Pork seems to be the forgotten protein of the fitness community. People think pork, they think pig, they think bacon, they think fat, they think dirty. While pork can be extremely unhealthy and fatty, so can chicken. See chicken wings and fried chicken to name the main offenders, but even rotisserie chicken has a whopping 53% of its calorie content from fat; and that’s oven roasted. When prepared properly however, both chicken and pork are top notch protein options.
Look at any bodybuilding or fitness type diet and invariably you will see chicken, beef, fish and egg whites as the only whole food protein sources, with the occasional cottage cheese or Greek yogurt (which is not really the same type of food). Pork, however, is rarely even talked about as an option, let alone included as a mainstay of any diet. Pork has gotten a bad reputation and has basically been just disregarded, but this is a mistake. The fact of the matter is that pork is in more ways than one, a better option than all of the other protein sources. For the purposes of this article though, we will compare pork to its closest counterpart, and most ubiquitous protein source for bodybuilders, the chicken breast.
First looking at the macronutrient content of chicken breast vs pork tenderloin, they are nearly identical. Depending on the individual pieces compared, per 100 grams, protein will account for about 28-29 grams, fat will account for about 8 grams and carbs will be negligible for both chicken breast and pork tenderloin. Similarly, the amino acid profile is also so close that to say one is better than other would require splitting hairs. Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine and glutamine are all about the same. Some are slightly higher or slightly lower for each, but nothing stands out one way or another. It also makes sense that the more protein sources one eats, the better off they are to build and maintain muscle, as the variety will keep the body from falling too much into a routine with its digestion and enzyme production.
The real difference between the two comes when you analyze the micronutrients and vitamin content side by side, and pork actually has the upper hand in this department. Overall, pork has more total nutrition/vitamin content than does chicken breast. Some standout differences are Thiamine (Vitamin B1), where pork tenderloin has 14x more than does an equal sized chicken breast. Thiamine has been shown in studies to help athletes recover quicker from exercise. Pork also has two times as much zinc, which also aids in recovery, as well as boosts the immune system (which is broken down during exercise) and also is a building block for testosterone. Perhaps the most important difference between the two for contest dieters though is that pork has only 16mg of sodium per 100g verses 21mg per 100g for chicken breast, or 25% less for pork. While 5mg of sodium is not significant, it adds up fast. Consider that many bodybuilders eat more than two pounds of chicken per day. At two pounds, that is about 50mg of sodium per day.
Chicken, beef, egg whites and fish are all excellent protein sources; and pork should be used as a viable option for use in place of any of them. It is as lean as chicken breast, has the same quality of protein, and also offers more vitamin content and a lower sodium level. It can also be very tasty, inexpensive and a great break from the monotony of chicken or fish over and over again.