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 health experts—registered dietitians, college nutrition professors, and authors—asking them each: What are the 20 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.
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.”
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.
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.
163 calories per 3-oz serving
Eat 3-4 servings per week
It’s not only high in muscle-building amino acids, it’s also a powerhouse of iron and zinc, which aid circulatory health. In fact, beef is so nutrient-dense that a three-ounce serving supplies more than 10% of your recommended daily intake of a number of nutrients, including protein, B6 and B12, selenium, phosphorus, niacin, and riboflavin. Worried about the fat? Don’t. According to USDA data, today’s beef is up to 20% leaner than it was a decade ago. In fact, 19 cuts of beef meet government guidelines as being a lean meat. To keep the meat you’re buying lean as well as tender and flavorful, opt for cuts with the words round or top in the name-things like eye round roast, top round, or top sirloin steak.
82 calories per 1/2-oz serving
Eat 3 servings per week
High in protein, fiber, and vitamin E, almonds are great for your heart, digestive system, and skin. Although they’re also loaded with healthy unsaturated fats, some guys avoid them because they’re so calorie-dense. But that’s a mistake. Gary Fraser, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Loma Linda University in California, studied folks who added two ounces of almonds to their diet on a regular basis. Turns out they had no significant weight change. “Since nuts are such a hard food, it appears that a significant amount of their calories are never absorbed into the body,” he says.
To work more almonds into your diet, try keeping a bag of dry-roasted or lightly seasoned almonds in your desk drawer at work-and snack on a handful rather than hitting the vending machine. You can also blend almond butter into smoothies, or use it in place of peanut butter to make an, uh, AB&J sandwich.
121 calories per 3-oz serving
Eat 3-4 servings per week
Salmon made out list for a number of reasons, but the biggest has got to be because its so densely stuffed with omega-3’s. These fatty acids are thought to slow memory loss as you age and boost heart health by regulating heart rhythms and keeping arteries and veins supple and free of blockages. While saturated fats lead to obesity, the polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish appear to correct and prevent obesity, according to a study published in Clinical Science.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Salmon is also an excellent source of protein. A three-ounce cooked serving contains 20 grams-making it ideal for building muscle and trimming fat. Besides helping stimulate your metabolism three to four times more than carbs or fat, protein is the absolute best food for helping fill you up, so you take in fewer calories and burn more. And that’s what being a fit food is all about.