Is Popcorn Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)

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Popcorn is a popular snacking food, but many of my bodybuilding clients wonder whether they can include it in their diet, and if so, how much, how frequently, and what time of day. 

So, is popcorn good or bad for bodybuilding? Popcorn is an excellent carb to have for bodybuilding because it’s low in calories, provides a lot of volume to your diet (which means less hunger), and is high in fiber. However, the problem comes with the toppings. Butter, cheese, or caramel toppings are high in calories, meaning you need to be careful about them.

If you are a popcorn fan here, you will find everything you need to know about bodybuilding and popcorn.

In this article, I will discuss.

  • Calories and macronutrient breakdown of popcorn
  • Micronutrients found in popcorn and how it benefits bodybuilders
  • Pros and cons of eating popcorn if you are a bodybuilder
  • Whether you can eat popcorn before or after a workout
  • Does popcorn aid in muscle growth?
  • Tips and tricks to incorporate popcorn if you are a bodybuilder 

Popcorn For Bodybuilding: Overview

Nutritional Content of Popcorn

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

One cup of air-popped popcorn (8g) has the following nutritional value.

  • Calories: 31 kcal
  • Carbs: 6.2 g
  • Fiber: 1.2 g
  • Protein: 1.0 g
  • Fats: 0.4 g

Calories

Popcorn is very low in calories. One cup of popcorn has only 31 kcal. To have the same amount of calories as one slice of bread with the same carb content, you would have to eat 3 cups of popcorn.

While it is considered a low-calorie food, you need to be careful with the toppings. Butter, cheese, and caramel are all very energy-dense products. This means that a cup of popcorn could go from 31 kcal to 100-200 kcal per cup.

For a bodybuilder in a cutting phase, popcorn is the best snack to have. Since it is low in calories, it helps you have more bulk in your food without compromising your diet too much. On the other hand, for a bodybuilder in a bulking phase, too much volume with not so many calories is not ideal. You can get full very quickly without adequate calories. 

Macronutrients

Popcorn only has one primary macronutrient, which is carbs. One cup of popcorn has only 6 g of carbs.

A bodybuilder needs a large carb intake to provide for the necessary energy during the day. On average, a bodybuilder might need at least 50% of its calories coming from carbs. One of the benefits of popcorn is that it provides those carbs that are necessary.

Popcorn is a food very high in fiber. One cup provides 5% of the recommended daily intake of fiber. This helps with having good bowel movements, good gut health, and increased satiety (the feeling of fullness). Due to its high fiber content, its energy release is more steady.

Although it has some protein in its macronutrient composition, it is not significant for a bodybuilder. With that being said, it does provide more protein than other carbs sources (like white bread or white rice). However, you still need to include another protein source if you are a bodybuilder.

Finally, the fat content is very low. This is often increased when you add butter or cheddar cheese to the mix. Both are sources of saturated fats, which means that you need to be careful. A high intake of saturated fats can potentially lead to heart conditions

Micronutrients

Popcorn might not be very high in calories, but it is not a very nutrient-dense food. It only contains small traces of vitamins and minerals. Most of them are less than 4% of the daily recommended value per cup of popcorn.

  • Magnesium. It can help improve performance since it makes glucose more available to use for the body. It is also an essential nutrient in sleep. Those that have sleeping problems are recommended to take a magnesium supplement before going to bed.

One of the micronutrients that can be elevated with popcorn is sodium, due to adding salt. Be careful with the amount of sodium it has since it can cause high blood pressure or water retention. Try to have no more than 200 mg per serving of sodium.

Remember that even if popcorn is an excellent low-calorie snack, it doesn’t contain many nutrients. Thus make sure to add lots of colorful fruits and veggies to increase your nutrient intake. 

Check out my other article on the 20 Best Fruits For Muscle Gain.

Are you eating the right foods for your bodybuilding goals?

3 Pros Of Eating Popcorn For Bodybuilding

Pros vs Cons of Eating Popcorn for Bodybuilding

Here are the top three reasons why you should include popcorn if you are a bodybuilder. 

High Volume, Low Calories

The biggest benefit of popcorn is that it provides very few calories in a lot of volume. When you are in a cutting phase, this is essential. Seeing a lot of food on your plate helps you handle calorie reduction better.

The more food we see on our plate, the more food our mind thinks it is going to get. What do you think will have a more visual impact on your mind? Having one slice of bread or having three cups of popcorn?

Finding the right snack is going to be crucial for a bodybuilder especially if you are cutting back calories. Popcorn is very filling without adding too many calories to the mix. However, remember to be careful with the toppings of the cooking method that you use. 

High In Fiber

On average, a person consumes less than 10 g of fiber per day. The recommended daily intake is 25 g to have all the benefits that fiber provides—popcorn, since it is a very high fiber food, add on the fiber into your diet.

Fiber has several benefits for your body. It prevents constipation, a very usual condition commonly seen in people. It also helps you have good gut health (which in the end means a better body composition), and it provides fullness. 

Antioxidant Boost

Popcorn has some antioxidants, especially polyphenols. One of the benefits it has is that it promotes good circulation. Having better circulation means more blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients, goes towards your muscles to help them grow. 

For a bodybuilder, having a good antioxidant intake is essential for muscle recovery. Since antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties, it helps decrease inflammation which leads to improved recovery. 

Related Article: Is Corn Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)

1 Con of Eating Popcorn For Bodybuilding

There is a downside to adding popcorn if you are a bodybuilder.

Can Cause Stomach Problems

Due to its high fiber content, it might cause gastric problems in some people. Bloating is the most common problem people report when they have popcorn. If you are a bodybuilder with IBS, I recommend taking it easy on the popcorn and adding it in small portions to prevent any stomach problems. 

Can You Eat Popcorn Before Workouts?

Although popcorn is high in carbs and they are needed to provide the necessary energy, popcorn is a very high fiber food, meaning that it might not be the best choice to have as a pre-workout snack since it might cause bloating in some people. If you do include it, add it at least 2-3 hours prior to training.

If you do have popcorn before a workout, make sure to add a protein source (like cottage cheese) and some healthy fats (like some almonds) to have a steadier energy release.

For a bodybuilder in a cutting phase, 3-6 cups of popcorn as a pre-workout snack. On the other hand, if you are in a bulking phase, you might want to have 6-9 cups of popcorn along with another carb source. 

My favorite no salt, no sugar spices are made by Flavor God. Read more in my article: Is Flavor God Healthy? (We Asked A Nutrition Coach)

Can You Eat Popcorn After Workouts?

Popcorn is an excellent carb source to have after training since you need to replenish your energy. If you don’t replenish it, you risk using muscle (protein) as an energy source. Keep in mind that for optimal recovery, you need a protein source along with popcorn.

One of the benefits of popcorn is its antioxidant properties. Adding it after training helps decrease inflammation which leads to optimal muscle recovery.

Although popcorn is great to have, it might not be the best option for those in a bulking phase. It adds too much bulk to your stomach without adequate caloric intake. This means that you get your stomach full with low-calorie dense food. On the other hand, that is exactly what you are looking for in a cutting phase. 

Is Popcorn Good For Muscle Growth?

Popcorn on its own won’t help build muscle since it lacks the protein that you need. However, it adds the carbs that you need to fuel your training session to help stimulate your muscles. It also prevents the protein from being used as energy.

However, popcorn doesn’t add a lot of calories to your diet. Thus you need to be careful with filling up your stomach on low-calorie foods since it might not get you the caloric surplus that you need.

Finally, remember that popcorn lacks protein. Each time you have popcorn, add a protein source (like a protein shake) to give your muscles the necessary material to build muscle. 

Tips For Incorporating Popcorn Into A Bodybuilding Diet

If you are looking to add popcorn to your bodybuilder diet, here are a few tips and tricks you can implement not to affect your goals. 

Natural is Always Better

When choosing popcorn, try to choose 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. Oil-popped popcorn is very high in calories and fats. Additionally, it can have a high amount of trans fats. These types of fats increase cholesterol levels and can potentially lead to heart conditions.

Try to choose a cooking method that doesn’t require added fats like stove and microwave. 

Be Aware of The Toppings 

The toppings that you add on top of your popcorn might aid or be against your current goals. You can add spices to your popcorn since they don’t add a lot of calories, but they pack flavor. For example, if you are into savory popcorn, you can add garlic or onion powder. For those that like sweet popcorn, you can add cinnamon or nutmeg.

You can add some healthy fats like olive oil as long as you have the portion size controlled. 

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 an option that is higher in protein. It has 10 g of protein per serving, which is more than one large egg. They are a great option for those that are on a high-protein diet.

Measure The Portion Size 

Finally, make sure to 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 easily eat more than 9-10 cups of popcorn.

When having popcorn, either in a bulking or cutting phase, measure the portion to know exactly how many calories and carbs you are having. 

Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?


About The Author

Brenda Peralta

Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist.  In addition to being an author for FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.