3 Reasons Why Tuna Is Good For Bodybuilding (Plus, 1 Con)

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Tuna is a staple food for bodybuilders because of its high protein content, and below, I’ll explain how to incorporate it into your diet if your goal is muscle growth.

Key Takeaways

  • Tuna is a high-protein food (23 grams per 100 grams) and ideal for any bodybuilder who wants to add extra protein without ingesting too much extra fat (such as when eating chicken thighs or beef).
  • While an excellent protein source, tuna is high in mercury––a heavy metal that can lead to health issues. Limiting your intake to 2-3 servings weekly, or 8-12 ounces, is best.
  • Tuna is a good food for at least two hours before training, along with carbs, such as sweet potato, brown rice, or quinoa. You can also enjoy it after training to kickstart the recovery process.

Want to learn more?  Check out our article on the Best Fish For Bodybuilding, where we rank 29 other fish. 

Tuna: Overview

Nutritional content of 100 g of bluefin tuna for bodybuilding


Tuna has a moderate energy density, with 100 grams providing 144 calories.

Because of that, it’s a more versatile food you can eat while cutting or bulking.

For example, you would have to limit your calories in a cutting phase, which means you should cook tuna with less oil (if you get a fresh piece) or pick a plain, canned variety. 

On the other hand,  you need a larger caloric intake in a bulking phase. 

As such, you could cook with olive oil or butter to increase the caloric content of the dish. Or, if eating from a can, mix it with other ingredients like mayo or cheese.

Remember to measure the portion size regardless of whether you’re bulking or cutting. This way, you ensure that you are within your calorie budget. 


Tuna contains proteins and fats with no carbs. 

However, even though it does have some fats, one of the advantages is it’s relatively low fat compared with other protein sources. 

It has a 5:1 protein-to-fat ratio, which means you get five grams of protein per gram of fat.

In contrast, chicken thighs (with skin) have a 1:1 protein-to-fat ratio, which means you get a gram of fat per gram of protein (this makes it a very high-fat protein). 

Even roast beef (a go-to protein source for many bodybuilders) has a protein-to-fat ratio of 4:1.

For a bodybuilder, this is an advantage since you can have more control over the calories and the fat content. 

In a bulking phase? Add more healthy fats like olive oil or avocado. In a cutting phase? Mix with lemon and spices to avoid adding fats.


Tuna is high in several nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin B12 (391% of daily needs per 100 grams). This vitamin is necessary for producing healthy red blood cells––the ones that carry oxygen and nutrients to your organs and muscles.
  • Vitamin A (73% of daily needs for men and 93% for women per 100 grams). It plays a vital role in boosting your immune system. Stronger immunity can reduce the risk of getting illnesses and spending more time away from the gym. 


“Tuna is one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that plays critical roles in immune function, bone health, and other vital bodily processes.”

Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D.

3 Pros Of Eating Tuna For Bodybuilding

pros vs cons of eating tuna for bodybuilding

Ideal When On A Budget

For those who don’t want to spend so much on protein but still need to reach their protein intake, tuna is the way to go.

It is a cheap, easy-to-carry protein option that replaces your protein powder.

It also has the advantage of finding several tuna flavors, adding more variety to your meals. 

For instance, Walmart offers 12-ounce canned tuna for $2.27. Each three-ounce serving (drained) provides 17 grams of high-quality protein.

Plus, the benefit of canned tuna is that it has a shelf life of two to five years, so you can stock up during sales (but be sure to check the expiration date beforehand).

Make sure to opt for the water-packed tuna if you buy canned tuna since it will have fewer calories and a lower fat content. 

High In Protein 

Another reason you want to include tuna in your diet if you are a bodybuilder is its high protein content.

A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving provides a whopping 28 grams of protein comparable to chicken breast.

Getting enough protein as a bodybuilder (at least 1.6 grams per kilogram) can be tough. 

Tuna adds variety to your diet and makes reaching that target easier without eating another chicken breast.

It May Help Reduce Inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation in the body. Reducing inflammation can support muscle recovery, potentially boosting muscle growth in the long run.

Tuna has 1,103 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. The minimum omega-3 intake is 250-500 mg daily

Thus, you get your recommended intake by just consuming 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of tuna. But don’t worry because you can consume up to 3 grams of omega-3 without any worries. 

1 Con of Eating Tuna For Bodybuilding

High In Mercury

Due to water contamination, some fish are high in mercury. High mercury exposure can cause central nervous system problems, leading to irritability, fatigue, behavioral changes, and headaches.

Since tuna eats smaller fish that may already have mercury contamination, it potentially leads to mercury build-up. Thus, tuna tends to be higher in mercury than tilapia or salmon.

However, the amount of mercury it contains depends on the variety of tuna. 

For example, larger tuna varieties, like albacore, tend to be higher in mercury than smaller ones, like bluefin tuna (having up to three times more mercury).

Here’s a bit of insight from registered dietitian Kelli McGrane:

“As canned tuna typically contains younger and smaller types of tuna, including light and skipjack, it is typically lower in mercury than frozen or fresh tuna filets.”

According to the FDA, the recommended intake is two to three servings weekly, or approximately 8-12 ounces of canned light tuna.

Can You Eat Tuna Before Workouts?

Tuna can be a good pre-workout food, but you should have it at least 1.5-2 hours before training to allow for proper digestion.

The reason is that tuna is high in protein and moderate in fats, both of which take time to digest.

You must also include carbs alongside the tuna for a proper pre-workout meal. This will ensure you have all the energy you need to push through your training and perform at your best.

Research recommends having around one gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 80 kilograms (176 lbs), aim for up to 80 grams of carbs, such as bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, or pasta.

Can You Eat Tuna After Workouts?

Tuna is an ideal post-workout food because it provides 23 grams of protein per 100 grams. This is the same as a scoop of protein powder. 

Having enough protein after training (0.3 to 0.5 grams per kilogram, according to research) kickstarts the recovery process and reduces the risk of muscle breakdown.

You must also include carbs (the same amount as protein) to replenish lost glycogen (the complex carb form stored primarily in your muscles).

Aside from the carb sources mentioned above, you can enjoy whole-wheat crackers, white rice, potatoes, and rice cakes.

You can also include some dietary fats–– for example, avocado and olive oil. 

Is Tuna Good For Muscle Growth?

Tuna provides the necessary protein for muscle growth but is not high in calories (only 144 calories per 100 grams of bluefin tuna).

So, include other foods that are high in calories––for example, nuts and nut butters, natural oils, full-fat dairy, and honey.  This will help you achieve that caloric surplus for your muscles to grow

It’s also worth noting that tuna is not an ‘everyday’ food, given the mercury concern. As stated above, limiting your intake to two to three weekly servings is best.

So, while tuna can be a good addition to your bodybuilding diet, you must have other protein options to cover your needs.

Tips For Incorporating Tuna Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating tuna into a bodybuilding diet

Choose Low Sodium

Nearly 50% of the US population has high blood pressure. One of the reasons is the high average sodium intake of 3,400+ mg daily

According to the American Hearts Association, the daily recommended intake is 2,300 mg of sodium.

When you consume more salt than your body needs, your body retains water to dilute the excess salt.

More water in the body means more pressure is running through your circulatory system, which means that your blood pressure increases. 

To avoid being part of this statistic, choose low-sodium tuna––having less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.

Natural vs. Canned Tuna

When possible, choose natural tuna over canned. Natural tuna is less processed, which might be better for overall health. 

(Just be sure to get cuts from smaller tuna fish like skipjack, as these tend to be lower in mercury.)

During the processing, tuna is cooked and mixed with preservatives (typically oil and various chemicals) for a long shelf life. If you enjoy canned tuna, pick a water-based one rather than those mixed with oil, as these are higher in calories and fats.

However, if you simply can’t stand water-based tuna, add some extra flavor (more on that next) or purchase those stored in oil, but drain the liquid before eating to limit the fats.

Add Some Flavor

For those who don’t like the flavor of canned tuna, there are several ways to modify it without adding too many calories. 

Mustard is always an excellent choice, as it is low in calories, which means you can eat larger amounts (as long as it doesn’t have any added sugar). 

You can also add lemon and mix it with mustard to make the most delicious tuna mix (sometimes, I even add less than a teaspoon of mayo or Greek yogurt to make it a little more creamy).

Add veggies like onions or bell peppers, and you go from a boring canned tuna to something more flavorful. 

Cutting? Add some tuna between a few cucumber slices to save some calories. Bulking? Place tuna on top of some pita chips.

Be Aware of the Cooking Methods

How you cook tuna can help your goals or sabotage them.

If you are in a bulking phase, you have wider wiggle room to cook tuna with sesame oil, olive oil, or butter. As long as you control the portion size, these extra fats can help you achieve that caloric surplus.

On the other hand, if you are in a cutting phase where your calories are more limited, cook your fish with lots of spices and condiments. 

One of my favorite ways of cooking tuna is marinating it in lemon juice and ginger. 

Marinate Tuna

One of the most common things I hear from my clients is that they don’t like the “fishy” taste of tuna. There are a couple of ways to ensure it won’t taste fishy. 

The first one is to choose fresh tuna. Usually, it tastes “fishy” when it is not so fresh. Look for moist, bright red, and avoid that that looks brown or slimy. 

Another way to avoid that “fishy” taste is to marinate the tuna steak for several hours. Mixing lemon, chopped ginger, and some low-sodium soy sauce is my favorite way to marinate it.

I typically leave it marinating overnight, but a few hours can do wonders.

Other Fish Resources


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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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