Eating right needs to be the top priority of your bodybuilding/fitness lifestyle. All the exercise in the world won't improve
the way you look if those well shaped muscles are hidden by a thick layer of fat. In addition to ruining your appearance, it's
certainly no secret that carrying unwanted fat is linked to a number of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
As these are two of the leading cause of death in North America, the proper diet choices can be critical.
As a personal trainer, I often tell my clients that they can make or break their diets by how they plan their trip to the grocery store. The eating plan recommended incorporates what I call clean foods. This is meant as foods that are better absorbed and your body is able to "burn' them for fuel more efficiently. They are low in fat and simple sugars, allowing more of their calories to be used or stored in lean tissues than are stored as bodyfat.
The foods recommended are for healthy individuals, if you have a medical condition, it can affect your choice of foods. In this case consult with your physician to see if you would need to make any adjustments. With that in mind let's look at what we want in our cart.
Beverages - The most important element in a proper eating program is water. If you're working out hard and trying to eat right, a high level of water is crucial to your success. Unless you have an excellent home water purification system, get a minimum of three gallons of distilled water. Avoid bottled spring or mineral water. They contain similar toxins and impurities as found in well water.
There are a number of good flavored drinks available that are free of both sugars and syrups. I recommend the Quest 2 calorie drinks, Clearly Canadian 2, Crystal Light and Wal-Mart's Free and Clear. These are great for variety, but use them in moderation. The bulk of your fluids should come from water.
Skinless Turkey and Chicken Breast - Poultry contains less fat than red meats, particularly if you remove the fatty skin. Sticking to the white meat makes this a choice even lower in fat. Best of all, the multitude of ways to prepare poultry make it easy to eat five or more times a week. Try it baked, grilled, stir-fried, alone or with sauces or seasonings. Instead of hamburger, try ground turkey breast in recipes. Or, for a taste with lower fat content, mix the ground turkey breast with lean ground sirloin. Don't be fooled into believing that lunchmeat varieties are anywhere near as healthful as unprocessed poultry. During processing, sodium is added and skin and other fatty organ tissues are ground into the final product. Labels on these products are also notorious for their deceptive and liberal use of phrases like "lean" and "low-fat". Your best bet is to steer clear of these.
Eggs - Egg whites are composed almost purely of protein. When the yolk is removed so is the fat. Still, I recommend that you leave one yolk for every four to six egg whites. This not only improves the taste, but it greatly enhances the amino-acid profile, thus making it more readily useable by the body. Needless to say, you should make sure all eggs are thoroughly cooked in order to kill any salmonella bacteria on or in the eggs.
Low Fat Seafood - If you like fish, it's possible to get large amounts of protein with little fat. The trick is to select the right kind of fish. Fish that migrate, such as salmon, often will "bulk up" and are high in fat at the beginning of their migration. This fat provides them with the energy needed for their trip. If caught at the end of their migration, they will be very lean. The problem is, how do you know at what stage your fish have been caught? Sticking to nonmigratory fish such as cod, red snapper, halibut or haddock allows you to avoid the guesswork. Shrimp and scallops are also acceptable protein sources.
Lean Beef - Although beef has developed a bad reputation because of its fat content, it has other redeeming characteristics that make it valuable. If you choose a lean cut like round steak and trim all visible fat, you are very close to chicken in fat content. Beef is also a great source of iron, zinc, B- complex vitamins and the amino acid L-phenylalanine (which inhibits hunger and increases alertness). Beef is also one of the only sources of creatine, an organic chemical shown to be important in improving strength and muscle-cell volume. If you eat a small three-to-four ounce serving of beef once or twice a week, you'll see that beef packs a real punch.
Quality Protein Powders - This is the only item on the list that you won't be able to find in your grocery store (yet). It's not an absolute necessity, but if you don't want to spend all day preparing food, a protein powder becomes a must. In addition to convenience, a good protein powder is more highly absorbed than any other protein source. It also allows you to increase your protein intake without taking in more dietary fat. The quality of these products varies considerably. A lower-quality protein derived from an inferior source would not contain the proper proportion of the various amino acids needed for effective utilization.
Sugar-free Nestle Quick powder and other flavorings, such as cinnamon or a small amount of fruit, afford you a great deal of variety. By using these flavorings you can purchase a plain or vanilla protein powder and still have variety.
Hot Cereals - Oatmeal is an excellent source of slow - burning carbohydrates and both soluble and insoluble fiber. In addition to being both a very filling and quick way to start the day, a serving of oatmeal can provide a day's supply of linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, necessary for proper health. If you are keeping your fat intake low, you can count on oatmeal to provide these essential fats. Recommended are Quaker Old-Fashioned and Quick oats. To be avoided - the sugar and sodium-loaded instant packs of oatmeal. When I want a change of pace, Cream of Rice always bales me out. It affords me the convenience of oatmeal but is lower in fat.
Either of these two grains, served with berries for flavoring and a protein shake, gives me a fantastic breakfast in about five minutes. Best off, this provides a meal that is not only nutritious, but also dirt cheap.
Bananas - Not only an excellent source of fine fiber, bananas are very high in potassium (about 450 mg). In addition to assisting in the regulation of water balance, stimulating nerve impulses and numerous other functions, potassium has been shown to help prevent the loss of muscle tissue even on a low-calorie diet. Bananas contain 105 calories, almost all from carbohydrate, so if you are on a fat-loss program, you may want to eat only part of one at a meal.
Berries - A small amount (less than one quarter of a cup) of frozen blueberries, raspberries or blackberries can add flavor and moisture to hot cereals in place of brown sugar. Strawberries also add variety to protein blender shakes. In both cases use moderation because, like bananas, berries contain the fruit sugar fructose, which is easily stored as fat. Still it should go with out saying that this is much better than brown sugar.
Sweet Potatoes - A personal favorite of mine, sweet potatoes are one of the lowest glycemic-index carbohydrate foods avail able. Once cooked, they can be refrigerated and still have a pleasant, sweet taste without needing to be warmed. I always make sure to pick up a half-dozen whenever my store is carrying a good-looking batch.
Rice - If you own an automatic rice - cooker you've got it made. If not, it's a worthwhile investment. Minute rice is okay, but with a cooker you can easily put in natural brown or wild rice and have a more flavorful meal without a lot of the fiber being removed, as in instant rice. Make a big batch because like sweet potatoes, rice can be stored in the refrigerator for three or four days and heated up as needed.
Potatoes - Although they don't give you the same slow, enduring energy release as sweet potatoes, potatoes do provide variety. When you are tired of boiled redskin potatoes or regular baked potatoes, slice your spuds into thin strips and bake them on a sheet sprayed with Pam until golden. Leave the skins on for another good source of potassium.
Fibrous Vegetables - These are definitely the most overlooked aspect in most people's diet. To look your best it is absolutely essential to include at least two one-cup servings of fibrous vegetables in each days eating. Broccoli, cauliflower, onions, peppers, carrots, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, celery, spinach, mushrooms, cabbage, eggplant asparagus, radishes and squash are all in this group. These vegetables are very rich in vitamins and minerals as well as having a great deal of coarse fiber (in the form of indigestible cellulose that comprises the cell walls of plants). High-fiber foods also take up a large amount of space in the stomach while being very low in calories. This fact makes them ideal in fat-loss programs.
I recommend getting two or three bags of the frozen mixed vegetables offered by companies like Birdseye or Green Giant. (Avoid any of the bags mixing pasta or sauces with your vegetables.) In addition, pick up fresh vegetables according to your personal preferences. I like to buy onions, mushrooms and peppers to flavor my omelets, for example.
Fat-Free Dairy Products - You may have noticed that I'm not very big on dairy products. All the simple sugars and fat that they contain are quick to thicken the waist, and many people just don't digest them well. However, recent advances in food technology have given us some products that make it considerably easier to eat well. Among these are fat-free cottage, American, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, as well as fat-free sour cream and mayonnaise. Give them a try. Also the sprinkle-on butter substitutes such as Molly McButter and Butter Buds are exceptional.
Flavorings - Eating right does not need to mean eating only dull, tasteless foods. Ketchup is low in fat and if you look around you can find it without added sugars. I couldn't imagine eating eggs without it. Closing in on ketchup is salsa, another great meal-enhancer. Also check out the various fat-free meat marinades available. As long as the label shows that it is low in simple sugars and doesn't have corn syrup as a main ingredient, try it and see what you think.
Another fine food additive is garlic. Not only does it add considerably to food taste, but it also greatly enhances the immune system. It is even rumored that garlic was given to Egyptian slaves in order for them to maintain their strength and endurance during the construction of the pyramids. All this, plus vampire protection, makes garlic hard to pass up!
If you know how to cook with spices, dining need never be dull. Almost all spices are low in calories and fat. Seeds, such as mustard, fenugreek and poppy, are the highest in fat content but they are still under 16 calories a tablespoon. Unless you are suffering from high blood pressure, moderate use of salt (or a low- sodium salt substitute like Salt Sense) is also an acceptable way of making your meals more palatable. Go ahead - drop a few spices in your cart and experiment.
There it is, probably the most healthful cartload of food you've ever bought. It may even be one of the least expensive. Stick to the ideas presented here and you are well on your way to healthier eating.