Is Popcorn Good For Bodybuilding? A Dietitian Answers

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Popcorn is one of the most popular bodybuilding snacks; below, I’ll share why.  But you can’t just eat popcorn whenever you want in endless quantities.  There are some rules to follow if you’re a bodybuilder.  

Key Takeaways

  • Popcorn (without toppings) is a low-calorie food with slow-digesting carbs to keep you full. This makes it ideal while cutting when you cannot eat as much food.
  • Toppings like butter, cheese, and caramel are the big problem of popcorn. These improve the flavor but add hundreds of extra calories and saturated fats (which you should limit to 5-6% of your total daily calories).
  • Popcorn is not the best pre or post-workout food because it takes longer to digest and can make you feel uncomfortably full, reducing your carb and protein intake. This can affect your performance (pre-workout) and muscle recovery (post-workout).

Popcorn: Overview

Nutritional content of one cup of air-popped popcorn 8 grams


Popcorn is very low in energy, with one cup (air-popped) having only 31 calories. 

For reference, that’s approximately half the calories and carbs in a slice of bread.

While popcorn is considered a low-calorie food, you must be careful with the toppings, as butter, cheese, and caramel are very calorie-dense. 

A cup of popcorn can go from 31 to 100 or even 200+ calories, depending on the topping and its amount.

Plain popcorn can be a good snack during a cut since it’s low in calories and quite voluminous (fills your stomach). 

It can also work during a bulk, but the higher volume can make you feel full, so be careful with the amount or add a topping for extra calories.


Air-popped popcorn primarily has carbs with almost no protein and fats. One cup has six grams of carbs.

This macro composition isn’t necessarily bad, given that a bodybuilder might need at least 50% of the calories coming from carbs.

Popcorn also has some fiber, with one cup providing 5% of the recommended daily fiber intake. 

Fiber helps with bowel movements, gut health, and satiety (the feeling of fullness). Since fiber slows gastric emptying (the process of food leaving your stomach), popcorn may offer a steadier energy release.

Although it has some protein in its macronutrient composition, it is not significant for a bodybuilder. 


Popcorn only contains small traces of vitamins and minerals. Most of them are less than 4% of the daily recommended value per cup of popcorn:

Pros Of Eating Popcorn

pros vs cons of eating popcorn for bodybuilding

Popcorn Is High Volume & Low Calories

The biggest benefit of popcorn is that it provides very few calories in a lot of volume. 

This means you can enjoy a decently-sized serving without adding too many calories to your total, which can help you stick with caloric restriction for fat loss.

Here’s a bit of insight from Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., RD:

“Popcorn is filled with air (think about how small the kernels are compared to after they’re popped). Because it’s airy, you get a pretty large portion without a lot of calories. You can eat 3 whole cups of popcorn for only about 100 calories.”

Plus, seeing a lot of food on your plate (or in your bowl) can make you feel like you’re eating more than you are.

What do you think will have a bigger visual impact on your mind? Having one slice of bread or two cups of popcorn?

Popcorn Is High In Fiber

The average adult in the US eats 15 grams of fiber daily, about half the recommended intake.

Given that a cup of air-popped popcorn covers 5% of your daily fiber needs, it can make it easier to reach your daily needs even if you don’t eat that many fruits or vegetables.

As discussed above, fiber is necessary for bowel movements, gut health, digestion, and satiety.

Popcorn Has An Excellent Antioxidant Profile

Popcorn has some antioxidants, especially polyphenols. One of the benefits is that they may promote good circulation

Better circulation means more blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients, goes towards your muscles to help them grow. 

A high antioxidant intake can also limit muscle inflammation, potentially boost recovery, and reduce soreness.

Con of Eating Popcorn

Risk of Unhealthy Additives

Commercially prepared popcorn (including microwave popcorn) is often loaded with oils rich in saturated and trans fats to enhance the taste.

For instance, 100 grams of microwave popcorn (a bit more than one bag) provides 535 calories and 35 total grams of fat (14.6 grams of saturated fat).

According to the American Heart Association, at most 5-6% of total calories should come from saturated fats.

So, if you’re a bodybuilder eating 2,500 calories daily, that would be 13.9 to 16.6 grams of saturated fat daily.

To calculate your unique needs, take 5-6% of your total calories and divide the value by nine (the calories per gram of fat).

For example:

2,500 * 0.05 = 125 (calories)
125 / 9 = 13.88 (grams of fat)

In addition to potential issues, such as elevated cholesterol levels, these fats can add extra calories to your daily total, so you must be careful what type of popcorn you get.

Plus, here is some insight from health writer Erica Sweeney:

“Movie theater popcorn can contain 400 to 1,200 calories, depending on the size and toppings.”

Can You Eat Popcorn Before Workouts?

Popcorn is high in carbs but has more fiber than other foods, which means it takes longer to digest and increases fullness––not ideal before training.

So, if you want to eat popcorn, do so at least two to three hours before training to have enough time for digestion. 

You should also include an additional energy source to reach the recommended gram of carbs per kilo of body weight as a pre-workout meal.

For a 70-kilo (154-lb) bodybuilder, that would be 70 grams of carbs, which would be hard to get from popcorn alone. That person would have to eat 11.5 cups of air-popped popcorn.

Low-fiber carb sources like white bread with jam and rice cakes can be great.

Additionally, you may want to include a protein source (like cottage cheese) and some healthy fats (such as a handful of nuts) for a more balanced pre-workout meal if you have two or more hours until training.

Can You Eat Popcorn After Workouts?

Popcorn is generally not the best post-workout snack because it can make you uncomfortably full and limit your protein and carb intake, which is necessary to kickstart recovery.

Plus, it takes longer to digest and may slow the release of carbs and protein into the bloodstream.

One reason you may have some popcorn after training is that it has some antioxidants, which can help reduce muscle inflammation and potentially support muscle recovery.

However, make sure to get 0.3-0.5 grams of protein and 0.3 grams of carbs per kilo of body weight to ensure optimal recovery. For a 70-kilo (154-lb) bodybuilder, that comes out to 21-35 grams of protein and 21 grams of carbs.

Is Popcorn Good For Muscle Growth?

Popcorn alone won’t help build muscle since it lacks the needed protein. 

However, it provides some of the carbs you need to fuel your training session.

Given the relatively low amount of calories per cup, you can enjoy popcorn during a cut to feel fuller, but you may want to avoid it while bulking, as it can limit your food intake.

Tips For Incorporating Popcorn Into A Bodybuilding Diet

Natural is Always Better

When choosing popcorn, go for natural popcorn kernels. 

They are less processed, and you can ensure that there are no other additives in the mix. 

Choose The Right Cooking Method

One of the drawbacks of popcorn is the cooking method. For example, oil-popped popcorn is very high in calories and fats. 

Additionally, it can have a high amount of trans fats, which can increase cholesterol levels.

Choose a cooking method that doesn’t require added fats, like stove and air-popped. Microwave popcorn can also be healthy, but go for a low-fat option, such as those without butter.

Be Aware of The Toppings 

The toppings you add to your popcorn might support or hinder your goals. 

One option is to add spices to your popcorn since they add flavor without calories. For example, add garlic or onion powder if you’re into savory popcorn. 

For those who like sweet popcorn, you can add cinnamon or nutmeg.

You can add healthy fats like olive oil as long as you control the portion size. 

High Protein Popcorn Snacks

Search for those popcorn snacks that are high in protein.

Popcorners is one of my favorite brands. They have popcorn chips that have a small ingredients list and are relatively low in calories.

They have a higher protein option, with 10 grams per serving (more than one large egg).

Measure The Portion Size 

Finally, measure the portion size. Although popcorn is very low in calories, it is easy to overeat. 

That is why when you are at the movies and not paying attention, you can eat 9-10 cups of popcorn without realizing it.

When having popcorn, be it during a bulk or cut, measure the portion to know precisely how many calories and carbs you are having.


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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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