Some days you have plenty of time to plan out healthy meals to go along with your training schedule. However, oftentimes, meal planning takes a back seat for one reason or another. Regardless of the craziness of your day, you need some form of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat to make it through the rigors of tough workouts. When things get hectic and your options are limited, you need to know what foods equate to a loss, draw, or win.
Loss: highly processed breads, cereals, and pastas and canned produce.
Breads not made from 100% whole grains, many ready-to-eat cereals, and overly processed crackers, chips, and pastas all get poor grades. White rice, white potatoes, and their instant versions equal a loss. Canned fruits that are floating in sugar water and canned vegetables soaking in salt and preservatives also get the big L.
Draw: marginally processed 100% whole-grain products and some frozen produce.
Foods such as rolled oats, 100% wholegrain- sprouted bread products, and frozen fruits and veggies (not in syrups and sauces) aren’t bad foods—they’re actually pretty good for you. They’re just not quite as good as those in the winner’s circle.
Win: whole grains and fresh produce in their most natural form.
Winners in this department include quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes, as well as 20-30 minute steel-cut oats. Make double the amount you need when you can, so you’ll have leftovers to quickly heat up the next day. Produce wise, raw greens (yes, vegetables are carbs), apples, oranges, and berries will all get you a victory.
Loss: meat, poultry, and eggs with no labels regarding any type of organic or antibiotic/hormone-free, natural practices.
Pinch a penny elsewhere, and get the good stuff when it comes to animal products. Protein should be a top priority as far as organic purchases are concerned.
Draw: meat, poultry, and eggs with labels stating cage-free, free-range, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, natural, and/or omega-3 enriched.
Although these terms sound good, they don’t quite have the clout that organic and grass-fed products bring to the table. Labeling products “natural” or “omega-3 enriched” gives no info regarding the animals’ living standards. By law, hormones are not allowed in chicken or pork products, so the hormone-free label on these items is just a marketing tool. However, labels are helpful on beef products. “No antibiotics” is good, yet it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is organic. “Free range” means an animal is given access to the outdoors, but again, that definition is iffy. “Cage free,” in regard to chickens, means they’re not cooped up in tight cages, but this doesn’t mean they have actual access to the sunlight.
Win: organic or grass-fed eggs, poultry, and meat.
If eggs are on your breakfast menu and some sort of lean protein graces your lunch and dinner plates, make sure the words “organic” and/or “grass-fed” are staring back at you on the packaging. The USDA Organic Seal means animals have access to the outdoors (free-range); were raised on vegetarian, organic feed; and were not given antibiotics or growth hormones. As far as animal feed is concerned, “grass-fed” ensures animals are raised on only grass, forbs (legumes, Brassica-turnips, kale), browse (leaves, twigs), and cereal-grain crops in their vegetative/pre-grain state. No grains are allowed. Touted benefits of grass-fed meats include higher levels of heart healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and immune-enhancing, metabolicboosting CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
Loss: trans fats are definitely the bad boys, worse than saturated fats.
Any mention of “trans fats” or “partially hydrogenated oil” should be avoided. These products raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol. Over the past few years, manufacturers have reduced the use of these cardiovascular wrecking agents due to mounting health concerns, but bad fats are still lurking in products such as cookies, crackers, cakes, french fries, margarine, salad dressing, microwave popcorn, and nondairy creamers. Even if a label states “zero trans fats,” check the ingredient list. There can still be ½ gram of trans fat per serving with that claim.
Draw: omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
It’s definitely a recommended addition to any fighter’s supplement protocol, but if you consume omega-3 pills and don’t eat any whole foods containing good, healthy fats, you’re cheating yourself out of some great nutrition. Taking omega-3 fish oils to keep proper ratios of fatty acids in check is smart; just make sure the brand you purchase is being produced under current, good manufacturing practices (look for the “cGMP” stamp—“Current Good Manufacturing Practices”). This will provide the breakdown of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), indicating that they allowed independent lab or third-party testing for purity and potency.
Win: foods such as extra-virgin olive oil, almonds and walnuts, chia and flax seeds, wild salmon, and avocados are all bursting with healthy fat.
These winners are typically valued by athletes because of their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the strong cardiovascular and immune support that they provide. Add these foods to your diet in a snap by drizzling organic extra-virgin olive oil over salads containing sliced avocado; snack on raw almonds and walnuts; add chia and flax seeds to smoothies; and experiment with different wild salmon recipes.