It's hard to eat right, let alone follow a perfect diet, especially when you're juggling classes, practices, work and homework. But you can certainly strive to improve your daily nutrition, whether you're a great cook or a college kid on a budget who can barely boil water.
Path to a Perfect Diet
Here are three steps to get you on the path to a perfect diet.
- Improve all the time. Just as your strength and conditioning program progresses, so should your diet. Your "perfect" meal plan will inevitably differ from someone else's. This means you first have to assess your current intake to determine how you can improve. Start new, healthy habits and make them part of your everyday routine.
- Combine your macros. You should include carbohydrates, protein and fat with each meal and snack. This combo of nutrients will give you sustained energy. Protein also helps with recovery, and healthy fats (such as avocado and walnuts) help with healing.
- Include three colors on your plate. Athletes benefit from antioxidants in their diets, and they come from colorful foods (not artificial colors). One particular color is not necessarily better than another. Including a combination of green, red, yellow/orange, blue/purple and white foods assures you will be eating a full spectrum of antioxidants. Produce is good. Stay away from food with artificial ingredients and names like "Red 40" on the label.
Below are two sample meal plans: the "ideal meal" for athletes who can cook most of their own meals, and the "on the go" plan for everyone else. The "on the go" plan still takes preparation, but it can be done the night before or even a few days in advance.
Try to drink water with all meals (some tea or coffee in the morning is OK). If your goal is to gain healthy weight, drink whole milk or 100-percent fruit juice with meals.
- Ideal Meal: Scrambled eggs (cooked in coconut oil) with spinach or kale, topped with avocado; sliced fruit; and green tea
- On-the-Go: Overnight Oats: 1/2 cup Organic Rolled Oats, 1/2 cup Unsweetened almond milk, 1 tsp. Chia seed, 1 tbsp. tart cherries, 1 tbsp, almond butter/peanut butter, 1 tsp cocoa powder, 1 tsp. honey; green tea.
- Ideal Meal: Yogurt Parfait: 8 oz. Greek yogurt (2%, plain), 2 tbsp. tart cherries (dried), 1/4 cup blueberries (fresh), 2 tbsp. walnuts (raw).
- On-the-Go: Quick Protein Shake: 16 oz. milk (almond, 2% or whole), one scoop protein powder, 1 tsp. chia seeds
- Ideal Meal: Leftover Salad: Last night's dinner (meat & veggies) with cooked mixed vegetables (green beans, broccoli, corn, kale, black beans) topped with olive oil; fresh fruit; whole wheat bread or blue corn chips.
- On-the-Go: Pulled Chicken Salad: Rotisserie chicken salad (bagged spring mix) with dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper); fresh fruit; whole wheat bread or blue corn chips.
- Ideal Meal: Super Berry Smoothie: 1 cup spinach or kale, 1 cup mixed berries, ½ cup almond milk, ½ cup tart cherry juice, one scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tsp. Chia seed, 1 tbsp. flaxseed
- On-the-Go: Trail Nix (raw almonds, walnuts, raisins, tart cherries, dark chocolate chips), or energy/meal replacement bar (look for one with at least 10 grams of protein and the fewest number of ingredients).
- Ideal Meal: Baked Salmon topped with avocado; sautéed greens (kale, spinach, and/or chard); cauliflower/potato mash.
- On-the-Go: Egg Tacos: Scrambled eggs with spinach or spring mix in corn tortillas, topped with avocado and salsa.
- Ideal Meal: Ants on a Log: Nut butter on celery with raisins or dried cranberries; dark chocolate squares (>70% chocolate)
- On-the-Go: Chocolate milk (2% or whole); handful of walnuts
If you get hungry at other times during the day, snack on trail mix, cut veggies and hummus, fresh fruit and nut butter, hard boiled eggs, beef/turkey jerky, string cheese, tuna/salmon packs.
Your daily intake does not have to be identical to the above meals. Compare this template to what you are doing now and determine how you can fill the gaps. The key to perfection is making small but permanent changes to continually build on your success. Include variety, balance and progression into your nutrition habits. That way, you will have the energy to make it through tough workouts and the nutrients on board to recover from them.
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