Think you’re dying for a sirloin or buckling down on burgers a bit too often? You're probably right. Your body may crave red meat because that’s what we’ve been trained to believe (from a young age) is the ultimate source of protein. While it’s okay to get a good dose of iron and protein from red meat once in a while, it’s not great to double-down on it, because it’s much tougher to digest than other sources of protein, like seafood.
As a general rule of thumb, overconsumption of any one particular food (and especially red meat) can have negative side effects.
“Athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking for optimal performance and health need to ensure they're consuming a healthy balanced meal plan, which includes seafood (like salmon, tuna, white fish, and shrimp) to support ideal body composition, performance, and recovery,” Marley Oldham Carnes, MS, RDN, CSCS, says.
The key, she says, is to create an optimal eating pattern that includes a regular rotation of proteins, and limit your intake of saturated fats from highly-processed meats and fast foods.
Is Swapping Meat for Seafood Something You Should Consider?
If you’re pushing through an intense training regimen, proper protein intake only becomes more critical to muscle repair. Similarly, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to the body’s recovery process, as they decrease inflammation and fight the onset of muscle soreness and damage.
“Athletes are not eating enough seafood, yet, there are many health and performance benefits from eating seafood, largely as a result of its high omega-3 fatty acid content,” Oldham Carnes explains. “Eating fish is associated with health benefits such as reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease by lowering triglycerides, blood pressure, and reducing inflammation.”
More than 90% of U.S. adults don’t consume enough omega-3s, according to observational NHANES data, but by eating more often from the ocean, versus the pasture, you can easily avoid this. Also, skip the supplements and go straight to the source, she says.
“Fish oil supplements are popular among athletes for fighting inflammation and for quick recovery from exercise, but why not avoid the confusion, trouble, and cost of finding a high-quality fish oil and get the added protein and minerals straight from seafood to support the physical demands on your muscles and body?” Oldham Carnes says.
By directly swapping red meats for seafood in your meal plan, you’ll score important omega-3s and protein without the negative digestive side effects of eating red meat. And even if you don't live near a body of water, it's easy to order your seafood online (yes, really) from delivery services like Wild Alaskan Company, Fulton Fish Market or Salmon Sisters.
Once you’ve got that on lockdown, try these RD-recommended seafood swaps for classic red-meat dishes to up-level your nutrition and inspire you to choose omega-3-based options over saturated fat-filled alternatives. This simple nutritional tweak will go a long way in boosting your body’s ability to bust out PR performances, operate at your max, and feel like the Spartan you are.
3 Meat Swaps to Make to Start Eating More Seafood
1. Swap out Carne Asada Tacos for Fish Tacos
“One of my absolute favorite, easy, quick, and delicious healthy seafood swaps is fish tacos!” Oldham Carnes says.
Simply grill or blacken a fish filet of your choice and add the meat to a few small tortilla shells. Top them with shredded cabbage, fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime and a dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream).
“Pair your fish tacos with quinoa, black beans, or brown rice for an added boost of nutrients like carbs for fueling workouts, fiber for keeping your gut healthy, and minerals to help your muscles contract to be able work harder,” she recommends.
2. Skip Filet Mignon and Opt for Salmon Steak and Sweet Potatoes
To add more fish into your weekly meal prep, opt for grilled salmon with a side of sweet potatoes, a mix of roasted veggies, or both.
“Pan-sheet meal recipes make cooking a breeze,” she says. “Try adding cubed sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots to load up on vitamins and minerals that provide a variety of benefits for athletes whose bodies need — and use — more micronutrients from their training,” Oldham Carnes says.
3. Level Up Your BBQ Grilling Game
Swap out your burgers and hot dogs for antioxidant- and protein-packed grilled shrimp kebabs.
“Be sure to add bright, colorful, yellow, red, green, and orange bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and some fresh pineapple for added vitamins and minerals,” she says. “The pineapple adds enzymes to aid in the digestion and absorption of protein.”
You can also batch grill or steam your shrimp or fish, and throw it on a summer salad, or make a chilled fresh mango and shrimp salad. (Mango is also high in digestive enzymes.)
Bonus Tips to Prep Your Seafood Better
1. Make It Easy with an Air Fryer
Invest in an air fryer if you are looking for an easy, simple way to prepare your fish and veggies, or if you are cooking for a meal for just one or two people.
“Air frying makes fish come out perfectly crisp and is the next best thing to firing up the grill,” Oldham Carnes says. “Just remember to not cook it or leave it on the heat for too long.”
2. Simple Seasonings Make a World of Difference
“Seasoning is key!” she says.
You can always adjust your recipes according to what you like, and don’t.
“Experiment with garlic, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, lemon, dill, and other exciting spices and seasonings, which also provide ample additional health benefits for athletes,” she suggests.