Are Sardines Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)

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As a Registered Dietitian, I have seen that sardines are often the most underrated protein source available, especially when it comes to bodybuilders who have a higher protein requirement than the average person. 

Sardines are a great choice for bodybuilders seeking to vary their protein intake. In addition to being high in protein (23g per can), they are high in omega-3s, which help reduce inflammation and aid in muscle recovery. With that said, sardines are high in calories and sodium, which is best for bulking (not cutting).

In this article, I will explore everything related to sardines and bodybuilding, including:

  • The pros and cons of adding sardines to your bodybuilding diet
  • When the best time to eat sardines (before or after a workout)
  • How sardines help with muscle growth
  • The best kind of canned sardines you should eat for bodybuilding
  • Tips on what else can you eat with sardines 

Sardines For Bodybuilding: Overview

Nutritional Content of Sardines

Nutritional content of one can (3.75 oz or 92 g) of canned sardines in oil

Each brand of sardines can have different nutritional values. However, on average, one can (3.75 oz or 92 g) of canned sardines in oil has the following nutritional content.

  • Calories: 191
  • Carbs: 0.0 g
  • Protein: 22.6 g
  • Fats: 10.5 g
  • Sodium: 282 mg

Calories

When it comes to calories, canned sardines are considered high in calories. This is mainly because they are canned in oil. Fats, such as oil, tend to be very energy-dense (9 calories for every 1g of fat). This means that you get a lot of calories in a small portion of food.

This is a benefit of sardines for a bodybuilder in a bulking phase. To gain muscle, you need to consume more calories than your body burns through exercise. Sardines give you the calories you need without creating a lot of bulk (volume) in your stomach. This allows you to eat more calories throughout the day without feeling stuffed, which is a common problem for people when bulking.

Now, this doesn’t mean that if you are in a cutting phase, you cannot eat sardines due to their caloric content. It means that you need to be careful with the portion size and track them in a calorie app (like MacroFactor), so that at the end of the day you’re not exceeding your calorie goal.

Macronutrients

Sardines only have two macronutrients:  protein and fat.

There is almost 23g of protein per can.  Sardines are considered a high-quality protein source since it gives you all the essential amino acids that your body needs to help in muscle growth.

One can of sardines provides almost the same number of proteins as one scoop of protein powder. Thus, for those looking to have some variety in their diets, this is an excellent option.

When it comes to the fat content, it provides 10g of fat per can, which is the same as having two teaspoons of olive oil. If you have a hard time looking for ways to add some fats to your diet, sardines are a healthy way to increase your intake.

Remember that each tin can provide different macronutrient content. Some might have a higher protein content, while others might have a higher fat content. It all depends on how they’re “flavored”, which I’ll discuss in more detail below. 

Micronutrients

These are the nutrients that you can find the most in sardines and how they can benefit a bodybuilder.

  • Vitamin B12. It is essential in forming red blood cells. These are the ones in charge of transporting oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. With more oxygen and nutrients, your muscles can grow. Additionally, it helps to keep your nerves healthy.
  • Selenium. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation in the body. Additionally, thanks to its antioxidant capacity, it helps boost your immune function.
  • Vitamin D. Along with calcium, it plays an essential role in bone health. Having good bone health means less likely to get an injury.

I reviewed 29 different types of fish and ranked them in terms of which are best for bodybuilding. Read my top picks: Best Fish For Bodybuilding.

Are you eating the right foods for your bodybuilding goals?

3 Pros Of Eating Sardines For Bodybuilding

pros vs cons of of eating sardines for bodybuilding

Here are three pros of eating sardines if you are a bodybuilder.

High in Omega 3

The body cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids. This means that you need to have them through your diet. Omega-3 helps reduce inflammation in the body. You have a stronger immune system and better muscle recovery by reducing inflammation—two essential factors for a bodybuilder.

The recommended minimal intake to get the anti-inflammatory properties is at least 500 mg per day. One can of sardines covers this recommendation by having exactly 500 mg of omega 3.

We need two types of omega in our bodies: omega-6 and omega-3. Omega 6 has pro-inflammatory properties, while omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that the ideal ratio is a 1:1, or a 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. 

However, nowadays, we have a 16:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This is why people often have a lot of inflammation in their bodies. Having an increase in inflammation not only it’s not good for muscle recovery, but it can increase the risk of chronic illnesses. 

Sardine helps balance this equation by providing more omega-3 into your diet. 

Ready To Eat Protein

When we don’t have much time to cook, we often opt for a can of tuna if we need a fast and ready-to-eat protein.  But not a lot of people consider sardines as an option, even though it has the same benefit, and some prefer the taste better.

Sardines are an excellent choice for those that need to increase their protein intake but don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking.  This is the case if you’re a busy professional or student.

As well, remember that protein variety is vital in a healthy eating pattern. It doesn’t mean that you need to replace your cans of tuna with sardines entirely but instead have a balance between them. 

For example, if you are used to eating three cans of tuna per week, substitute 2 of them with sardines.

Good For Bone Health

For those who don’t include many dairy options in their diet, sardines are an excellent source of calcium. Calcium is essential for bone health (along with phosphorus and vitamin D). 

One glass of milk contains 314 mg of calcium, while one can of sardines has 350 mg of calcium, representing almost 35% of the daily recommended intake.

2 Cons of Eating Sardines For Bodybuilding

Although there are several benefits, here are a couple of cons of eating sardines if you are a bodybuilder.

High In Calories

Although for a bodybuilder in a bulking phase, this is a pro, this is a con for those in a cutting phase.

When you are in a cutting phase, you need to consume fewer calories than your body needs to lose weight. Since sardines typically are canned in oil, this elevates the caloric content in the foods.

One way of decreasing the caloric content in sardines is by draining the oil in the can and then washing the sardines under cold water. This will essentially cut the oil content by more than half, which means you can easily reduce 60 kcal.

High In Sodium

Another drawback of sardines is that they are high in sodium. To be considered low in sodium, it needs to have less than 140 mg per serving. Sardines have 280 mg of sodium per can. This means that it is twice the recommended sodium.

A high sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure, leading to an increased risk of heart disease. One can a sardine once a week won’t generate a risk. However, when you include sardines as your main source of protein daily, have several canned foods during the day, or cook with a lot of salt, this can lead to high blood pressure.

Additionally, more sodium means that you are more likely to retain water, increasing your overall weight and making you look puffier.

Can You Eat Sardine Before Workouts?

Sardines are not the best option for having before working out. Before you train, you need immediate energy to help you during your workout. Since sardines are mostly protein and fat, we don’t want them as an energy source.  Notwithstanding, these macros take longer to digest, producing gastric problems.

Fats and proteins take longer to digest in the stomach. This means that you won’t get immediate energy compared to carbs (the preferred source of energy for the body). Sardines are high in fat and protein, so it is not the best to provide fast-acting energy.

Check out these other articles for better pre-workout foods: 

Can You Eat Sardines After Workouts?

Yes, you can eat sardines after a workout. After your workout, you need a protein source to help repair and grow your muscles. Since sardines are an excellent source of protein, you can add them instead of a protein shake. Also, its omega 3 content helps reduce inflammation and promote better recovery.

After a workout, you need protein and carbs to help replenish the energy lost during your exercise. Since sardines don’t have any carbs, it is essential to add a carb source.

Are Sardines Good For Muscle Growth?

Sardines are good for muscle growth. They provide the protein you need for your muscles to repair and grow. Also, since sardines are canned in oil, it increases the calories in the meal. For your muscles to grow, you need to consume more calories than your body needs.

What Are The Best Kind of Canned Sardines For Bodybuilding?

Here is a list of my favorite sardines that I often recommend to my bodybuilder clients.

Wild Planet Wild Sardines in Water: For Cutting

Wild Planet Wild Sardines in Water is my favorite organic brand to recommend. It is water-based instead of canned in oil, which has a lower caloric content.

In 2 oz of drained sardines, you get 100 kcal, 0.0 g of carbs, 11.0 g of protein, 6.0 g of fats, and 50 mg of sodium.

Not only is it a very low-calorie option, but it is also low in sodium. For those in a cutting phase, this is one of the best options to include.

Crown Prince Skinless & Boneless Sardines in Olive Oil: For Bulking

Crown Prince Skinless & Boneless Sardines in Olive Oil is an excellent option for those that don’t like water-based sardines and prefer it to be in oil. In this case, it is canned in olive oil which gives you some additional omega-3 fatty acids.

One can contain 200 kcal, 0.0 g carbs, 19.0 g of protein, 13.0 g of fats, and 210 mg of sodium.

Although it is high in sodium (more than 140 mg), it is not that very high. If you are going to add it, ensure that you cut back on other high sodium sources like canned foods, or decrease the cooking salt.

SANTO AMARO European Wild Sardines in Tomato Sauce from Puree: For Adding Flavor

SANTO AMARO European Wild Sardines in Tomato Sauce from Puree is an excellent choice for those that want to add some flavor to their diets. It doesn’t have a lot of fat or sodium, which is ideal both for bulking or cutting.

In 2 oz of sardines, you can find 90 kcal, 0.0 g carbs, 11.0 of protein, 5.0 g fats, and 190 mg sodium.

What Can You Add To Sardines?

What can you add to sardines?

After a while, consuming sardines in oil can become tiresome. There are several ingredients that you can add that can change their flavor.

Calorie-Free Options

Here is a list of the most common things you can add to sardines to make them even better. All of these options are low in calories, so you can add them in the quantity you want.

  • Mustard
  • Tomato sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • White wine or rice wine vinegar
  • Sauteed with garlic

Fat-Based Options

If you want to make them creamier, you can add one of the following foods. However, keep in mind that they are fats and provide extra calories to the mix.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can You Eat Sardines Every Day For Bodybuilding?

No, it is best to eat them 3-4 times a week. Although they are a healthy protein option, since they are canned, they can contain a high amount of sodium, eventually leading to high blood pressure. Additionally, it has small amounts of mercury, but it does contain traces.

Are Sardines Better Than Tuna For Bodybuilding?

Yes, sardines are better than tuna for bodybuilding. They have less amount of mercury than tuna. Making it a better option if you want to include it regularly. When it comes to a nutritional profile, sardines tend to have more nutrients than tuna (iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and selenium).

Are Sardines Better Than Salmon For Bodybuilding?

They are both great protein options to include. Both have healthy fats that help reduce inflammation in the body and have a variety of vitamins and minerals. Remember that variety is vital in a healthy diet. Don’t focus on only one type of food but try to have as many options as possible.

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

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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.