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The Best Protein Sources For Bodybuilding
Whether it goes “cluck,” “gobble,” “moo,” or “oink,” chances are, as a hardcore bodybuilder, you eat it. You’ll eat anything that has protein! But have you ever thought about what exactly you are putting in your body? Whether you’re buying “wild salmon” when you should be buying “farm-raised.” Or whether you’re eating filet mignon (which is full of fat), when you should be eating flank steak.
According to a long-range forecast prepared for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Meat consumption in Canada, of all the food groups, represents by far the largest single category of expenditures at the retail level. In 2003, meat and products containing meat represented a retail sales value of nearly $11 billion, some 30 percent of all retail sales.”1 Those numbers are staggering! According to a food industry report done in 2013 by Food in Canada, “The red meats division, comprising beef, veal, and pork, is the largest division. It is followed by the poultry division, which includes chicken and turkey, and the fish and seafood division, comprising fin fish and shellfish.”2 An interesting and relevant point of note to bodybuilders from the same report is that poultry and fish consumption are positively correlated/complementary; as one goes up, so does the other. This is most likely due to the emphasis on healthier eating and lowering saturated fat intake. At the end of the day, there are hundreds of selections to make at the grocery store when it comes to protein. But what are the best options for you to pack on muscle and lose fat? Where do you begin, with so many carnivore-friendly options in front of you?
Contenders: Chicken, turkey, Cornish hen, quail, duck
Thigh. Breast. Wing. Liver. For such a little bird, there’s an awful lot of meat in one chicken. Although chicken is low in iron content, it’s exceptionally low in fat and high in protein, making it an optimal choice for bodybuilders and health enthusiasts. But not all parts of the bird are ideal for your muscle-building and fat-loss goals. As exciting and badass as it would be to tell your friends to come over for a chicken neck BBQ, it is just not your best choice from this bird. Because it’s not particularly flavourful on its own, chicken breast is a prime candidate for experiments with different type of low-carb rubs and sauces, and low-fat cooking methods. It will absorb the flavour of whatever you’re cooking it with.
Nutritional info per 100 g of raw, boneless, skinless chicken breast:
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 22.5
- Carbs: 0
- Fat: 2.6
Contenders: Pork, beef, lamb, goat, horse, rabbit
Over the past 20 years, beef consumption has been on a steady decline, though it hasn’t been for lack of trying on the part of farmers and those in agribusiness. The meat industry as a whole has worked tirelessly, and with formidable results, to reduce total fat content and modify the fatty acid profile of the meat, in order to gain back some of its followers,3 such as bodybuilders and health-conscious individuals who are under the (false?) assumption that red meat is bad for you. Depending on which cut of steak you choose, however, of all the red meat options, beef is your best bet. Another big perk to eating beef is its omega-3 fat content. Compared to grain fed beef, grass-fed (your healthier choice) has less total fat but a higher percentage of omega-3s, which can help build muscle and burn fat and also double as an anti-inflammatory.
Nutritional info per 100 g of raw, sirloin tip side steak, trimmed to 0" fat:*
- Calories: 130
- Protein: 21
- Carbs: 0
- Fat: 4
Contenders: Cod, flounder, trout, salmon, mahi-mahi
Bodybuilders are notorious for clearing out the fish section of the local grocery store as a competition gets closer and closer. They’re always looking for the best filets of cod, sole, tilapia, halibut, orange roughy, etc. But with so many options, and the raging debate between “wild” and “farm-raised,” why does tilapia win? Firstly, although farm-raised beats wild in terms of price (read: it’s cheaper), wild offers more health benefits. Wild fish usually have less (if not the same amount of) fat and more omega-3s than farmed4, because of the availability of food for the fish. If it lives better in the wild, you eat better. Tilapia specifically is low in mercury, as well as being high in protein and low in fat content relative to its weight.
Nutritional info per 100 g of raw tilapia:
- Calories: 96
- Protein: 20
- Carbs: 0
- Fat: 1.7
Buffalo: Sweet, rich, flavourful, tender, lean—need we say more? Regardless of how you cook it or what cut you get (even ground!), this is a top lean red meat alternative. It also contains a ton of iron, zinc, and selenium.
Ostrich: Containing two thirds less fat than red meat (but with as much protein and iron), this is another great alternative to beef. Because its fat content is low, ostrich cooks faster than other meat, and should only be cooked medium-rare to medium.
Grasshoppers/Crickets/Locusts: Not just a biblical plague anymore! There are more than 1,900 edible insect species on Earth. These three particular insects from the same family pack a decent punch in terms of protein content (comparable to lean ground beef), and have less fat per gram.5
Alternative Protein Sources
Nuts/Seeds: On average, one ounce of nuts or seeds can get you anywhere from 4 to 6 grams of protein. Though it doesn’t sound like a lot, people usually eat more than 1 ounce at a time, so this adds up. Additionally, nut butters usually have 6 to 8 grams of protein per serving.
Legumes: These are a great choice in that the range for one cup of beans is anywhere from 14 grams per cup (garbanzo beans) to 28 grams (soybeans).
Non-Dairy Milk: Don’t laugh! Vegans and those who are lactose-intolerant know what’s up. One cup of soy milk or almond milk gets you between 7 and 9 grams of protein.
Healthy Tips on Food Prep
- Keep your portions under control. Chicken breast is lean, but if you’re eating pounds of it per day, it isn’t so lean anymore.
- Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking.
- To reduce your use of oils and/or sprays (such as Pam), use a non-stick skillet or grill.
- After roasting meat, chill the excess liquids in the refrigerator; the fat will rise to the top and harden, after which you can remove it.
- Use herbs, spices, and rubs to season instead of sauces and marinades.
The Worst Protein Choices
Pepperoni: Putting this topping on your pizza doesn’t give you a “protein-enriched diet.” Pepperoni has twice and much fat as protein, and gets about 80 percent of its total calories from fat.
Bacon: Bacon’s high fat content (and low protein-to-fat ratio) makes this a poor choice for any bodybuilder looking to make gains in the gym. It has about 69 percent calories from fat, and is typically high in cholesterol, sodium, and preservatives.
Fishsticks/Chicken Nuggets: There are no redeeming qualities for these nasty, breaded affronts to chicken breasts and cod filets. They are chock-full of fats and carbs because of what the breading/batter consists of.
1) Canadian Food Trends to 2020 a Long Range Consumer Outlook. Rep. Serecon Management Consulting Inc., July 2005. Web. 7 Aug. 2014. http://stayactiveeathealthy.ca/files/Canadian_Food_Trends_2020_0.pdf>.
2) Fread, G. Consumer trends and their influence on Canada’s meat sector. Food In Canada. N.p., 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 07 Aug. 2014. http://www.foodincanada.com/opinions/building-national-food-strategy-con....
3) Higgs, JD. The changing nature of red meat: 20 years of improving nutritional quality. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2000;11.3:85-95. Web. 9 Aug. 2014.
4) Carbonera, F, Santos, HMCd, Montanher, PF, Schneider, VVdA, Lopes, AP, Visentainer, JV. Distinguishing wild and farm-raised freshwater fish through fatty acid composition: Application of statistical tools. Eur J Lipid Sci Technol. doi: 2014; 10.1002/ejlt.201300339
5) Holland, J. U.N. urges eating insects; 8 popular bugs to try. National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 14 May 2013. Web. 04 Aug. 2014. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130514-edible-insects-en....
6) Healthy cooking tips. Meat Preparation and Cooking Safety Tips by Farmland Foods. Farmland, n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2014. http://www.farmlandfoods.com/cooking/food_preparation.
7) Clark, S. Meat face-off. Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 9 Feb. 2010. Web. 07 Aug. 2014. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/best_worst_protein_choices.htm.