5 Reasons Why Tilapia Is Good For Bodybuilding (Plus, 1 Con)

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While bodybuilders have many protein sources to pick from, tilapia is one of the best foods to add to a muscle-building diet. Below, I’ll go over four reasons for that, plus one con.

Key Takeaways

  • Tilapia is a great option for bodybuilders because it’s a lean protein source. It has only 111 calories per fillet, 23.3 grams of protein, and a mere 2 grams of fat. This makes it ideal for increasing protein intake while controlling fats and calories, such as during a cut.
  • Tilapia has lower mercury levels (a heavy metal that could lead to health issues) than other seafood. This means you can have it more frequently as one of your diet’s primary protein sources.
  • You can pair tilapia with complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes and rice, for balanced meals that provide energy for your workouts and promote recovery after training.

Tilapia: Overview

nutritional content of one fillet of tilapia 116 grams

5 Benefits Of Eating Tilapia

High in Protein

One of the main reasons you’ll want to add tilapia is its high protein intake (23.3 grams per fillet). 

As a bodybuilder, you should aim for 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, which can be difficult to get, especially if you also want to limit your fats and calories (such as during a cut).

To increase your protein intake without relying on protein powder, tilapia is the way to go.

Low In Calories

With only 111 calories per fillet, tilapia is a great food to enjoy while cutting and trying to keep your calorie intake under control.

Its high protein content also makes tilapia a relatively filling food, given the nutrient’s satiating effect.

Low in Mercury

One of the biggest concerns when talking about fish is mercury intake. 

Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal commonly found in fish.

Tilapia is considered to be low in mercury. It ranks near the bottom among an extensive list of marine life in mercury concentrations, having similar levels as sardines, oysters, and anchovies.

Since it is typically a farm-raised fish (wild-caught tilapia is hard to come by), tilapia is not as exposed to mercury as other marine animals.

Easy to Digest

It might be easier to digest since fish have less connective tissue than meat and chicken. 

The muscle fibers in fish are shorter compared to larger animals. They also have fewer connective tissues compared to red meat and chicken. 

This could indicate that tilapia is easier to digest and that it might be a preferable pre-workout protein snack, especially when eating more calories on a bulk and frequently feeling full.

High In Micronutrients

Tilapia is high in pantothenic acid, selenium, and phosphorus. What benefits do these bring if you are a bodybuilder?

  • Phosphorus (28% of daily needs). Phosphorus is part of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy currency for all cells in your body. This means it plays an essential role in energy formation, which is necessary for performing optimally in your training. Additionally, phosphorus is necessary for bone formation.

1 Drawback of Eating Tilapia

Omega 6 vs. Omega 3 Ratio

One of the main concerns of tilapia is its omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. 

Omega-6 fatty acids tend to have an inflammatory effect, while omega-3 fatty acids tend to be anti-inflammatory.

Although you need more omega-6 in your diet than omega-3, the amount of omega-6 fatty acids is way too high in a Western diet (a 15:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is common today).

This may not be good, as a high omega-6 and low omega-3 intake is linked to inflammation, which can affect your long-term health and possibly even impact muscle recovery.

So, why are we discussing this here?

The main issue with tilapia is that most of the fat it provides is omega-6, which means it may contribute to an existing problem. 

Here is a bit of insight from Ph.D. and assistant professor at Samford University School of Public Health Keith Pearson:

“The bad news for tilapia is that it only contains 240 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving — ten times less omega-3 than wild salmon.”

A way to counter this effect is to make sure you limit your omega-6 intake from other foods like safflower oil, peanuts, and hemp seeds. 

You may also go for wild tilapia over farm-raised, as it appears to have less omega-6.

However, I rarely see wild tilapia at the grocery store unless it’s a specialty grocery store that sources a lot of organic food.

Can You Eat Tilapia Before Workouts?

Although fish is easier to digest than meat or chicken, I would still advise having tilapia 1-2 hours before a workout. 

Aragon and Schoenfeld recommend having 0.4-0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight before training. For example, a 70-kilo (154-lb) bodybuilder should aim for 28 to 35 grams of protein, the equivalent of 1.5 tilapia fillets.

You can also include a carbs like sweet potato or rice to provide the necessary energy you need before training. 

Research recommends having a gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 70 kilograms (154 lbs), aim for 70 grams of carbs before training.

Another great option to increase your carbs is having a fruit-based sauce with fish. For example, one of my favorite combinations is having mango salsa with tilapia. 

Can You Eat Tilapia After Workouts?

Tilapia is an excellent option after a workout, as it provides the protein to help repair and grow your muscle mass. 

One fillet of tilapia offers 23 g of protein, roughly the same as a scoop of protein powder.

Research recommends aiming for 0.3-0.5 grams of protein post-workout. For the same 70-kilo (154-lb) bodybuilder, that would be 21 to 35 grams of protein or approximately 1-1.5 tilapia fillets.

However, you also need at least 0.3 grams of carbs per kilogram after training. This is necessary to replenish lost glycogen (the complex carb form stored in your muscles and liver) and support protein synthesis.

Thus, when having tilapia, after a workout session, try adding beans, lentils, or potatoes.

Is Tilapia Good For Muscle Growth?

While tilapia is high in protein, it is not so high in calories.  

As such, you will still need to add high-calorie foods to your diet to obtain a caloric surplus (eating more calories than you burn), which is essential when building muscle

Some excellent high-calorie foods to eat while bulking include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Natural oils (e.g., olive oil)
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Avocado
  • Red meat
  • Dark chocolate

Also, here is a quick tip from coach Mike Dewar on eating more calories:

“Swapping in cereals, pancakes, and other “less healthy” food options is a great way to increase calories and carbohydrates without ingesting too much fiber (eating fruit loops for breakfast and getting 400 calories that way has less fiber than eating 400 calories from steel cut oats).”

Tips For Incorporating Tilapia Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating tilapia into a bodybuilding diet

Be Aware of The Fats

If you are in a cutting phase, be careful about how you cook your tilapia. 

Tilapia doesn’t have a lot of flavor, which means people tend to add lots of butter and olive oil to make it tastier. This means tilapia can go from a low to a high-calorie food.

So, make sure to measure the fats you use to ensure you stay within your caloric budget.

Choose The Right Cooking Method

You’ll also need to think about choosing the right cooking method based on your goals.

If you are trying to control your caloric intake, choose baking, air frying, or cooking it in the pan to decrease the fat intake.

Avoid methods like deep frying since it can significantly increase the calories.

Use Spices

Add lots of spices and herbs to make tilapia tastier. 

For example, add some rosemary with olive oil to create the perfect Mediterranean tilapia dish, or garlic and lemon to make a more refreshing dish.

Here are three of my favorite recipes: 

Careful With The Sauces

Although there is nothing better than fish with sauce (since they are a little dry), the sauce you choose to include can be high in calories. 

Avoid those that are cream-based since they are more calorie-dense than veggie-based ones. 

Other Food Comparisons

Other Seafood Resources For Bodybuilders


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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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