In an exploration of the so called "functional foods", you hear a lot about vegetables, fruits, herbs, phytochemicals and such. That's all cool to learn, but most humans are after all omnivorous. That is, man does not generally live by plants alone.
Reviewing the anthropological literature clearly suggests that we've been butchering animals for an extremely long time. I'm not sorry if that disturbs some people. I like my big brain and I like my smallish gut. But beyond evolutionary arguments, there are good things to know about meat (meaning fish meat too in this context); good things for bodybuilders who might be living (almost) exclusively on milk proteins.
What is actually disturbing is how meat restlessly gets slammed in public education efforts. Certainly a clever, opinionated individual can indeed manage to live without meat, but it takes far more planning and effort than most people think to stay healthy. Let's take a look at why meat is so... bloody important.
Look at the food chain. Herbivores graze all day long on relatively nutrients-poor plants. They have huge guts to extract as much of the nutrition as possible for their bodies. Day after day they spend nearly all of their time grazing. Then along comes a predator and aggressively pins down and eats one of the herbivores. Hallo!
All of the nutrients that were so gradually and constantly accumulated in the tissues of the plant-eater become instant nutrition for the carnivore. It may be hard to witness, but the bloody feast is so rich in nutrients that the carnivore doesn't have to eat for a comparatively long time.
The price of this pattern is that carnivores have to be smart and clever. They have evolved in more ways than just forward facing eyes toward this end. Bigger, often highly intelligent brains may be energetically costly to maintain, but they help plan attacks and score meaty meals. Such feasts allow for days or even weeks "off" to do other things... mate, take care of offspring, form complex social groups, learn to use Bitcoin for their online shopping 😂 etc.
How does this relate to a modern bodybuilder? Well, meats remain very nutrient-rich. Sadly, with so much hoopla these days over nutrient density (you know, key nutrients divided by total kcal), this gets overlooked. A guy or gal looking for quality mass should not be swayed by talks of nutrient density that so often get promulgated to the over-fat public.
Many veggies, for example, are extremely nutrient dense, but despite their many merits, will not pack muscle tissue on an athlete when over-consumed. There are just too few calories (kcal) for it to be eaten a dozen times per day. I'm sure you see my mathematical point by now: Dividing a food's nutrient content by nearly zero kcal equals very high nutrient density (again, a ratio of vitamins, minerals, etc. to its kcal), but that's not total nutrient content.
Gross nutrient content is where meats shines. Look in almost any college textbook for sources of key vitamins and minerals. With a few exceptions, meat is near the top of the list! Makes you glad you're an apex predator, doesn't it?
Needless to say, I have absolutely nothing against fruits and vegetables. Beyond vitamins and minerals, they boast thousands of cool phytochemicals (phyto = plant) that help our health and physique. But researchers are increasingly coming back to meat because it's rich in..."zoochemicals".
So, in addition to a rational intake of several servings of veggies per day, meat is getting recognized for special, almost pharmaceutical properties. Do the various sources of animal flesh differ metabolically or behaviorally come dinner time? Yes. But we're talking about eating the muscles of critters in general. Here are some compounds and potential benefits:
• Quality protein (duh)
• Vitamin B12 (essential nutrient, red cell formation, energy)
• Heme Iron (readily absorbed form, fights fatigue and other troubles in some people)
• Zinc (readily absorbed, sub-par in most diets)
• n-3 fatty acids (potent EPA and DHA compared to the plant-based linolenic acid)
• Creatine (muscular power and cell volume)
I won't dwell on the simplicities of complete versus incomplete proteins. Clearly, meat is a good, solid complete protein source. It contains all the essential amino acids. The biological value of beef is 75 (egg and milk are 100 and 93, respectively) and its PDCAAS is 0.92 (egg white and casein being 1.00). Although these numbers look a bit inferior to some of the other "bodybuilder proteins", there's more to it than that.
First, the comparatively solid nature of meat as it enters the stomach slows gastric emptying, providing a nice controlled anti-catabolic stream of amino acids over time (handy at bedtime).
In humans, some researchers have reported superior muscle growth using meat versus lacto-ovo-vegetarian sources.
This echoes the anecdotes from thousands many competitive bodybuilders who swear that tons of meat are the key to massive growth.
Vitamin B12, cyanocobalamin, has long enjoyed interest among athletes beyond its essential role in the body. Thousands of persons swear by its fatigue-fighting effects and its coenzyme has even been sold as an anabolic agent (Anyone old enough to remember the glorified pink injectable B12?). Anyway, whether or not you buy into such things, B12 is clearly an essential nutrient as evidenced by those with untreated pernicious anemia.
Even worse, such individuals may have their condition masked to some extent by the folate fortification of foods that's now law, but the nerve degeneration that still develops clearly shows how the body needs B12. And where does a healthy person get this vitamin? You guessed it: meat!
Yessir, I AM the one who wrote about the dangers of excess iron in men. They are real. But there are also risks for some of us regarding low iron status as well. So I'll relate a cautionary tail. As someone with a history of over-reliance on skim milk, whey and casein and a high fiber diet – actually left me low in this important nutrient.
Did you know there's an old school term called "milk anemia"? It has to do with the lack of Iron in milk and its derivates and factors in dairy that interfere with iron absorption, including calcium.
There are certainly other types of interference from whole wheat (e.g. phytates) to high total fiber intake. Many bodybuilders fit – or at least approximate - one or more of these scenarios. Should they be supplementing iron? Almost certainly not.
The majority of men have excess rather than inadequate iron status. There are, however, a fair number of athletic men who could sure use the robust boost from meats! Not only do meats provide heme iron that is robust to other dietary influences, but flesh foods also bolster the non-heme iron that constitutes most of one's daily intake.
Zinc had been sold with magnesium as anabolic/ hormonal support but this essential mineral also plays a role in wound healing, fertility, androgen receptors number and sensitivity, Igf-1 synthesis, immune function and much more. Whether or not zinc is under-consumed by most people, as growing data show, it is essential for health, growth and repair – and we can add it to the nutrient richness of meat. The properties of zinc would deserve a whole book to be fair.
n-3 Fatty Acids
Suffice it to say that the modern world creates a state of actual deep deficiency regarding EPA and DHA (fish oil's "active ingredients").
Any nutritionist knows how much more likely benefits are when deficiencies are corrected than when super-physiological doses are attempted. I should point out that linolenic acid may indeed have benefits of its own but it's worth understanding that it can be looked at as weaker than EPA and DHA biologically. Can one seek a vegetarian source of DHA? Yes, from algal residues. But for the most part, score another one for animal flesh.
I know, I know. This non-essential nutrient has been beaten to death in the bodybuilding world but suffice it to say that meat is where we get it in the diet. It's true that it would take roughly 10 pounds of uncooked steak to approach a typical "loading" dose, but I have another little story for you.
As a -regular- meat eater, your muscle creatine level won't drop for WEEKS even if you suddenly completely stop eating any meat/fish/poultry.
That's why I roll my eyes every time I read supplement company propaganda surrounding repeat creatine loads every couple of weeks with a maintenance dose in between. And the take home story relative to this article? Yep – meat is (again) good and keeps you Cr saturated without supplements and you certainly have NOT to eat 10 pounds of it in order to get the aforementioned benefit!
The intent of this article isn't to suggest that whole foods always rival the power of supplements. But many persons are fascinated with the pharmaceutical aspects of well-chosen foods and how they might aid physique progress or health. Meats have a rightful place among the more often touted plant foods.
Perhaps, as has been suggested with creatine, the animal flesh might provide a key missing nutrient in your diet; there certainly are many to be found therein.
To sum it up, the real question is where the hell is that bottle of Jack Daniel's BBQ Sauce...