How would you like your meat done?

ed meat is packed with protein, which is critical for muscle growth and recovery. It’s also packed with iron, zinc and B Vitamins, which boosts the immune system and keeps red blood cells healthy.

In the typical Western diet, meats such as beef, lamb, pork, veal, poultry, and fish are the predominant sources of protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Considering that iron and zinc are the most cited nutrients that may be deficient in the diet of athletes, we look at which types of meat are beneficial for athletes.

Remember, just as no single vegetable or fruit can provide all of the critical nutrients common to its food group, no single type of meat can provide all of the protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc necessary for a healthy and well-balanced diet. It is the variety of types and cuts of meats that provide the total array of nutrients necessary for an adequate diet.

Let’s take a closer look at a few:


An excellent source of zinc, a mineral essential for a strong immune system. You’ll also get two milligrams of iron, a plus because running, especially high mileage, breaks down red blood cells, so athletes need about 30 percent more iron than non-athletes. Beef is an average source of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamin B6 , which help convert carbohydrates into the fuel needed to make it through a training run, are particularly plentiful in beef. If you can, opt for grass-fed, which supplies more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamin E, compared with grain-fed.

Shopping Tip: Lean cuts include eye of round, sirloin, filet mignon, tenderloin, flank, or extra lean minced beef. The perfect portion is the size of your palm—minus your fingers.


Too often, runners believe that the juicy meat found in chicken thighs, wings, and legs is off-limits. That’s a myth. After all, a breast has around 161 calories, while an equivalent portion of dark meat runs only 200 calories. Yes, dark meat has more fat (11 grams versus four grams in white), but fewer than four grams are saturated fat. Compared to bland breasts, flavor-packed dark meat is also higher in zinc and iron. Bottom line: If you love the taste, dark meat is a healthy way to add variety to your diet.

Shopping Tip: Stay clear of basted rotisserie or crumbed chicken, rather roast and make your versions.


A rare find on the dinner plate these days, lamb is a surprisingly good source of heart-healthy omega-3s. Because the amount of omega-3s depends on the lamb’s diet, look for either “pasture-fed” or “organic” on the label. One study published in 2011 in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate grass-fed red meat, including lamb, three times per week for four weeks increased levels of healthy omega-3s in their blood, while decreasing inflammatory omega-6 levels. Like beef, lamb is also a good source of zinc and iron.

Shopping Tip: Choose leaner cuts like loin and leg, and trim visible fat. Because lamb can dry out without this extra fat, try roasting, broiling, or braising the meat for a stew.


It’s the best substitute for chicken lovers. Compared with chicken breasts, a serving of pork tenderloin packs 13 percent fewer calories and the same amount of fat (four grams) and saturated fat (one gram). It’s an excellent source of vitamin B6, which helps your body metabolize protein and carbs and produce energy during exercise. Pork is also an excellent source of thiamin (vitamin B1) and iron, a good source of niacin  (vitamin B3) and only an average source of riboflavin, and zinc.

Shopping Tip: Grill up center-cut pork chops or roast pork tenderloin. Lower-fat meats, especially pork, need to be seasoned well to maximize flavor. Rub on a mix of spices (like cumin, paprika, and chili powder) and fresh or dried herbs, plus salt and pepper.

Generally speaking, red meats like beef and the dark meat of poultry are better sources of iron and zinc than are white meats like fish and light meat of poultry. However, there is some exceptions, one example being pork, an excellent source of iron. Because vitamin B12 is a byproduct of animal metabolism, virtually all types of meats are good or excellent sources of vitamin B12.


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