Life is hectic. Meals are eaten on the run, and athletic performance starts to suffer. Soon, playing sports or going to the gym seems like work.
If you’re wondering how to eat better but don’t know where to begin, here’s what you need to know.
Nutritionists say “Eat this, don’t eat that”
Blah blah blah. You’ve heard it all before – avoid “white foods” like fats, sugar, bread, eggs, and salt. Nutritionists – and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City – say to avoid sodas, sugared and sugar-free, like the plague.
“Expert advice” seems confusing. They waffle on some foods, like how much red meat to consume, or if it’s okay to occasionally eat french fries.
I’ve organized the information out there to make eating better simple and easy.
Three nutrient-packed foods each meal
If you grab an energy bar or bagel at breakfast – and that’s all – I’m not here to lecture. That’s OK. Just add a cup of low-fat milk plus a tablespoon of natural peanut butter and – presto! – the meal is balanced.
Some women assume that men eat only burgers at lunch or dinner. If your palate is already trained to eat green foods at lunch – say a salad or green smoothie – add grilled chicken and whole grains, like freshly baked bread.
At dinner, enjoy healthy carbohydrates like pasta for energy. Top it with ground turkey meatballs and homemade tomato sauce for a healthy alternative to fatty ground beef, pork, or creamed pasta sauces.
The simple formula
Here’s how to make the right choices: every meal should be about two-thirds complex carbs – grains, veggies, and fruits – with low-fat proteins like lean meats, dairy, and beans comprising the rest.
Simple doesn’t equal boring
So many athletes I know each the same foods over and over. They believe that simplifying the diet to ten or twelve foods keeps it simple and, besides, spending any amount of time at grocers is a chore.
Nutritionists say this is a big problem for many men because it can lead to deficiencies and fatigue. Most recommend mixing it up to at least thirty to forty different foods a week. (You can get that amount of variety of stocking up on different fruits and vegetables in season or buying an assortment of frozen whole foods during the winter.)
I keep track with a fridge magnet chart. My girlfriends also encourage me to try new things. For example, spaghetti squash – a squash that turns into tiny strands that look a little like rice noodles when steamed – is a new fave.
Remember, though, don’t add thirty new foods this week if you’re not used to them. Add slowly.
Vitamins: pro and con
Here’s the short version of the nutritional debate: a high quality multivitamin is inexpensive and won’t subject you to an overdose.
But eating properly in the first place – choosing foods close to the earth every time – can make taking any supplements unnecessary.
If you’re not eating the recommended number of fresh foods, whole grains, and lean proteins, take a vitamin. (I prefer sugar-free gummy vitamins.)
Get on schedule
Take meals at regular times and don’t skip them. And eating slightly more at each meal is a good strategy: if you’re active, ask your doctor how many calories to consume each day. Consider two lunch periods to overcome cravings for sugary, salty foods after 3:00 pm. Avoid eating junk food snacks between meals. (Yes, your mother told you this, and she was right.)
Now you’re eating right
Don’t worry. Foodly sainthood isn’t required. You can still eat pizza, drink beer, or enjoy a soda sometimes.