You’re no dummy—you know that processed food is a no-go, and that whole foods are essential. You understand that cereal every morning won’t build you a six-pack, and pasta for dinner isn’t going to sustain any kind of muscle definition.
This one’s pretty obvious, but there was no way we’d leave it off the list. Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there, boasting high levels of vitamin K (important for bone health and blood clotting), vitamin A (important for eye and skin health) and iron (needed to transport oxygen throughout the body). If you’re deficient in iron, you will experience fatigue, which is the last thing you need when you’re trying to fit in gym time.
Either homemade or store-bought, hummus is full of fiber, protein, and complex carbs. “This awesome dip is not only versatile, but also super easy to make,” says Maria-Paula Carrillo, M.S., R.D.N., L.D. “All you need is a can of chickpeas, a garlic clove, extra virgin olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and salt. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and you have delicious hummus. A bonus tip: use garlic-flavored hummus instead of butter in mashed potatoes for extra creaminess and added flavor.”
If you need something you can snack on mindlessly, this is it. One whole cucumber contains about 45 calories, and one cup of slices sets you back only 16 calories. Cucumbers are also 95% water so they’ll help keep you hydrated, too.
“Swiss is low in sodium and tastes great,” says Eric Salvador, C.P.T. and head instructor at The Fhitting Room in New York City. “It’s also rich in phosphorus and calcium. Add it to an omelet or eat it alone with fruit as a snack.”
The average turkey burger is stacked with a whopping 25 grams of protein. Need we say more? Top NYC trainers like Salvador always have these ready to cook. Make your own by buying ground turkey and adding in spices and seasonings of your choice.
They might be sweet but they have a low-glycemic index, which means they won’t spike your blood sugar and will provide you with a steady stream of energy. Sweet potatoes are also packed with fiber, which helps keep you feeling fuller longer.
Yes, good ol’ H2O. The takeaway here is preparation. “Whether it is your own reusable bottles filled with tap water or plastic bottles from the store, being prepared means you will always have cold water ready to go whenever you need it,” says Carrillo. If you get bored, add some citrus or mint to your water for a flavor boost.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli do wonders for your digestion due to their fiber content—broccoli contains about one gram of fiber per 10 calories. It also boasts anti-inflammatory properties, so your body could really use a serving or two when you’re hitting the gym hard.
“Almond butter is a good source of protein that makes a great pre-workout snack when you smear it on a banana,” says Jason Tran, an instructor at the Fhitting Room in New York City.
Due to their healthy fat and fiber content, avocados are beneficial for a number of reasons, including boosting heart health, fighting inflammation, reducing your risk for cancer, improving digestion, and regulating blood sugar and blood pressure
“Milk is not only for cereal; think of it as the perfect recovery drink,” says Carillo. “The great thing about milk is that it contains carbohydrates (to replace glycogen stores used during exercise) and protein (to help in muscle repair) in a convenient form.” Low-fat chocolate milk is even better post-workout due to its extra carbohydrates and protein content.
What?! Yes, you read that correctly. Bacon can be a part of a healthy diet (in moderation, of course). “I love my bacon, but always make sure it’s the low sodium kind,” says Salvador. “Turkey bacon may have fewer calories, but when you compare taste—pork bacon is king. I will usually have bacon in my salad or in my omelet. I’m all about the protein and the fat that it provides.”
If you’re going to treat yourself (which you should), do it the right way. “We all know dark chocolate. is healthier than milk chocolate. It has half the sugar, four times the fiber, and tons more iron,” says Salvador. “That’s how I satisfy my sweet tooth. Hey, I’m human, I love my chocolate.” It doesn’t hurt that the almonds add in a little protein and vitamin E, too.
Eat the yolk! “I always do whole eggs,” says Salvador. “They pack the purist form of protein (in fact, 43% of the protein of an eggcomes from the yolk), they have more iron than egg whites, and the yolk contains all the vitamins and minerals. Plus egg whites never fill me up and the yolks give my omelet its great flavor.”
Always go Greek. “When compared to regular yogurt, Greek is much higher in protein, which helps promote fullness and musclesynthesis (the process of building muscle),” says Carrillo. “A typical 6-ounce serving contains at least 12-20 grams of protein, which is the same amount you’d find in 2 to 3 ounces of lean meat.” Choose plain varieties to avoid added sugars.
Now we’re talking. A good steak is high in protein and heaven for your taste buds. “One of the most tasty cuts and highest quality steaks, the T-bone, is my pick,” says Salvador. “A 3-ounce cut packs 21 grams of protein!”
“Whether topping a salad, serving it as a side dish, or using it in a recipe, lean meats (by choosing lean you cut down on saturated fat and cholesterol) provide about 21 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving,” says Carrillo. You can even freeze pre-cooked chicken breast so you always have something ready to eat. They’ll last for about 2-3 months.
BY TIFFANY GAGNON