Crossfit Blog


You might be asking yourself, how do I optimize my protein source on Paleo?  What’s better beef or chicken?  And isn’t beef bad for you???  If you have been following Paleo, you know the essentials of protein and its ability to help satiate hunger and not suffer the same insulin affects of other food sources.  It may also serve to offset the insulin affects of foods that are more quickly metabolized such as cereal, grains, corn, rice, etc.  More importantly, you have seen that animal protein is a more efficient and nutrient dense way to access protein than plant or vegetable proteins.  Finally, protein helps you build muscle and recover faster, especially red meat which contains natural creatine.

So now, how do you decide what protein to eat?  Do you go solely based on your comfort or likes with certain proteins?  Here we will cover the major protein groups, chicken, beef, lamb, and pork, but will exclude less popular meats such as duck, peasant, bison, etc.

Red or white?

Red meat in culinary terminology refers to meat which is red-colored when raw, as contrasted with white meat. Beef, pork, lamb are considered “red” while chicken and rabbit are invariably considered “white”.

Red meat is one of the richest sources of iron and complete protein. It also contains levels of creatine, minerals such as zinc and phosphorus, and vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B12, thiamin and riboflavin. Red meat is the richest source of Alpha Lipoic Acid, a powerful antioxidant.

However, regular consumption of red meat presents several potential health risks, largely due to the saturated fat content. However, if you select grass fed beef rather than traditionally mass-produced grain fed versions, you offset the negative health risks by eating beef than is leaner than its mass produced brother.

The healthy eating pyramid recommends that red meat be consumed sparingly.  Again, this has to do with the apprehension of saturated fat and the thought that consuming fat contributes to disease.

Meat from intensive chicken farm

White meats such as chicken, tend to be leaner, but are not as nutrient dense as their red meat cousins.

Consumption of white meat has risen dramatically over the past few decades, driven by the availability of cheap, mass-produced chicken. However, the recent exposure of conditions in intensive chicken farm questions the value of chicken meat produced from such poor conditions.

The majority of poultry is farmed intensively in battery cages or overcrowded chicken sheds, mutilated and unable to express their natural behaviors. Chickens are made to grow super-fast through a combination of genetics, high-protein feed and often growth-promoting chemicals. Their hearts, lungs and bones struggle to keep pace: the skeleton of a 6-week old bird now carries the equivalent weight of a 12-week old bird. As a result, millions of chickens suffer crippling legs or succumb to heart failure.

Animal disease and its impact on meat

Various animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and avian influenza (birds flu) cast doubts on beef and chicken.  While more expensive, when selecting these proteins pick grass fed, cage gree, and look for vegetarian diets (meaning they eat natural grass rather than grain consumption).  Antibiotic free is better for antimicrobial stewardship since it means less exposure to antibiotics, which is making some of our antimicrobials resistant.

The pig is not an exception, being the carrier of various helminths, like roundworm, pinworm, hookworm, etc. One of the most dangerous and common is Taenia solium, a type of tapeworm. Tapeworms may transplant to human intestines as well by consuming untreated or uncooked pork.

Eat well, and prosper

Based on the above considerations, I personally think that lamb is the best meat of the four.

Lamb is fairly fatty, and, unlike pork, the fat is not entirely edible – it is more like tallow. This contributes to the high price of lamb, because by the time the lamb is trimmed of its fat and other nonedible parts, the resulting meat is only about 40% of its weight.

Some people are turned off by the smell of lamb, but what they are smelling is burning lamb fat and odor described in our primer on lamb, which does have a very “lamby” odor – for these people I recommend leaner cuts and grass fed versions that have been well trimmed.

You got your lamb primer a day ago, followed by a personal recommendation, stay tuned for more lamb recipes!!

About Bennett

Bennett Smith is a CrossFit I Certified Trainer. In addition, he holds certifications in CrossFit Barbell and CrossFit Olympic Lifting. He has been training in the CrossFit modality since 2007 and is an avid believer on its positive impact in people's lives.


2 Responses to “So what animal protein is best for me?”
  1. Anna says:

    Enjoyed the content of the article Bennett! Any feedback on which types of fish are best besides salmon? Or is that not considered animal protein?

  2. Bennett says:

    Anna –

    Salmon is often regard for a high concentration of good fat (Omega 3s) especially in wild caught Alaskan Salmon. Most fish are a lean and excellent source of protein. The one caution with fish is Mercury levels. For most people, mercury levels are not deleterious; however, Mercury levels in some fish can be harmful to newborns and fetuses, so nursing and pregnant mothers should proceed with caution.

    The highest mercury fish are shark, Ahi tuna, canned tuna, and orange roughy.
    The moderate mercury fish are grouper and sea bass.
    The low mercury fish include most shellfish (clams, oysters, etc.), salmon, halibut, flounder, etc.

    Based on this, there is a correlation between fish species that are closer to the equator like tuna and shark versus fish that thrive in colder water (think salmon). I hope this helps!