium absorption, vital for bone health. Also, it helps convert the carbs and fats you eat (e.g., rice, pasta, fruits, egg yolk, and natural oils) into energy for your body.
  • Potassium (18% of daily needs for men and 23% for women in one cup). It is essential for muscle function, and lower levels are associated with more frequent. muscle cramps. Additionally, it is a crucial electrolyte lost during exercise (through sweat), which needs to be replenished to maintain a healthy fluid balance. 

Pros Of Eating Kidney Beans

pros vs cons of eating kidney beans for bodybuilding

A Carb Source That Is High in Protein

Bodybuilders need a high amount of protein, ranging from 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.7-1 gram per pound). 

A bodybuilder weighing 200 pounds must consume 140 to 200 grams of protein daily.

Since kidney beans are a carb source that is high in protein, they are an excellent choice for helping you reach your protein goal. 

A cup of kidney beans provides the same amount of protein as half a scoop of protein powder.

So, if you struggle to get enough protein, replace some of your low-protein carb foods (e.g., pasta or rice) with kidney beans.

High In Fiber

Kidney beans are high in fiber with one cup covering 44% of the recommended fiber intake

Fiber offers lots of benefits, even for bodybuilders. It notably supports gut health and regular bowel movements, keeping constipation at bay.

Fiber also slows digestion, causing food to remain longer in your stomach. As a result, you feel fuller between meals, which can be particularly beneficial when your calories are restricted during a cut.

Also, Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD, points out another benefit related to slower digestion:

“Foods high in fiber, such as kidney beans, can help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and reduce blood sugar levels.”

In contrast, a low-fiber, high-carb food, like a slice of white toast, can fill you up temporarily, but you are more likely to feel hungry sooner. 

This means that you are likely to search for something to eat much quicker than you otherwise would, which could increase your caloric intake. 

High In Antioxidants

Kidney beans are rich in the antioxidants isoflavones and anthocyanins.

Antioxidants help reduce inflammation in the body. This can reduce the risk of certain chronic illnesses and help with muscle recovery

While we need more research that examines the effects directly and over a longer period, potentially better recovery could allow for more frequent workouts and better results in the long run.

Cons of Eating Kidney Beans

High In Sodium

Like any other canned food (such as sardines), canned kidney beans are high in sodium, with 758 mg per serving. 

A low-sodium food has 140 mg of sodium per serving or less, which is one cup of canned beans.

Additionally, the American Heart Association recommends having no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day

One cup of canned kidney beans represents 33% of the recommended daily intake, which is a lot if you eat other canned foods or add more than one teaspoon of salt when cooking. 

Having more than 2,300 mg per day over several weeks can lead to high blood pressure, potentially elevating disease risk in the long run. 

So, how much kidney beans can you consume? It depends on your diet as a whole. 

For example, if you are used to cooking with condiments that have salt or add more than one teaspoon of salt during the day, you can surpass the recommended dose by having canned kidney beans on top. 

In this case, you may limit your intake to 2-3 times weekly to avoid a sodium overload. Also, look for canned kidney beans with less sodium (I’ve provided some options below).

Gastric Distress

Another common issue with kidney beans is the possibility of gastric distress. 

Legumes (which kidney beans fall under) tend to generate stomach problems in some people due to their high fiber content. 

Although high-fiber foods have benefits like those seen above (better gut health, fighting constipation, and increasing satiety), they can also lead to some symptoms in people with a low fiber tolerance. 

The tolerance in a single sitting is very individual. 

If you’ve had other high-fiber foods like quinoa, edamame, and lentils and experienced gastric distress, having a large serving of kidney beans is likely to produce the same symptoms: bloating, gas, and stomach cramps.  

Certain people, like those who have IBS, are more likely to get stomach problems when consuming kidney beans.

If you’re not used to dietary fiber but want to have kidney beans, start with a smaller portion––for example, ¼ cup at a time. Slowly increase the serving until you reach the desired amount. 

Can You Eat Kidney Beans Before Workouts?

Kidney beans are not the best pre-workout food.  

While they are high in carbs, providing energy for your workouts, they are also high in fiber and protein, which slows digestion and the rate of nutrient absorption.  

They can also create bloating that can affect your performance.  

Research recommends having up to a gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight before training. 

So, simple carbs (e.g., white rice, rice cakes, and white bread with jam) are far better options before training, as they provide carbs and digest more easily.

If you want to have kidney beans, eat a smaller serving (say, ¼ cup) around two hours before the workout starts and mix them with simple carbs.

Can You Eat Kidney Beans After Workouts?

Yes, you can eat kidney beans after a workout. They provide the carbs and protein necessary for recovery. 

Carbs replenish the lost glycogen (the complex carb form primarily stored in the muscles), and protein helps repair muscle damage.

Research recommends having 0.3-0.5 grams of protein and carbs per kilogram of body weight after training.

That said, kidney beans alone are not going to be enough, as they usually don’t provide all the protein you need. 

For example, a 70-kilogram (154-lb) bodybuilder needs 21 to 35 grams of protein after training. A cup of kidney beans provides 13 grams of protein.

So, it’s best to pair kidney beans with other protein sources like chicken, eggs, meat, and fish.

Additionally, add omega-3 fatty acids to help decrease inflammation and improve muscle recovery. You can add olive oil, nuts, avocado, and kidney beans.

Tips For Incorporating Kidney Beans Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tipsf for incorporating kidney beans into a bodybuilding diet

Make Them Fresh

Make fresh kidney beans to control the added fats and sodium whenever possible.

If you make them fresh, soak them overnight (like any other legume) to remove any excess starch and some of the fermentable carbs that can cause bloating. Additionally, soaking them can reduce the cooking time significantly. 

I like adding a couple of cloves of garlic and onion puree to increase their flavor.

If you want to make kidney beans at home, here is a delicious recipe to help you. 

Choose Carefully

Here is a cheat sheet for the next time you buy canned kidney beans:

  • Sodium: Ensure that it has less than 140 mg of sodium per serving to keep your intake under control.
  • Fats: Kidney beans shouldn’t have much fat–a cup usually has less than 5 grams.
  • Sugar: Choose those that don’t have added sugars. If it does have added sugars, make sure the amount is less than 5 grams per serving size. 

Which Are The Best Canned Kidney Beans For Muscle Growth?

Here is a list of my top kidney beans options for bodybuilders:

  • 365 by Whole Foods Market: A low-sodium option (only 5 mg of sodium per cup). The ingredient list consists of just kidney beans and water, with no preservatives or other chemicals.
  • S & W Organic Canned Kidney Beans: This is a great organic option with a low sodium content (only 85 mg per serving). It also has only three listed ingredients (kidney beans, water, and salt), making for a great natural option.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are Kidney Beans Better Than Black Beans For Bodybuilding?

Both kidney and black beans are beneficial for bodybuilding, offering high protein and fiber. However, kidney beans have a slight edge in protein content, which is crucial for muscle growth and recovery. 

Yet, the choice often comes down to personal preference and nutritional balance.

Are Kidney Beans Good For Muscle Recovery?

Absolutely, kidney beans are excellent for muscle recovery. 

Rich in protein and essential amino acids, they repair and build muscle tissue. 

Plus, their high fiber content supports digestion and nutrient absorption, which is vital for muscle health.

Can I Consume Kidney Beans Every Day For Bodybuilding?

If you are a bodybuilder, you can consume natural kidney beans daily. 

However, you must be careful with your sodium intake for canned kidney beans. 

A cup of kidney beans can cover a third of your daily sodium target, and going overboard can contribute to high blood pressure and water retention.


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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, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.

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