“Eat Corned Beef When Bulking,” Says Bodybuilding Coach

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Corned beef isn’t widely discussed as a protein source when it comes to bulking, so as a bodybuilding coach and dietitian, I thought I would spend some time discussing its pros and cons for those who want alternatives to chicken and fish.

Key Takeaways

  • Corned beef can help bodybuilders increase their protein and calorie intake (especially during a bulk), providing 15+ grams of protein and 213 calories per three-ounce serving.
  • Corned beef is high in sodium, with three ounces providing 827 mg (35% of the daily recommended intake). Because of that, it’s best to limit your intake to 2-3 times a week or make up for it by avoiding other sodium-rich foods for the rest of the day.
  • Corned beef is an excellent addition to a post-workout meal, especially when paired with leaner proteins (e.g., egg whites) and carbs (e.g., rice or quinoa).

Corned Beef: Overview

nutritional content in 3 oz of corned beef cooked (85g)


Corned beef is a calorically dense food, with three ounces providing 213 calories. For reference, chicken breast, a relatively low-calorie protein source, only has 158 calories.

The calorie difference might not seem like much, but it could impact your results during a cut.

That said, the extra calories from corned beef can come in handy during a bulk, making it easier to establish the necessary surplus (consuming more energy than you burn) for optimal muscle gain.


Corned beef provides 15.5 grams of protein (more than the protein in two large eggs), 16.2 grams of fats, and 0.4 grams of carbs in three ounces.

As Sarah Garone, NDTR, explained,

“Beef itself contains no carbs, but corned beef generally has a scant amount of carbohydrates from sugar and/or flavorings (such as peppercorns or mustard seeds) used in its seasoning.”

The high protein content is beneficial, making reaching the daily target of 1.6-2.2 grams per kilogram (0.7-1 gram per pound) easier. 

Plus, corned beef can provide much-needed variety to a bodybuilding diet that can otherwise become stale. Protein shakes are great, but having the same foods can get old.

One drawback of corned beef is its high-fat content. Research recommends a protein-to-fat ratio of 5-to-1, but corned beef’s ratio is far from that: roughly 1-to-1.

The extra calories from fats can help during a bulk, but may not be suitable while cutting (i.e., calories are restricted). In any case, tracking your nutrition is best to avoid going overboard on your fat intake.


Although corned beef is processed meat (typically preserved by salting, smoking, or curing), it is still high in certain nutrients. Here are the top three nutrients: 

  • Zinc (33% of daily needs for men and 48% for women in three ounces). It also plays an essential part in boosting your immune function, with one study finding that it can decrease the duration of the common cold by 33%. Additionally, it also plays a role in reducing inflammation, potentially supporting recovery.
  • Vitamin B12 (57% of daily needs per three ounces). It helps form red blood cells, crucial in transporting oxygen and nutrients to your muscles while working out. 

3 Pros Of Eating Corned Beef

pros vs cons of eating corned beef for bodybuilding

Good Source Protein

As noted above, bodybuilders need 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram (0.7-1 gram per pound).

This means that a bodybuilder who weighs 200 pounds must eat 145 to 182 grams of protein daily.  

Achieving this amount can be easy for some, but my experience has taught me that many people struggle to reach their protein targets. Thus, they rely on protein shakes and various protein sources. 

Corned beef can be an additional protein source for your meals or snacks. 

You just need to track how much you eat so that you’re not going over your fat macros.

Cheap And Easy To Add

Another benefit of corned beef is that it’s cheaper than other protein sources and easy to add to your meals. For reference, a 12-ounce package costs just $3.92 at Walmart.

Sometimes, adding protein to a snack can be difficult, especially if you need to cook and meal-prep everything. 

My clients often take Greek yogurt, canned tuna, or protein shakes as snacks to work or school. 

However, corned beef is an excellent option that doesn’t require cooking, and you can have it ready to eat from the fridge. This is a huge benefit for busy people who lack time to meal prep. 

Not Very High In Saturated Fats

One of the cons of corned beef (which we will discuss later) is its high-fat content. However, it is not very high in saturated fats (i.e., the kind you want to limit).

Saturated fats are often found in animal products, such as butter, mayonnaise, fatty meat, and sour cream. 

The problem with having a large intake of saturated fats is that it can raise your cholesterol levels, which could increase the risk of cardiovascular health problems down the road.

A study showed that those who decreased their saturated fat intake had a 17% lower risk of heart disease. 

The American Heart Association recommends a low saturated fat intake (less than 7 to 10% of total calories from saturated fats). 

This means someone eating 2000 calories should have no more than 22 grams of saturated fats daily. 

For reference, three ounces of corned beef provide 5.4 grams of saturated fats.

Pork, which has a similar caloric content to corned beef (252 calories per three ounces), has a higher saturated fat content (7 grams). 

Keep in mind that it is not the only type of pork. Typically, the closer the cut to the bone, the higher the fat content.  

2 Cons of Eating Corned Beef

High In Sodium

Processed meats are usually high in sodium; corned beef is no exception. 

Corned beef has more than 800 mg of sodium per three ounces, which is very high considering a low-sodium food has less than 140 mg of sodium per serving

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended sodium intake is 2,300 mg daily. Three ounces of corned beef would cover 35% of your recommended intake. 

Although having corned beef occasionally brings no issue,  eating it daily, along with other high-sodium foods like canned foods or cooking with a lot of sodium (more than one teaspoon per day), can significantly increase your sodium intake. 

A high sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure, which itself is a risk factor for cardiovascular issues

Plus, too much sodium can lead to water retention, bloating, and a puffy look, which could mask muscle definition.

High In Fat

The other drawback worth discussing is corned beef’s high-fat content of 16.2 grams per three ounces.

Having this much fat per serving (especially given that the protein content is slightly less) could make it difficult to adjust your macros, especially on a cut.

Take shrimp as an example. It has less than a gram of fat for the same serving, making it easier to adjust your macros. (i.e. if you want to eat more protein, you can eat more shrimp without worrying about also increasing your fat intake). 

However, since corned beef is high in fat, you would have to compensate by having more low-fat protein sources during your other meals: chicken breast, low-fat cottage cheese, lean beef, and egg whites.

Can You Eat Corned Beef Before Workouts?

Corned beef is not the best pre-workout food because it lacks carbs (the preferred fuel source for your muscles) and provides a lot of dietary fat, which takes longer to digest.

Eating it before training wouldn’t provide the energy you need and might even make you feel bloated or nauseous.

Research recommends aiming for up to a gram of carbs per kilogram of body weight before training. So, if you weigh 70 kilograms (154 lbs), aim for up to 70 grams of carbs.

Good sources include ripe bananas, oatmeal, rice and rice cakes, quinoa, and sweet potato.

Add a small amount of corned beef (up to 1.5-2 ounces), but avoid going overboard. Also, eat the meal at least two hours before training to allow for proper digestion.

Can You Eat Corned Beef After Workouts?

Corned beef is a good protein source that can help muscle recovery after training, but that alone is insufficient.

Carbohydrates (which corned beef lacks) are also necessary for recovery, as they help replenish the glycogen (complex carb form primarily stored in the muscles) lost during training

Research recommends having 0.3 to 0.5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight after training to kickstart recovery. For a 70-kilo (154-lb) bodybuilder, that would be 21 to 35 grams of both nutrients.

While three ounces of corned beef can cover most of these protein needs, a 70-kilo person should ideally get some extra protein from another source, such as cottage cheese, chicken, or protein powder.

Good carb sources to have alongside corned beef include quinoa, beans, potatoes, and pasta.

Tips For Incorporating Corned Beef Into A Bodybuilding Diet

tips for incorporating corned beef into a bodybuilding diet

Measure The Portion Size

Overshooting your calorie target with processed meats is easy, so tracking your corned beef intake is crucial.

Whether cutting or bulking, ensure that you are within your caloric and macro budget by tracking your intake with an app (one of my favorites is MacroFactor). 

Control The Fats

Corned beef is a very high-fat food. To help balance the plate, be careful with other fats you add, especially if you are in a cutting phase. 

For example, avoid adding other fats to your plate when eating corned beef. You can also add several veggies for fiber to feel fuller, especially when cutting. 

On the other hand, if you are in a bulking phase, you can add extra fats as long as your daily calories allow it. Since it is a source of saturated fats, add healthier fats like avocado or olive oil. 

Add Variety

Remember that each food has a different characteristic and nutrient composition. 

It might be tempting to include corned beef daily, but since it is a high-sodium food, you might add other protein sources to help balance everything. 

Corned beef should not be consumed daily. Instead, it should be consumed two or three times a week to avoid consuming too much sodium. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is Corned Beef A Lean Protein? 

No, corned beef is not a lean protein. 

It has 15 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat, meaning it has more fat than protein and is considered a high-fat protein. 

Is Corned Beef A Processed Meat?

Corned beef is a processed meat made by curating beef and adding sodium nitrate to achieve that pinkish color. 

Learn More About Other Protein Sources For Bodybuilding


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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 FeastGood.com, she fact checks the hundreds of articles published across the website to ensure accuracy and consistency of information.

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