Farming and Fitness: Beef Part 1 – Nutrition


So a while back, I asked about interest in a series that paired my increasing interest in wellness with my longstanding passion for food production and agriculture. While it seems like a strange combination, I’m really excited to have a multifaceted view of food. I realized when I began this post that it would take much more than my 1,000 word cap to tell the full story of beef in a healthy lifestyle. So, I’m breaking it up.

Beef Part 1 - Nutrition

(Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist or doctor — but I have worked with several of them on agricultural projects and in my personal recovery from an eating disorder. What I’m sharing here is based on what I’ve learned from them, and from my own experiences while becoming active and healthfully losing 40 pounds of weight gained during my battle with bulimia.)

(A) Later post(s) will be about how beef is produced, from the farm through to you, the end-user (if you eat beef).

Beef by the Numbers

Now, beef gets a bad rep. Some people think of beef and they see a meatloaf loaded with gravy, or a greasy burger with cheese and bacon. (They both sound spectacular, though, don’t they?)

AJ Bombers Mad Sconnie Burger

I ate this burger in Madison, WI. It’s called a Mad Sconnie and it’s from AJ Bomber’s. It was greasy, and cheesy, and delicious. I regret nothing about eating this burger. Also, my friend Carrie, who hosted me on that Wisconsin trip, wants me to tell you that beef goes really well with cheese.

What many people forget is that lean beef can be a great source of protein, and is packed with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. (I should specify, I fully advocate enjoying guilty pleasures like greasy burgers now and then in moderation. It helps keep us honest.) Let’s take a rundown of these beefy benefits:

  • Iron. This mineral impacts the way your body uses oxygen. Many women suffer from iron deficiency (sometimes referred to as a form of anemia) and don’t even realize it. My mother, sister and I are all typically iron deficient. When I used to donate blood, I would increase my beef intake a few days prior to donating blood to ensure healthy blood iron levels. (They won’t allow you to donate if your blood iron is too low.)
  • Choline. This member of the B vitamin family helps develop and maintain your nervous system, as well as liver and kidney health. Fatigue and insomnia can both be signs of choline deficiency.
  • Selenium. This mineral helps maintain thyroid health. It’s also an antioxidant, which means it helps maintain the health of cells that could be damaged by free-radicals.
  • Vitamins B6 and B12. These bad boys are good for your noggin. They help promote healthy brain function. B12 is also good for promoting metabolic health.
  • Zinc. This mineral is all about your immune system. While Vitamin C is often associated with a healthy immune system (rightfully so) Zinc is often forgotten and is still vital!
  • Phosphorus. While I love me some milk, cheese, and yogurt, Calcium and Vitamin D aren’t the only thing that you need for healthy teeth and bones. You need Phosphorus too!
  • Niacin. Another metabolism booster, Niacin helps make sure your body produces energy properly from the foods you eat.
  • Riboflavin. Don’t think your body is converting your food into fuel properly? You may be deficient in Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin.

That’s a lot of nutrients packed into one tasty meat. You’re probably thinking, “Kelly, you didn’t even mention protein!” That’s because beef’s protein potency is so dang impressive. One 3 oz. serving of beef (a deck of cards) has 48% of the daily protein needs of someone eating a standard 2,000 calorie diet. For smaller people like me, that’s significantly higher. It’s like a one-stop shop for protein! And the kicker? Lean beefs typically only have 150 calories per 3 oz. serving.

What qualifies as lean beef?

Many very popular cuts of beef are actually lean in nature. To see a printable PDF of beef cuts broken down by their leanness, click here. I think a common misconception people have is that “lean” beef cuts are dry, boring ones, that are hard to prepare. As someone who spends a lot of time cooking meals for Health Freak, Party of 1, I can tell you this is a very wrong assumption. Take a look at that list — the leanest steak cuts are delicious when pan-seared or broiled. The roasts and other “big” cuts? There’s tons of potential there. And let’s not forget lean ground beef.

So, in other words, the possibilities are endless. For additional info on what counts as “lean” you can check out the Mayo Clinic’s resource on lean beef here and this resource on lean beef on the Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner website.

Beef and Exercise

Proper protein intake is vital to an active lifestyle, both to fuel your activities and recover from them. In fact, physically active people often require more protein than those who aren’t active, and this is more so the case for endurance athletes. That is partially because protein is an amazing source of energy, but there’s more.

Not all proteins are created equal. While many plant sources offer protein, you typically have to take in a lot of multiple types to get all nine of the essential amino acids that are associated with protein intake. These plant-based proteins are called “incomplete proteins.” Beef (and other meats) are considered “complete proteins” in that they have all nine of those amino acids. One again, beef is “one-stop shop!”

Protein is vital to recovery from exercise, particularly endurance or high impact activities. As your body breaks down muscle tissue during activity, it needs protein to rebuild and repair that muscle. You see, when you “build muscle” it’s actually through an ongoing process of breaking down the tissue and rebuilding it back up, new and improved. You can’t build new muscle and gain more strength without first breaking down some muscle cells.

Color Run 5K Kansas City

Does this look like someone who just broke down some muscle fibers? Because I did. This was right after the Color Run 5K here in Kansas City, as part of my Birthday Weekend Celebration (thus the tutu and tiara).

Athletes who don’t have proper protein intake will have a harder time recovering from physically-demanding activities. I know as a runner and casual yoga participant, I can FEEL it — that breakdown of muscle tissue. And I can also tell when I’m not getting the nutrients I need to build that muscle up better and stronger before. Because of that, complete proteins like beef are highly suggested as a recovery food after your workout. For more info, you can see the Active.com explanation of protein and recovery here.

Beef, it’s what’s for…fitness?

Obviously, beef isn’t the only meat that’s a great complete source of protein. I eat a ton of chicken and fish, both of which I’d like to write about. I also love beans and legumes, and plan to write about some of those, as well. Despite my love of MANY types of protein, beef is undeniably a protein and nutrient powerhouse. It packs a nutrient-dense punch with a modest 150 calories per serving. And, beef has seen some amazing progress in the last several decades. In fact, we’re raising more beef, with a smaller carbon footprint, on less land, than ever before. Now, if you’ve enjoyed learning about how beef can be a part of your healthy lifestyle, come back soon to learn about how that beef was raised. I’d love to take you on a virtual tour of beef production in the United States.

And for the ultimate blog on how beef can fit into your healthy lifestyle, read Daren William’s blog, The Beefman Bloggeth. He’s had a massive transformation (even bigger than my 40 pounds of loss) and is an icon for beef in a healthy lifestyle!

My inner-farmgirl is giddy to share it, and my not-quite-athlete side is thrilled that we have access to such safe, affordable, reliable protein here in our great country! Thanks for reading!

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3 thoughts on “Farming and Fitness: Beef Part 1 – Nutrition

  1. It’s great to see someone giving beef the nutritional credit it is due! It seems like so many people associate red meat with a greasy cheeseburger and being unhealthy, rather than the nutrient dense meat it really is.

    • Glad you agree! Because of my unique history and my dietary needs, I find myself needing MORE protein and iron than most girls of a similar size — there are few things that fill that need quite like a good serving a beef. 🙂

      It’s been pivotal in my weight loss and fitness! Thanks for reading and responding, I appreciate it!

      • The protein and iron beef provides is just awesome. I’ve battled hypoglycemia for years and require a good serving of protein daily to keep my blood sugar stable. Nothing works quite as good as beef! I love it and I really hope other people soon realize that it is such a great dinner choice!

        You’re very welcome for the response! You have a great blog 🙂

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