If there is one food that almost every die-hard bodybuilder loves to eat, it’s meat. Whether you eat high-carb, low-carb, high-fat, or Paleo, most lifters take in plenty of protein, and meat is one of the best and tastiest ways to get yours. From chicken to fish to pork to beef, all sorts of meats find their way onto training tables around the world.
But you can’t just belly up to any old cut of meat and hope to build muscle, get lean, OR stay healthy. Like all other aspects of the fitness lifestyle, you have to eat meat the right way if you hope to get the most out of it.
For instance, which kinds of meat have the most protein? And which ones have the least amount of fat?
Should you be cooking your meat in a certain way to get the most out of it in terms of nutrition AND avoiding any potential health problems?
And, speaking of health, doesn’t eating meat cause heart disease or cancer or other issues that you need to watch out for? After all, that’s what we hear in the media on a weekly or daily basis.
Luckily, we’ve put together the library of bodybuilding articles to help answer these questions (and others) in detail so that you know the real score when it comes to eating meat for muscle and health.
Before you dig into those posts, though, there are some basic ideas about meat that you should keep in mind as you read, and as you eat.
Why Meat Is Good for Building Muscle
At its most basic, building lean mass comes down to stimulating — even damaging — your muscles through training and then helping them recover and grow afterwards. Growth and recovery require plenty of rest and sleep, but they also require you to feed your body enough of the right nutrients.
And when it comes to muscle-building nutrients, nothing is more important than protein.
That’s because protein provides you with the amino acids that are the building blocks of your own muscles, and which are essential to maintaining and growing new muscle. Consequently, you should focus your dietary efforts first on making sure that each meal supplies enough complete, high-quality protein to support your goals.
How much do you need?
Estimates vary, but a decent rule of thumb that lifters have used for years is to take in about one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. For a 150-pound man, then, he’ll be targeting around 150 grams of protein per day, and most of that should come from animal sources. The reason is that there are eight amino acids which the human body cannot manufacture from other nutrients and must be consumed directly from the foods we eat. And the best sources of those essential amino acids?
And, while eggs and milk are great sources of the essential aminos, meat is also rich in the “great eight” and has the advantage that almost no one is allergic to animal flesh.
Besides, meat tastes great, at least to many lifters.
Why Meat Could Be a Health Problem
While meat offers many advantages to the hard-training bodybuilder, it is at least possible that too much of it could cause problems for some people.
For instance, some studies, like this one, show that a high-fat diet can lead to an increase in cholesterol levels and inflammation in the body. While this particular research focuses on rats as test subjects, the medical community has long noted a direct relationship between levels of dietary fat and blood cholesterol. If you’re already fighting against high cholesterol, then eating fatty meats could make your condition worse, which might put you at risk of developing heart disease. That’s especially true if you have a family or personal history of heart problems.
Eating a lot of meat without also including a decent amount of fiber in your diet can also lead to constipation.
That’s an uncomfortable place to be, and there is at least some evidence that certain types of processed meat could even lead to colon cancer.
Finally, the way you cook your meat could also have health consequences, as you’ve undoubtedly heard through the mainstream media in recent years. In particular, grilled meat, especially to the point of blackening, appears to be linked to an increased incidence of colon cancer, too.
You’re in Control
The good news is that most of these factors are well within your control.
While you can’t change your genetics or guard against possible contamination — which happens rarely but DOES happen — you can CHANGE your habits and opt for healthier choices.
For instance, if you’re concerned about the fat and cholesterol content of beef, then choose cuts that have little to no visible fat on the edges and no discernible “marbling,” which is fat interlaced with the muscle tissue. The leaner a cut of beef is, the redder it will be, because there is little fat to lighten its color and make it pink. You can use the same sort of color test for ground beef, and any reputable butcher will mark their packaging with fat percentages anyway.
Likewise, most lifters would do well to avoid processed meats altogether because they usually contain preservatives and other chemicals that can’t do you any good but definitely CAN do you harm. Unless you’re in a real pinch, go for “whole,” or at least ground, meat that has not had much done to it.
And you can certainly control HOW your meat is cooked most of the time. If you’re concerned about grilling, then cook your meat using some other method. If you LOVE grilled meat and don’t want to give it up or find yourself with no other option, then keep your doneness on the light side and definitely avoid blackened meat.
Finally, everyone should make sure they’re getting plenty of vegetables and fiber in their diets, and that’s especially true when you’re eating a lot of meat. Upping the bulk that you consume from plant matter will help keep your bowels moving and your body healthy, while your meat and other protein sources will keep you gaining.
Of course, you should always consult your physician whenever you’re making any big dietary or training changes, or when you have questions about a particular food will affect your health. Everyone is different, and you need to make sure that your food choices won’t make you sick, regardless of how much protein they provide.
So, read all you can about meat and figure out what makes sense for you, then take action. For most lifters, meat can be a great part of a healthy muscle-building diet.