As an avid triathlete, and now a coach (www.SetThePaceMedia.com) (in training, USAT level 1 certification on May 17th and 18th!), I'm always striving to eat better. Not only as an athlete, but to set a better example for my kids as they grow up to get the proper nutrition they need to grow a healthy body and healthy brain.
All those excuses and in the meantime, I'm always looking for ways to improve on the triathlon course. Fitter, faster, stronger and leaner are my top mottoes. Every one of those depends on food. If you're fueling and recovering with crap, you won't improve. If you're eating processed foods that lack proper nutrition or contain insoluble fats, then you're never going to reach "race weight" without pouring in excessive amounts of aerobic training to counteract those fats.
That's what the USAT article misses out on. They only give a glimpse of a good meal and don't really say how it fits into real life. How do you plan that around daycare and work?
You have to have a plan, just like a training plan. Pick one night a week to sit down and plan out your options for healthy meals for a week. This is your blueprint on the foods you will need to get from the store. From that list, you can divide the foods into the items that can be bought at the regular grocery store and which you will need to hit whole foods for. Whole foods isn't cheap, so if your budget is strapped, making better use of your standard grocery store whenever possible is the best move. Give yourself options so you are not eating the same thing every day. If you do that, you'll burn out fast and start craving crap food for a change of taste.
Suggestions of foods;
Whole uncut carrots
Plain low fat natural yogurt
Low fat cottage cheese
Natural peanut butter
Whole wheat spaghetti with protein
Low fat ranch for dipping veggies
Old fashioned oatmeal
Brown rice cakes
and the list goes on. Yes, some of these may have been treated with pesticides and raised on a non-organic farm, but they are more basic than the per-prepared meals that you stick in the microwave. It's better for you than the tv dinners and grease laden cheeseburgers from Wendy's.
From that list you can mix and match for meals and snacks.
Breakfast - 2 cups of oatmeal with a banana mixed with flax seed. This should help with plant sterols that help with heart health. I add a teaspoon of brown sugar and splenda to give it some flavor. Add 2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites.
Snacks (have 2 small snacks a day) - you can mix and match carrots with 2 tablespoons of ranch, boiled egg, cottage cheese, apples, natural pb on a brown rice cake, no-sugar applesauce, plain yogurt smoothie mixed with a cup of skim milk and a cup of frozen veggies.... the list goes on and the goal is to get one protein and carb serving per snack.
Lunch - Tune fish sandwich. Single serving of mayo and mustard for flavor. Tuna salad sandwich. The goal is to get that on one piece of bread to minimize starches that get stored in your body and are very hard to break down for immediate use - depending on your activity level. I'm a big fan of tuna fish as it's loaded with protein and has more up side than down. It's the staple of my lunches.
Dinner - this can be a little more open. Tacos you make at home, spaghetti with meatballs, chicken breasts, and even hamburgers - but try and find organic meat with little fat (no pink slim). The point is moderation. Eat a sensible portion sizes and do not go back for seconds. If you are still hungry, load up on green veggies - all you want.
Dessert - yes you can still have ice cream or other naughty foods. Portion size is key. Stick to around a cup or less and savor it.
WATER - the big key is water. Some studies suggest that the hunger pains you feel are actually the signs of dehydration. Get around a gallon of water a day in. Don't like drinking plain water? Use the new drink mix add-ins like Mio or others. They work great and don't add any calories. The jury is still out to see if they have any negative health side effects.
Sports drinks - save them for workouts only. Even with the lower calorie gatorades and other "low cal" drinks, those extra 50 calories per bottle can add up over a day outside of the workout window.
NO POP - Sure, diet pop has no calories, but it has some chemicals that studies declare to be possible cancer causing to just jacking with your body chemistry. If you want peak performance or at least to make progress, don't mess with the factory's energy source. Regular pop doesn't have the chemical additives to the extent of the diets to keep flavor while ditching calories, but you'll be taking it in the shorts at 150 to 200 calories PER CAN and more if you drink from the larger bottles. Some studies even suggest that receptors used for protein could be occupied by carbonation from pops, thus limiting the effectiveness of the receptors and your body's ability to correctly process protein. These studies could be bunk, but in reality pops and sodas are not natural occurring substances used for proper hydration. That's why humans drink fluids, to hydrate. We aren't meant to drink pop.
Like chocolate milk? Sure, it's a great addition for recovery, but if you're like me, then it's hard to have just one glass full. I'm talking about those big ole cups, not the wimpy 8 oz glasses. Too much is not a good thing. Save the chocolate milk attack for after workouts, use skim milk and only use one 8 fl oz serving. Any more than that and you're asking for all of your hard work to go down the toilet with too much sugar. still thirsty? See the comment about water.
All this goes into figuring out what your body needs. You need to figure out where you are at and where you want to be. Maintain? Drop weight? Add healthy weight? It all changes the caloric intake, but the foods should remain the same.
You will have to devote time to the effort. Fixing meals should not require inordinate amounts of extra time, but packing your snacks and lunch rather than hitting Subway will be a challenge. I can knock it out with an extra 10 minutes in the morning, or pack it the night before. The point is, if you really want to do it right, you will have to put energy and effort into it.
When I wrote up this post, I was on day 5 of our family's new mission, and it's not easy. Speaking of... I need to go get a water refill!