As any lifter that has experimented with different food choices already knows, lean or slightly fatty red meat is a key component of a muscle-building diet. If you have had the experience of channeling an ancient god of war in the gym after sawing into a marvelously juicy steak, you know what we’re talking about. But is this merely a part of bodybuilding folklore, or has science found any solid proof for these raw power-awakening attributes of red meat?
Despite all the hate red meat has been receiving from new age nutritionists lately, there are some hard facts about its nutritional value that can’t be eliminated with wishful thinking. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the bodybuilding community by en large tends to over-dramatize the relationship between strength gains and the steak diet. We went a bit deeper into the topic and summarized our findings in the article below. Make sure to read it over a thick and tender steak!
Iron, Vitamins, Zinc and Creatine
Red meat is full of really good stuff – it comes with 15 mg of niacin (vitamin B3) per half pound, which has been found to support vasodilation and increase levels of HDL, or the good cholesterol. It also contains hefty doses of iron which is often attached to proteins called heme proteins and referred to as heme iron, and is typically absorbed at a rate of 7-35%, while the non-heme iron found in plant foods is generally absorbed at a rate of 2-20%. Our blood cells depend on iron to make hemoglobin, which then carries oxygen supplies to all body cells.
Obviously, people with an iron deficiency will lack the strength to perform well in physical activities, while those who habitually gnaw at red meat will be better equipped to run marathons or pump heavy iron. Red meat also contains great amounts of vitamin B 12, a famous enemy of both adrenal and ordinary fatigue, and zinc, which required for testosterone production and can act as an aromatase inhibitor and reduce estrogen levels. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget about the scientific consensus that, when combined with regular weight lifting, the saturated fat found in red meat prompts the body to produce significantly more testosterone.
But the good news don’t stop there. Red meat is also one of the main sources of creatine used by the human body and steak is a particularly good source of it, coming with 5g of creatine per kg of beef. Finally, it is also rich with an essential fatty acid known as arachidonic acid, which is the building block for dienolic prostaglandins, a group of hormones that have the ability to stimulate protein synthesis.
Knowing this, it’s all too easy to treat tender steak cuts as the ultimate elixir of strength and might, but let’s take another look at this assumption.
Meat Makes You Stronger: Myth or Truth?
Unfortunately, none of those large doses of those testosterone-friendly, protein-building nutrients found in meat can single-handedly fix the associated deficiencies, nor is eating steaks every day the only way to do that. Firstly, every aspect of the diet is important for optimal health and well-being, which is why modern diet experts from all backgrounds advocate for eating a wholesome, well-balanced diet instead of focusing heavily on a few food sources or nutrients. We suppose we don’t need to discuss this any further.
Also, for example, you can make sure to consume vitamin B12 fortified foods or supplements and meet your daily requirements of the vitamin without consuming meat, and you could easily get 5g of creatine by taking a supplement instead of having to eat two pounds of beef (not to mention the cost difference). So, given all other variables are controlled, there should be no difference in strength between those who get the stuff their body needs to exert force by eating beef and those who achieve the same via another way.
But what about the testosterone? If red meat contains plenty of different testosterone-boosting nutrients, which it does, and testosterone is irrefutably linked to strength, doesn’t this mean that meat consumption can directly increase strength?
Well, not really, from the testosterone perspective anyway. Although red meat indeed contains high concentrations of dietary zink and arachiodinic acid, this only translates to small, transient rises in testosterone after eating a steak. In order for testosterone to have a real, long-term effect on your strength, you would need to keep the levels of additional testosterone stable for long periods of time (in translation, eat beef every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner for months). On top of that, zinc will only raise testosterone levels if the individual is deficient in zinc.
The same or similar arguments apply to most of the nutrients correlated with physical strength found in beef. If you begin inspecting scientific studies and available literature on the issue, you will quickly realize that the claim that red meat consumption improves strength levels doesn’t actually have a strong scientific backbone.
…Then why does it feel like that way?
All those decades of bodybuilding experience are not to be taken lightly, after all. Perhaps the main reason for it is psychological instead of physiological. Only real men eat bloody steaks, or steaks for that matter. It’s an attribute closely associated with manliness, and we know better than to underestimate the power of auto-suggestion.
Keep It Up
The point of this is not to downplay the real benefits of meat and make it wrong to keep indulging in your favorite steak cuts on a regular basis. Steak is loaded with protein and should never be dethroned from being a key part of a good bodybuilding diet. All we’re trying to say is: meat is already great as it really is; we don’t have to give it any magical properties.
Feasting on bloody steaks may not be enough to make you your gym’s hero, but it can definitely provide help fill up the resources required for continuous mass building and strength development, and that’s more than enough reason to love it!
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- Li D, Ng A, Mann NJ, Sinclair AJ, “Contribution of meat fat to dietary arachidonic acid.” Lipids. 1998 Apr;33(4):437-40.
- Romanelli F, Valenca M, Conte D, Isidori A, Negro-Vilar A. ” Arachidonic acid and its metabolites effects on testosterone production by rat Leydig cells,” J Endocrinol Invest. 1995 Mar;18(3):186-93.