How would you like your meat done?

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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, but 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 most beneficial for athletes. – By Christine Peters (Registered Dietician)

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Most runners know that red meat is packed with protein, which is critical for muscle growth and recovery. It's also packed with iron, zinc and B vitamins, which boost the immune system and keep red blood cells healthy. However, just as no single vegetable or fruit can provide all of the critical nutrients common to its food group, so no single type of meat can provide all of the nutrients necessary for a healthy and well-balanced diet. It is the variety of types and cuts of meat that provide the total array of nutrients necessary for an adequate diet, so let’s take a closer look at a few meats.

BEEF
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 also a good source of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and vitamin B6, which help convert carbohydrates into the fuel needed to make it through a training run, and all are particularly plentiful in beef. If you can, opt for grass-fed beef, which supplies more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamin E than 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.

DARK MEAT CHICKEN
All 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, flavour-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.

LAMB
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 the 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.

PORK
It's the best substitute for lovers of chicken. 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 metabolise 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 centre-cut pork chops or roast pork tenderloin. Lower-fat meats, especially pork, need to be seasoned well to maximise flavour. 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 are some exceptions, one example being pork, an excellent source of iron. Because vitamin B12 is a by-product of animal metabolism, virtually all types of meats are good or excellent sources of vitamin B12.

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