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Red Meat: When, what kind, and how much?

Nutrition is a major component of any sport. Athletes are constantly being studied to see what food will peak their performance the most. Protein and amino acids are said to be the ‘building blocks’ for skeletal muscle, which plays a major role in sport performance. Why? Because they aid in muscle growth and recovery. An active athlete must consume at least 1 gram of protein/bodyweight (lbs) a day in order to promote muscle tissue development. The kinds of protein we eat are also indicative of how well our performance will be. Lighter sources of protein (ex. tuna, salmon, beans, and eggs) are useful, but exactly how significant are they to maximal growth? Does it matter whether or not we consume dense proteins or not?

Bodybuilders have adopted this motto that “I must ingest dense proteins only in order to grow”, but this may not always be the case. Dense protein sources are generally associated with higher percentage of fat compared to lighter protein sources, which is why dietary recommendations for sedentary individuals limit the intake of dense protein sources such as red meat. Red meat has gotten a harsh reputation over time as a harmful substance that doesn’t offer any benefits aside from taste. Too much iron and saturated fat are detrimental to the body and internal organs such as the heart and its surrounding arteries. Below are listed some various red meats that typical adults eat:

•    Bacon
•    Sausage (turkey or beef)
•    Steak
•    Hamburgers/ Cheeseburgers
•    Meatloaf
•    Casserole with Ground Beef
•    Beef (Steaks, Roasts, etc., including Sandwiches)
•    Beef Stew
•    Liver (including Chicken Liver)
•    Pork (including Chops or Roast)
•    Roast
•    Hot Dogs
•    Ham
•    Bologna
•    Salami
•    Lunch Meat/Processed Meat

In most, cases, data would support that most of these foods do have a higher percentage of saturated fats, but that does not mean they are all bad for you. The is to eat red meat in moderation. In fact, red meat has many benefits such as:
•    Higher concentration of hemoglobin. This permits more oxygen to be delivered to the tissues (muscle cells). Higher amounts of oxygen reduce lactic acid formation and will increase more ATP (energy) while exercising, thus, prolonging your repetitions.
•    Larger amounts of minerals and vitamins such as iron and zinc. Iron coincides with hemoglobin because it has the ability to transport oxygen and increase cellular respiration. Zinc has a reputation for increased levels of testosterone and allows the body to absorb more vitamins such as B-complex. B-complex aids in energy and improved immune system efficiency.
•    Contains higher amount of protein versus lighter proteins.

Protein Size Protein(grams) Fat
Salmon, Pink (lightprotein 4oz 28g 5.1g
Beef, eye of round 4oz 33.1g 6.5g
Beef, top round 4oz 36.1 6.7g
Beef, round, full cut 4oz 33.1g 8.3g
Beef, top sirloin 4oz 34.4g 9.1g


Protein    Size    Protein (grams)    Fat
Salmon, Pink (light protein)    4 Oz    28 g    5.1g
Beef, eye of round    4 Oz    33.1 g.    6.5 g.
Beef, top round    4 Oz    36.1 g.    6.7 g.
Beef, round, full cut    4 Oz    33.1 g.    8.3 g.
Beef, top sirloin    4 Oz    34.4 g.    9.1 g

In reference to bodybuilding, red meat is very beneficial to a muscular physique, especially on workout days. Heavy lift days (ex. Legs) can be supplemented with high-density proteins such as red meat to accompany the body in recovery. There are a wide variety of red meats to choose from, but leaner cuts of steak are preferred if your budget allows. It may take longer to fully digest this protein (up to72 hours) versus a lighter one, but denser proteins will offer more advantages in terms of amino acid breakdown and utilization. Once again, remember that moderation is the key element to success, and it carries over into red meat as well. Have designated days and times to eat red meat, and limit yourself to specific types of red meats as well.

Red meats and Dieting

Bodybuilder’s who are dieting for competition can have red meat, but the choices are limited.
•    Steaks: Eye of round, flank, or London broil. This is the most recommended red meat due to its wide variety of cuts and flavors in addition to lowered fat content. Serving size is dependent on the individual and/or the fat content. (Ex. 250 lbs males will be allowed higher values of fat in their diet depending on the metabolism).
•    Ground Beef is also a good source of red meat considering the percentage fat content. If you love ground beef but are dieting, the best option is to go with the 97/3 selection.
•    Venison (top round broiled): very rare, but it is seen to have some benefits. This offers a high percentage of protein and contains lesser amounts of saturated fats that are seen in pork, bacon, or sausage.

Time is of the essence

The time that you consume red meat is also important. Rule of thumb is to never eat carbs with fats, so that throws out eating steak in the morning with your complex carbs. Instead, eat your steaks and red meats at night or when it’s time to have protein and fats only (assuming that greens aren’t considered carbs in your diet plan). Don’t forget that fats are already contained in red meats, so you will probably have to sacrifice that tempting tablespoon of peanut butter. 
What if you’re not dieting but don’t want sloppy gains?

Regardless of whether you’re dieting or not, you should be aware of the red meat you’re eating and the fat associated with it.  Steaks are going to be your best option in most cases. A good tip to remember is to trim off any excess fat before cooking the steak. This will not only cut down on your daily saturated fat intake, but also reduce tons of unnecessary calories (10g fat = 90 calories). Although some fats may render a sloppy physique, good ones such as polyunsaturated fats aid in elevated testosterone and hormone levels. Not all red meats will contain unsaturated fats, so try and keep them limited to a few nights per week. Some studies show a risk of colon cancer in males who eat red meat consistently (up to 20 percent). Although this statistic may have included red meats that were high saturated fats, recommendations for the average population are still less than 16 oz of red meat per week.

So does this include everyone or just those who aren’t concerned with putting on size? To be honest, it varies among the individual. An ectomorph’s body frame will permit them to eat larger amounts of red meat containing fat versus an endomorph. Their metabolism runs at a faster rate and allows more room for error in terms of nutrition. Consider it unfair until ectomorphs try to put on muscle, then you can talk about fairness. Bigger frames are allowed more fats, but they must be careful as to where they get it. In my example before, I said that a 250 lbs male can have more fat, but if his body type stores fat rapidly, than he will only be allowed unsaturated fats versus the saturated fats found in many red meats.

The point is to understand when to eat, what to eat, and how often you should eat it. Maintaining this adequate balance will ensure proper growth mechanics in addition to a healthy lifestyle.

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