Quinoa & Bodybuilding: Is It The ULTIMATE Bulking Food?

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Any plant-based food with a high protein content, like quinoa, will capture the attention of the bodybuilding community.  So, below, I’ll explain whether quinoa is good for muscle gain and how to incorporate it into your diet best.

Key Takeaways

  • 🏋️‍♂️ Balanced Macronutrients: Quinoa offers a blend of carbs, protein, and fats. It’s particularly high in carbs (40g per cup), making it a great energy source for bodybuilding, especially during intense training sessions.
  • 🌱 Plant-Based Protein Option: Quinoa is unique among grains for being a nearly complete protein source, beneficial for vegan and vegetarian bodybuilders. However, it should be combined with other protein sources for optimal muscle growth.
  • 🥗 Workout Timing: Quinoa is not the best carb source before training because it may take longer to digest. If you want it before training, give yourself at least two hours for digestion and pair it with low-fiber carbs (e.g., white rice or rice cakes) to fuel yourself well.

Quinoa: Overview

nutritional content 1 cup of cooked quinoa 185 grams


Quinoa is high in energy, with one cup providing 222 calories, roughly the same as having three slices of bread.

When bulking, quinoa can provide extra energy for a caloric surplus, which helps build muscle.  


Quinoa has all your body’s macronutrients: carbs, proteins, and fats.

One cup of quinoa has almost 40 grams of carbs, which is highly beneficial for bodybuilding as the nutrient provides energy during the day and for tough training sessions. 

Since a bodybuilder’s diet could range from 40-50% of carbs per day (out of their total daily caloric intake), quinoa is a great way to achieve this macro range.

Quinoa is also high in protein compared to other grains like rice and corn, with one cup providing the same amount of protein as one large egg. 

A bodybuilder needs an average of 1.6-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  

For a bodybuilder trying to reduce the animal protein in their diet or eat more total protein, quinoa is a great solution.

Finally, although quinoa doesn’t contain a lot of fat, it still has some,   with one cup providing 3.5 grams, which is the same as ½ teaspoon of olive oil. 

The fat composition of quinoa is mostly unsaturated, which is considered beneficial for overall health


One of the benefits of quinoa is its rich nutrient profile. Here is a breakdown of the nutrients found in higher doses:

  • Vitamin B6 (10% of daily needs). This vitamin helps break down muscle glycogen––a type of carb stored in your muscles to provide energy for physical activity. Thus, when you are training, this vitamin breaks down that fuel reserve in your muscles.
  • Magnesium (16% of daily needs for men and 21% for women). It plays an important role in sleep regulation and has been shown to help reduce insomnia symptoms. During sleep, your muscles repair and grow, which means magnesium helps improve your long-term bodybuilding results.
  • Copper (21% of daily needs). Along with iron, it helps form red blood cells––the ones in charge of transporting oxygen and nutrients into tissues. This means they are responsible for your muscles to get enough oxygen and nutrients during and after training.

3 Pros Of Eating Quinoa

pros vs cons of eating quinoa for bodybuilding

High in Fiber

One of the advantages of quinoa is its high fiber content, with one cup covering 18% of your daily needs

A high-fiber diet benefits optimal gut health as it helps fight constipation, regulates cholesterol levels, and helps increase fullness. 

For a bodybuilder in a cutting phase, this last benefit (increasing fullness) is essential to prevent hunger during the day. 

As nutritionist Beth Rush writes:

“Quinoa’s high fiber and protein content makes you feel satiated for longer. Those trying to lose weight may find quinoa an essential food source for healthy weight loss and weight management.”

In contrast, low-fiber carb sources(like instant noodles) may not fill you up as much, causing you to feel hungry shortly after eating. 

Complete Protein Source

Animal protein is classified as a complete protein since it has all nine essential amino acids the body needs to build muscle. 

On the other hand, plant-based protein is typically considered incomplete because it doesn’t have all the amino acids you need. 

This is why a lot of vegans and vegetarians rely heavily on supplementation or need to combine several plant-based protein options.

However, quinoa is one of the few plant-based options with all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein with quality comparable to that of chicken, meat, and fish. 

That said, here is some insight from registered dietitian Jillian Kubala:

“However, experts argue that quinoa should not be considered a complete protein because it contains low amounts of certain amino acids, like lysine. For this reason, experts have suggested that quinoa be considered a “nearly complete” protein, not a complete protein.”

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Gluten-free and Versatile 

Another advantage of quinoa is that it is gluten-free, which benefits bodybuilders with celiac disease or who are gluten intolerant.

You can enjoy quinoa and reach your daily carb goals more easily without worrying about gastrointestinal discomfort.

Additionally, quinoa is a very versatile food, which means you can have it in savory and sweet dishes. 

I’ve even known bodybuilders to substitute their morning oatmeal with a bowl of quinoa ‒ making it ideal for any meal throughout the day.

1 Con of Eating Quinoa For Bodybuilding

Gastric Problems

Although it might not be the case for everyone, some people have issues with high-fiber foods. Some of the symptoms include bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

If you are not used to having high-fiber foods, you might want to start slowly adding quinoa to your diet. 

Also, if you are increasing your fiber intake, make sure to increase your water intake because fiber needs water to work correctly. 

If you increase fiber without adding water, instead of fighting constipation, you might make it worse. 

Read more about other high-fiber foods: 

Can You Eat Quinoa Before Workouts?

While high in carbs, quinoa may not be the best food before training because it has fiber (5.1 grams per cup) that slows digestion

As a result, you may feel uncomfortably full or bloated during your session.

If you want to have quinoa before training, limit the serving to around three ounces or have it at least two hours before your workout starts. 

It would be best to pair quinoa with other carbs, preferably low-fiber ones, to get the recommended gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight. 

For reference, a 70-kilo (154-lb) bodybuilder would need to eat almost two cups of quinoa, which can be tough on the digestive system.

Can You Eat Quinoa After Workouts?

After training, you need to replenish the energy lost during your workout, and carbs are an essential nutrient. You must also get protein (0.3-0.5 grams per kilogram) to kickstart muscle repair.

Quinoa can be a decent food post-training, but pair it with protein sources such as protein powder, eggs, or low-fat cottage cheese.

Besides being a good carb source, quinoa contains some protein, but it alone is not enough. 

Is Quinoa Good For Muscle Growth?

Quinoa provides a high number of calories for not a lot of volume, making it easy to achieve a caloric surplus for muscle gain.

Also, quinoa has a good amount of high-quality protein, which helps in muscle growth and repair. 

With that said, you’ll still need to add more protein in addition to quinoa if your goal is to gain muscle.

So, as a whole, quinoa is a decent food to add to your diet when looking to build muscle.

Tips For Incorporating Quinoa Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating quinoa into a bodybuilding diet

Add Some Flavor

Quinoa doesn’t have a strong taste, which can be good or bad. 

The most common complaint I hear about quinoa is that they don’t know how to cook it to avoid making it bland tasting.

One option is to add lots of herbs and spices to the mix. Before adding water, I typically saute it with onion, garlic, and olive oil.

You can also add spices like basil, cumin, or oregano.

Here are two of my favorite quinoa recipes: 

Have It For Breakfast

Instead of having high-sugar breakfast cereal or oatmeal, you can have quinoa. This will increase your breakfast protein intake and keep you full until noon.

Here are some breakfast cereals made with quinoa that you can purchase from Amazon:

You can also make a delicious quinoa breakfast bowl to try a new recipe. Here is one of my favorite plant-based recipes from CookieAndKate.com that you can try.

Include It In Your Salad

If you want something crunchy added to your salads, try quinoa instead of croutons, which are high in carbs and fats.

If I want something extra crunchy, I put quinoa in the oven or the air fryer for a few minutes to get a bit toastier.

Substitute For Rice

For those trying to have a more plant-based approach, a tip is to replace your grains and potatoes with quinoa. 

Rice, corn, and potatoes are not very high in protein (they can have 2-3 grams of protein, depending on the type).

By switching rice with quinoa, you can significantly increase your protein intake and not rely on animal proteins as much.

Include It Into Your Smoothies

Another way to help you add calories to your diet without increasing the volume and feeling stuffed during the day is to add quinoa to your smoothies. 

Once the quinoa is cooked, add one cup to your protein shake instead of oatmeal.

This will help increase your caloric intake and provide healthy carbs and protein.

Eating more quinoa can reduce the need for protein powder if you don’t like depending on protein shakes. 

For example, combining 1 cup of quinoa with one cup of milk gives you 16 g of protein (almost half of a protein shake). Thus, you only have to add half a scoop of a protein shake to obtain 30 g of protein.


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

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