Is Beef Jerky Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)

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Bodybuilders are aware of the importance of protein in their everyday lives. However, drinking upwards of 4 protein shakes a day can often become tiresome, which means bodybuilders need to look for other protein sources, like beef jerky.

So, is beef jerky good or bad for bodybuilding? Beef jerky is good for bodybuilders because it provides a source of protein variety to their diet. It can help achieve protein targets to aid in muscle growth, and is convenient and cheap to consume. However, beef jerky can have a higher sodium content, which could lead to water retention and high blood pressure.

In this article, I will explore everything related to beef jerky and bodybuilding, including:

  • The pros and cons of adding beef jerky to your bodybuilding diet
  • How beef jerky helps in muscle growth
  • The best beef jerky for bodybuilders
  • Additional tips on eating beef jerky as a bodybuilder

Beef Jerky For Bodybuilding: Overview

Nutritional Content of Beef Jerky

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

The nutritional content of beef jerky varies among brands. On average, one big slice of beef jerky (18 g) has the following nutritional content.

  • Calories: 74
  • Carbs: 2.0 g
  • Protein: 6.0 g
  • Fats: 4.6 g
  • Sodium: 320 mg

Calories

Beef jerky is a food that is very high in calories. In 100 g of product, you get 410 kcal, which is considered a very energy-dense food, i.e. you get a lot of calories in a small portion of food.

For a bodybuilder in a bulking phase, this provides many benefits.  During a bulking phase, your calories are increased for your body to make new muscle (which is a costly process that requires more food intake). Beef jerky allows you to achieve your goals without adding too much bulk to your stomach.  In other words, you can eat a lot of calories in beef jerky without it making you feel full. 

If you are in a cutting phase, this doesn’t mean that you cannot eat beef jerky. You only have to be careful with the portion size and track the calories (you can do it with a tracking app like MacroFactor) to ensure you don’t exceed them.

Macronutrients

When it comes to protein in beef jerky, it is considered a high-quality protein. Protein is composed of amino acids. Some amino acids your body can produce (non-essential), while others need to consume through your diet (essential). Beef jerky provides all the amino acids your body needs making it “high quality”.

One large beef jerky provides a similar protein content as one egg. For those looking to replace beef jerky with a protein shake, you would have to eat four slices to get the same protein content. Although possible, you need to be careful with its sodium content (we will talk about this later).

Regarding the fat content, beef jerky is considered a “high-fat protein”. One big slice of beef jerky has the same fat content as one teaspoon of butter. However, beef jerky is still an acceptable “high-fat protein” since it doesn’t have more fat than protein (unlike other foods I’ve written about like chicken thighs).  

Micronutrients

Although beef jerky is not a food that is very high in nutrients, it does contain some, including zinc, phosphorus, and folate.

  • Phosphorus. It is an essential component in bone health. Phosphorus plays a part in the formation of bones. Having stronger bones means that you are less likely to suffer from an injury or fracture.
  • Folate. It is an essential vitamin that helps form red blood cells. They are the ones that deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. Additionally, it helps convert the food you eat into energy that your body can use.

Are you eating the right foods for your bodybuilding goals?

2 Pros Of Eating Beef Jerky For Bodybuilding

pros vs cons of eating beef jerky for bodybuilding

There are two pros of adding beef jerky if you are a bodybuilder.

Good Source of Protein

As a bodybuilder, your protein requirements are elevated. A protein intake could be between 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This means that for a bodybuilder that weighs 200 lbs. you will need 145-182 grams of protein per day.

While reaching this amount can be easy for some, it might be challenging for others. Looking for different ways of adding protein throughout the day will be crucial to obtaining the results you are looking for.

Beef jerky is a good source of protein that you can include in your snacks to increase the amount of daily protein.

Easy To Carry & Doesn’t Require Food Prep

Another benefit of beef jerky is that it is easy to carry and doesn’t require any food prep. 

Since beef jerky is preserved in salt, it is difficult to go bad or expire. This makes it the perfect option for those that want to have some food available in their office, car, or gym without having to worry that it will spoil.

While some people like to have protein shakes or protein bars for a quick source of protein, beef jerky is a great option for those that don’t have a sweet tooth or prefer something savory as a snack.

1 Con of Eating Beef Jerky For Bodybuilding

There is one con of eating beef jerky if you are a bodybuilder.

High In Sodium

Beef jerky is a food that is very high in sodium. One large piece of beef jerky has 320 mg of sodium, more than twice the recommended daily amount. To be considered a low sodium food, it needs to have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving size.

For those trying to replace a protein shake, you would have to consume 4 large slices of beef jerky to have the same protein content. This means having 1,280 mg of sodium, which is half the sodium content for the day. This is a very large sodium intake for only one meal and doesn’t leave a lot of room for sodium in the other meals you’ll need to eat throughout the day. 

A high sodium diet can potentially lead to high blood pressure. This can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, and metabolic syndrome

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

Can You Eat Beef Jerky Before Workouts?

No, beef jerky is not the best option before working out. Carbs are the preferred energy source in the body. Since beef jerky doesn’t have any carbs, it won’t provide you with the immediate energy you need. Additionally, protein and fats take longer to digest, producing bloating or sluggishness.

If you are looking for a pre-workout snack, choose carb-based ones. This will give you the energy that you need before training. Add fruits, oatmeal, rice cakes, and granola to provide the ultimate energy-boosting snack.

Can You Eat Beef Jerky After Workouts?

Yes, you can eat beef jerky after working out. After training, it is essential to add a protein source to help repair and grow your muscles. Beef jerky can act as this protein source. However, one large piece doesn’t contain enough protein, and simply adding more beef jerky can increase your sodium intake.

Bodybuilders might likely need 30-40 grams of protein after a workout. This can be achieved by having 6-8 slices of beef jerky. If you have a low sodium intake (avoiding canned foods, cooking with a little salt, and eating other low-sodium items). Adding this amount of beef jerky might not cause any problems. 

However, if you are worried about exceeding your sodium intake, you might want to have a couple of beef jerky and supplement other low-sodium protein foods like chicken, fish, and protein shakes. 

Remember, you also need carbs to help replenish the energy lost during exercise. Add some oatmeal, crackers, sweet potato, and fruit to have the best post-workout snack.   

Is Beef Jerky Good For Muscle Growth?

Beef jerky is good for muscle growth since it provides calories and protein. You need protein to help repair and grow your muscles and calories to help in that process. 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.

However, you might still need to add more calories to achieve that caloric surplus. Even though you could add more beef jerky, this also means adding more sodium. Thus, if you want to add other foods high in calories, check out my other article: Top 10 Foods High In Calories But Low In Sodium.

Tips For Incorporating Beef Jerky Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating beef jerky into a bodybuilding diet

If you are thinking of adding beef jerky, here are some tips if you are a bodybuilder.

Be Aware of The Additives

First, be aware of the additives that it has. The longer the list of ingredients, the more processed it will be. This means that it will probably be higher in sodium, sugar, and other additives.

If you want to add beef jerky regularly, keep the product as clean as possible.

Choose The Best Beef Jerky

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

Protein

Make sure it has at least 6 g of protein per serving size. This will be the same as one egg, which is a good quantity of protein to have as a minimum.

Sodium

Although the recommendation for low sodium is less than 140 mg, it will be very hard to find a beef jerky with this amount (since it is the primary way to preserve it). Thus, when looking for beef jerky, make sure that it doesn’t have more than 300 mg of sodium per day.

Fat

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.

Decrease Your Daily Sodium

If you are going to add beef jerky, a very salty food, ensure to compensate for the rest of the day. This means having fewer processed foods to avoid adding more sodium. Avoid cans or sauces since they are high in sodium as well.

Finally, make sure to cook with as little salt as possible. Never add the salt in the beginning, but at the end of your cooking.

Make Your Own

Although it might take longer, you can also make beef jerky at home. This way, you can ensure the amount of sodium and any other ingredients you will have.

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

Best Beef Jerky For Bodybuilding

There are several brands that I recommend to my bodybuilder clients if they are looking to add protein to their diets but with less sodium and fat content.

Jack Link’s Beef Jerky Bars is a great option for those looking to add beef jerky to their diets. It has less than 300 mg of sodium (230 mg), and it has a decent amount of protein (7 g). Also, the list of ingredients is not very large, which means it is not very processed.

However, it does have sugar, which means it has a higher carb content than beef jerky.

EPIC Wagyu Beef Steak Strips

EPIC Wagyu Beef Steak Strips are another great option. They are gluten-free, have less carb content than the previous brand, and have a limit of sodium intake (300 mg).

The only problem it has is that it contains 1 g more fat (7 g) than protein (6 g). Although it is not a significant amount, I would recommend another brand for those in a cutting phase. This might be better for those in a bulking phase.  

Baja Beef Jerky Sampler Pack

Baja Beef Jerky Sampler Pack this variety pack is great for those that want different flavors during the week. They range from 150-300 mg of sodium per beef jerky, making it perfect for sodium content.

My favorite thing about them is their low-fat content. All of them have only 1 g of fat per slice. Also, they have 10 g of protein per serving.

This is the best option for those that are in a bulking phase.

Country Archer

Country Archer is my favorite beef jerky to recommend due to its nutritional content. It is the one with the lowest sodium content (120 mg), the highest protein content (10 g), and the lowest fat (0.5 g).

Not only is this an excellent option for those in a cutting phase, but also for those in a bulking phase that are looking to add more protein to their diets without any other macro.

To learn even more about protein, please check out these other great articles on the site:

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 that it will go bad. However, to eat the same amount of protein as a shake, you would have to eat 4 large pieces, which means you would be eating more than half of your sodium content.

Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?

Other Protein Sources For Bodybuilders


About The Author

Brenda Peralta

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