Back in the late 1980s, when Chris Bailey was a professional cyclist, he craved high protein snacks to keep his stamina up without the sugar crash caused by carb-based energy foods. Unfortunately, they didn’t exist. Two decades and a career shift later, in 2010, Bailey was heading up Vermont Smoke and Cure, a smokehouse in Barre, when he had a revelation: he could make that high-protein snack he’d always dreamed of, and he could do it naturally and sustainably.
Bailey is at the vanguard of what you could call a jerkaissance. The salty shoe leather of yore is a distant memory. Responsibly raised dried meats of all sorts—bison, kangaroo, salmon—are booming, and according to retail-analyst group Packaged Facts, conscientious options are now driving the industry.
For athletes, the jerky boom is a dream come true. Dried meat can be an exceptional snack: eat some an hour before a high-intensity workout for an energy boost or afterward to aid muscle recovery, or sneak some in the middle of an endurance ride or run to replenish amino acids. Plus, protein helps you feel full compared with sugary bars and gels. Here are some of the tastiest options on the market.
Chicken: The New Primal
The New Primal’s cage-free birds deliver 60 calories per serving and no saturated fat—perfect when you need a boost without the bloat.
Protein Per Serving: 6 grams
Cost Per Serving: $3.44
Pork: Vermont Smoke and Cure
A bump in sodium before (or even during) a run or ride is never a bad idea to replenish the salt you lose through sweat. Why not bacon?
Protein Per Serving: 8 grams
Cost Per Serving: $2
Jerky made from beef—in this case, sprinkled with peppercorns and pink Himalayan salt—is loaded with iron, which is critical for oxygen transport and metabolic function.
Protein Per Serving: 10 grams
Cost Per Serving: $2.40
Bison: Shurky Jurky
Shurky’s bison jerky contains nearly a quarter of your daily vitamin C (an antioxidant), 10 percent of vitamin B6 (which helps convert food into energy) and 10 percent of phosphorus (which can improve aerobic capacity).
Protein Per Serving: 13 grams
Cost Per Serving: $7.50