I can't stress enough how important diet is to a healthy lifestyle. While I've always exercised in some fashion, even run up to half marathons in the past, it was always fueled by cheeseburgers, M&M's, and Sam Adams. That doesn't make for an enjoyable workout experience (or bathroom experience)! In fact, it left me lethargic the rest of the day, depressed, anxious, and generally creeping toward an early grave.
I am truly experiencing that the body's fuel dramatically influences the quality of my workouts and general attitude for the entire day. I am more focused, fit, and confident. In addition, diet can be one of the best defenses against injury and illness, and supplement the healing process. Case in point, after my recent accident, I thought I would be out of commission for weeks, or even months. I likely would have been if I wasn't eating a nutritious diet. Instead, I'm already back to a solid training routine (although the jury's still out on the injury).
So what are the foods I consume to fuel my day? The list below pretty much sums up most of it (in no necessary order).
1. Eggs! - Eggs are a powerhouse which will bring proper balance of fats and proteins of any diet. Additionally, they are easy to cook, and can be used as an ingredient in many different dishes. "But what about the cholesterol?" you might ask. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, but that means little to the cholesterol that ends up in the bloodstream (see that source? It's from Harvard!). In fact the body produces more cholesterol than you will get from eggs (and will compensate for elevated intake). For a healthy individual who exercises regularly, an egg or two can be a great addition to the diet.
2. Almonds - Portable, transportable, and delicious! He should be smiling. Almonds are a great source of monounsaturated fats (that's "good" fat). Still worried about the cholesterol in those eggs? Studies show that they can reduce bad cholesterol in the blood. They are also a great snack substitute to such things as M&M's or other candy. Just remember that a little bit goes a long way, as they are high in calories.
3. Blueberries - These are another superfood that go great in a number of meals. Great in yogurt, great in oatmeal, great in a smoothie, and even great by themselves. They are packed with antioxidants, nutrients, and flavor. Partially frozen they are like nature's Skittles.
4. Apples - I feel like the apple has got bad press since Snow White ate a poison apple. The apple has been accused of being the forbidden fruit which grew from the tree of knowledge, and in many a children's book has been the home to worms. Even candy in the flavor of apple must always be referred to as "sour". The truth is apples are a gift from God, if not His very chosen nectar. They are good on the go, a great source of soluble fiber, and they make a great base for peanut butter (yes, that childhood favorite has been revisited!).
5. Leafy Greens - Packed with iron, vitamins, and other nutrients, green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of energy and health.
6. Veggies, veggies, more veggies - In addition to leafy greens, other vegetables are also a great addition to the diet. The more natural nutrients you can get from single food sources (fruits and vegetables) the better. This way you body has to do less work to convert those nutrients into a form the body can actually use. Long, round, green, yellow, soft or crunchy. Veggies are good in any form, of all colors of the rainbow. Eat them raw to get the most nutrient rich meals.
7. Milk - Milk is a great recovery drink following a workout. With the protein and calories provided by every gulp, this beverage helps muscles to recover more quickly. As Mamma always said, it will make you grow big and strong.
8. Quinoa - Keen-whaaaaa? Quinoa is a great non-animal form of protein and healthy carbohydrates. In fact, it contains all of the amino acids required for a healthy diet. It is a very versatile food which can be used for breakfast (in oatmeal and/or with fruit), lunch (in a salad), and dinner (as a rice substitute or as a base for a good veggie burger).
9. Oats - Oats are a great and healthy way to get filled up on few calories. They act as a fantastic base for many breakfast foods, and are easy to prepare. I simply bring a baggy of them to work and pop them in the microwave (mixed with water or milk).
10. Seeds (flaxseed, cha-cha-cha-chia seed, etc.) - Looking for a good way to add healthy fats to your diet? Try adding seeds to the above oats, or include them in rice, or eat them by themselves. Chia seeds and flax seeds are a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids as well as soluble fiber.
11. Beans - With a healthy combination of soluble fiber and protein, not to mention the benefits to cholesterol, beans truly are a magical fruit.
12. Avocado - If you are looking for a natural way to load up on calories, avocados are the way to do it at over 300 calories per fruit. Additionally, they are full of vitamins (A, C, E, K, and B6) and healthy fats which lowers cholesterol. Most importantly, they are freakin' delicious!
You'll notice I don't list meat anywhere on the list. This doesn't mean I avoid it, as I love me a good steak, chicken, bacon, etc (and I will eat the hell out of these things if they are being served at a party or restaurant). However, I limit these pretty significantly as I've noticed a marked increase in my performance and mood without them. I don't know why we have to classify our diets, as that significantly restricts us in what we can enjoy, and lumps us into some broad political category. Really, a diet is very personal, and should be configured to the person, as long as it can be maintained for the long term. Gun to my head, I guess I would be a ovo-lacto-pescetarian (take THAT, spell check!).