Staying in Shape Starts on the Plate

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD


Nutrition helps you build a healthy body. Though sports have been put on hold, athletes are still training their bodies and minds. If they fall short on certain nutrients, they can lose muscle, take longer for injuries to heal, fall short on energy and motivation and they will not make the same gains from their training program. During this unexpected offseason, I am helping my clients add a variety of nutrient-rich foods to their diets, learn how to prepare healthy, tasty dishes and maintain their training gains. Most are using this time wisely and doing everything they can to stay in the best shape possible.

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD 

No athlete wants to be sidelined because they aren’t in the best shape. And, you probably don’t want to sit on the sidelines in life. The food you eat should give you maximum energy, help you build your body from the inside out and support overall health. A 3 oz. serving of beef is packed with 10 important nutrients that help you meet your daily needs. To get all of these nutrients from other sources you would need to eat far more food, costing you in terms of money spent and calories consumed. Keep beef on your plate if you want to perform your best.

There is a tsunami of misinformation about nutrition on the internet, in books, on TV and from word of mouth. Unfortunately, consumers are the ones who are paying the price for this misinformation. Whether you’re an athlete or simply interested in performing your best every day, beef supports performance on the field and off. The nutrients found in beef help you build strong muscles and bones, keep your immune system running, energy levels high and brain functioning in top shape. Beef helps you get the most nutrition bang for your buck in every tasty, satisfying bite. 

Nutrients Your Body Can Easily Use 

Every 3 oz. serving of beef is packed with 10 nutrients your body can easily use for peak performance. While the total amount of a nutrient matters, it is important that your body can also readily take up and use that nutrient. This is where beef shines.


Beef protein scores high for quality. This means you need a smaller serving of beef, compared to other protein-rich foods, to build muscle and bone, make enzymes, bolster your immune defense system and facilitate chemical reactions in your body. The protein in beef contains all essential amino acids, the ones our bodies cannot make. Plus, these amino acids are highly bioavailable. Plant proteins contain anti-nutrients, nutrients that interfere with the absorption of other nutrients including amino acids. Beef does not contain any anti-nutrients. Your body can easily get and use the amino acids in beef. 

It is especially important to eat high quality protein at every meal when you must preserve what you’ve built. This is the case for many athletes who are now sheltering in place and following modified workout programs. They aren’t getting the same muscle-building stimulus from weightlifting as they typically do when training with their strength coach. High quality protein can help them hang onto the muscle mass they’ve built.


Beef also provides readily available zinc and iron. Zinc is a catalyst for many reactions in the body. Think of it like the gas pedal in your car. It speeds up reactions in the body helping your body make proteins, heal wounds, rev up your immune system defenses, and ensure normal growth and development. Our bodies cannot store zinc and use it later. We need to consume zinc daily. Many foods contain zinc but the zinc from plant foods is not absorbed as well as the zinc from animal-based foods such as beef. A person who relies on plant-based sources of zinc may need to consume 50% more zinc to make up for poor bioavailability in these foods. Beef is an excellent source of zinc that is easy for your body to use!


Beef is also a good source of heme iron, a form of iron that is easier for your body to absorb. Plant foods contain non-heme iron. Several compounds and plants including polyphenols, phytates (the storage form of phosphorus in plants) and calcium inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron. Only 2 – 20% of the non-heme iron in plants is absorbed. Approximately 15 – 35% of heme iron, like that found in beef, is absorbed. Beef is also a great teammate helping you get more nutrition from the other foods you eat. If you pair beef with plant-based sources of iron such as beans, beef protein will increase your absorption of non-heme iron from beans! 


The mineral phosphorus is often overlooked yet it is an important component of several structures in the body including bones, teeth, DNA, cell membranes and the body’s crucial source of energy, ATP. Beef is a good source of phosphorus and this mineral is also better absorbed from animal foods like beef than it is from plant foods. 

B Vitamins

In a society that seems to be grasping for more energy, beef can help. Beef is an excellent source of our energy vitamins, including vitamins B12, vitamin B6 and niacin and a good source of riboflavin. All of these B vitamins help the body convert food into energy the body can use. B vitamins also do quite a bit of work behind the scenes, helping make red blood cells and nerves and facilitating a number of enzymatic reactions. If you fall short on B vitamins, your energy levels will feel zapped. Instead of reaching for an energy drink, reach for a well-rounded meal that includes beef. 

"In a society that seems to be grasping for more energy, beef can help. Beef is an excellent source of our energy vitamins, including vitamins B12, vitamin B6 and niacin and a good source of riboflavin. All of these B vitamins help the body convert food into energy the body can use."


The human brain runs best on carbohydrate, but it needs the essential nutrient choline for both brain and nervous system functioning. Beef is one of the top sources of choline. Other compounds found in beef that help us perform our best include the antioxidant nutrient selenium, creatine, glutathione, and coenzyme Q10. Creatine helps the body recycle energy faster than it can do on its own. This is important for hard-working muscles. When combined with an effective training program, creatine can help you get stronger and recover faster from exercise. Creatine isn’t just for athletes. Research studies are examining creatine and brain functioning and how creatine may be useful for people with certain disease states such as Parkinson’s. Beef is the top food source of creatine in the American diet. Glutathione and ubiquinone are antioxidant compounds that help the body fight damaging effects from free radicals. Both are also important for energy production.

East Meets West Steak Salad

Beef: Separating Myth from Facts

For many years, specific aspects of food were picked apart suggesting they were the sole cause of disease. Saturated fat was held accountable, carbohydrate was blamed, even lesser known compounds such as TMAO and the critical nutrient choline have even come under fire. What we know now is that food is more than one compound. It is a mix of nutrients within a package and that entire package impacts your health. More importantly, a person’s overall dietary pattern determines if they are meeting their nutrient needs and supporting good health. 

The latest research suggests lean beef can be part of a heart healthy dietary pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts. This dietary pattern containing lean beef had a positive impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors comparable to the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). This study highlights the importance of dietary patterns and how the intake of nutrient-rich whole foods can positively impact overall health.  For more information at

About Marie Spano:

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD is a sports dietitian who helps athletes reach their performance goals through better nutrition.  She is currently the sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves. Connect with her today at