The typical “bricken” (i.e. broccoli, rice, chicken) may sound familiar to you, as it is widely used as a staple food in the bodybuilding industry. But if you look at the diets of old school bodybuilders, you will see that there is a lot of liver on the menu. And since bodybuilders were actually the first biohackers, there’s clearly a reason for that. In fact, a number of them! And they don’t just apply to men, or female bodybuilders. Liver can be used as a food before (or after) training, by anyone who is physically active. Let’s dive in!
Table of Content
- Liver as a high-quality protein source
- Liver’s anti-fatigue factor
- Vitamins and minerals for exercise
- Take away
A High-Quality Protein Source
We begin with the most obvious reason to take liver for exercise and, in particular, resistance training: protein.
Protein is the building block of your muscles. Numerous studies show that eating adequate amounts of protein help you maintain muscle mass and increase muscle mass and strength when you do strength training.
When your body metabolizes protein, it breaks it down into amino acids. Of the 21 amino acids, 12 are non-essential (your body can make them) and 9 are essential (which means your body cannot make these amino acids).
With approximately 29.1 g of complete protein, beef liver provides all 9 essential amino acids needed for muscle growth. The calories contained in 100 g of beef liver are about 191. [*]
100 g chicken liver contains about 167 calories, and 24.5 g protein [*] — that makes it comparable to a 100 g boneless skinless chicken breast of 184 calories and 27.4 g protein [*], but the liver is higher in nutrients — it’s a no-brainer!
Liver’s anti-fatigue factor
Less well known is the indefinable anti-fatigue factor of liver. In 1951, Ershoff published a research article that demonstrated the benefits of desiccated liver against fatigue. He divided laboratory rats into three groups.
- Group 1 received an average diet with 11 added vitamins.
- Group 2 received the same diet as group 1 with the addition of vitamin B complex.
- Group 3 also ate the same diet as group 1, but 10% of their diet consisted of desiccated liver.
The rats followed their assigned diet for a few weeks, at the end of which they were placed in a tank of cold water from which they could not climb out. Here’s what came out:
- The rats in the first group swam an average of 13.3 minutes before giving up.
- The second group swam an average of 13.4 minutes.
- The third group of rats – those who were given the desiccated liver — swam 63, 83 and 87 minutes three times. The other nine rats in this group were still swimming at the end of two hours when the test ended. Something in the liver had prevented them from becoming exhausted.. [*]
To this date, scientists have not been able to identify this anti-fatigue factor. But these incredible results suggest that something in desiccated liver is what makes it such a good supplement for athletes, bodybuilders and endurance runners, and people suffering from chronic fatigue.
Vitamins and minerals for exercise
You may already be aware of the large amount of vitamins and minerals that liver contains. It is no surprise that it has been nicknamed nature’s multivitamin. Liver is particularly rich in certain vitamins and minerals that are essential for sports performance. These essential nutrients for active people found in 100 grams of beef liver are:
Vitamin B12: 3,460% of the RDI. [*]
Vitamin A: 860–1,100% of the RDI. [*]
Thiamine (B1): 13% of the RDI. [*]
Riboflavin (B2): 210–260% of the RDI. [*]
Vitamin B6: 78% of the RDI. [*]
Iron: 80% of the RDI. [*]
Liver provides many other important vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid, choline and copper. The complete list of the nutritional value of liver can be found here.
Vitamin B12 supplements have long been marketed as the drug of choice for an energy boost.
All B vitamins play an important role in your body’s energy production, although they do not provide energy themselves. [*]
Currently, there is no scientific evidence that vitamin B12 supplements can increase energy in people with adequate levels. [*] But on the other hand, if you are deficient in vitamin B12, taking a supplement or increasing your intake with food can improve your energy levels. [*] As a matter of fact, one of the most likely signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue or lack of energy.
Thiamin, Riboflavin and B6
We have already explained above that B vitamins are essential for our body’s energy production. So it goes without saying that active individuals with low levels of B vitamins may have a reduced ability to exercise at high intensity. [*]
Because exercise taxes metabolic pathways that depend on thiamin (B1), riboflavin, (B2) and vitamin B6, research suggests that exercise may increase the need for these vitamins. [*]
In a study of young and older women who exercised moderately, riboflavin status was found to be worse during periods of exercise, dieting, and diets combined with exercise. Physical activity also increased the loss of vitamin B6. [*]
Not only does the loss of B vitamins increase with physical activity, but iron deficiency is also likely to be more prevalent in athletes. Young women are already more prone to iron deficiency due to blood loss during their monthly cycle. When exercise is added to this, they are most at risk of becoming anaemic. [*]
In addition to physical activity being one of the causes of iron deficiency, putting you at higher risk for anaemia, iron deficiency also reduces athletic performance. [*] Even without anaemia, studies have reported a greater improvement in maximum training performance with iron supplementation. [*]
Therefore, especially for menstruating women and athletes, it is important to eat iron-rich foods [*], which comes down to to an omnivorous diet [*] or supplement with whole food liver capsules, which contain bioavailable heme iron in its natural form and are therefore better than a synthetic iron supplement. [*]
Vitamin A and Protein Utilization
Vitamin A is required for the utilization of protein. Studies have shown that the liver reserves of vitamin A are depleted with high levels of dietary protein intake. [*] One study, in which vitamin A was given to rats on a low protein and a high protein diet, showed that vitamin A was indeed used to a greater extent on a high protein diet. [*]
Vitamin A is not only depleted by a high protein intake, it is also essential for the synthesis of new proteins, the goal of a person who wants to build muscle. A 1978 study showed that rats fed a diet deficient in vitamin A produced less protein than rats fed sufficient vitamin A. [*]
Vitamin A and Testosterone
Testosterone replacement therapy is often used in the bodybuilding scene to increase muscle size and strength. And with good reason. In men with low testosterone, hormone replacement therapy has been proven successful in increasing muscle mass, and when combined with strength training and exercise, men are likely to see the most benefits in both muscle size and strength. [*]
But if you don’t like the idea of injections or rubbing your body with hormones, natural options are also available. Studies done with vitamin A and iron, both of which are surprisingly common in liver, show that when combined they can act as an alternative to testosterone replacement therapy, as they play an essential role in testosterone production.
A study of young boys with delayed puberty showed a combination of vitamin A and iron supplements to be as effective as hormone therapy in inducing growth and testosterone. [*]
In a study on rats, a decrease in plasma testosterone was associated with vitamin A deficiency. [*] A study comparing the food intake of male twins found a link between testosterone levels and vitamin A intake. [*]
Liver is a protein-rich source, and is full of vitamins and minerals that are essential for active people of both sexes. It is rich in iron, which is especially important for female athletes in their child-bearing years. But the vitamin A in liver is also very effective for men with low testosterone levels, or men who want to build muscle mass and strength. Add to that the B12 and other B vitamins and the unknown fact that liver increases endurance, and you have a life-changing pre-workout superfood.