A structured fitness routine will go a long way toward getting you into your best shape ever. But if you don’t fuel your body right, you’re sabotaging your chances of success. You need a clean and complete diet to help you perform at your best. But we know you don’t have all day to shop, prep, and cook. After all, the average person spends about 12 minutes per night prepping dinner, says nutritionist and exercise physiologist Chris Mohr. “We’re not asking you to do more than that,” he says. “Our goal is to keep things simple.”
Start with the basics. “Your plate should be balanced to include veggies, protein, and some grains.” The ideal proportions: Half of the plate should be full of colorful veggies, a quarter with a lean protein (like fish, chicken, turkey, beef, or tofu), and the final quarter grains, ideally whole grains such as oats, brown rice, or sweet potatoes.
“This is the model of the Mediterranean diet, which has more research to back it up than any other ‘diet’ in the world,” Mohr says. “It works for boosting health and losing fat, and it tastes great.”
You may first think of wine and olive oil when you picture a Mediterranean diet (nothing wrong with either of those!), but there are other important components as well. When deciding what to eat, consider the following categories.
“If food were a movie, veggies would be the main character,” Mohr says. Vegetables help fill you up without filling you out, and they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to speed recovery after your hard training. Earn bonus points for green leafy veggies like spinach, kale, arugula, spring mix, and the like.
Nutrition tip: Don’t shun frozen veggies. They’re just as good, if not better, and a heck of a lot quicker to prepare, notes Mohr. If you’re even further pressed for time, embrace the salad bar at grocery stores—they do all the prep work for you
Don’t fear carbs, says Mohr. “Quality grains provide the energy you need to fuel your workouts,” he says. But portion size is key. “You don’t need an overflowing pasta bowl with a small piece of protein as your garnish— grains are the supporting actor, not the main star. They have a role, but your entire meal isn’t focused on them.” Keep your grains to about a quarter of your plate, or what would fit in your hand. “Think of grains as a vehicle to get in more veggies and lean protein,” he adds.
Nutrition tip: Variety is key, so think beyond your typical carbs to include beans, quinoa, oats, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Mediterranean diets are largely abundant in healthy fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, as well as monounsaturated fat such as olive oil, nuts, and avocado. These foods don’t just add flavor, they also help to decrease inflammation in the body (essential for your recovery process) and increase satiety.
Nutrition tip: Keep in mind that since high-fat foods are more calorically dense, you may need to limit your portion size. Aim for about a thumb-size portion of healthy fat at each meal.
Protein is key when you’re trying to build and maintain muscle. And research suggests you can even add muscle while losing fat, with the right training program (like our eight-week workout plan) and adequate protein, says Mohr. The goal is to eat a portion of protein at every single meal, or about 20 to 30 grams, as well as about 10 grams in snacks, for a total of about 80 to 110 grams a day.
Nutrition tip: The key with protein is spacing out your meals. “Most people go too low in the morning [sugar-bomb latte, anyone?] and too high at night,” Mohr says. Try to keep your intake more even so that you’re constantly feeding your muscles.