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Meat: Friend or Foe?

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We are constantly bombarded
by articles with contradicting advice regarding the consumption of different
foods, especially red meat. Some experts say stay clear while others promote
the regular consumption of meat, even the night before a big sporting event,
and in some cases, even on race day. Think back to the days of the legendary
Wally Hayward, who used to stop next to the road during races to polish off a
juicy piece of red meat. So who’s right and who’s wrong? Read on.

 

WHAT’S IN RED MEAT?

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Protein: Red meat provides high-quality, highly digestible protein, with all the
essential amino acids that are used by the body to build structures and perform
functions, including bone, muscle, skin, nails and hair.

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Haem Iron: Iron is needed for red blood cells and oxygen transport, and haem iron
is more absorbable than the non-haem variety found in vegetables. Red meat
contributes more than 50% of the body’s iron needs.

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Zinc: The zinc in meat is better absorbed than from plant foods. It is
necessary for strong immune function, brain function, fertility and healing.

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B Group Vitamins,
including B12:
These vitamins are necessary
for energy and brain function, and are only found in animal products.

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Carnitine: Its main role is to help the conversion of fat into energy in the
body’s cells.

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Cholesterol: Red meat contains cholesterol, which in high levels are associated with
increased risk of heart disease, but more recent studies have shown this only
to be true for people up to the age of 50.

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Saturated fat: Red meat contains saturated fat, the kind that when eaten in excess,
has been thought to raise blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
However, lean red meat, with visible fat removed and little marbling, is lower
in saturated fat.

 

ATHLETES AND MEAT

Red meat is useful for athletes because
it’s a high-quality source of protein, calories, B vitamins, zinc, and most
importantly, iron. One of the major functions of iron is to carry oxygen to and
carbon dioxide away from all the cells in your body. The brain also relies on
oxygen transport, so without enough iron, you will find it hard to concentrate
and feel tired and irritable. Iron is also needed to maintain a healthy immune
system.

 

Athletes
that
consume red meat the night before a race are
usually people who eat meat regularly and are used to high-fat diets and
digesting meat. The reason many do this before an endurance race with a lower
intensity, is that they can then rely on fat being a good source of energy for a
longer period, without needing large amounts of carbohydrate to remain fuelled.

 

BUT IS RED MEAT SAFE?

In late 2007, the World Cancer
Research Fund (WCRF) reported a link between red meat and colon cancer, which
caused worldwide concern. It recommended eating less than 500g of red meat per
week and avoiding processed meat. However, this advice was disputed by other
experts who believe it was based on inconsistent research results. Health
authorities now recommend that we eat lean red meat three to four times a week,
where a serving is equal to 65-100g of cooked meat, e.g. a small steak, half a
cup of mince, or a couple of slices of roast meat. Any less and other iron-rich
foods will need to be eaten.

 

Much of the reservations about meat
come not from the food itself, but rather the methods used to rear the animals,
and to the processing done after the animals are slaughtered. Therefore, choose
cuts from animals that are as naturally reared as possible, and in an
unprocessed form.

 


MEAT MYTH: Does eating a lot of
protein help build muscle?

Protein alone does not build muscle
mass. A strength-training programme, along with enough calories from healthy
foods, as well as recovery time and sleep, are also needed for building muscle.
Overdoing it adds extra calories and won’t build bigger muscles.
Strength-training athletes, like bodybuilders, might benefit from more protein,
but even that extra amount of protein can be met by simply choosing
protein-rich foods.


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