- Both macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are important for muscle growth.
- A balanced diet including a variety of vitamins and minerals will establish the foundation for building muscle.
- Vitamins and minerals carry out key functions—like oxygen transport, muscle contraction, and muscle repair—to help your body build and maintain muscle mass.
When it comes to muscle-building nutrition, protein powder and pre-workout steal the show.
Pills and powders might give you an edge, but “eating a balanced diet with a large variety of whole foods that will provide you with plenty of high-quality protein, healthy fats, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals is always the first step in promoting the excellent nutrition required for muscle building,” says Imashi Fernando, MS, RD.
Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals carry out key functions— oxygen transport, muscle contraction, and muscle repair—to help your body build and maintain muscle mass.
Here are the essential vitamins and minerals for muscle growth, and how to get more in your diet.
Best Vitamins for Muscle Growth
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is vital for immune health, and for your fitness routine since it helps you absorb iron. Which in turn gives you power to pump more iron.
It might also fight muscle soreness. One study from the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found that vitamin C supplementation before and after training reduced muscle soreness and prevented the oxidation of glutathione—a very potent antioxidant that can help enhance gains (1).
For a boost of vitamin C, pack your plates with colorful fruits and vegetables like oranges, kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage).
2. Vitamin A
The mighty antioxidant, Vitamin A, doesn’t directly strengthen your muscles, but it keeps you performing optimally. It supports your vision, is essential for bone growth and development, and fights inflammation.
To harness the benefits of vitamin A, incorporate more animal foods like liver, salmon, and egg yolks, and plant foods including sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots. “Vitamin A is fat soluble, so get your vitamin A as part of a balanced meal that includes healthy fats to maximize absorption,” says Fernando.
Your body needs iron to thrive. It makes hemoglobin, which shuttles oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron also plays an important role in energy metabolism.
Poor iron status can stunt your body’s capacity to carry and deliver oxygen, slashing your VO2 max (or work capacity). Oxygen gives you the ability to push harder, and exercise at a higher level. Managing low levels of iron can help resolve unexplained fatigue, lack of energy, and reduction in performance.
“Pair your plant-based iron-rich foods with vitamin C foods to enhance absorption of the non-heme iron typically found in plant-based sources,” says Fernando. She recommends a delicious dark leafy green salad with beans, peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli with fresh-squeezed lemon dressing.
4. Vitamin D
The sunshine vitamin is a powerhouse nutrient. Known for its ability to bolster the immune system, help increase absorption of calcium, and fortify bones.
It also plays a vital role in muscle health. Muscle weakness and cramps are a sign of vitamin D deficiency. One study linked vitamin D adequacy with stronger muscles and better posture (2).
Vitamin D is also essential for testosterone production—a key hormone for building and maintaining muscle. One study linked vitamin D levels with decreased T levels (3).
When exposed to the sun, your skin can manufacture its own vitamin D. You can also increase your levels by eating salmon, mackerel, herring, mushrooms, butter, cream, and egg yolks.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a dominant antioxidant—a substance that helps you stay healthy by mopping up damaging free radicals (or unstable molecules) that come from stress, inflammation, and over-exertion.
Free radicals can wreak havoc on precious muscle, resulting in breakdown. Besides promoting muscle growth and inhibiting decline vitamin E provides a host of other benefits for cardiovascular, immune, and eye health.
One recent study suggests vitamin E supplements may interfere with strength gains (4), so stick to vitamin E foods like nuts and seeds.
6. Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin
Vitamin B2 metabolizes fat and protein and helps convert carbs to ATP, which your cells use for energy. One study found that during running, vitamin B2 supplementation might reduce muscle pain and soreness during and after prolonged exercise, and may enhance early recovery post-workout (5).
For more B2, look to meat, milk, mushrooms, spinach, or almonds.
7. Vitamin B3 or Niacin
Another powerful B vitamin component, vitamin B3 (also known as Niacin) is popular among bodybuilders for increasing muscular vascularity or the appearance of superficial veins.
The benefits don’t stop at the gun show. One study found that niacin increased NAD+—an antioxidant that may improve muscle performance (6)—and improved muscle performance in mitochondrial myopathy patients (7). Other benefits include muscle repair, recovery, and improved metabolism.
For more of this muscle-boosting nutrient, try chicken, peanuts, potatoes, and milk.
8. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 plays an essential role in the metabolism of protein (9). Studies have demonstrated that the more protein you eat, the more vitamin B6 your body needs to actually break down and use that protein.
Vitamin B6 can also promote red blood cell production and healthy levels of nitric oxide—which is produced naturally in the body and can support physical performance and endurance.
B6-friendly foods include fish, beef liver and other organ meats, potatoes, fruit, and fortified cereals in your daily diet.
While great for hair, skin, and nails, biotin (vitamin B7) also transforms your macronutrients into energy for workouts.
Foods like meat, fish, seeds, nuts, and sweet potatoes are rife with biotin.
10. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a heavy hitter for energy. Your body needs B12 to make red blood cells, which ferry oxygen to your tissues, helping you feel strong and energized throughout the day (10).
B12 is vital for nervous system function. It maintains myelin–a fatty nerve insulator that optimizes signaling from your brain–to make sure muscles contract when they’re needed (among other things).
Start with vitamin B12 foods like meat, fish, eggs, dairy, fortified milk, and fortified cereals. “Some people may find it challenging to obtain adequate amounts of B12 from diet alone, especially those following a vegan diet, who have chronic digestive diseases like Crohn’s disease, or are taking certain medications like Metformin,” says Fernando, noting these people may benefit from B12 supplementation.
Magnesium is responsible for hundreds of processes in your body, but about 50 percent of Americans don’t get enough magnesium. When it comes to your workout, magnesium plays a role in muscle contraction, heart regulation, and energy production.
Males over 30 should get 420 mg of magnesium a day. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, and chia seeds are a few ways to pack more magnesium in.
Calcium boosts your bone health and supports muscle movement, too. Calcium is responsible for passing impulses from your nerves to your muscles, key for muscle contraction.
It also keeps your blood vessels in top shape and regulates blood pressure, which controls the pace at which oxygen is delivered to your muscles (and thus how you feel) during a workout.
For more calcium, try canned sardines, chia seeds, white beans, orange juice, and fortified cereals.
Giving your body what it needs to repair after your workout is as important as feeling strong during the workout. Zinc helps rebuild muscle fibers after a hard lifting session (11).
Your body can’t make zinc so it’s essential to get it through your diet. Eat more dairy, meat, oysters, seeds, and veggies to get your daily needs.
Your muscles need the right balance of potassium inside the cells and sodium outside for a muscle to contract. When that balance gets out of whack, it’s harder for your muscles to work.
That’s why hydrating with electrolytes such as sodium and potassium is crucial. Low potassium can lead to muscle cramps—hence why you’re told to down a banana when cramping.
Other potassium-rich foods include apricots, prunes, apples, oranges, tomatoes, lentils, soybeans, chicken, and turkey. Or try an electrolyte powder.
Do You Need a Supplement to Get These Micronutrients?
“There’s no need for healthy adults to ingest a supplement,” says Fernando. By eating a well-rounded diet, you can avoid micronutrient deficiencies and experience the performance and health benefits of meeting your macronutrient and micronutrient needs.
She also warns taking vitamin and mineral supplements if there’s no pre-existing deficiency will not improve athletic performance. “If you follow a restrictive diet, whether it be because of multiple food allergies or a medical condition, supplements can help fill in the nutrient gaps of your diet,” says Fernando. She also recommends choosing a reputable supplement brand that does third-party testing to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
Always discuss supplementation with your doctor to make sure a supplement won’t interfere with your current medications and needs. Unsure if you’re on the right path? A simple blood test can provide clarity on how your micronutrient intake is stacking up.
Other Ways to Build Muscle
Micronutrients are important, but they’re just one tool in your muscle-building toolbox. Here are a few other options.
If you’ve done a hard-core workout, adequate protein can help you recharge and recover. Protein’s amino acids (the building blocks of protein) repair and maintain muscle tissue.
There are nine essential amino acids. Your body can’t make essential amino acids so you have to get them through your diet. The best sources— such as eggs, meat, dairy, edamame, and tofu—contain all nine essential amino acids, so they’re complete sources of protein.
However, incomplete sources of protein like branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s)—particularly valine, leucine, and isoleucine—may help with muscle repair and soreness (12, 13, 14).
More evidence is needed to confirm if BCAA’s alone are sufficient, which is why your focus should be to eat high-quality proteins that contain a mix of essential amino acids. Aim for 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight of protein per day to fuel muscle growth.
Feel like you have your basics down—nutrition, hydration, rest, and sleep—yet still struggling to put on muscle? It could be a sign of low testosterone. Testosterone stimulates muscle growth and strength. When T levels wane, gaining muscle is tough.
The first step: get tested. If you are running low, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can help you build muscle and boost energy for your gym sessions.
Glutathione is your body’s master antioxidant and can boost strength and physical performance. One study found that when taken before a workout, men performed better and felt less fatigued after their exercise session (15).
Another study found that when healthy older adults supplemented with glyNAC, a substance that increases glutathione levels, it led to improvements in strength, gait speed, and body composition (16).
You can get more glutathione by eating glutathione foods like cruciferous vegetables, citrus, and whey protein. Glutathione injections are another easy way to boost your levels if you’re running low.
You can work with Hone to see if glutathione injections are right for you. Simply create an account, then describe your symptoms using Hone’s online form. A board-certified physician will review your answers, and prescribe glutathione if appropriate. If your prescription is approved, glutathione injections will be sent straight to your door.
Unless you’re specifically training to build muscle, no amount of vitamins or supplements are going to help you make gains. Try just 10 minutes of movement a day. The biggest shift you’ll feel mentally and physically is when you move from doing nothing to doing something.
Once you establish a base, you’ll get the energy to make more targeted adjustments to your routine, which is where training specifically for hypertrophy or strength comes in.
The Bottom Line
If you want bigger, stronger muscles, you need to fuel for growth. Vitamins like A, C, and B-complex work to keep your body running on all cylinders.
Solid nutrition with balanced micronutrients and macronutrients is the foundation for a healthy body and gains.
From there, if you’re looking for an added boost, protein, pre-workout, or other interventions like TRT and glutathione injections can be the cherry on top.