Ever feel overwhelmed trying to put together a weeknight meal at home? It doesn't need to be complicated! Here are the four easy things to consider that will make sure every meal is satisfying and healthy.
Macronutrients, or macros, are the three sources of calories (energy!) found in all foods. They are (1) protein, (2) fat, and (3) carbohydrates. Protein helps rebuild muscle after a workout. Fat adds flavor, makes you feel full longer, and plays a vital role in helping your body absorb micronutrients (more on those below). Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, regulate your blood sugar and give you the energy you need to perform. Athletes with specific goals may need more of some nutrients than others -- weightlifters, for example, tend to need more protein, while endurance athletes usually need more carbohydrates and fat. Determining your personal macro need is a matter of trial and error, and should be done with the help of a nutrition expert. For most all-around athletes, though, a good place to start is to get 50% of calories from complex carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, and beans; 30% of calories from healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocados; and 20% of calories from lean proteins like chicken breast, tofu, and ground beef. Remember that most foods provide more than one macro, like the fat and protein in ground beef, or the protein and carbohydrates in rice and beans.
Once you've got your macros covered, you'll have the base of your meal and it's time to make it even healthier with micronutrients, or micros. These refer to the important nutrients like vitamins and minerals that don't provide caloric energy like macros. The best source of micros is....you guessed it, fruits and veggies! This can be as simple as adding some spinach and broccoli to a bowl of pasta, cutting up some whole fruits for dessert, or even just mixing up a salad of fresh vegetables and tossing them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. No matter how you incorporate them, make sure you're adding fruits and vegetables to every dinner and you'll be on your way to a healthy meal!
Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods
The next things to consider when putting together your healthy meal are whole foods versus processed foods. With a few exceptions, whole foods are healthier than processed foods: they provide more fiber and a more complete profile of micros that often get lost in processing. Whole foods are, well, whole! A raw apple is a whole food; apple juice is processed. A whole potato, cut up and roasted with some spices, is healthier than a bag of potato chips. When creating your meal, try to keep as many of the ingredients as whole as possible. When you do use processed ingredients, you can still find ways to choose the healthiest options. Pasta and other wheat products will always be processed at least a little, for example, but choosing whole wheat, whole grain, minimally processed products will increase the nutrition of the meal.
Finally, additives are all of the ingredients that sneakily end up in some of our favorite processed foods. Sugar is one great example. We all know that sodas are high in added sugar, but did you know that some pasta sauces have almost three or more teaspoons of sugar in every half-cup serving?! When you're picking foods that have to be processed, like tomato sauce for your healthy weeknight pasta with veggies and chicken breast, make sure to read the ingredient list. The healthiest options are the simplest -- look for brands that don't add sugar, preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors.
There you have it! If you approach every meal making sure that the macronutrients are balanced, micronutrients are present, the meal is mostly whole and minimally processed, and there are as few additives as possible, you will be on your way to fueling and feeling great!
You've got a basic gameplan for the kitchen, now let's make one for the gym. If you're looking to build strength, lose weight, increase endurance, or just start creasting a healthy habit, we can help! Shoot us a message, we'd love to talk goals with you!