People who train for fitness, health and sports and who care about nutrition -– and we all should -– choose particular foods for two main reasons:
- To increase performance
- To maintain or improve health
I’ve produced my own list of “must eats,” including the reasons for the selections. Here are my nutritious choices to consider in your quest for health, fitness and performance.
What About Organic Food?I am an advocate of organic food and have been for many years. The 2007 European Union trial confirms what many have claimed for decades: that the tendency is for organic food to be higher in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than nonorganic food. Nevertheless, there is a range of quality, and there can be no guarantee that any particular organic item will be of superior nutritional quality to a well-grown, nonorganic product, although it will almost certainly have less-pesticide residue.
For the foods in my list below, choose organic when convenient and cost-effective, but don’t get too obsessive about it.
1. Lean MeatProtein requirements feature strongly in weight training and bodybuilding circles, and there’s little doubt that adequate protein, plus a bit more, is required by all active athletes.
Are some protein sources better than others? The answer is yes, and it has more to do with health than performance effect. Commercial protein “supplements” are not a feature of this article, mainly because there’s really not much evidence that one works better than any other, even though the manufacturers would like you to think so. Meal timing -- when to eat for best effect -- is probably more important than protein source. Read up on the bodybuilding diet for more information.
Lean meat means you purchase it without much fat, you cut it off before cooking, or you grill or cook it so that the fat drips away from the meat before serving. Most of the fat, which is fat you can do without, will be saturated fat that raises cholesterol.
Chicken and turkey are my favorites. They have less iron than red meat, but they are more flexible and don’t seem to have the problems associated with an excess of red meat. Beware of composite slices that may be high in fat and preservatives. Choose lean, fresh meats if possible.
Red meat and processed red meat have been associated with bowel (colorectal) cancer and, more recently, lung cancer, prompting the American Cancer Society and the World Cancer Research Fund to recommend that people who eat red meat should consume less than 500 g (18 oz) a week, very little if any to be processed.
"Red meat" refers to beef, pork, lamb, and goat from domesticated animals, including those contained in processed foods. "Processed meat" refers to meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting or the addition of chemical preservatives, including those contained in processed foods.
Advantages. The amino acids in lean protein build and repair muscle and body tissues broken down by weight training and physical activity. Low animal fat and cholesterol intake protects against heart and artery disease.
2. Low-Fat Dairy ProductsThe reason for choosing low-fat dairy is the same as for choosing low-fat meat: Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol, which may increase the risk of heart disease. Naturally, if you’re lactose intolerant, you will need to adjust your intake to include lactose-free milk or cheese or stick to yogurts that you can tolerate.
Milk also supplies calcium and vitamin D (in fortified milks), and this is important for bone health.
Skim milk powder, which includes whey and casein proteins, makes a good weight-training protein supplement shake and saves you money on the cost of commercial protein powders. Leave out the sugar in the following recipe if it suits you.
- Mix skim milk powder 4 to 1, water to powder (check instructions on packet).
- Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar to a large glass to taste.
- Add a level teaspoon of cocoa powder to a large glass.
- Mix in shaker or suitable jar or blender.
- Take one glass at least 30 minutes before training or earlier, but make sure you can tolerate it.
- Take two glasses within 30 minutes after training then keep topping up with carbohydrate and protein foods until next session, according to energy used in your session.
- If you add 3 teaspoons of sugar to each glass, that will give you about 30 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of protein for each glass. This is a good ratio for recovery from strenuous exercise.
- Add a tablespoon of yogurt for flavor and texture if you choose.
Cheeses and yogurt offer calcium and protein, but you need to avoid eating too much high-fat cheese. The occasional treat of Camembert or blue vein is not going to be a problem. If you’re on a calorie-counting diet, watch the sweetened yogurts, even the low-fat ones, because they can have a lot of sugar.
Advantages. Low-fat dairy provides the calcium and amino acids important for muscle and bone maintenance and rebuilding. Low-fat versions help minimize saturated fat and cholesterol consumption.