Exercise and strength training are essential parts of a fit and healthy life. However, what you eat is the most important part of your body working to its fullest potential. Food is fuel. It not only keeps your body functioning well and feeling great, but it gives you the energy you need to sustain your daily activities as well as exercise effectively.
We live in a busy, “go-go-go” world. Many people go to the gym in between jobs, on lunch breaks, or even first thing in the morning before heading to the office. After a long, exhausting day, dinners are often hurried or “whatever you can grab”.
However, quick and easy meals don’t have to be processed, fast food, or full of non-nutritious fillers. It only takes a bit of thought and preparation to have easy-to-grab, filling, and nutritious meals that keep you energized as well as looking and feeling your best.
Knowing your food groups
Whether it’s a meal, a snack, or a mini-meal, try to hit as many of the food groups as you can. This ensures that your body stays full, has sustained energy, and won’t crash an hour or two after eating.
Protein choices consist of animal products (meat, eggs, and dairy) as well as beans, peas, lentils, and nuts. Protein helps build and repair muscle, so you want to have appropriate amounts of this in your diet each day.
Fruits and Vegetables
You’ve heard nutritionists say to “eat the rainbow.” The more colorful your fruit and vegetable choices, the more range of vitamins and minerals you get. One of the great surprises about produce, though, is that it also contains carbohydrates! If you eat enough fruit and vegetables, you can drastically reduce the amount of “traditional” carb products your body needs.
Carbohydrates get a bad rap in today’s society, but that’s primarily because of how our society consumes them rather than what they consist of. Carbohydrates are an essential part of your body’s nutritive diet; they give your body and brain energy. When it comes to grains, choose complex, unprocessed foods that aren’t empty calories; these will keep you full longer and are less likely to be “gorged.”
- Whole wheat bread or tortillas instead of sugar-filled white bread
- Brown rice instead of white
- Bran cereal instead of colored, processed sugar cereal
- Vitamin-infused veggie pasta
- Sweet potatoes instead of russet
Consuming fat is not bad for you when it’s in a natural, healthy state! Everyone needs a certain amount of body fat, which is kept up by consuming fats. Healthy fats also keep you full and are an excellent “topping” for your body and brain in your meals. Avocado
- Olive or avocado oil
- Butter or ghee
- Nuts — a great combination of healthy fat and protein
Combining for Best Efficiency
The best way to ensure that your body is getting the nutrition it needs and feeling great throughout the day is to combine food groups each time you eat. Think of a protein base with a side of veggies and a bit of healthy fat to tie it together. Or a veggie-loaded sandwich with a healthy carb choice. Below are some ideas to get you started that you can either prep in advance for a quick “toss together” or that are easy to bring along on an easy day.
- Pre-made hard-boiled eggs, a handful of almonds, banana, piece of whole-wheat toast spread with avocado
- Make hard-boiled eggs in large batches, or purchase pre-made ones. They’re so easy to grab!
- Smashed avocado can also be bought in individual sealed containers so you don’t have to worry about them going bad.
- Yogurt and granola, topped with chopped nuts and fresh berries
- Chop nuts and keep them in air-tight containers so you can just grab and throw them onto your parfait when you’re ready.
- Whole wheat toast and apple slices, both spread with nut butter
- Drizzle your apples with a bit of lemon juice when you cut them up beforehand. This keeps them from getting brown.
- Bento box with guacamole and hummus, sweet potato crackers, and fresh veggies (cucumbers, carrots, celery). Grilled chicken strips.
- Put all ingredients that need to be refrigerated in your box the night before, and put crackers in a bag.
- Chicken Caesar wrap with whole wheat tortilla, romaine lettuce and tomatoes, and an avocado-lemon dressing
- Use leftover chicken from the night before. Cut up lettuce and tomatoes and have them ready to throw into a wrap that will easily keep until lunchtime.
- Hard-boiled egg, beet, cucumber, tomato salad.
- Cut everything up ahead of time, toss in a container, and enjoy wherever you are.
- Steak salad with leftover veggies
- Cook meat in large batches and cut up, available to throw on top of any vegetables that need to be used. Bring with you in a shakable bowl with dressing on the side.
- Quinoa salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, and feta or goat cheese.
- Make a big batch of quinoa early in the week, and toss it together with pre-cut veggies and cheese when you’re in need of an easy dinner.
- Breakfast for dinner
- Who says breakfast items are only for the morning? Switch it up and use an easy morning meal for a delicious dinner.
Set Yourself Up for Success
If your kitchen and pantry are full of tempting food instead of fueling food, you’ll have a hard time sticking with your goals. Start small, don’t feel like you have to overhaul everything right away if that scares you. Simply replace a few things at a time and don’t re-buy poor choice foods.
Plan your week out in advance. When you get home from the grocery store, slice and dice vegetables and put them in stay-fresh containers so you can grab them without thinking about it. This way, you can cook without all the extra time and effort it takes to get things out and clean up a million dishes, too: you only have to do it once! Purchase a fun set of to-go containers that are light, easy to clean, and that you’ll enjoy using.
Learning to eat healthfully while on a busy schedule is a lifestyle. The benefits that you reap when you feel better than ever, though, are worth all the effort. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to maintain these choices when you want to stay feeling as great as possible.