We count down the absolute best foods to pile on your plate
It’s true. You really are what you eat. And that’s why some days you end up feeling more like a cream-filled Twinkie than the lean cut of beef you aspire to.
But you probably already know that. That’s why, like all of us, you’re most likely trying to clean up your act and start eating healthy. But the truth is, that’s just not enough. Because if you’re gorging yourself on apples, bananas, and salads made with iceberg lettuce, you may be eating healthy-but you’re not eating smart.
In order to build the body you want (the thunderous arms and the rock-hard abs, the lightning-quick brain and the 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 make your diet more fit.
20) Turkey Breast
72 calories per 3-oz serving
Eat 3 servings per week
Buy it skinless and you get seven grams of muscle-building protein per ounce. Turkey is high in B vitamins, zinc (a known booster of sperm production), 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.”
19) Olive Oil
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.
318 calories per half cup
Eat 2-3 servings per week
Chances are you may not be familiar with this exotic whole grain grown in the Andes mountains. But you should be. It has a light, mild flavor-making it ideal for guys who hate 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.
17) Black Beans
227 calories per cup
Eat 2 servings per week
Tiny as they are, beans can help you feel energized and fuller longer than almost anything else you can eat. 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 while 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.
16) Green Tea
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 ill. “Hot or cold, there’s almost nothing better you can drink,” says Mohr. Not the teabagging type? Try buying a liquid extract. Drop a bit in water and voila! Instant tea.
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.
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. But just make sure you get 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.
Drink Eight 8-oz glasses per day
You know you need to be drinking more water, and for good reason. Water flushes toxins from your system, regulates body temp, acts as an insulator for joints, prevents kidney stones, and supplies the body with a raft of crucial minerals, says Marietta Amatangelo, R.D., of Germantown, Md. “Without water, none of the other super-foods would matter.”
Although water helps in every way, it may be at its most powerful when it comes to weight loss. Drinking a glass or two of water a half hour or so before mealtime, for example, can help take the edge off your hunger.
Getting in all that water each day seem like a drag? Try making a half gallon of sugar-free lemonade you can sip throughout the day, or buy a pack of calorie-free flavorings to add to your water bottle at work.
12) Sweet Potatoes
100 calories per med. potato
Eat 1 per week
A four-ounce sweet potato holds more than 100% of our daily supply of beta carotene, a hefty dose of iron, and a plentiful shot of vitamins C and E. Together, these nutrients work together to protect your body against cellular damage of all types, especially in athletes who compete in extreme environments (such as altitude, heat, cold, or pollution). They’re also one of the best foods for muscle recovery after a tough workout, says California sports nutritionist Kim Mueller, R.D.
And there are more ways to eat them than just baked, boiled, or topped with marshmallows. Try stirring cooked, diced sweet potato into chili or your favorite potato-salad recipe. You can also grate them into hamburgers or meatloaf, or use them to make your own oven-baked fries.
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, and 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.