Often, when my bodybuilding clients are looking for a quick high-protein snack, they open a can of tuna with some crackers.
Hi – I’m Brenda, a Registered Dietician who specializes in workout nutrition.
So, is tuna good or bad for bodybuilding? Tuna is a great option for bodybuilders who need to increase their protein intake without adding too much fat content (like chicken thighs or beef). While tuna is a lean protein source, it is considered high in mercury. Therefore, bodybuilders should only consume it in moderation, along with other sources of protein.
In this article, you will learn everything related to tuna and bodybuilding, including all of the main considerations you need to make before incorporating it into your diet.
- The caloric content and macronutrient breakdown of tuna
- Pros and cons of adding tuna if you are a bodybuilder
- When to add tuna: before or after a workout
- How tuna helps muscle growth
- Tips and tricks to include tuna into your bodybuilding diet
Tuna For Bodybuilding: Overview
Nutritional Content of Tuna
In 100 g of bluefin tuna, you can find the following nutritional information.
- Calories: 144
- Carbs: 0.0 g
- Proteins: 23.3 g
- Fats: 4.9 g
Tuna is considered moderate in calories. In 100 g of tuna, you get 144 kcal.
Since tuna doesn’t have a lot of calories, it is a versatile food that can be adjusted according to your phase of training.
For example, if you are in a cutting phase, you don’t want to add too many calories. Thus, you might choose to cook with less oil (if cooking a fresh piece of tuna), or if you’re eating from a can, picking a variety without added ingredients or flavor.
On the other hand, if you are in a bulking phase, you need to have a large caloric intake. As such, you might want to 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.
Remember that you need to measure the portion size no matter which phase you are in. This way, you ensure that you are without your total caloric budget.
Tuna is a food that only contains proteins and fats. It doesn’t have any carbs.
However, even though it does have some fats, one of the advantages of tuna is it’s fairly low-fat compared with other sources of protein. It has a 5:1 protein to fat ratio. This means that for every 5 g of protein, you only get 1 g of fat.
In contrast, chicken thighs have a 1:1 protein to fat ratio, which means that for every gram of protein you get a gram of fat (this makes it a very high-fat protein). Even when it comes to roast beef, it has a lower protein to fat ratio. Beef has a 4:1 protein to fat ratio.
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.
In terms of protein, it’s one of the main macronutrients a bodybuilder needs to gain or maintain muscle mass. But, a common problem I see with my clients is that they get tired very quickly with protein shakes or eating chicken every meal. Tuna is an excellent protein option that helps add some variety to the mix.
Learn more about the fish with the most protein.
Tuna is high in several nutrients, including:
- Vitamin B12. This vitamin is responsible for producing healthy red blood cells. They are the ones that carry oxygen and nutrients to your organs. Your muscles need those to grow. Thus, vitamin B12 plays an essential part in muscle growth.
- Selenium. It is a potent antioxidant that helps decrease inflammation in the body. Having less inflammation leads to better recovery, which means less muscle pain and better muscle growth.
- Niacin. It helps reduce joint inflammation and increase joint mobility. For those prone to get joint problems when working out, niacin is a vitamin that you want to be on the lookout for.
- Vitamin A. It plays an important role in boosting your immune system. Boosting your immune system helps prevent getting sick more often, which leads to more tule at the gym and less time at home.
Want to learn more about other fish for bodybuilding? Check out my article on the Top 29 Fish For Bodybuilding (Ranked By Cheapest Options).
Are you eating the right foods for your bodybuilding goals?
3 Pros Of Eating Tuna For Bodybuilding
Here are the top reasons to include tuna into your diet if you are a bodybuilder:
Ideal When On A Budget
For those that don’t want to spend so much on protein (like protein powders) but still need to reach their protein intake, tuna is the way to go.
It is a cheap, easy-to-carry protein option that easily replaces your protein powder.
It also has the advantage of finding several tuna flavors, adding more variety to your meals. Make sure to opt for the water-packed tuna if you buy canned tuna since it is going to have fewer calories and a fewer fat content.
High In Protein
Another reason you want to include tuna into your diet if you are a bodybuilder is its high protein content.
Protein is beneficial for both bodybuilders in a cutting and a bulking phase.
A bulking phase helps repair and grow your muscles with adequate caloric intake.
On the other hand, a bodybuilder in a cutting phase helps maintain your muscle mass while reducing your calories. Additionally, since protein stays longer in your stomach, it makes you feel fuller.
Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation in the body. Reducing inflammation helps your muscles recover properly, which leads to muscle growth.
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 g of tuna. But don’t worry, you can consume up to 3 g of omega-3 without having any repercussions.
Learn more the 19 Best Fish To Eat After A Workout (Plus 10 To Avoid)
1 Con of Eating Tuna For Bodybuilding
There is only one big con when consuming tuna if you are a bodybuilder:
High In Mercury
Due to water contamination, some fish are high in mercury. High mercury exposure can cause your central nervous system problems, causing irritability, fatigue, behavioral changes, headaches, and incoordination.
Since tuna eats smaller fish that may already have some mercury contamination, it potentially leads to mercury build-up. This, unlike tilapia or salmon, tuna tends to be higher in mercury
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.
Can You Eat Tuna Before Workouts?
Proteins and fats are harder to digest. Thus, adding tuna immediately before a workout might not be the best option since it can produce sluggishness and bloating. Including tuna less than one hour before training may negatively affect your performance.
The main goal of a pre-workout snack is to provide the required energy for your training session. Carbs are the top choice when it comes to providing energy. Since tuna doesn’t contain any carbs (only protein and fats), it is not the beat to provide energy for your training session. You could opt for fruits, bread, or honey.
If you are thinking of including tuna before working out, you might want to include it 1-2 hours before your training session. That way, you ensure that you give your digestive system some time to process the food.
Want to learn more about fats before pre-workout? Check out Should You Eat Fat Before A Workout? (No, Here’s Why)
Can You Eat Tuna After Workouts?
Tuna is an ideal option when thinking of food to include after training. After your workout, you need protein to help repair and grow your muscles. In 100 g of tuna, you find more or less the same amount of protein that one scoop of protein powder provides.
Even if protein is essential, you still need to add carbs and fats. Without an adequate carb supply to help replenish the energy lost during training, you risk using the protein you eat as an energy source instead of leaving it for muscle building.
Thus, along with tuna, you can add a source of healthy carbs like whole-wheat crackers, rice, and sweet potato. Additionally, you can add healthy fat like avocado or olive oil to help reduce inflammation. This helps improve your muscle recovery.
Want to learn more about fats after a workout? Check out Should You Eat Fat After A Workout? (No, Here’s Why)
Is Tuna Good For Muscle Growth?
Tuna provides the necessary protein for muscle growth. However, since it is not very high in calories you need to add other energy-dense foods like olive oil or avocado to help achieve muscle growth.
Try adding other foods that are high in calories. This will help you achieve that caloric surplus for your muscles to grow. You can visit my other article, Top 10 Foods High In Calories But Low In Protein, for more ideas.
Tips For Incorporating Tuna Into A Bodybuilding Diet
Here are my top and tricks to make the most out of tuna when thinking of adding it to your bodybuilding diet.
Choose Low Sodium
Nearly 50% of the US population has high blood pressure. One of the reasons for this increase is due to the sodium intake. When you eat more salt than your body needs, your body retains water in order to dilute the excess of salt. More water in the body means that there is more pressure running through your circulatory system, which means that your blood pressure increases.
According to the American Hearts Association, the daily recommended intake is said to be 2,300 mg of sodium daily. However, research has shown that on average, people are eating 3,200 mg of sodium per day. No wonder why a large part of the population is having high blood pressure.
To avoid being part of this statistic, if you are thinking of adding canned tuna over raw. Make sure to choose one that is low in sodium. To be considered low in sodium, it must have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
Be aware of the terms found on the can. In some cases, you can find that it says that it is “light” tuna. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is low in sodium. Thus, make sure to always check the amount of sodium and don’t give based on the cover.
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)
Natural vs. Canned Tuna
When possible, choose natural tuna over canned. Natural tuna is less processed, which makes it better for overall health. During the processing of canned tuna, it is cooked, preserved in most cases in oil, and then added preservatives to have a long-shelf life.
Now, if you are one of those that enjoy a can of tuna, make sure it is water-based, not oil-based, since it might have more calories.
For those that don’t like water-based tuna, I always tell my clients to remove most of the oil by draining the liquid inside the can. That way you can avoid most of the extra calories it has.
Add Some Flavor
For those that don’t like the flavor of canned tuna, there are several ways that you can modify it without adding too many calories.
Mustard is always an excellent choice. It is very low in calories. Thus, it is considered a food that you can consume in an unlimited amount (as long as it doesn’t have any sugar added).
Another thing that you can add is lemon. You can even mix mustard and lemon 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 bit more creamy). Add some veggies like onions or bell peppers and you go from a boring canned tuna to something more flavorful.
If you are in a cutting phase, you can place them in some slices of cucumber to avoid adding any more calories. If you are in a bulking phase, you can place it on top of some pita chips.
Be Aware of the Cooking Methods
The way you decide to cook tuna can either help your goals or sabotage them.
If you are in a bulking phase, you have a 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. You might want to 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.
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 make sure that it won’t taste fishy.
The first one is to choose fresh tuna. Normally, it tastes “fishy” when it is not so fresh. When you go grocery shopping ask the one in charge how long ago they received the product.
Look for moist, bright red, and avoid that that looks brown or slimy (it means that it is not fresh).
Another way that you can avoid that “fishy” taste is to marinate the tuna steak for several hours. My favorite way to marinate it is to mix lemon, chopped ginger, and some low sodium soy sauce. I typically leave it marinating overnight, but a couple of hours can also do wonders. I can assure you that this way you can eliminate that “fishy” taste.
Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?
Other Fish and Seafood Resources For Bodybuilders
- Is Cod Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
- 3 Reasons Why Tilapia Is Good For Bodybuilding (Plus, 1 Con)
- Is Sushi Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
- Is Salmon Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)
- Is Shrimp Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding (Pros & Cons)
- Are Sardines Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)
About The Author
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.