Beef is just as American as apple pie or hot dogs, but it’s considerably better for bodybuilders than the other cultural staples just mentioned. Beef is also the cornerstone of the traditional heartland diet: steak and potatoes. In the middle of the last century, this meal was considered healthy eating with the potatoes serving as the “vegetable.” More recently, however, this meal — and beef in particular — suffered a blow to its reputation based on escalating rates of obesity and heart problems that were associated with high level of fat found in people’s blood systems. The conclusion from the medical community was to blame beef — which can be high in saturated fats — for these increasing maladies. New guidelines at that time urged Americans to cut their beef consumption.
Luckily, though, more time and research has demonstrated that beef isn’t a demon wreaking havoc on the health of Americans. When consumed properly, beef is an excellent food that supports health for bodybuilders, other athletes and even sedentary people. Beef is also one of the best sources bodybuilders can use to facilitate muscle growth without adding excess bodyfat. The key is to know what type of beef to eat, how much to eat and how to prepare it. Use these guidelines to learn how to make beef one of the cornerstones of your bodybuilding diet.
Consume beef regularly.
Most bodybuilders like beef and include it in their nutrition programs at least a few times a week. Many bodybuilders eat this meat frequently in the offseason, but some cut back on it during their contest prep. Others, though, tout beef as an integral part of their year-round nutrition programs. “In the offseason, when I’m eating 4–5 meat meals a day, 2–3 of them will be a lean cut of steak such as eye of round or sirloin,” says IFBB pro Mike Van Wyck.
Choose lean cuts.
Not all cows are created equal — or at least not all parts of them are. Some cuts of beef are leaner than others, and most pro bodybuilders use this factor as the primary criteria for choosing their cuts, rather than cost. In fact, an 8-ounce lean cut of sirloin or eye of round can have just 11–13 grams of fat (4–5 saturated), while the same-size serving of prime rib can have a whopping 79 grams of fat (23 saturated), boosting calories from 437 to 935.
Look for grass-fed and organic beef cuts for their healthier dietary fats.
Mark Dugdale says one of the benefits of organic, grass-fed beef is its significantly better dietary fat profile. “This type of beef is higher in CLA and omega-3 fats, not to mention it’s free of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides.” Organic, grass-fed beef is often considerably more expensive than its feedlot-raised counterpart, but Dugdale says this cost difference is well worth it for those who are serious about their health and their bodybuilding gains. And studies support what Dugdale says. Organic beef not only contains more omega-3s than feedlot-raised beef, but it also contains more omega-3s than farmed, grain-fed salmon.
Don’t fear saturated fats in beef.
Bodybuilders are often very conscious of the amounts of saturated fats they consume, and to some degree that caution is warranted, but saturated fats provide benefits that many bodybuilders are unaware of. Saturated fats are a key component that your body needs to construct hormones such as testosterone. If your diet is too low in saturated fats, it may affect your ability to boost your natural testosterone levels.
Use beef as a slow-digesting form of protein.
Experienced bodybuilders know there are advantages to consuming both fast-digesting and slow-digesting forms of protein at various times of day, depending upon your immediate needs. Fast-digesting forms of protein (such as whey and soy protein powders) are excellent at times when you’ve gone for a long period without protein, such as when you wake up or when you’re trying to hasten recovery after weight training.
Slow-digesting forms of protein are better at most other times during the day because you want to have amino acids available for a long period. You also want aminos to be readily obtainable by the body so it doesn’t have to break down muscle mass for the aminos it needs for daily physiological processes. Beef is one of the best sources of slow-digesting protein.
Cook ground beef more thoroughly than steak.
While all cuts of beef can be tainted, ground beef is definitely more risky than steak cuts. The reason is that the most common way that beef gets exposed to contamination is when microorganisms come in contact with the meat’s surface. Often this happens at slaughterhouses, and these microorganisms live on the surface until the beef finds its way to your kitchen. Cook ground beef until it’s hot enough in the center to kill any harmful bacteria that may have been mixed in. For best results, cook ground beef to medium-well (or at least medium), making sure the meat is no longer pink (browning at medium-high heat for 4–5 minutes).
Don’t over rely on beef — or any single protein source.
While many pro bodybuilders consume beef on a daily basis, they also incorporate many other forms of protein into their daily diets. Good choices in addition to lean beef and bison are eggs, egg whites, dairy, soy, whey, casein, turkey and chicken breast, nuts and seeds, seafood, white fish and other low-fat fish, and salmon and other fattier fish.