Is Tuna Good For Muscle Growth?

Tuna muscle growth

Learn why tuna is good for muscle growth and the best kind of tuna to eat. Eating this fish is definitely good for supporting muscle hypertrophy and growth. Still, you have to be careful about what type you eat and how much you consume because many species are contaminated with high levels of mercury.

Some types are lower in mercury and that you can safely eat in large quantities. We will break down the basics of what types are lowest in mercury and can be added to your muscle-building diet plan.

Different types of tuna

There are 15 different species of tuna with many more subspecies. Below is a list of all 15 species.

  1. Blackfin
  2. Pacific bluefin
  3. Skipjack 
  4. Yellowfin
  5. Little Tunny
  6. Albacore
  7. Bullet
  8. Mackerel
  9. Slender
  10. Black skipjack
  11. Bigeye
  12. Southern bluefin
  13. Atlantic bluefin
  14. Frigate
  15. longtail

Not all of the different types of tuna are used in canned tuna. Likewise, some species that is canned is not usually eaten fresh or in fillet or steak form.

Canned tuna

Canned tuna

The most common species of tuna that are used for canned products are:

  • Skipjack
  • Yellowfin
  • Albacore

Skipjack is one of the smaller species and is more sustainable due to its increased ability to reproduce successfully. It is often used in the chunk light canned tuna. It is considered a low to moderate risk in terms of mercury contamination.

Albacore is often referred to as “white” tuna due to the color of the muscle. Like the skipjack, its numbers are stable and healthy and are currently a stable, sustainable fishery.

Yellowfin, like skipjack, is often used in chunk light tuna. Yellowfin canned tuna is considered more flavorful in taste than the other types of tuna. The yellowfin fishery is not sustainable currently, and the numbers are decreasing.

Fresh or natural

Tuna Steak
Tuna Steak

The species that is most commonly consumed in fresh or natural forms are albacore, yellowfin, bigeye, and bluefin. These species are most often consumed in loin or steak form.

Bluefin Tuna are among the most expensive and prestigious fish out there. Yellowfin is leaner than bluefin, and it has a lighter taste. Even though Yellowfin meat does not contain the coveted fat content of Bluefin, it is of excellent quality nevertheless. Sashimi and steaks can be prepared using Yellowfin meat. 

Which is better for muscle growth Canned tuna or natural tuna

Any form of tuna is a good option for building lean muscle mass and will provide you with a high protein content of 20 to 30 grams of protein per 100 gram portion.

canned tuna is the better option for building muscle because of the following:

  • canned tuna is easy to carry
  • canned tuna is cheap
  • smaller fish are generally used, resulting in lower mercury content

Fresh or natural tuna is not ideal for athletes and bodybuilders because of the following:

  • expensive
  • not portable
  • has to be prepared or cooked
  • higher mercury levels
  • goes bad quickly

Nutritional Profile of Tuna

This section will give you a general idea of the nutrition facts or nutrition profile for the different types of tuna, from fresh/natural to canned in water and oil. Please remember that these nutrition facts are a general guide and can vary slightly between the different species. If we made nutrition labels for each species, it would take up too much room, and the difference between the species is not significant enough to warrant this breakdown.

Canned tuna nutrition label – in oil

Nutrition Facts for canned tuna in oil

Serving Size1
Servings2
Amount Per Serving
Calories100
% Daily Value *
Total Fat8.21g
13%
Saturated Fat1.534g
8%
Polyunsaturated Fat2.885g
Cholesterol18mg
6%
Sodium354mg
15%
Protein29.13g
59%
Potassium207mg
6%

Canned tuna nutrition label – in water

Nutrition Facts for canned tuna in water

Serving Size1
Servings2
Amount Per Serving
Calories100
% Daily Value *
Total Fat0.82g
2%
Saturated Fat0.234g
2%
polyunsaturated fat0.337g
Cholesterol30mg
10%
Sodium338mg
15%
Protein25.51g
52%
Potassium237mg
7%

Fresh or natural tuna nutrition label

We will use bluefin as the default or standard for fresh tuna as it is the gold standard and most sought after for steaks and loins.

Nutrition Facts for fresh tuna

Serving Size1
Servings2
Amount Per Serving
Calories100
% Daily Value *
Total Fat4.9g
8%
Saturated Fat1.257g
7%
Polyunsaturated Fat1.433g
Cholesterol38mg
13%
Sodium39mg
2%
Protein23.33g
47%
Potassium252mg
8%

Is tuna good for muscle growth?

build muscle

Tuna is good for building muscle because it is high in quality protein and healthy omega-3 fats. These macronutrients help build muscle by stimulating protein synthesis, enhancing mTOR signaling, and downregulating catabolic processes.

It is well documented that athletes and bodybuilders doing resistance training and trying to build muscle mass need more protein than the average person. Athletes and bodybuilders need to try and consume 1.7 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.[1] Tuna is a great way to get the extra protein your body needs to repair and build new lean mass.

In addition to the high-quality protein that it contains, it also has a good amount of healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Studies show that 1.5 grams of DHA per day or more can increase skeletal muscle mass and strength.[2][3]

Tuna is an easy and convenient high protein meal in a can that can be taken anywhere and eaten anytime. It has all the high-quality amino acids and protein that the body needs to build muscle. As a bonus, it has high amounts of omega-3s that can help to support protein synthesis and the anabolic process of muscle repair and growth.

High in protein

protein

As you can see from tuna’s nutritional profile, it is a good protein source and full of muscle-building amino acids. On average, a 100 gram serving contains approximately 25 grams of high-quality protein.

Below is a table that shows the amino acids profile of tuna and how much of each amino acid it has.[4]

Amino AcidAmount in grams
Aspartic acid2.23
Glutamic acid3.26
Serine0.77
Glycine1.05
Alanine1.39
Tyrosine0.73
Histidine1.82
Threonine1.13
Arginine1.51
Methionine0.78
Valine1.28
Isoleucine1.31
Leucine1.93
Lysine2.15
Phenylalanine0.96

  As you can see in the table above tuna is high in key anabolic amino acids, specifically the branched-chain amino acids. The BCAA are well studied and documented to increase anabolism, protein synthesis and muscle growth.[5] For more detailed information about how BCAA can build muscle read the article we wrote on branched chain amino acids.

High in Omega-3 fatty acids

Another nutrient found in high amounts within tuna is omega-3 fatty acids.

Below is a table showing the DHA or omega-3 fatty acid content of tuna per 100 gram serving.[6]

Type of TunaAmount of DHA per 100g serving
Light canned tuna in water0.2g
Cooked yellowfin tuna0.11g

  Numerous studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can increase protein synthesis and muscle hypertrophy.[7] Studies on elderly and cancer patients suffering from lean muscle loss show that taking 1.5 grams of DHA daily increased protein synthesis and augmented mTOR signaling, which helps build muscle.[8] Based on some studies, a dose of 1.5 grams of DHA per day effectively raised protein synthesis and mTOR signaling leading to increases in skeletal muscle mass and strength.[9][10]

Consuming fresh or canned tuna is a great way to add extra DHA (omega-3) to your diet and enhance your body’s ability to build muscle.

High in Mercury

liquid mercury
liquid mercury

According to the FDA, Tuna contains higher levels of mercury than most other seafood items.[11]

The reason why mercury levels are higher in tuna compared to other seafood items is that it is higher up the food chain. As tuna grow bigger, they eat smaller fish with mercury, and over time the fish grows and becomes more contaminated with mercury. The shorter a tuna lives, the less time it has to accumulate mercury, and because of this, the tuna that have lived the longest and become the largest have the highest mercury levels. Larger varieties like albacore tend to have more mercury than smaller types like bluefin tuna. Mercury can accumulate in your body over time, so small amounts may add up if you eat too much or too often. Aside from avoiding high-mercury varieties of fish altogether, limiting how much you eat is one way to reduce your exposure.

What tuna has the lowest mercury levels?

lowest levels

Since tuna can be a great source of protein and a bodybuilding food that can help you add muscle mass, it should be added to your diet. But you need to understand how much mercury you are being exposed to so that you can adjust your consumption based on these numbers.

Below is a table showing the max or highest levels of mercury detected by the FDA in the different tuna species.[12]

Tuna SpeciesHighest Mercury LevelMercury Level in micrograms(mcg) Per 100 Grams
Canned Light Tuna0.88988.9mcg
Fresh Skipjack0.2626mcg
Canned Albacore0.85385.3mcg
Fresh Yellowfin1.478147.8mcg
Fresh Albacore0.8282mcg
Fresh Bigeye1.816181.6mcg

  As you can see from the table above the mercury content can vary greatly between the different fish species and so if you are going to eat a lot of tuna as protein source it is wise to choose one that has lower mercury levels.

Typically chunk light tuna is made from small fish. As we have already mentioned, smaller fish have less time accumulating mercury in their bodies, so they generally have much lower mercury levels. Look for chunked light canned tuna that contains skipjack as it tends to have the lowest levels of mercury, and if you buy chunked light canned skipjack, then you are eating the smallest skipjack fish as they were not big enough to be sold as loins or tuna steaks, hence why they were chunked up and canned.

Frequently Asked Questions

Healthiest canned tuna

The healthiest canned tuna is flaked or chunked light canned tuna that comes from the skipjack species. Getting chunk or flaked light will significantly reduce the fish’s mercury and heavy metals content. This is because the smaller fish are used in canned products. After all, they are too small and not fat enough to be sold for fillets, loins, or steaks. As we mentioned above, the smaller the fish, the lower the levels of heavy metals.

how long does canned tuna last?

An unopened can of tuna can last years past its expiration date, as long as the can has not been compromised and air has managed to enter it. Once you open a can, it lasts only a few days if refrigerated.

How much canned tuna is safe to eat per week?

The EPA recommends a safe daily oral intake of up to 0.1 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight.[13] A 180-pound man can consume 8.15mcg of mercury per day with no harmful effects. This means that you could eat low mercury-containing canned tuna like skipjack 2 to 3 times per week without worrying about consuming over the safe mercury limits.

Is canned tuna raw?

Canned tuna is cooked before being canned. The raw tuna is cooked in large steamer baskets, then the skin and other unwanted parts are removed, and the meat of the fish is packed into the cans.

Is canned tuna bad for you?

Canned tuna is not bad for you, provided you pay attention to the mercury content and adjust your daily or weekly consumption to not go over the safe limits. The average size man-eating 2 to 3 cans per week should be safe and healthy.


The information contained within this article is not intended to be taken as medical or health advice. For medical and health information and guidance please speak with your doctor.