Bodybuilding & Beef Jerky: Perfect Match or Hidden Problem?

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Beef jerky seems like the ultimate bodybuilding treat: high in protein, ready to eat, and irresistibly tasty. But is this convenient snack as perfect as it appears for those serious about muscle-building?  And can it replace your post-workout protein shake?

Key Takeaways

  • Beef jerky can be a great addition to your bodybuilding diet because it requires zero preparation, is easy to carry around in your gym bag, and provides high-quality protein (6 grams per large slice).
  • Beef jerky is often high in sodium (300+ mg per serving) and fats (4.6 grams per serving), so you must track your intake of these nutrients to stick with your bodybuilding goals.
  • When buying beef jerky, look for organic options with 50+ % protein, as little sodium as possible (ideally below 300 mg per serving), and a short ingredients list to reduce artificial fillers.

Beef Jerky: Overview

Nutritional content of one big slice of beef jerky (18 g)


Beef jerky is energy-dense, with one big slice (around 18 grams) providing 74 calories.

This is highly beneficial during a bulk because beef jerky provides plenty of calories in a relatively small portion. 

As a result, you can more easily eat enough calories and create the necessary surplus for growth.

That said, you can also enjoy beef jerky during a cut. However, you’d need to be more careful with your intake and consider using an app (like MacroFactor) to log your intake and stay within your calorie budget.


Beef jerky is a high-quality protein source because it has all nine essential amino acids you need to get through food. 

One big slice provides as much protein as one large egg (6 grams).

Beef jerky is also high in fats, with one slice providing 4.6 grams (the equivalent of a teaspoon of butter). 

This means the protein-to-fat ratio is 1.3-to-1, far from the recommended 5-to-1 ratio for optimal bodybuilding results. 

That said, beef jerky is still a good bodybuilding food, so long as you’re mindful of your overall intake and balance out your protein-to-fat ratio over other meals throughout the day.

Beef jerky also provides some carbs––about 2 grams per large slice.  This is usually some form of flavor or sweetener that adds taste and can vary based on the brand. 


There are a few micronutrients in beef jerky that are worth mentioning:

  • Phosphorus (10% of daily needs per slice). It is an essential component in bone health as it plays a part in the formation of bones. Having stronger bones means you are less likely to suffer from an injury.
  • Folate (6% of daily needs per slice). It is an essential vitamin that helps form red blood cells, which deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Additionally, it helps convert the food you eat into energy that your body can use.

Related: 15 Red Meat With The Most Protein

2 Pros Of Eating Beef Jerky 

pros of eating beef jerky 

Good Protein Source

As a bodybuilder, you need 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.7-1 gram per pound). 

If you weigh 200 pounds, you will need 145-182 grams of protein daily.

While reaching this amount can be easy for some, it might be challenging for others. 

Eating various protein-rich foods, including beef jerky, can make it easier to reach the target daily without feeling overwhelmed. Plus, it makes for a more enjoyable diet that doesn’t feel stale.

You can have beef jerky as a snack while on the go or include it in your main meals for a protein boost. Plus, as nutritionist Shereen Lehman notes:

“Since beef jerky is dehydrated, it has a lower volume than consuming regular beef, making it easier to eat more and obtain a higher amount of nutrients for those who may need to boost their levels of these nutrients.”

Easy To Carry & Doesn’t Require Food Prep

Another benefit of beef jerky is that it is easy to carry around and requires no preparation. 

Since beef jerky is preserved in salt, it takes longer to expire. 

This makes it the perfect option for those who want to have some food available in their office, car, or gym without worrying that it will spoil.

You can even take beef jerky for a convenient, protein-rich snack while traveling.

Some people like to have protein shakes or protein bars for a quick source of protein, beef jerky is an excellent option for those who don’t have a sweet tooth or prefer something savory as a snack.

2 Cons of Eating Beef 

cons of eating beef 

High In Sodium

Beef jerky is high in sodium, with one large slice providing 320 mg, or approximately 14% of the daily intake recommended by the American Heart Association.

For a food to be considered low in sodium, it must provide fewer than 140 mg per serving. Beef jerky has more than twice that amount.

While a single slice is not the end of the world, consider this:

To replace the protein from a scoop of protein powder (around 24 grams) with beef jerky, you would have to eat four large slices totaling 1,280 mg of sodium.

This is a very high sodium intake for only one snack and doesn’t leave much room for sodium in your other meals throughout the day. 

A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure, which may increase the risk of cardiovascular health issues down the road. 

Additionally, it can lead to water retention, making you look puffier, which isn’t ideal when trying to maintain a bodybuilding physique.

High in Dietary Fats

As mentioned above, a large slice of beef jerky provides 4.6 grams of fat. Almost 2 grams are saturated, which the American Heart Association recommends limiting for optimal health.

According to the AHA, you should get no more than 5-6% of your total calories from saturated fat. Here’s a quick way to calculate your upper recommended intake:

Let’s say you eat 3,000 calories per day.

You should get no more than 150-180 calories from saturated fats. 

One gram of fat provides 9 calories, so you’re allowed 16.6-20 grams of saturated fats.

If you eat 3,000 calories daily, a single slice of beef jerky would cover up to 12% of your daily saturated fat allowance.

Your saturated fat content could seriously add up depending on how many slices you eat.

Can You Eat Beef Jerky Before Workouts?

No, beef jerky is not the best option before working out because it has negligible amounts of carbs per slice (only 2 grams).

Since carbs are your body’s preferred energy source and research recommends having up to one gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight before training, beef jerky would not be the best option.

Additionally, dietary fats take longer to digest, which could lead to a heavy feeling in your stomach and affect your training.

If you are looking for a pre-workout snack, go for carbs: fruit, oatmeal, rice cakes, and granola are fantastic options. 

Can You Eat Beef Jerky After Workouts?

Beef jerky can be a good addition to your post-workout meal since it contains high-quality protein necessary for muscle repair.

However, one large piece doesn’t contain enough protein, and simply adding more beef jerky will increase your sodium intake too much.

Research recommends having 0.3-0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For an 80-kilo (176-lb) bodybuilder, that’s 24 to 40 grams of protein or up to eight large slices of beef jerky.

So, a better option would be to have a small serving of beef jerky and get the remaining protein from lower-fat, lower-sodium sources like chicken, beef, low-fat cottage cheese, egg whites, and protein powder.

You should also aim for 0.3-0.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, so pair your protein with rice, quinoa, pasta, or potatoes.

Tips For Incorporating Beef Jerky Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating beef jerky into a bodybuilding diet

Be Aware of The Additives

First, be aware of the additives in beef jerky. The longer the list of ingredients, the more processed it will be. 

This means it will be higher in sodium, sugar, and other additives.

If you want to have beef jerky regularly, look for an organic version, preferably one with at least 50% protein and a short ingredient list.

Here’s a quick tip from health writer Carrie Madormo:

“Look for grass-fed, organic beef; this will give you more vitamins and minerals without the extra antibiotics and fillers.”

(I’ll give you a few brands below that I recommend.)

Choose The Best Beef Jerky

There are certain things to consider when you are buying beef jerky.


Ensure it has at least 6 g of protein per serving, which is a good quantity of protein to have as a minimum.


Although the recommendation for low sodium is less than 140 mg, it will be tough to find beef jerky with this amount (since it is the primary way to preserve it). 

Thus, when looking for beef jerky, ensure it doesn’t have more than 300 mg of sodium per serving.


Keep the fat content below the amount of protein it contains. 

This means that if the beef jerky has 7 grams of protein, it should have less than 7 grams of fat––preferably, even less than 5 grams.

Decrease Your Daily Sodium

If you will add beef jerky, compensate for the sodium content over the rest of the day. 

This means having fewer processed foods to avoid adding more sodium. Canned goods and sauces are often rich in sodium.

Make Your Own

Although it might take longer, you can make beef jerky at home. This way, you can control the amount of sodium and other ingredients

If you don’t know how to make beef jerky, here is a recipe to help you.

Best Beef Jerky For Bodybuilding

There are several brands I recommend to my bodybuilder clients who are looking to have protein with less sodium and fat:

  • Jack Link’s Beef Jerky Bars: The great thing about this product is that it provides 7 grams of protein and 230 mg of sodium per serving. It has slightly more carbs (4 grams per serving), and the ingredient list is not too long (meaning it’s less processed).
  • EPIC Wagyu Beef Steak Strips: It has a good amount of protein (6 grams per serving) but also more sodium––300 mg. It’s also higher in fat (6 grams), and it’s gluten-free with approximately 4 grams of carbs.
  • Baja Beef Jerky Sampler Pack: This is a great option as it comes with several flavor options: salsa, sweet orange, lime & pepper, and traditional. Sodium content ranges from 150 to 300 mg per serving, depending on the flavor. It provides 10 grams of protein with only one gram of fat.
  • Country Archer: This one has the best protein-to-fat ratio of 20:1 (10 grams of protein with only 0.5 grams of fat per serving). It’s also the lowest in sodium, having only 120 mg per serving.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is Beef Jerky A Good Emergency Source of Protein?

Yes, beef jerky is a good emergency source of protein. You can keep it in your car, purse, or gym bag without worrying it will go bad. 

However, to eat the same amount of protein as a shake, you would have to eat 4 large pieces, which often means ingesting 1,200+ mg of sodium.

Is Beef Jerky Good For Muscle Growth?

Beef jerky is good for muscle growth since it provides calories and protein. 

In other words, protein is the material you need for your muscles to grow, and the calories are the energy required for it to grow.

Does Beef Jerky Contain Creatine?

Creatine occurs naturally in beef, which is used to make beef jerky, but the amount is small and further reduced during drying.

Other Protein Sources For Bodybuilders


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About The Author

Brenda Peralta

Brenda Peralta is a Registered Dietitian and certified sports nutritionist.  In addition to being an author for, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.

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Why Trust Our Content

FeastGood logo

On Staff at, we have Registered Dietitians, coaches with PhDs in Human Nutrition, and internationally ranked athletes who contribute to our editorial process. This includes research, writing, editing, fact-checking, and product testing/reviews. At a bare minimum, all authors must be certified nutrition coaches by either the National Academy of Sports Medicine, International Sport Sciences Association, or Precision Nutrition. Learn more about our team here.

Have a Question?

If you have any questions or feedback about what you’ve read, you can reach out to us at We respond to every email within 1 business day.