Over the past several years I have spent many hours researching health, nutrition, and exercise. My goal was to figure out what lifestyle configurations I needed to make to enjoy true health for the rest of my life. I have read a great deal about so called "super foods" and their benefits. I believe most food that comes from the earth is great for people who want to be healthy and enjoy living an active lifestyle. Based on my personal experience and research I have compiled a list of my favorite fitness foods. I consider these to be some of the best foods for supporting health and well-being while living a physically demanding lifestyle. I will try to keep it short and sweet (no high fructose corn syrup) for our mutual benefit. There are many different foods that support a healthy lifestyle. My article is about 15 nutritional powerhouses I use to fuel my fire. I will describe the nutritional benefits associated with eating each fitness food the best I can. Try your best to fit these in to your diet and you might notice a difference in your daily performance.
Grass-Fed Beef: This savory source of quality protein is listed first because I love eating grass-fed beef, particularly the sirloin. Grass-fed beef gives me a much more satisfied sense of well being when I am done eating my meal than mass-produced, grain fed beef does. Cows naturally eat grass. As far as I know, it has always been that way. Cows are fed grain to fatten them up for slaughter. Animals tend to be healthier when they live a lifestyle that is in alignment with their genetic programming. The healthier grass-fed cows meat contains significantly higher levels of omega-3 fats than their grain fed buddies. Grass-fed beef contains less omega-6 fats and generally contains fewer artery clogging saturated fatty acids than other beef. This is good because omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation in our bodies while omega-3's help support a healthy inflation response. Usually it is healthier consume more omega-3 and less omega-6. Due to the nature of most processed foods and the fact that most of us consume them daily we have a surplus of omega-6's in our "modern" diets. When we eat grass-fed beef our bodies are blessed with a healthy dose of long chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) that help balance out the surplus of omega-6's from all the refined vegetable oils in our modern diet . For you fitness freaks, grass-fed beef is also the premium dietary source of creatine and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). While creatine has been shown to decrease recovery time between workouts CLA may also increase the rate of fat oxidation during exercise and boost endurance capacity while training. If you have not tried grass-fed beef go get some sirloin right now, cook it your favorite way and enjoy the nourishment.
Chicken Thighs: Chicken thighs are cheaper to buy and have a bad reputation for high fat content which is not entirely rooted in reality. If you are concerned about the fat content be sure to remove all of the skin from the thigh. With only one gram of extra fixed fat per serving I would rather enjoy the experience of the juicy goodness of a plump chicken thigh than to run the risk of my chicken breast drying out because I cooked it two minutes extra. An essential health benefit of chicken thighs is the fact that it has high concentrations of the essential amino acid Leucine. Leucine is one of the branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) which has been shown to reduce muscle soreness and support a quick recovery between workouts. My favorite chicken thighs come form Springer Mountain Farms. They have good business practices a great product line and a full list of recipes on their website.
Broccoli: This green superfood has a plethora of healthy nutrients including Folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and Fiber. Broccoli has anti-inflammatory properties and its antioxidants help neutralize the negative effects of oxidative stress. Broccoli is great for your digestive system and provides a healthy dose of fiber that aids in our body's detoxification process. Detoxification, avoiding chronic inflammation and neutralizing oxidative stress are three key lifestyle factors to reduce your chances of getting cancer. The first area is eye health. Two carotenoids are found with high concentrations in broccoli. Lutein and Zeaxanthin both play an essential role in building and maintaining eye health. I love to eat broccoli raw but there are many different ways to prepare this versatile veggie.
Kale: This leafy green veggie has an unusually high concentration of carotenoids and flavonoids which act synergistically as antioxidants to fight off free radicals. Lutein and beta-carotene are the carotenoids that have the most pronounced antioxidant properties in kale. Lutein and beta-carotene both act as our body armor to protect us from some of the harmful effects of oxidative stress. Some health problems related to increased oxidative stress include increased risk of developing cataracts, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and atherosclerosis. Kale has high levels of two flavonoids kaempferol and quercitin. There are at least 45 different antioxidant flavonoids that are provided in measurable amounts by this antioxidant powerhouse. Kale can be made in to a tasty dish, make sure to research your recipe if you've never tried it.
Wild Salmon: This fish is a potent source of marine derived long chain omega-3's. Go for wild cough King Salmon for the most concentrated dose of healthy omega 3's.: In experiments it has been demonstrated that these long chain fatty acids have deteriorated, muscle soreness after heavy resistance training, reduce heart rate and the need for oxygen consumption while performing strenuous exercise, decrease the likelihood of exercise induced asthma and improve blood flow during workouts. Eating wild salmon does not only help you perform more efficiently in the gym. The health benefits of consuming this protein packed essential fatty acid powerhouse are too numerous to describe in this short article. It is important to mention that wild salmon is generally less contaminated with less environmental "extras" and many more omega-3 fatty acids. Most farm raised salmon are fed by humans. Like most (if not all) animals, salmon are healthy when they live and eat in the environment that they are genetically suited for and they yield many more nutrients when they are wild caught.
Greek Yogurt: Have you ever had runny yogurt? I have; it was gross and left me hungry. Greek Yogurt is thick and much more satisfying when you are hungry. Greek Yogurt usually has double the amount of muscle building protein that regular yogurt contains and much less sugar. The macronutrient profile is usually 2: 1: 1 for calories from (2) carbohydrates, (1) protein and (1) fat. The nutritional profile of Greek Yogurt is superior to that of most high-fructose corn syrup and dye soaked yogurts on the market today. Many Greek Yogurts are filled with live cultures that support a healthy digestive system. Do your precious body a favor and buy the plain Greek Yogurt to avoid unnecessary additives. Flavor it yourself with honey, fruit, nuts or any other natural ingredients that will leave your body smiling.
Blueberries: I love blueberries! These sweet berries contain very high concentrations of anthocyanin which is an antioxidant powerhouse. According to researchers at Appalachian State University in North Carolina eating blueberries daily and before exercise can reduce inflammation in our bodies and decrease oxidative stress in our muscles. The researchers concluded that the high concentrations of anthocyanin antioxidants are responsible for the physiological changes that are not in certain athletic individuals. It is well worth mentioning that blueberries also make an excellent addition to your Greek Yogurt.
Sardines: Next time you catch your workout partner eating canned tuna for the protein and omega 3's ask if they eat sardines. In a 3 ounce serving of canned albacore tuna there are less omega-3's (0.8 grams) than in an equivalent serving size of sardines (1.2 grams). Sardines generally cost less than tuna and are chock full of Vitamin D. Eat the small bones and you get a healthy dose of Calcium as well. Vitamin D is critical in enhancing the absorption of other nutrients and is "necessary for better athletic performance." According to a study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Do your research on the benefits of Vitamin D and the sardines may start smelling better to you.
Avocado: Holy Guacamole! I can not believe that bodybuilders used to shy away from Avocados because of their high fat content. The creamy core of the avocado is loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats. Austrian scientists recently demonstrated that monounsaturated fats can help improve blood pressure and reduce body fat. This heart healthy food is capable and can be used with many dishes. My favorite breakfast starts with diced green onions sauted in a pan with olive oil then I crack three eggs in the pan and mix in chopped avocados to create a no nonsense meal to power me all day long.
Eggs: Which comes first the chicken or the egg? They are both powerhouses in a healthy diet plan but contain different nutrients and vitamins. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and their cholesterol has little if any impact on heart health according to researchers. Eggs contain high concentrations of Selenium which has been shown to help reduce exercise induced oxidative stress. Eggs also are a great source for Vitamin-D which provides many cruel benefits to our bodies. An experiment published in Nutrition Research showed that men who ate a protein density, egg based breakfast consumed fewer calories when eating at an unlimited buffet later in the day than men who ate a breakfast that was higher in carbohydrates but equal in total calories. If you really want to go for the gold standard with eggs in your healthy diet choose eggs with extra omega-3's that came from organically fed free range chickens raised without antibiotics that are "human friendly" packaging.
Spinach: Spinach should be a staple in your diet for consuming the required levels of leafy greens that are great for our health. While eating spinach will not turn you in to Popeye overnight Swedish researchers documented that nitrate found in dark leafy greens and spinach helped muscles operate more efficiently while exercising that making the actual hard work seem less physically exhausting. So eating spinach really can help you perform better in the gym, it is great for digestion and contains many phytonutrients that we need in our healthy diet. Spinach is another versatile veggie. It can be used for salads, put on sandwiches, pizzas, and while I am using my juicer I often enjoy adding a healthy hand or two of spinach to my daily carrot, apple, celery, or cranberry juice.
Walnuts: I love Almonds so I was initially kind of let down when first found out that gram for gram, walnuts contain almost double the amount of antioxidants of almonds or any other frequently consumed nut. These antioxidants neutralize the negative health effects of harmful free radicals which can lead to chronic diseases. On a lighter note the potent antioxidants also help reduce the amount of time before a full recovery between workouts. Omega 3's are essential to many bodily functions and great for our overall health and walnuts have more omega 3's than other commonly consumed nuts you can get at the supermarket.
Dark Chocolate: This is by far my favorite cheat food. We are not talking about milk chocolate here, I'm talking about the good stuff. Pick a chocolate bar that is at least 60 percent cacao and be reasonable with your portions. Dark chocolate is loaded with epicatechin which has been shown to increase exercise capacity and endurance by reducing muscular fatigue. Dark chocolate is loaded with other antioxidants and has pronounced anti inflammatory properties that can help support heart health and help you feel better.
Cottage Cheese: This chunky snack contains the slow digesting protein casein which helps prevent muscle breakdown during long periods without food. Cottage cheese would serve as a healthy bedtime snack provided that you brush your teeth before retiring. We drink whey first thing in the morning or right after a workout because it is quickly absorbed by our body and we need our protein fix immediately. We need a slow digesting protein like casein, which is found in cottage cheese, to prevent muscular atrophy. Cottage cheese is a great source of calcium which has been shown to help with our fat to muscle ratio.
Chia seeds: Chia seeds contain an arsenal of nutrients from fiber for gut health to free radical neutralizing antioxidants and essential omega 3 fatty acids. Research documented in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that trained men who drank a chia beverage containing the same amount of calories that were in the sports drink given to others before a run performed at a higher level during the run than those who did not consume the chia. The legendary Tarahumara Indians of Mexico knew the chia secret. They have been known to run up to and more than 100 miles at a time barefoot in the mounting of Mexico. The Tarahumara routinely consumed a chia drink before these extraordinary feats of endurance. Can you say Ch – Ch – Ch – Chia …? I know, it's not funny.
Try adding one of these foods to your daily diet and help your body help you perform at your best.