Eating meat will help anyone interested in gaining strength & health.
Before I get into the nutritional benefits, let me say something very clearly:
Yeah, I know you might have trouble believing that, since the powers that be have put a lot of energy into convincing you that meat is the most harmful food known to man.
Nevertheless, contrary to widespread propaganda, research does not support the claim that eating meat causes cardiovascular disease or cancer.
The current body of evidence indicates that the degree of association between red and processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality and adverse cardiometabolic outcomes and the possible absolute effects of red and processed meat consumption on cardiovascular and cancer mortality are very small, and the evidence of such a link has a low to very low certainty.1, 2
Total red meat intake of more than 35 g daily of red meat has no influence on blood lipids or blood pressure.3
All the propaganda warnings against red meat is based on weak epidemiological studies, which are based on dietary surveys via food frequency questionnaires, which gather reports of memories of perceptions of food intake, which is not empirical evidence. To collect objective empirical evidence requires measuring actual dietary intake – for example actually weighing what people eat – not asking people to guess quantities based on memories of perceptions, which have been shown to be highly unreliable and incongruent with actual intakes and even inconsistent with basic requirements for life. Consequently, studies asserting “links” of this sort are pseudo-science and create a fictional narrative regarding nutrition and health.4, 5
Let's clear something else out of the way:
This graphic explains why cow burps and farts are not by any stretch of imagination similar to carbon emissions released by combustion of fossil fuels.
Now that we've cleared the air, let's get to how eating meat supports strength and health.
Meat, particularly red meat, is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It contains all essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals in ratios that can support human life. All the nutrients are highly bioavailable, and meat is easily digested with little or no residue. Three studies have reported that red meat protein is 90-94% digested, which is as high as milk proteins.6, 7, 8 All other proteins have a lower digestibility. Legume proteins are generally only 63-74% digestible.9
Red meat has a high quality of protein (Table 1).
Lightly to moderately cooked (or raw) meat is so nutritionally complete, it is possible to live on meat alone for a very long time, years in fact.
Even absent exercise, eating beef stimulates muscle protein synthesis in subjects of all ages.10, 11 A 113 g serving of beef providing 30 g of beef protein increases muscle protein synthesis by about 50% in both young and older subjects; however, increasing the beef serving to 340 g does not improve the response.12
Therefore if you want to get the greatest anabolic response from eating meat, the best strategy may be to eat moderate portions (100-150 g) at each sitting. Eating larger portions apparently results in the valuable protein being converted to carbohydrate rather than being used for muscle protein synthesis.
Beef also supports the post-exercise rise in muscle protein synthesis, and more effectively than a soybean-based meat replacement supplying the same amount of nitrogen (protein).13 We expect this since beef has a higher quality of protein than soy (Table 1).
A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that consuming beef protein in conjunction with resistance training produced similar improvements in lean mass and fat mass to using whey protein, and was more effective than no additional protein for increasing lower-limb muscle strength.14
Pork protein (30 g) stimulates an increase in muscle protein synthesis similar to cows’ milk whey protein.15
Organ meats in general and liver in particular have a higher micronutrient density than muscle meats. Each organ meat is rich in the vitamins, minerals and co-factors most needed by that organ. This is why organ meats have been used to prevent and treat organ diseases in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia.
I prefer to eat 2 ounces of calves' liver 3-4 times weekly (usually raw, as in the photo to the right). Every now and then I will eat heart muscle. The other organs I get through supplements I take intermittently.
Historically people consumed all parts of animals, including the collagen rich portions such as ox tail, chicken feet, pig’s trotters and ears, etc. Often these were used to make soups/broths. These portions are also used to make gelatin.
Eating the collagen/gelatin rich portions of animals provides nutritional balance to the amino acid profile of muscle meat. The fibrous collagen portion of animal tissues is rich in the amino acid glycine, in contrast to the muscle meat which is a comparatively poor source of glycine.
Glycine is a “conditionally essential” amino acid and we should eat foods rich in collagen or gelatin, or take a glycine supplement, in order to guarantee a healthy metabolism.16
Vegetarian diets appear to produce glycine deficiency.17
To learn more about the benefits of glycine, read our book Meats & Sweets.
Some research indicates that consumption of collagen/gelatin will improve outcomes from a resistance exercise program.
Subjects who consumed 15 g of collagen peptides within 1 hour after a resistance training session gained more total body mass, fat free mass and muscle strength than those who did not use collagen.18 , 19
Subjects who took 15 g of gelatin with 48 mg vitamin C a 1 hour before exercise showed doubled serum levels of a marker for collagen synthesis, indicating that the gelatin-vitamin C mixture increased collagen synthesis.20
I apply this by putting a tablespoon of gelatin in 1-2 cups of orange juice (~85 mg vitamin C per cup) which I drink before or after my training, with timing and amount determined by body signals (auto-regulation).
Gelatin (yes, like good old Knox gelatin used to make jello) is a convenient and inexpensive source of collagen peptides and glycine. We use so much we buy the 12 pack of 1 lb. canisters from Amazon (second from left, lowest price per ounce).
I don't believe there is any proven material/nutritional difference between Knox gelatin and the gelatin that comes from grass-fed cattle (on the far right) and costs almost twice as much (if you get the 12 pack of the Knox). If I discover evidence to the contrary, I'll change my practice.
1. Zeraatkar D, Han MA, Guyatt GH, et al. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for All-Cause Mortality and Cardiometabolic Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. Annals of Internal Medicine 2019 Oct 1;DOI:10.7326/M19-0655. <https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2752320/red-processed-meat-consumption-risk-all-cause-mortality-cardiometabolic-outcomes>
2. Zeraatkar D, Han MA, Guyatt GH, et al. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for All-Cause Mortality and Cardiometabolic Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. Annals of Internal Medicine 2019 Oct 1;DOI:10.7326/M19-0655. <https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2752320/red-processed-meat-consumption-risk-all-cause-mortality-cardiometabolic-outcomes>
3. O'Connor LE, Kim JE, Campbell WW. Total red meat intake of ≥0.5 servings/d does not negatively influence cardiovascular disease risk factors: a systemically searched meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(1):57–69. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.142521 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5183733/>
4. Archer E, Pavela G, Lavie CJ. The Inadmissibility of What We Eat in America and NHANES Dietary Data in Nutrition and Obesity Research and the Scientific Formulation of National Dietary Guidelines. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(7):911–926. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.04.009
5. Archer E, Lavie CJ, Hill JO. The Failure to Measure Dietary Intake Engendered a Fictional Discourse on Diet-Disease Relations. Front Nutr. 2018;5:105. Published 2018 Nov 13. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00105
6. Sindhu Kashyap, Nirupama Shivakumar, Aneesia Varkey, Rajendran Duraisamy, Tinku Thomas, Thomas Preston, Sarita Devi, Anura V Kurpad, Ileal digestibility of intrinsically labeled hen's egg and meat protein determined with the dual stable isotope tracer method in Indian adults, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 108, Issue 5, November 2018, Pages 980–987, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqy178 <https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/108/5/980/5112878>
7. Oberli M, Marsset-Baglieri A, Airinei G, et al. High True Ileal Digestibility but Not Postrprandial Utilization of Nitrogen from Bovine Meat Protein in Humans Is Moderately Decreased by High-Temperature, Long-Duration Cooking. J Nutr 2015 Oct;145(10):2221-2228. <https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/145/10/2221/4590108>
8. Mahé S, Huneau JF, Marteau P, Thuillier F, Tomé D. Gastroileal nitrogen andelectrolyte movements after bovine milk ingestion in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992 Aug;56(2):410-6. PubMed PMID: 1636619.
9. Kashyap S, Varkey A, Shivakumar N, et al. True ileal digestibility of legumes determined by dual-isotope tracer method in Indian adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;110(4):873–882. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz159 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6766447/>
10. Symons TB, Schutzler SE, Cocke TL, Chinkes DL, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D. Aging does not impair the anabolic response to a protein-rich meal. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Aug;86(2):451-6. PubMed PMID: 17684218.
11. Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Mamerow MM, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D. The anabolic response to resistance exercise and a protein-rich meal is not diminished by age. J Nutr Health Aging. 2011;15(5):376–381. doi:10.1007/s12603-010-0319-z <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3280506/>
12. Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D. A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(9):1582–1586. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.06.369 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197704/>
13. Vliet SV, Beals JW, Martinez IG, Skinner SK, Burd NA. Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):224. Published 2018 Feb 16. doi:10.3390/nu10020224 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852800/>
14. Valenzuela PL, Mata F, Morales JS, Castillo-García A, Lucia A. Does Beef Protein Supplementation Improve Body Composition and Exercise Performance? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1429. Published 2019 Jun 25. doi:10.3390/nu11061429 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6628355/>
15. Bendtsen LQ, Thorning TK, Reitelseder S, et al. Human Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates after Intake of Hydrolyzed Porcine-Derived and Cows' Milk Whey Proteins-A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):989. Published 2019 Apr 30. doi:10.3390/nu11050989
16. Meléndez-Hevia E, De Paz-Lugo P, Cornish-Bowden A, Cárdenas ML. A weak link in metabolism: the metabolic capacity for glycine biosynthesis does not satisfy the need for collagen synthesis. J Biosci. 2009 Dec;34(6):853-72. PubMed PMID: 20093739. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20093739>
17. Jackson AA, Persaud C, Meakins TS, Bundy R. Urinary Excretio of 5-L-Oxoproline (Pyroglutamic Acid) Is Increased in Normal Adults Consuming Vegetarian or Low Protein Diets. J Nutr 1996;126:2813-2822.
18. Oertzen-Hagemann V, Kirmse M, Eggers B, et al. Effects of 12 Weeks of Hypertrophy Resistance Exercise Training Combined with Collagen Peptide Supplementation on the Skeletal Muscle Proteome in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1072. Published 2019 May 14. doi:10.3390/nu11051072 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566884/>
19. Kirmse M, Oertzen-Hagemann V, de Marées M, Bloch W, Platen P. Prolonged Collagen Peptide Supplementation and Resistance Exercise Training Affects Body Composition in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1154. Published 2019 May 23. doi:10.3390/nu11051154
20. Shaw G, Lee-Barthel A, Ross ML, Wang B, Baar K. Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(1):136–143. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.138594 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5183725/>
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