It’s true, you really are what you eat. And that’s why some days you end up feeling like a cream-filled Twinkie instead of the lean cut you aspire to be. But you already knew that. The problem is clean eating is hard. Starting is hard and it’s even more difficult to maintain a healthy diet over the long haul.
To build the body you want, you need to make every bite of food count. That means building your diet around the best nutrient-dense, fat-fighting, muscle-growing foods around.
Here’s the Top 10 best foods for fitness.
148 calories per half cup, eat 3-4 servings per week.
When it comes to eating breakfast in the morning, there’s nothing better than a bowl of oatmeal to spike your energy levels and provide you with an hours-long supply of fuel. Oatmeal is also filled with stress-fighting and immunity-boosting zinc. Oatmeal can also help promote weight loss and lower your risk of heart disease. Oatmeal is filled with high levels of soluble fiber that protect your heart and arteries by trapping and expelling cholesterol, which can drop levels by up to 30 points or more. The best oatmeal may not be the most convenient, however. Those flavored, single-serving packs that litter grocery-store aisles are often filled with added sugar-and therefore excess calories. Instead, stick with the big tub of instant oatmeal and add your own fruit and calorie-free sweeteners, if you need them.
41 calories per half cup, eat 1-2 cups per week
Of all the fruit you can eat, blueberries may be the absolute best. Whether you’re getting them raw, tossed into cereal, mixed in fruit salad or a smoothie, blueberries pack more fiber, vitamins, and minerals per ounce than any other fruit in the produce aisle. Chief among those nutrients are free-radical-fighting antioxidants. Free radicals, which increase in number as you get older, travel around your body damaging cells, promoting disease, and triggering signs of premature aging, and blueberries are one of the best foods for fighting them. Those same antioxidants that fight disease are also effective in helping keep connections between cells in your brain and nervous system healthy, ensuring clearer, quicker thinking and the best memory possible.
121 calories per 3-oz serving, eat 3-4 servings per week
Salmon is on this list primarily because it’s 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. 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.
31 calories per cup, eat 2-3 half-cup servings per week
This fleshy green should be at the top of your list when it comes to vegetables. It’s rich with a healthy supply of iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamin C, meaning it’s good for the circulatory system, bones, and fighting colds.
7 calories per cup, eat 2-3 servings per week
What do white-coated dietitians have in common with big-forearmed cartoon sailors? They all love their spinach! And for good reason. One serving of these leafy greens is loaded with fiber, calcium, and virtually your entire day’s recommended dosage of beta carotene, a nutrient vital for immune-system health, good vision, but not-as far as we know-huge wrist flexors. If you can’t stand spinach plain, try dropping it into burritos, pasta dishes and canned soup.
6. Whole-Wheat Bread
140 calories per 2 slices, eat 6 slices per week
White flour doesn’t just rob you of fiber and protein, it also digests incredibly quickly in the body, giving you a rapid spike of energy-but one that comes crashing down just as fast. Over time, those spikes in insulin production wear on the body, damaging cells and promoting excess storage of fat. So why would you ever eat white bread? Even if you’re cutting carbs, there’s still a place for complex whole grains in your diet. Whole grains like the ones found in whole-wheat bread leave you feeling fuller longer, and they provide the longest possible supply of sustained energy. Just watch out when you’re buying something that claims to be whole grain. It may only look brown because it’s colored with molasses. Rather than buying based on color, check the ingredient list. The only true whole-grain products are those that contain 100% whole wheat or whole grain listed as the first ingredient on the packaging
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. Moreover, today’s beef is up to 20% leaner than it was a decade ago. To help ensure the meat you’re buying is 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.
300 calories per cup, eat 2 servings per week
Some dieticians consider soy the perfect food. It has the protein of meat, the fiber of a whole grain, and the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals of the best vegetables and fruits. If you don’t like tofu or soy milk, there are other easy ways to boost your soy intake. Soy nuts, edamame and the soy protein used in some protein shakes and bars not only taste great but are very guy-friendly.
74 calories per large egg, eat 3-7 eggs per week
Eggs contain a heavy-hitting 4 grams of pure muscle-building amino acids inside every shell, in addition to boasting some of the highest naturally available doses around of a vitamin called choline, which is thought to help enhance memory. They’re the gold standard in terms of providing all the right nutrients for muscle growth.
0 calories, 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 host of crucial minerals. Without water, none of these other fitness-foods matter. Water 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.
A couple honorable mentions:
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. Black beans, ounce for ounce, they have more fiber per serving than any other member of the legume family.
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, and the cancer fighter selenium. It has a ton of amino acids, and there are little or no saturated fats.