Bodybuilders are strongly focused on consuming enough protein each day so that their muscles have enough building blocks to grow bigger and stronger. Beef, pork and lamb are excellent sources of protein, as well as being tasty. However, eating excessive amounts of meat each day is not healthy for anyone, even bodybuilders who have much higher protein requirements. There are other animal sources that are high in protein and considered healthier than meat. Many vegetables contain protein as well, but they are usually not complete sources. Protein supplements can be taken to offset any shortcomings. Consult with a nutritionist about high-quality protein sources that are considered healthier than meat.
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Need for Protein
Protein is a basic requirement for muscle growth, and it is probably the most important nutrient from the perspective of a bodybuilder. Muscle tissue is created from protein, which is made up of long chains of building blocks called amino acids. Dietary protein is metabolized into individual amino acids, which are then reassembled into human protein and used to make a variety of tissues, including muscle and connective tissues. Some protein sources, such as meat and other animal products, contain all the amino acids your body needs, whereas almost all plant-based protein sources are missing at least one essential amino acid. As a consequence, most competitive bodybuilders consume meat on a regular basis because it’s a tasty and complete protein source.
Daily protein requirements needed to maintain your body’s basic functions vary considerably and depend on your size, gender and age, but recommendations often range between 40 and 70 grams, according to “Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance.” However, if you exercise, your daily protein needs increase. Some research indicates that bodybuilders need between 0.5 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day for the best gains in muscle mass and strength. For example, a 200-pound bodybuilder should be consuming between 100 and 160 grams of protein each day, or at least on days when training involves weightlifting. However, consuming more than 1 gram per pound of body weight each day may overtax your kidneys and lead to overly acidic tissues.
Issues with Meat
Aside from the environmental impact of eating lots of meat and the ethical issues surrounding modern meat production, there are many health issues that bodybuilders should be aware of. For example, beef is very high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which are linked to higher risks of cardiovascular diseases. Eating too much meat is stressful on the kidneys, which must filter out excesses, and the digestive system. Meat eating increases the risk of colon cancer because it takes so long to digest and contains toxins called heterocyclic amines when cooked at high temperatures. Furthermore, meats such as beef and pork have higher rates of bacterial and parasitic contamination.
Fish and poultry, such as chicken and turkey, are often considered healthier than meat because they are leaner or contain healthier fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Dairy products and eggs are excellent protein sources and are usually much cheaper than meat. Tofu, tempeh and other soybean products contain all the essential amino acids and are easily made into products that are meat-like in texture. Seitan is made from wheat gluten and contains almost the same amount of protein, although incomplete, as beef, and only one-third of the calories. Furthermore, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, broccoli and spinach are good vegetable sources of protein. With all the amino acid supplements available, a bodybuilder can implement a healthier diet that may contain less or incomplete protein.
- Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance; William D. McArdle et al.
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.