The Performance and Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef
What are athletes like Jason Werth, Darrelle Revis and Deena Kastor eating to give them advantages over their competition? Your first inclination is probably to think "supplements," but in fact, they are eating grass-fed beef to power their world-class performance.
Most cattle—sources of the beef you buy in the grocery store—are fed grain. This cheap feed makes the cows bigger (for more of those massive steaks you get in restaurants). But grain is not part of a cow's natural diet. "With grain-fed animals, you have all kinds of hormones—including estrogen—and other trace amounts of antibiotics in the meat," says U.S. Wellness Meats founder John Wood. The fat in grain-fed meat should be avoided, because it contains high levels of saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids, which increase inflammation.
Simply feeding cattle grass—their natural diet—completely changes the makeup of the beef. "Animals that eat grass have huge amounts of omega-3s throughout their bodies, which are anti-inflammatory," says Wood. "The beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which literally makes you run faster and jump higher." In addition, grass-fed beef contains branched-chain amino acids and other vitamins and minerals that increase endurance, reduce fat and promote muscle growth.
What's surprising to many is that grass-fed beef also tastes better. "You take the hormones out, you take the grain away, you put them on grass and the flavor will be much better," says Wood. "When you consume grass-fed beef that has been prepared properly, the flavor just jumps out."
We taste-tested grass-fed ribeye, filet, ground beef and burgers; and we can confirm that they were more flavorful than their grain-fed counterparts. We had always presumed that grass-fed beef was tougher, but we did not find this to be the case.
Cooking grass-fed beef can be a bit tricky at first, because you don't want to blast it over high heat like you do grain-fed beef. Because of the different types of fat in the meat, the time it takes to cook a grain-fed ribeye medium-rare would make a grass-fed steak well-done. Wood recommends searing each side of your grass-fed steak on high heat, then lowering the heat to medium or even medium-low to cook it to your desired level.
At this point, you might be wondering what kinds of steaks you should eat and where you can purchase grass-fed beef. Wood tells athletes to choose cuts that have higher amounts of fat—like a sirloin, chuck roast, ribeye or flat iron steak—because they have the ideal protein and healthy fat content that athletes need to build muscle and perform at their best.
Many local grocery stores don't carry grass-fed beef. A great option is U.S. Wellness Meats, an online site where you can select your meat and have it shipped (on dry ice, of course) directly to your door. This meat, from family-owned farms in the United States, is of the highest quality. An additional benefit: the cattle are free-ranging and are treated humanely.