What you get from 100g of red meat
A 100g portion of lean red meat like lamb provides more than 30% of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) of protein, niacin, vitamin B12, and zinc, and more than 10% of the NRV of phosphorus, iron, thiamin and riboflavin.
Lean red meat is an important source of protein of the highest quality. It provides about 20-25g of protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids, namely lysine, threonine, methionine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, histidine and valine, to the diet. These amino acids are classified as “essential” because they cannot be manufactured in the human body, but must be obtained from the diet.
Why amino acids are important
The abovementioned amino acids that are found in lean red meat are key contributors to muscle growth and assist in the repair of damaged muscle tissue, which are both of primary importance to sportsmen and women.
Young athletes have an increased requirement for high quality protein and amino acids derived from natural sources like red meat to provide for their normal growth, as well as the added demands of training.
What about the fat content?
Red meat is what is called “an animal source protein” and will, therefore, contain some animal fat. Foods containing fat are often a contentious issue with athletes, particularly female athletes, who are intent on keeping their weight as low as possible. In addition, the fact that animal fats contain saturated and trans-fatty acids, may turn athletes away from foods like red meat. But nowadays the fat content of red meat has been decreased dramatically thanks to purposeful selection of lean breeds and trimming of meat at retail outlets and at home.
If you buy lean meat and remove all the visible fat and make sure that you are not adding large quantities of fat or oil during cooking, then an average lamb chop which in the untrimmed state contains 15% fat can be reduced to a fat content of less than 5%.
In other words, you can reduce the total fat content of red meat like lamb by nearly 70% between the shop and the plate.
Of this 5g of fat per 100g of meat, more than half consists of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. In addition lamb and mutton are natural sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which researchers have linked to a reduction in heart disease, cancer and cholesterol levels.
A pleasing total
If we add up all the nutrient benefits of lean red meat, and keep in mind that red meat contains the abovementioned bioactive compounds, antioxidants and creatine, for which athletes pay a lot of money as ergogenic aids in the form of supplements, then eating red meat appears to be a natural choice for athletes, particularly those who are trying to “make weight” or suffer from anaemia.
How much protein do athletes need?
Let’s try to answer this question by listing the prime functions of proteins in the human body. Firstly proteins must supply us with the correct amount of amino acids, particularly those we can’t manufacture in our own bodies, to build new body protein and to repair damaged body protein.
Proteins can also be used for fuel if our diet is carbohydrate deficient (“Banting” athletes?), but most nutrition experts regard the use of protein for energy purposes as wasteful and counterproductive, because protein that has to be used to generate energy is not available for building muscle and other body tissues and can cause a loss of lean body mass. This is something no athlete can afford.
Sports nutritionists recommend that athletes and other individuals who are very physically active require protein intakes of between 1,2 and 1,7 g/kg/day.
In other words a 50 kg female athlete would require 60 to 85g protein daily, and a 70 kg male athlete would need 84 to 119g of protein per day. These quantities are considerably higher than the 0,8g/kg/day suggested for sedentary adults.
Next week we will have a closer look at other positive contributions athletes can source from red meat instead of supplements.
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- Schönfeldt & Hall, (2013). 2013 Update on nutrient delivery. Lamb & Mutton South Africa.
- Van Heerden, IV Hall, N & Schönfeldt, HC (2014). Red Meat & Sport. Red Meat in Nutrition & Health. Supplementary Chapter. Published by Lamb & Mutton SA.
- Williams, P (2007). Nutritional composition of red meat. Nutrition & Dietetics, 64 (Suppl. 4): S113-S119.
Image: Ground beef from Shutterstock