How Much Meat Is Too Much?

How Much Meat is Too Much FinalI’ve discussed—and countered—many misconceptions people hold to be true about the Primal lifestyle. That we wear loin cloths and shun modern medicine (I only do one of those), eat so low-carb all the time that running our urine through a coffee filter produces valuable ketone esters (stay tuned for the supplement!), and avoid cardio to the point of scolding ourselves if we have to run to catch the train (only if we jog rather than sprint). One in particular has stuck: that we’re meat-obsessed.

This one isn’t totally unfounded. We do enjoy our bacon, our steaks, our lettuce-wrapped burgers, our legs of lamb, our roast chickens. Personally, I emphasize the animal foods (which include “meat”) for two reasons: they’re extremely nutrient-dense and they’ve gotten a terrible rap for decades. We should be eating them on a regular basis but, by and large, people are scared to. There’s always that voice in your head repeating back to you the scary “red meat will give you cancer” or “meat consumption linked to diabetes” headlines that pop up every few weeks. I consider it my job to remove the stigma of healthful animal foods, to highlight the importance and vitality of meat in the human diet.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. There are upper limits on meat intake, just as there are upper limits on everything.

Let’s ignore the outliers. The folks who really do feel better on all-meat diets and the people who insist they thrive on zero-meat diets aren’t relevant today. The people who matter are the people reading this post. People trying to lose some body fat. People following a strength training regimen. Elderly people. All the different contexts in which people find themselves can affect our upper limit of meat.


Strength training

Strength training’s relationship to protein intake is a curious one. Lifting heavy things actually makes you more efficient with your protein. As long as you’re lifting, you do more with less. You can get away with eating less protein.

On the other hand, lifting weights makes higher doses of protein safer. Animal studies show that large, acute increases of protein intake can stress the renal system and cause metabolic disturbances.  Left unchecked, this is dangerous. If the animals are performing resistance training, however, the kidneys can handle larger doses of protein without issue. Humans seem better adapted to higher protein intakes (it doesn’t harm our kidneys unless they’re already damaged), but I’d imagine the protective effect of resistance training is similar.

What this means is that strength training both reduces your protein requirements and increases the amount of protein you can safely utilize. Weird, right? You can eat more, but you don’t necessarily have to.

As for the 1 gram per pound of body weight bodybuilder diets you hear about? Novices can probably benefit from higher protein intakes, as they have a higher “gains ceiling” and gain muscle fairly quickly. More experienced lifters who are closer to their ceiling and gain muscle more slowly (if at all) don’t need as much protein. 1.8 grams per kg seems to be the absolute ceiling for natural lifters. After that, the benefits level off and you’re just wasting protein.


Dieters don’t just lose body fat. They lose lean mass, too (that’s why I like to talk about “fat loss,” not “weight loss“). Protein content of the cutting diet is a major determinant of how much lean you lose. In study after study, high protein intakes while dieting preserve lean mass and preferentially burn body fat. A 2013 study split dieters into three groups: one eating the protein RDA (0.8g/kg), one eating 2x the RDA (1.6g/kg, or about 120 grams per day), and one eating 3x the RDA (2.4g/kg, or about 185 grams per day). Fat intake was constant across all groups, and carbs filled in the rest. There were no differences in weight loss, but the two latter groups lost more body fat than lean. The group eating the RDA lost significantly more lean mass.

The more you cut calories, the more protein you need. And not in a relative sense—you need to increase your absolute protein intake to limit loss of lean muscle mass.


Protein metabolism is less efficient in the elderly. The standard RDA of 0.8g/kg simply doesn’t cut it. In fact, it leads to lean mass loss, atrophy, and poor health outcomes. To attain the same metabolic outcomes you enjoy, your grandma or grandpa has to eat way more protein than you. Studies indicate that a baseline intake of 1.0-1.3 g protein/kg bodyweight or 0.5-0.6 g protein/lb bodyweight is the bare minimum for the healthy and frail elderly to ensure nitrogen balance. 160 grams of red meat per day seems to do the trick alright, but 220 grams per day might be even better! That’s grams of meat, not protein.

Injuries/bed rest

When you’re on bed rest recovering from an injury, or a burn, or surgery, you not only can handle more protein. You need more protein to get better. We use protein to rebuild damaged tissues. Collagen comes in handy here, as skin is primarily made up of collagen. One study found that in patients recovering from ulcers, collagen supplementation sped up healing time.

Bed rest increases protein upper limits. When you’re not using your muscles, when they aren’t receiving any stimulus, you’re telling your body you don’t need them. That’s a terrible message to be sending. Added protein muddles the message and reduces the breakdown of muscle tissue.

What about the problematic compounds found in meat that detractors are always highlighting? Do those determine how much meat is too much?

Let’s look at some.


Iron isn’t “bad.” Like anything else, it’s conditionally good and conditionally bad for us. Our red blood cells employ iron to help them fulfill their primary role: the delivery of oxygen to tissues and cells throughout the body. In athletes, kids, infants, and ladies with kids in their bellies, iron is particularly important. Pregnancy and development increase iron demands, as does exercise. We literally cannot live or create life without adequate amounts of iron in the diet.

But an excess of iron is bad. As an oxidant, too much iron poses major issues. Observational studies link iron intake and stored iron to diseases and disease states like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance, inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, fatty liver, hypothyroidism, arthritis, and cancer. These types of studies can’t establish causation, of course, but they’re consistent. And we know that men with iron excess who reduce it through blood donation see improved health markers, including insulin sensitivity and liver enzymes.

Iron from animal sources like beef, lamb, and organs is far more bioavailable than iron from plant sources. It’s called heme iron, and we absorb almost all of it. Only about half of non-heme iron is actually absorbed. Furthermore, many common foods, like coffee, tea, plant polyphenols, and dairy readily inhibit our absorption of plant iron. The only real way to inhibit heme iron is to eat large amounts of calcium alongside it.

A 100 gram portion of ground beef contains 2.6 mg of heme iron.

100 grams of chicken has 1.3 mg.

100 grams of beef liver has 4.9 mg.

100 grams of chicken liver has 9 mg.

The recommended daily intake of iron is 9 mg per day for men, 18 for menstruating women. For pregnant women, it’s 27 mg. However, that presupposes that most of the iron you eat isn’t very bioavailable (remember the absorption inhibition). Many common foods and drinks, like coffee, tea, polyphenols, and calcium, reduce non-heme iron absorption. Many people get their iron through plant foods and fortified grains, so they aren’t absorbing all the iron they’re eating. People who get most of their iron through meat probably need less than 18 or 27 mg because they are absorbing most of the iron they’re eating.

Kids, teens, tots, infants? Don’t worry about eating too much iron in meat. I don’t want to see any 15 month olds freaking out about the heme iron content in the incomprehensible meat-mush caked across their faces.

Pregnant ladies? “Too much iron” should not be a factor when considering how much meat to eat.

Men and post-menopausal women? Monitor your ferritin levels and see how meat affects it. A 40-60 range might be ideal, as drops in insulin sensitivity have been seen at slightly higher levels, but that figure isn’t set in stone.

If you have hereditary hemochromatosis, an iron-storage disorder characterized by high iron accumulation, limit high-iron meat. Track your ferritin levels (you’re probably already doing this). You can still eat red meat, just be mindful of its effect on your iron levels and adjust intake accordingly.


Methionine is an essential amino acid, meaning we can’t synthesize it and must obtain it from the diet. It’s most abundant in animal foods, particularly meat (and egg whites). The “calorie restriction for longevity” crowd has zeroed in on methionine as the big dietary baddie in the fight against physical death, citing tons of animal studies in which methionine excess spikes homocysteine levels and reduces lifespan.

Methionine processing occurs in the liver and depletes several key nutrients: choline, betaine, folate, and glycine. You need ample amounts of those nutrients to make methionine—and meat—safer.

If you’re not eating egg yolks (choline and betaine), spinach (betaine), liver and greens (folate), and collagen-rich meats and supplements (glycine), your upper limit of muscle meat is probably lower. If you are eating those foods, you can get away with more meat.

Okay, okay. Got any numbers, Sisson?

Start with about a pound of meat a day, give or take a few ounces. Depending on what type of meat you’re eating, that’ll give you about 85-90 grams of protein. Additional protein from other foods (dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds) should put you in the realm of 100-120 grams of protein. That’s where I am most days—between 100 and 120 grams of protein. It’s a good place to start.

If you’re older, on bed rest, dieting, you can safely eat more.

If you’re lifting, you don’t have to eat more but may want to.

Eating a greater proportion of gelatin, either supplementarily, via delicious chocolate almond bars, or by favoring gelatinous meats (skin, cartilage, shanks, necks, oxtails) and drinking bone broth, will increase your safe upper limit of meat.

Monitoring your ferritin levels will allow you to identify your safe upper limit.

Still worried? “Meat” doesn’t have to be red meat, or even terrestrial meat. You can—and should—mix it up with fish, shellfish, cephalopods, birds, even insects.

There are no hard and fast answers. There is no single number that’s right for everyone. It depends on many factors. In biology, that’s typically the case. But hopefully, you feel equipped to tailor your meat consumption to your personal context.

So: do you? Let me know how this post resonates with you. If you have any further questions about upper intakes of meat, let me know down below!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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54 thoughts on “How Much Meat Is Too Much?”

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  1. Very helpful post!! But I am never (knowingly) eating insects. I’m adventurous but not that adventurous! I never thought about the whole bed rest/recovery thing. Makes perfect sense that you would need more protein. I try to listen to my body. After years (over 30!) as a vegetarian, at first I seemed to really crave meat. I’m not at a point where I really enjoy it, but my consumption definitely varies. Lots of good info here…thanks!!

      1. The Bars are actually the tastiest protein bars I’ve tried to date – especially the blueberry and the apple-cinnamon flavors.

  2. My primary concern according to articles I read is the number of gallons of water, the amount of feed it takes, and the amount of waste produced each year for one head of livestock, it’s pretty staggering. I know there are ways to remediate that, but how practical is it overall on a planet of 7 billion people?

    I’ve gone from being a vegetarian back to consuming fish and chicken and eating bone broth, still slightly conflicted as far as the ethics involved. A voice from on high has yet to give me the answer LOL.

    Another great post as always Mark, you are one of the top “voices of sanity” out there in my book. 🙂

    1. Good and healthy, which is alive with billions of bacteria, hold more water per cubic foot or meter. Healthy soil requires animals to replenish it. The current status quo is soil mining combined with pesticides and potash, encourages desertification and that is not sustainable. Research the work by Allan Savory.

    2. The link in my name reference a 2000 head cattle rancher in Georgia that switched away from industrial farming and ranching to more sustainable practices. Granted 2000 cattle is not a lot, but it is nothing to balk at either!

      1. White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, GA. Dr. Mercola recently posted an interview he did with Will Harris.

    3. “…A voice from on high has yet to give me the answer LOL…”

      “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” — Genesis 9:2-3

      As for the idea that raising meat is bad for the environment — quite the reverse, actually: holistic grazing management could well help reverse desertification. Listen to scientist Allan Savory’s epic lecture on the topic:

    4. A lot of that water falls from the sky in the form of rain, which would otherwise wash-off the topsoil, but which is enriched with nitrogen and other substances instead as it passes through the cattle, so it’s not as simple as “wasting” the water – quite the opposite in fact.

      The waste produced can (and should) be used to fertilise the soil, and prevent desertification, as north American buffalo herds did for millenia. The Dustbowl of the 1930’s was a result of removing the wild grazing ruminants that had dominated the plains, and replacing them primarily with vegetable crops – and it did NOT go well.

      Most of the arguments against meat-eating that rely on wild numbers are either exagerrated, or they address only specific commercial feedlots that never let the animals leave their stalls.

      This is like saying ALL parenting is bad, because SOME parents beat their kids – it serves a vegan agenda that’s more akin to a religion than fact-based analysis.

    5. I’m not the voice from on high. But, competition for resources is a natural component of our evolution. It may not be practical to feed 7 billion folks. Neither is it practical to feed me without meat.

      Practically speaking, those 7 billion (and more) won’t want a meat heavy diet anyway. But for now and for those who want meat, a good guide is welcomed and Mark gave us good guidsnce, as usual.

    6. As a producer of grass-fed livestock, may I make a couple of points.

      One is that that “wasted” water falls as rain, whether we use it or not. The land on which a great deal of livestock is run, is not suitable for cropping – or continuous cropping – so that the alternative to livestock is no food production at all and an even greater “waste”.

      Secondly, that “wasted” water is what fills our rivers. Do you really think it wrong that our rivers flow? Is it really appropriate to regard our streams as nothing more than drains for “waste” water?

      Please do not be taken in by faux-statistics or the claim that livestock producers don’t care about the degradation of our land. Even if you can’t understand that we love it, reflect that we have a vested interest in maintaining the value of an incredibly expensive resource.


    7. Animals need water. Larger animals need more. So what? It’s not as if they keep it for themselves. It all goes back to the environment. That’s the water cycle.

      To adapt a phrase: you can’t buy water, you can only rent it.

  3. I knew the iron in animal foods was more bioavailable however I didn’t know it was called heme-iron. The methionine controversy is something I’m intimately familiar with, I’ve had a lot of my vegetarian friends bring this one up. Methionine in larger doses combined with an absence of choline, folate, proline, and glycine can increase your risk of a heart attack. However the vegetarians I know seem to only understand the part about “methionine causes heart attacks”. The reason for this is because the methionine raises your homocysteine. I use to eat a lot more beef then I do now, but a simple fix to his is just to eat the foods Mark suggested. However my favorite combination is eating a steak with some bone marrow. Now days I eat more eggs and fish then beef but the methionine problem is a very simple fix.

    1. Barry, there is huge amounts of research available on the Intertubes that shows a diet high in glycine counteracts the negative parts of methionone’s actions. And that, of course, comes from skin and joints in the old days. Gelatin and bone broth these days.

  4. “If the animals are performing resistance training…”

    Do the studies contain footage of the rats doing squats and presses with tiny little barbells? I need to see it. For science.

    1. Video proof–we need to see VIDEO PROOF to give us a break from watching cute kitten footage.

  5. Eggs and cheese for breakfast or a whey yogurt shake. Salmon, tuna, sardines or herring with Big Ass Salad for lunch and a steak/burger thing for din din. Nuts and seeds for snacks. Protein covered.

  6. Does anyone know if there is a downside to only eating red meat? I don’t care for chicken and I don’t like preparing it. If I were to eat only grass fed organ and muscle meat, eggs and vegetables while lifting three times a week, would that negatively affect me?

    1. The only way to know for sure is to pay attention to how you feel. Your body will usually let you know, in one way or another, if it doesn’t like what you’re eating. If you feel healthy and have good energy, you’re probably doing something right.

    2. I eat red meat almost exclusively for my land-based protein, along with eggs. The only fowl I eat is what I harvest myself from the prairie and the marshes around here, which is only available seasonally. Feels fine with my kettlebell and sprint routines.

  7. I don’t really worry about total daily meat consumption since I have regular, other sources of protein (whey, eggs, nuts, yogurt). As a general rule I try not to overload protein on a per-meal basis, though (max 8 ounces chicken/beef/fish and usually less than 6).

  8. Thanks for suggesting a pound of meat a day as a starting point. Good advice for those of us who think in terms of ounces and pounds rather than grams.

    Actually, I have no idea how much meat (or protein) I consume. Some days it’s more, some days less, although I usually eat some sort of meat or fish with every meal. Portion-wise, my body does all the monitoring. When I’ve had enough meat I lose interest in eating it. On the other hand, I start craving it–particularly red meat–when my body needs more than I’m getting.

  9. Mark there is NEVER enough meat! LOL! I love all of it – recently had an Elk Steak for the first time and it was awesome. Antelope sliders too. 🙂

    1. I’ve recently heard that properly sourced antelope (i.e. wasn’t chased down by a guy in a truck with a shot gun) is considered one of the best meats to cook with. Now I am dying to try some. Where did you find the sliders?

      1. Antelope can run faster over the prairie than a pickup, and they’re difficult to stalk without spooking them. Most folks I know use a rifle from a good distance. The animal doesn’t even hear the shot. Beautiful creatures, and quite tasty, if a bit lean.

  10. I have so much iron that when I go in a cruise they give me a shielded cabin so that I will not mess with the ship compass

    1. We could probably use you at the airport when the citizenry finally rise up and strike back against the TSA. Something tells me that you could do some serious damage to a back-scatter machine!

  11. High ferritin levels takes the joy out of life; in particular when you can’t be bled because you are also anemic due to G6PD complications the shorten the life of red blood cells (the likelihood of catching malaria on the other hand is reduce. Time to go an an African Safari again then). Based on the article and contrary to common believe, drinking coffee after eating meat won’t effect iron absorption but curcumin may….so the only proteins safe to eat are eggs fish and seafood and whey?

    Great and very informative article!

  12. Excellent post, Mark. Thanks. I now realize I’m probably not eating enough meat to support the strength training I do (slow body weight exercises in sets of ten, to failure) three times a week. I’m 67, so I may need more than a younger guy. The increase in muscle mass has seemed to be slower than I might expect, although switching from fast to slow exercises (thanks to your recent post) has increased the rate of growth. I also reiterate what all the other commenters have said about the importance of grazing herds, properly managed, to the health of the Earth and all her creatures. We have done tremendous damage to grasslands worldwide by removing grazers, by poor management of grazers, and by repurposing grazing lands for agriculture (such as here in the San Joaquin Valley, which never has enough water for it). Those who claim otherwise simply don’t know (we are all ignorant about things we haven’t yet learned). Last fall I attended an all-day seminar given by Allan Savory and others. An amazingly insightful man. My view of this beautiful planet we share will never be the same.

  13. For a lot of people, particularly those trying to lose weight a good guideline was provided by the late Australian athletics coach of renown, Percy Wills Cerruty who advised as follows:
    “Approximately half a pound of steak or similar or perhaps three large eggs or one quarter pound of cheese – any one of these, NOT the lot will provide all the protein needed in adult life active or not active.”
    Some people would probably need more. In any case in the real world one is likely to exceed one of these equivalents by some margin on any given day, but as long as you go nowhere near “the lot” I cant see that you’d have any problems.

    1. Unless I’m missing something, he’s an idiot. Three large eggs have only 19 grams of protein. Even eaten three times a day, that would barely be enough for a small person. At least a half pound of steak will give 50 grams, but that’s still not enough.

      1. On reflection I think he may have been factoring in protein from other sources such as wholegrains, legumes, nuts, etc as well as tea and coffee milk. It needs to be pointed out that, that information was was published in the early 1960’s (he died in 1975) and would have been reflecting the CW of the day concerning the effect of ‘excess’ protein on the kidneys. On the credit side of the ledger though, he was dead set against processed foods and refined carbohydrates.

  14. The other thing to keep in mind about too much protein intake can cause the process of gluconeogenesis–basically if we consume too much protein (from meat or any other sources) than our body requires it can essentially turn it into sugar and store it as body fat. I used to consume the “bodybuilder” recommended dose of at least 1-2 g/lb of protein a day and could not get super lean with visible abs (with primal eating) etc until I decreased that number to closer to about 0.75 g/lb protein per body weight. Of course there is just my own n=1 but thought I would share.

    1. It’s true that surplus protein, like surplus carbohydrate or surplus fat, is converted to glucose and to triglycerides. However, protein is converted very inefficiently, so that a given number of calories produces less glucose and less bodyfat than the same number of calories of either of the other macronutrients. The most efficient glucose/bodyfat generator is carbohydrate. Jonathan Bailor, in his book The Calorie Myth, quantifies this. Speth and Spielman (1983) argue compellingly for the role of carbohydrate in protein-sparing and bodyfat production. Speth, John, and Katherine Spielman. 1983. Energy source, protein metabolism, and hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 2(1):1–31. The pdf of this germinal paper is available here: I looked at this question for my honours thesis,

      Your personal experience suggests that your personal protein requirements are lower than the mythical average. Like anything else, protein requirements fall on a continuum, so all recommendations are relative, not absolute. I’m happy to read that you determined your own best protein intake, and reached your goal.

      Nutrigenomics is fascinating! I was intrigued to read, fairly recently, that people descended from generations of vegetarians are able to elongate short-chain essential fatty acids to long ones, and actually suffer healthwise when they start eating foods high in EPA and DHA.

    2. Lots of folks seem to miss the part about “… per pound of *lean* body weight”. A 225lb man at 30% body fat doesn’t need 225 grams of protein to gain muscle or keep it.

      1. Great point. Protein is not a benign macronutrient when eaten in excess and people who are following the 1g per lb of body weight who are overfat could be sabatoging their own efforts with excess calories along with GI distress and the potential for gluconeogenesis.

  15. Back to the basics, keeping it simple.

    Thank you Mark! After many years of my meat consumption being largely boneless skinless chicken breasts (dry and no flavor), and eating virtually no eggs, I have rediscovered the deliciousness and healthfulness of meat and eggs. It is the centerpiece of my diet.
    Now, when I’m asked what I eat or don’t eat, rather than explain paleo or LCHF or keto, I just say I eat mainly eggs, meat (including seafood) and veggies.

  16. Got it! So I can eat as much meat as I want as long as I lift weights, eat salads and cut myself a little. ; )

  17. I don’t think this is quite right:

    Methionine processing occurs in the liver and depletes several key nutrients: choline, betaine, folate, and glycine. You need ample amounts of those nutrients to make methionine—and meat—safer.

    Methionine prevents choline deficiency, and betaine is a product of choline. as is glycine. Folate is required, yes, as is B6 and B12, if methionine is to be metabolised to cysteine, and glycine is then required (with glutamine) to make glutathione.

  18. Great Article I love to read your articles because your writing style is too good, its is very very helpful for all of us and I never get bored while reading your article because it becomes more and more interesting from the starting lines until the end. So Thank you for sharing a COOL Meaningful stuff with us Keep it up..!

  19. I agree that meat doesn’t have to be terrestrial. I enjoy a good flank of Martian, when I can get it on sale. Tastes just like chicken.

  20. Hi Mark,

    I really liked this article and have a question about protein consumption for men over 40.

    I do a fair amount of weight lifting (about 4 times per week). I typically follow the practice of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight but I don’t seem to gain much.

    Would it be overkill to eat 1.5 to 2 grams if I am looking for a bit more muscle growth?

    P.S. Primal Blueprint is my goto – thanks for that!


  21. Hi, are the meat measurements raw or cooked? Different meats experience different amounts of shrinkage when cooked depending on how much water or fat has cooked out of them. To determine protein amounts, do you measure before or after cooking? Thanks!

  22. Great post, thanks for sharing. I feel that a bit of both is good and veggies shouldn’t be omitted from any diet, as we rely on it for many nutrients.

  23. Excellent article. This is informative, well-researched and presents a comprehensive view on different aspects of nutrition. With all the bunk and nonsense that’s floating around, it’s nice to see that there is still credible and interesting knowledge out there.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this and for including sources. I’ve been disillusioned by all the, “mamas,” and “mavens,” and shills for health food companies. I liked that you included the advice for those who are on bedrest. I have a chronic illness and I found that piece particularly helpful.

    I also came across your podcast on YouTube the other day and found it similarly interesting and informative.

    I’m definitely going to subscribe.

  24. I went on an all meat diet.. aka “Carnivore approach” .. my ALT scores sky rocketed. Recently learned that high iron can cause your liver to excrete enzymes. Everything in moderation!