Corned beef isn’t widely talked about as a protein source when it comes to bodybuilding, so I thought I would spend some time discussing its pros and cons for those that want alternatives to chicken, fish, and other red meats.
Is corned beef good or bad for bodybuilding? Corned beef can help bodybuilders increase their protein intake, which is essential for muscle building or maintaining muscle mass. But, corned beef has more fat than protein, and it is very high in sodium. This means that you need to be careful with the portion size, and likely avoid it if you’re in a cutting phase.
In this article, I will explore everything related to corned beef and bodybuilding, including:
- The calories and macro content of corned beef
- Pros and cons of adding corned beef to your diet if you’re bodybuilder
- The best meal timing and portion sizes, and whether corned beef can aid in muscle growth
- Tips for including corned beef into a bodybuilder’s diet
Corned Beef For Bodybuilding: Overview
Nutritional Content of Corned Beef
You get the following nutritional content in 3 oz of corned beef cooked (85g).
- Calories: 213
- Carbs: 0.4 g
- Protein: 15.5 g
- Fats: 16.2 g
- Sodium: 827 mg
Corned beef is a high-calorie protein. In comparison, it has more calories than chicken breast. In 100 g of corned beef, you get 250 kcal, while chicken breast has 150 kcal.
While this 100 kcal difference might not seem like a lot, for a bodybuilder in a cutting phase, it can either make or break your goals.
With that said, the option to eat corned beef becomes a bit more realistic (and advantageous) if you’re in a bulking phase since it can help you add calories to your diet in a small portion of food. This is important because to gain weight you need to consume more calories than your body expends.
Corned beef only has two macronutrients: protein and fats. It does not contain a significant amount of carbs.
A bodybuilder’s protein requirement can be high in order to preserve muscle mass in a cutting phase or add muscle during a bulking phase. Although most people opt for a protein shake to help them add grams of protein to their diets, after a while, this can get monotonous. Finding other protein sources can help add variety and prevent getting bored with your diet.
Corned beef is a food that is very high in protein. In 3 oz of corned beef, you get 15 g of protein, the same as having two large eggs.
One of the drawbacks of corned beef though is its high-fat content. Typically, I recommend not having more fat than protein when choosing meat. This ensures that you are getting a leaner protein with fewer calories, and that way, you can have better control of your macros.
These would be protein sources such as tilapia, egg whites, or greek yogurt.
However, in 3 oz of corned beef, you get the same fat as three teaspoons of butter. For those in a bulking phase, it can help add calories, but in a cutting phase, it might make it hard to keep the calorie count low.
- Another protein source that has a similar macro profile are chicken thighs. You can learn more in my other article Are Chicken Thighs Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
Although corned beef is a processed meat (meat that has been preserved by salting, smoking, curing, or adding any other kind of preservatives), it is still high in certain nutrients. Here are the top three nutrients that it has.
- Selenium. It is a potent antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation in the body, which means that you can have better muscle recovery. Additionally, it can boost your immune function. This means less time at home recovering from any illness at home and more time working out.
- Zinc. It also plays an essential part in boosting your immune function. A study found that taking zinc can decrease by 33% the length of a cold. Additionally, it also plays a role in reducing inflammation, helping you recover between workouts faster.
- Vitamin B12. It helps in the formation of red blood cells. This means that it helps carry oxygen and nutrients to your muscles while working out.
3 Pros Of Eating Corned Beef For Bodybuilding
Here are three pros of adding corned beef if you are a bodybuilder.
Good Source Protein
A bodybuilder’s protein needs are elevated due to a high muscle mass. On average, a bodybuilder needs 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This means that a bodybuilder that weighs 200 lbs can mean an intake of 145-182 g of protein per day.
For some, achieving this amount can be easy, but in my experience as a Registered Dietician, several of my clients have a problem reaching this amount. Thus, they rely on protein shakes and different protein sources to have some variety.
Corned beef can serve as an additional protein source to your main meals or your snacks. You just need to make sure you track how much you are eating so that you’re not going over your fat macros at the same time.
Cheap And Easy To Add
Another benefit of corned beef is that it’s cheap compared with other protein sources and easy to add to your meals.
Sometimes adding protein during a snack can be difficult, especially if you need to cook and meal prep everything. My clients often take Greek yogurt, cans of tuna or protein shakes as snacks to work or school.
However, corned beef is an excellent option that doesn’t require any cooking, and you can have it ready to eat from the fridge. For busy people, and those that lack time to meal prep, this is a huge benefit.
I always like to have at least one protein source in the fridge that doesn’t require any cooking in case of an emergency, and corned beef fits that requirement for me nicely.
Not Very High In Saturated Fats
One of the cons of corned beef (which we will discuss later) is its high-fat content. However, although corned beef is high in fat, it is not very high in saturated fats (i.e. the ‘bad’ kind).
Saturated fats are often found in animal products (butter, mayonnaise, fatty meat tissue, and sour cream). The problem with having a large intake of saturated fats is that it can raise your cholesterol levels which put you at risk for heart disease.
A study showed, that those that decreased their saturated fat intake had a 17% decrease in heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends having a low saturated fat intake to avoid heart disease. They commend not having more than 7-10% of your total calories coming from saturated fats. This means that for someone that has a caloric intake of 2000 kcal, they should have no more than 20 g of saturated per day.
In 3 oz of corned beef, you get 5.4 g of saturated fats and 7.8 g of monounsaturated fats. Pork, which has a similar caloric content as corned beef (252 kcal per 3 oz), has a higher saturated fat content (7 g of saturated fats).
Keep in mind that it is not all the types of pork. The closer the cut to the bone, the higher fat content typically.
2 Cons of Eating Corned Beef For Bodybuilding
Here are the two cons of adding corned beef if you are a bodybuilder.
High In Sodium
Processed meats are usually high in sodium, and corned beef is not an exception. Corned beef has more than 800 mg of sodium per 3 oz of food, which is a very high intake since a low sodium food is considered less than 140 mg of sodium per serving size (3.5 oz).
According to the American Heart Association, the daily recommended sodium intake is 2,300 mg. If you have 3 oz of corned beef a day, you will have 35% of the recommended daily intake in just one food.
Although having corned beef once in a while brings no issue. Having 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. This can put you at risk of increasing your chances of developing heart disease.
To avoid adding too much sodium to your diet, choose corned beef low in sodium. Additionally, make sure to avoid canned foods and cook with as little salt as possible.
High In Fat
Finally, one of the cons that corned beef has is its high-fat content. The problem with having food that is high in fat is not only its high-calorie content, but it is also more difficult to adjust to the macros.
For example, shrimp has less than one gram of fat per 3 oz of food. Since it is very low in fat, it is easier to adjust to your macros (i.e if you want to eat more protein, you can simply eat more shrimp without having to worry about also increasing your fat intake).
Since corned beef is a very high-fat protein, it doesn’t allow you to modify its macros like you would be able to with shrimp, and it’s likely not an appropriate protein source to eat while you’re in a cutting or weight loss phase of training
Can You Eat Corned Beef Before Workouts?
Corned beef is not the best option to include before your workout since you need carbs to provide you with the energy you need for a tough training session. Additionally, protein and fats take longer to digest, making you feel sluggish and can produce stomach cramps if exercising right away after consumption.
You can add a small portion of corned beef though as long as you focus on having a large carb source before working out. Add rice, bread, quinoa, or sweet potato before working out to provide fast-acting energy.
For example, you can have one of two sandwiches with 1 oz of corned beef in each one. This small amount won’t cause any gastric problems. Have this meal 1-2 hours before a workout to help you provide the energy you need.
Can You Eat Corned Beef After Workouts?
Corned beef is a good source of protein that can help you in muscle recovery and promote muscle gain post-workout. However, after a workout, you need to replenish your glycogen stores, and since corned beef doesn’t have any carbs, you’ll need to add some along with corned beef.
Good carb sources to help replenish your glycogen stores include foods like pasta, quinoa, beans, and potatoes.
As well, the amount of protein that 3 oz of corned beef provides might not be enough to cover a bodybuilder’s requirements. And, since it is high in sodium, adding more corned beef can increase your sodium intake.
Thus, you might want to try adding other low sodium protein sources along with your corned beef.
Is Corned Beef Good For Muscle Growth?
Yes, corned beef can help you have a caloric surplus since it is higher in calories than other protein sources. In 3 oz of corned beef, you get 250 kcal, while in turkey breast, you only get 125 kcal. Corned beef has twice the calories as turkey breast, making it perfect for muscle building.
Additionally, corned beef is very high in protein which helps you repair and grow your muscles. In 3 oz of corned beef, you get ⅔ of a scoop of protein shake. Although you might need more, it is a good option to start with.
Tips For Incorporating Corned Beef Into A Bodybuilding Diet
Measure The Portion Size
With processed meats, it is very easy to overeat. Thus, it is crucial to keep track of the amount of corned beef you have. Whether in a cutting or a bulking phase, ensure that you are within your caloric and macro budget.
Some apps can help you with this. One of my favorites is using MacroFactor (click to read my review) to ensure that I am always within my calories, even when adding high-fat and high-calorie food.
Control The Fats
Corned beef is a very high-fat food. To help balance the plate, be careful with other fats that you add, especially if you are in a cutting phase.
For example, if you are in a cutting phase, avoid adding more fats to your plate. Add several veggies to help you add fiber to increase your fullness levels.
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.
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 out.
Prevent having corned beef daily and add it 2-3 times a week to avoid adding too much sodium to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Corned Beef A Lean Protein?
No, corned beef is not a lean protein. It has 15 g of protein and 16 g of fat, which means that it has more fat than protein. Thus, it is considered to be a high-fat protein. Although there is nothing wrong with eating high-fat protein once in a while, remember to track your macros to prevent exceeding them.
Does Corned Beef Have Carbs?
Corned beef doesn’t have carbs. It is a source of protein and fats. In 3 oz (85 g) of corned beef, you get less than 1 gram of carbs, which is not a very significant amount. If you want to add a carb source to your diet, include quinoa, lentils, beans, or brown rice.
Is Corned Beef A Processed Meat?
Yes, corned beef is a processed meat. Processed meat requires any type of processing, meaning that it is not natural. Since corned beef is made by curating the meat and adding sodium nitrate to have that pinkish color, it is a processed meat.
Learn More About Other Protein Sources For Bodybuilding
Kiełczykowska M, Kocot J, Paździor M, Musik I. Selenium – a fascinating antioxidant of protective properties. Adv Clin Exp Med. 2018 Feb;27(2):245-255. doi: 10.17219/acem/67222. PMID: 29521069.
Hemilä H. Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage. JRSM Open. 2017 May 2;8(5):2054270417694291. doi: 10.1177/2054270417694291. PMID: 28515951; PMCID: PMC5418896.
Bao, B., Prasad, A. S., Beck, F. W., Fitzgerald, J. T., Snell, D., Bao, G. W., Singh, T., & Cardozo, L. J. (2010). Zinc decreases C-reactive protein, lipid peroxidation, and inflammatory cytokines in elderly subjects: a potential implication of zinc as an atheroprotective agent. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(6), 1634–1641. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28836
Ryan-Harshman M, Aldoori W. Vitamin B12 and health. Can Fam Physician. 2008 Apr;54(4):536-41. PMID: 18411381; PMCID: PMC2294088.
Jäger, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 20 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
Hooper L, Martin N, Abdelhamid A, Davey Smith G. Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jun 10;(6):CD011737. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011737. Update in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 May 19;5:CD011737. PMID: 26068959.
Heileson JL. Dietary saturated fat and heart disease: a narrative review. Nutr Rev. 2020 Jun 1;78(6):474-485. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz091. PMID: 31841151.
Robinson AT, Edwards DG, Farquhar WB. The Influence of Dietary Salt Beyond Blood Pressure. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2019 Apr 25;21(6):42. doi: 10.1007/s11906-019-0948-5. PMID: 31025198; PMCID: PMC7309298.
About The Author
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.