When you think of a bodybuilder’s diet I’m sure a lot of white fish, chicken breast, and lean steak come to mind as being the primary sources of protein. But, what about bacon?
Is bacon good or bad for bodybuilding? Bacon is good for bodybuilding as long as your overall macronutrient goal for the day is achieved and you eat bacon in moderation. For example, since 70% of the calories from bacon come from fat, you’ll want to ensure that your other meals throughout the day have a higher protein intake, but lower to moderate amounts of fat. If you are going to eat any bacon, make sure it’s back bacon.
Being a nutrition coach and promoter of everything in moderation, I’m here to explain how bacon can be incorporated into a healthy diet. I’m going to give you an exact ration of protein to fat that you should follow. I’m also going to share some alternatives to bacon that you could include if you’re looking to lean out, build muscle, and still enjoy the food on your plate.
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What determines if bacon is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food for bodybuilding?
When looking to answer the question “is bacon good or bad for bodybuilding,” we first need to understand what the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is in relation to.
To break this down, let’s start by looking at the most common goals of bodybuilders:
1) To build muscle
2) To burn fat.
How do you achieve these two goals?
Muscle is built when specific stress is progressively applied to our muscles (i.e. resistance training) at the same time that our body is supporting the growth by providing adequate energy (i.e. eating enough calories).
Fat is burned when we are consuming less energy in the form of calories than we are burning in a day. This is because our body then resorts to stored energy or adipose tissue (body fat) to fuel our activity.
So let’s just get this straight: bodybuilders want to eat enough so that they can build muscle but also eat less than they are burning to burn fat.
How is it possible to achieve both weight gain and fat loss?
The energy we consume and the energy our body burns to fuel our activity doesn’t all work the same way.
Calories are broken down into the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. In order to achieve both burning fat and building muscle, the amount and proportion of macronutrients that your diet consists of can play a large part.
Here’s a quick rundown of each macronutrient:
Protein forms the basis of our muscle cells and the appearance of looking ‘lean,’ and comes largely from animal sources (i.e. meat, seafood, eggs).
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source and are found in starches, fruits, and veggies.
Fats are important for proper body function as they support our hormone function (i.e. testosterone) and are key in suppressing hunger (so you can see why we do want a healthy amount of them in our diet).
Now, if you are eating less energy than you are burning (or in other words are in a caloric deficit), the proportions of the macronutrients you are consuming become even more important as there is a higher chance for you to not be meeting the minimum requirements for optimal body functioning, muscle gain, and fat loss.
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So what would this look like for a bodybuilder? (The ratio of protein to fat)
A bodybuilder will want to maintain a high protein intake and moderate carbohydrate and fat intake.
Research suggests a protein intake of 2.4g per kg of body weight to increase lean body mass (i.e. build muscle) when in a caloric deficit. (Helms et. at., 2014).
In order to maintain your hormone health, your fat intake should not dip below 20% of your total caloric intake, or 0.5g per kg of bodyweight.
For example, if you weigh 90kgs, your protein intake should be at 216g and your fat intake should be at minimum 45g.
As you can see, the ratio of protein to fats is quite significant at 5g protein for every 1g of fat.
Therefore, for a food to be considered ‘good’ for bodybuilding, it too should reflect a similar ratio so that you can ensure you are meeting these requirements for building muscle and burning fat.
Caloric breakdown of bacon
So, then what is the caloric breakdown of bacon?
In one slice of cooked bacon there is 44 calories, 3.5g of fat, 0g of carbohydrates and 2.9g of protein.
That’s about 30% of the calories coming from protein and 70% coming from fats.
Now, this isn’t telling you that bacon is particularly high in fat, especially considering the standard serving size being just a few pieces.
But, if your ultimate goal is to consume 5x the amount of protein that you do fat in your diet, the inclusion of bacon might make that difficult.
You would then need to make sure that for the remaining meals of the day, you consume a higher protein and lower fat content to balance the overall caloric intake coming from protein and fat.
This is a good time to talk about alternatives to bacon.
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What are bacon alternatives?
Just because regular cured bacon doesn’t have the best ration of fat to protein for a bodybuilder’s diet doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives that can provide the same amount of satisfaction.
Peameal or back bacon
One of the best alternatives to regular bacon that would provide a more favourable macronutrient breakdown and protein to fat ratio could be peameal or back bacon.
In one piece of cooked back bacon, there are 43 calories with 7g of protein and 1.4g of fat.
So, for the same amount of calories as regular bacon but 65% of the calories coming from protein.
Turkey bacon is another great alternative to regular bacon for a bodybuilder, with one average slice containing 30 calories, 4g of protein and 1.5g of fat.
That’s 53% of the calories coming from protein, so not as good as back bacon but still much more favorable than regular bacon.
Better protein sources for a bodybuilder’s diet
The reason that when we picture a typical ‘bodybuilder diet’ we envision chicken breast, white fish and lean steaks makes sense now.
Let’s have a quick look at the macronutrient breakdown of these protein sources:
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of chicken breast provides 165 calories, 31 grams of protein and 3.6 grams of fat. That means that approximately 80% of the calories in chicken breast come from protein, and 20% come from fat.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of halibut provides 110 calories, 23g of protein and 1.5 grams of fat. That means that approximately 85% of the calories in halibut come from protein, and 15% come from fat.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of striploin steak provides 117 calories, 23g of protein and 2.7 grams of fat. That means that approximately 80% of the calories in halibut come from protein, and 20% come from fat.
These are all great sources of protein for bodybuilding, and certainly favor the macronutrient breakdown that is required to achieve a lean body composition.
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Other considerations: processed meats, sodium, and vitamins
Concerns about processed meats
One of the main concerns about bacon for general health is that it typically goes through quite extensive processing before hitting the shelves.
First, the meat is soaked in a solution of salt, nitrates and sometimes sugar. This is a way of preserving the meat and also adds to the great taste, texture and color of the final product.
Research shows that there is an association between a high intake of processed meat, cancer and heart disease (Cross et al., 2007).
Although these findings are very important to consider, it cannot go unmentioned that there are further associations between those who eat a lot of processed foods and an unhealthy lifestyle in general.
Someone who considers themselves a bodybuilder is likely not to fall into the category of ‘unhealthy’ in general, but should still be aware of the possible effects of bacon and other processed foods.
As we know, salt is used in the curing process of bacon so the salt content of the finished product is quite high. One piece of cooked bacon has 137mg of sodium (which is nearly 10% of the daily recommended limit in just one piece of bacon!)
Generally, high salt intake would not be a health concern for someone who is bodybuilding, unless they are prone to raises in blood pressure due to salt sensitivity. You can read our guide to how much sodium a bodybuilder should eat.
What they might be concerned about, though, are the short term effects that high sodium foods can have on the appearance of ‘leanness.’ This is because, where salt goes, water follows.
Therefore, high amounts of sodium can cause some temporary weight gain and bloat.
An essential part of a balanced, healthy diet are micronutrients, which refers to vitamins and minerals.
Meat is most omnivores’ primary source of micronutrients such as iron and B vitamins, and bacon is no exception here. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 as well as decent amounts of the minerals iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium.
However, all of the nutrients found in bacon are also found in other, less processed pork and meat products in general.
The protein requirements for bodybuilders being so significant at 2.4g per kg of bodyweight means that if you regularly consume bacon in your diet, you are likely missing out on alternative protein sources that would provide much more protein per serving, less fat and overall calories too.
So, while bacon is not necessarily bad for bodybuilding, it should only be consumed infrequently and in small quantities by someone who is bodybuilding.
Cross, Amanda J, et al. “A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk.” PLoS Medicine, vol. 4, no. 12, 2007, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040325.
“FoodData Central.” FoodData Central, fdc.nal.usda.gov/.
Helms, Eric R, et al. “Evidence-Based Recommendations for Natural Bodybuilding Contest Preparation: Nutrition and Supplementation.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 11, no. 1, 2014, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-20.
About The Author
Maggie Morgan is a level 1 PN certified nutritionist who specializes in sport, exercise and performance nutrition, a strength training coach, and an elite level athlete. Maggie has competed in bodybuilding, and is an international-level powerlifter. Currently undertaking her Masters in Counselling Psychology, Maggie is not only able to lead others in strength and aesthetics through her personal experiences and scientific nutritional foundations but additionally by addressing the psychological and behavioural implications of exercise and nutrition. Through her writing and work with clients, Maggie works to provide information that’s responsible, rational and backed up by research, science and fact within the health and fitness industry.