Get stronger, leaner and healthier with these nutrient-packed (and delicious!) fridge and pantry essentials.
THE OLD ADAGE is true: You are what you eat. That's why on some days you end up feeling more like a cream-filled Twinkie than the lean cut of beef you aspire to be.
But you probably already know that. That's why, like all of us, you're trying to clean up your act and start eating healthier. But the truth is, that's just not enough. Because if you're scarfing down salads made of iceburg lettuce, tossing back cold-pressed juices, and eating bananas by the bunch, you're eating healthy-ish—but you're not eating smart.
To get the shrink-wrapped abs and three-dimensional arms, the lightning-quick brain and unquenchable libido you need to make every bite of food you put in your mouth count. That means building your diet around the most potent, nutrient-dense, disease-fighting, muscle-growing foods around.
But where do you start? And what foods are the absolute fittest? To find out, we decided to put some of the nation's top nutritionists to the test.
First, we polled 40 of the country's most respected food experts—registered dietitians, college nutrition professors, and authors—asking them each: What are the 10 most important foods every guy should include in his diet for maximum fitness? Then, as the results rolled in, we ranked our experts' recommendations.
We not only tell you which foods made the list, but how much of each you should eat on a weekly basis. So read on to see how you can elevate your nutrition.
82 calories per 1/2-oz serving
Eat 3 servings per week
Although almonds are loaded with healthy unsaturated fats—as well as protein, fiber, and vitamin E—almonds are great for your heart, digestive system, and skin. some guys avoid them because they're so calorie-dense. But that's a mistake. Gary Fraser, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Loma Linda University in California, studied folks who added two ounces of almonds to their diet on a regular basis. Turns out they had no significant weight change. “Since nuts are such a hard food, it appears that a significant amount of their calories are never absorbed into the body,” he says. To work more almonds into your diet, try keeping a bag of dry-roasted or lightly seasoned almonds in your desk drawer at work—and snack on a handful rather than hitting the vending machine. You can also blend almond butter into smoothies, or use it in place of peanut butter to make an, uh, AB&J sandwich.
72 calories per 3-oz serving
Eat 3 servings per week
Stop marginalizing this majestic bird. Skinless turkey yields seven grams of muscle-building protein per ounce; it's also the leanest meat you can find. Turkey is high in B vitamins, zinc, which is known to boost sperm production (see what other foods can boost your penis health), and the cancer fighter selenium. “It's also got a ton of amino acids, and there are little or no saturated fats,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist in Reading, Mass. “Plus, it's one of the most versatile cuts of meat around, so you can easily eat it throughout the week and never have the same thing twice.”
318 calories per half cup
Eat 2-3 servings per week
You're familiar with quinoa by now; you even know how to pronounce it! The light, mild flavor makes it ideal for guys who aren't so fond of other whole grains. Even better, it's higher in protein than any other grain around, and packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. “Quinoa is also a great source of fiber and B vitamins,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. a professor of nutrition at the University of Louisville. Not sure how to get more whole grains in your diet?
119 calories per tbsp
Eat 2 tbsp per day
Olive oil is rich in good monounsaturated fat, making it an ideal food for heart health. In fact, studies show that replacing two tablespoons of saturated fat (found in butter and lard) with monounsaturated fat may reduce the risk of heart disease. But that's not the only reason to eat it. A study in the journal Nature reports that olive oil also has potent anti-inflammatory properties, meaning it can help reduce pain and swelling just like a dose of ibuprofen. In addition to cooking with olive oil and using it as a dressing for your salad, you can get even more in your diet by mixing a tablespoon or two into your daily protein shake.
2 calories per cup
Drink 1-3 cups per day
From cancer prevention to weight loss to potentially slowing the development of Alzheimer's, green tea has been shown to help fight almost every major medical illness. “Hot or cold, there's almost nothing better you can drink,” says Mohr. Want something you can use on the go? Try buying a liquid extract. Drop a bit in water and voila! Instant tea.
227 calories per cup
Eat 2 servings per week
Small but mighty, beans can help you feel energized and fuller longer than almost any other food source. The reason is twofold: They're incredibly high in fiber, which swells in your stomach and promotes a feeling of fullness. And, they're stuffed with a highly complex form of carbohydrate that can take your body a long time to convert into energy. Like meat, they're also packed with protein. But unlike meat, they've got no saturated fats. “Beans of all types are always high on most nutritionists' lists,” says Chicago-based nutritionist Jennifer R. Bathgate, R.D. So why'd our experts pick the black variety? Easy. Ounce for ounce, they have more fiber per serving than any other member of the legume family.
74 calories per large egg
Eat 3-7 eggs per week
“An egg a day is A-OK,” says Ward. Here's why: Eggs contain a heavy-hitting 4 grams of pure muscle-building amino acids inside every shell, in addition to boasting some of the highest naturally available doses around of a vitamin called choline, which is thought to help enhance memory. “They're the gold standard in terms of providing all the right nutrients for muscle growth,” says Ward. Here are 25 high-protein egg recipes to make beyond the scramble.
118 calories per cup
Get 3 servings of dairy per day
You know milk does a body good, but you may not know that skipping dairy makes your body angry, sort of. When you're not getting enough, your body releases hormones that cause your cells to retain calcium—and fat, says Michael Zemel, Ph.D., director of The Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee. Calories still count, so you should drink your milk by the glass rather than the gallon. Just make sure you're getting some. “There are components in dairy that help turn on your body's fat-burning system and slow down the storage of fat,” says Zemel. And although other forms of supplements are great, this is one case in which the real thing works the best.
163 calories per 3-oz serving
Eat 3-4 servings per week
Beef is not only high in muscle-building amino acids, it's also a powerhouse of iron and zinc, which aid circulatory health. In fact, beef is so nutrient-dense that a three-ounce serving supplies more than 10 percent of your recommended daily intake of a number of nutrients, including protein, B6 and B12, selenium, phosphorus, niacin, and riboflavin. Worried about the fat? Don't. According to USDA data, today's beef is up to 20% leaner than it was a decade ago. In fact, 19 cuts of beef meet government guidelines as being a lean meat. To keep the meat you're buying lean as well as tender and flavorful, opt for cuts with the words round or top in the name-things like eye round roast, top round, or top sirloin steak.
300 calories per cup
Eat 2 servings per week
If tough Navy SEALs eat soybeans, you can, too. Dietitian Wendy Jo Peterson, of Virginia Beach, who's married to a SEAL, serves him and his Navy buddies edamame. “They think they don't like it until I make them try it; afterward, I tell them it's soybeans.” Peterson calls soy a “perfect food.” It has the protein of meat, the fiber of a whole grain, and the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals of the best vegetables and fruits. If you don't like tofu and soy milk, there are easy ways to boost your soy intake. Soy nuts and the soy protein used in some protein shakes and bars not only taste great but are very guy-friendly.
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