By design, working to make your muscles bigger and stronger is hard work. To successfully navigate the cycle of stress/recovery/growth, your muscles need all the help they can get. One way to accelerate that cycle is to eat the right amount of the right food at the right time. Enter the chicken breast. Loaded with protein and other less-celebrated nutritional gems, this white-meat wonder is convenient, versatile, and low in fat. It’s no surprise that it’s the most common muscle-building food found on dinner plates of gym rats everywhere. Yet, day after day of the same old grilled chicken breast can make even the most die-hard bird-lover want to fly the coop.

To honor this classic bodybuilding food, we give you the skinny on why chicken breast deserves to be front-and-center in a healthful diet and offer tasty secrets to bust you out of a chicken rut.

With a higher protein-to-fat ratio (19:1) than any other part of the chicken, the breast is a great source of lean protein. And its protein quality ranks right up there with other heavyweights like eggs and beef, meaning it’’s easily synthesized to repair muscle tissue and other cells damaged during hard training. But there’’s more than just protein under those feathers: A 6-ounce chicken breast provides about 187 calories, 40 grams of protein, zero carbs and only 2 grams of fat along with a host of other bodybuilding-friendly nutrients. 

  • Niacin is essential for the conversion of protein, fat and carbohydrate into usable energy, and one chicken breast contains more than the recommended daily allowance of niacin. In other words, it can help you push more weight around in the gym and stay on the treadmill longer.
  • Vitamin B6 allows you to use carbs (glycogen) stored in your muscles during exercise.
  • Iron is needed to deliver oxygen to those same muscles when you’re training in overdrive.
  • Selenium repairs damaged cells and inhibits the growth of cancerous ones, helping to lower your risk of cancer. It also aids in proper thyroid function, which in turn helps keep your metabolism revving – another good reason to use chicken breast as a primary protein source when dieting.
  • Zinc is an immune-boosting mineral that can ward off cold bugs and support the production of anabolic hormones.

Just make sure that you enjoy your breast sans skin. Keep the cover on, and you add double the total and saturated fat content. It’s okay to grill chicken with the skin on for flavor, but take it off before eating.

Follow our seven rules for buying, cooking and storing chicken breasts and you’ll no longer have to needlessly suffer through tasteless, dried-out poultry.