One thing that is often overlooked within the world of fitness is the quality of nutrients that we consume. We get so caught up in the amount of each macronutrient that we forget that improvements often come down to quality over quantity.
I learned this the hard way. Early in my career, I ate low-quality food and built what I thought was a low-quality physique. And one of the things that I severely neglected was eating the right kinds of fats and not investing money into the kinds of meats that put on slabs of quality muscle.
There is one kind of food that I wanted to focus on specifically that I think can bring good results to those trying to get the most out of their diets: grass-fed beef. But let me explain the difference between grass-fed beef and traditional grain-fed beef.
When you buy beef from the store and it’s from commercial corn- and grain-fed animals, you’re only as good as what the cattle ate. (Good farmers know that quality grass and soil are the key to a great product.) And in that sense, you’re ingesting low-quality, cheap corn and grain that is not going to contribute to adding muscle and keeping you lean the way that you desire. In fact, the corn that industrial meat producers feed their cows can actually be counter-productive to positive gains for our physique. Grass-fed beef is also much better for the environment and far less cruel for the animals. I know that might not make a difference for some people, but my wife and I have four dogs and three horses, so animal welfare is a passionate issue for us.
Much of this issue comes down to a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found within the beef. You see, when cows are fed genetically modified corn and grain, they contain less omega-3 fats and begin to have a higher quantity of omega-6. Since most of our diets are already dominated by omega-6 fats, mostly from vegetable oils and canola oils found in so many processed foods, we don’t need an additional omega-6 boost from our meat sources. In fact, the imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 in our bodies actually causes inflammation, which makes it easier to gain fat and lose muscle. Commercial beef deprives us of precious omega-3 fats that help us mobilize body-fat stores, says the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, and which provide cardiovascular benefits as well.
When we look at grass-fed ground beef, we see that it has a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, whereas corn- and grain-fed beef has a 20:1 ratio. Those are some pretty astonishing numbers. So I’ll put it like this: The more omega-6 you add to the diet, the more you’re going to slow down the ability to burn fat. But there’s one more thing that makes grass-fed beef so much better—the abundance of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). According to a study by the University of Georgia, CLA is most noted for its ability to allow your body to more easily break down fat cells into fatty acids that can be used for energy. Simply put, eating grass-fed beef will prime your body to utilize fats for fuel.
Besides CLA, grass-fed meat also contains more trans-vaccenic acid (TVA), a trans-fatty acid that can combat heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. (Don’t worry, naturally occurring trans fats are vastly different from the manmade abominations you find in grocery store pastries.) In addition, TVA is a dietary precursor to CLA, meaning it will convert to CLA in the body.
Lastly, compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef has higher levels of vitamin A and vitamin E, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Research is also beginning to show that grass-fed beef contains greater amounts of creatine than grain-fed beef. The simple compound is literally one of the most important factors in creating strength in the body. That’s just one more reason to pay the extra couple of dollars per pound.
One mental hurdle for physique athletes and grass-fed beef is the fact that many of the benefits are derived from the fat content in the meat. If you’re used to shopping for 99 percent lean ground turkey, this will be a shift in mindset. While many grass-fed cuts of meat are leaner than grain-fed options (and thus don’t take as long to cook, so keep an eye on your grill), the fact is, you want the fat in the meat. That’s why I tend to go for rib-eye steaks or use the ground beef (usually 15 percent fat) in burgers, tacos, or scrambles.
In this day and age, with health fitness becoming more and more mainstream, it is critical to begin investing in yourself properly for the long haul. I can speak from experience when I say that the best fitness models and competitors are the ones who can stay around the longest. And I can promise you that the quality fuel (and knowledge) you put into your body can truly mean the difference between first and second place.
Now who wants a burger? IM