Remember the old days of bodybuilding when every muscle-bound lifter swore by steak and eggs?
Then there was the period in the late 80s, early 90s when saturated fat was vilified, and almost overnight it seemed like the fitness community went to chicken and egg whites.
Now that saturated fat is (mostly) back in the good graces of the nutrition community, within reason, athletes of all types are looking at red meats and wondering if they should make the switch.
Let's take a closer look at the lean meat vs red meat debate, and we'll tell you which one you should be eating for optimal results.
What Qualifies as a Lean Meat?
When it comes to meat, there are two main types: lean meats and red meats.
Everyone knows the two lean meat staples: chicken and turkey, but there are a lot more options than this.
According to the USDA, the term "lean meat" is given to any meat or fish that has less than 10 grams of fat per three ounce serving.
Here's a list of lean meats to consider (just a heads up, some of these might sound odd, but don't knock it till you've tried it):
- Ocean perch
- Pacific rockfish
Benefits of Lean Meats
Now that we know what lean meats are, let's take a look at some of the benefits they offer:
Lean meats have less fat and therefore, they are lower in overall calories. This is why lean meats tend to be the more popular choice for those looking to burn fat and lose weight.
Less Saturated Fat
Lean meats are lower in saturated fat. Now, while saturated fat is an important nutrient, it should be eaten in moderation. Too much of it might be unhealthy.
If you're getting saturated fat elsewhere in your diet such as whole eggs and coconut oil, it might be a good idea to stick with more lean meats.
Great Source of Protein
High-quality dietary protein is essential for building muscle, so if you're trying to bulk up or put on a few pounds of lean muscle mass, lean meats can help you reach your goals.
They're also a good option for people who are trying to lose weight because protein helps you feel full and satisfied after eating.
Continuing with what we discussed above, when you eat a high-protein diet that is also lower in calories, you are able to preserve and support muscle growth while burning fat.
Easy to Digest
One of the biggest differences between lean meat vs red meat, when cooked in a healthy way, is digestion. For example, a lean meat that is deep fried can disrupt proper digestion, trigger heart burn and indigestion.
Not everyone is able to digest red meat easily and effectively, but most people can digest lean meats without any indigestion or complications.
What Qualifies as a Red Meat?
Now, we move to the bodybuilding staple of red meat.
Red meat has a higher fat content compared to lean meats, but more importantly, it comes from mammals. Lean meats, on the other hand, primarily come from poultry and fish.
With that said, there are leaner cuts of red meat available such as eye of round steak, top sirloin, and flank steak that would technically count as a “lean meat.” The most popular red meats include:
- Beef / Steak
- Game meats like Elk, Moose, and Caribou
Benefits of Red Meats
Now that we know what red meats are, let's take a look at some of the benefits they offer:
Rich in Iron
For those who are anemic or low in iron, such as pregnant women and children, red meat can be a nutrient-packed way to increase your iron absorption.
Red meats are rich in iron which is essential for carrying oxygen to your cells. For those who have trouble with iron pills, red meat might be a better option. The iron is more bioavailable than it is in your supplement, and red meat provides more nutrients that help with the absorption of iron such as vitamin C.
Great Source of B Vitamins
B vitamins are usually referred to as “energy vitamin” because they assist with metabolizing nutrients into usable energy for your body. B vitamins are also important for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Red meat just happens to be an amazing source of B vitamins. While you could take a B-supplement, you have to worry about the bioavailability of the supplement.
Ever wonder why they put so much of one nutrient in a supplement? It’s because your body has trouble absorbing and utilizing the nutrient in supplement form. That’s why you’ll see 1,000% of your daily recommended dosage of vitamin B12 in a capsule.
Don’t waste your money on supplements (that you will literally pee away), instead, opt for a whole food option: red meat.
Can Support Healthy Hormone Levels
Sex hormones like testosterone require saturated fat in order to maintain healthy levels. Thankfully, red meat has enough saturated fat to meet your daily requirements.
Red meats are also a good source of zinc, which is another mineral that's essential for hormone production, specifically testosterone.
Now, we’re not saying that eating steak will turn you into the Hulk. If you want to build muscle, you’ll need to train hard and then get your butt in the kitchen to support your goals with the right nutrition, which should be protein.
Red meats are a great source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, when eaten in moderation.
Lean Meats vs. Red Meats: Which Should You Be Eating?
Ideally, you'll be eating a combination of both. However, there are a few things to consider.
First, what does your doctor suggest? Has he steered you away from red meat because of cardiovascular issues? Best to heed his warning and stick with lean meats.
Second, how is your digestion? Do you have an iron stomach that can handle red meat well? Or do you feel like a steak just sits in your stomach for days after you eat it? If you have a hard time digesting red meat, we recommend sticking to lean meats and getting your healthy fats from other sources such as eggs, fatty fish, and coconut oil.
Finally, what is your goal? Are you trying to lose weight and maximize fat loss? You might want to eat more lean meats than red meats. Are you trying to bulk up and pack on the muscle? Red meats might be more suitable because of the high protein count, healthy fats, and natural creatine.