How Do You Choose a Healthy Meal?
The first thing to consider is your macronutrients.
These are the nutrients and calories we need in large quantities to keep our bodies going. They are: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats.
These big three provide energy for you to live, repair cells, build muscle, protect your organs and play roles in balancing hormone production. Each is absolutely essential, so be wary of fad diets that tell you to skimp or surge on one and not another.
Carbs get such a bad rap these days because of the myths surrounding them. But, guess what? Carbs are your body’s energy source and they also supply the main form of energy needed for our brain.
The truth is, carbs don’t make you fat, too many calories makes you
fat. They are not a catchall cause for every ill or feeling of
sluggishness. Chances are, a host of bad habits are causing you to feel
like crap, so don’t blame it on the bagel you ate this morning.
Carbs are made out of sugars, starches, and fiber. The word “sugars” is enough to send self-proclaimed health nuts running for the hills. But with food, it’s really too many added sugars in our diet that is the problem, not so much the natural sugars found in food, unless you consume too many calories in general.
Sugars are what fuel us. Even diabetics can (and should) consume a moderate amount of carbs daily, as part of a balanced diet.
Proteins are a must, not only for building big sexy muscles, but for
constructing and repairing every cell in your body, which are constantly
in a cycle of growth, death and repair. This is why we need a fresh
supply of protein every single day, not just when we hit the gym.
Protein consists of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of life. Nine of twenty are considered “essential” because our body can’t produce them, therefore we must get them from our diet. And if we don’t get enough of these nine, our body has to cannibalize itself to find what it needs. Yuck.
When you think of protein, big slabs of meat probably spring to mind. But you can also get proteins from plant-based foods. The best proteins are what we consider “complete” proteins, meaning they have the whole string of essential amino acids in the right amounts needed by the body. It’s like receiving a shipment at your front door, with all the parts you need, put together properly, in one box.
Fats are another maligned macronutrient that are becoming better understood and embraced. For a while, people were convinced that fat makes you fat, but it doesn’t.
Fat doesn’t slide on down your intestinal tract and make a b-line out
of some invisible hatch to attach itself to your belly or thighs. It
has more calories per gram than carbohydrates or proteins, this is true,
but it is broken down just the same and utilized or stored, like
Fats cushion and insulate your body and organs, they are part of hormonal function, muscle contraction, immune function, they help digest vitamins and aid in blood-clotting, they serve as an energy source and, as I like to say, put a nice gloss on your coat.
You don’t need as much fat as you need carbohydrates and proteins, but you need a moderate amount in your diet.
The Importance of Micronutrients
The next value to consider is your micronutrient needs. The macronutrients keep our bodies running, but the micronutrients seem to protect us from disease and degeneration.
Vitamins regulate internal processes by enabling enzymes to synthesize and react in your body. Basically, they are helpers to build new stuff and keep everything running smoothly. Some vitamins also protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Minerals also act as helpers to regulate body processes like fluid
balance, muscle contraction and nerve impulses. They also give your body
structure. Not just bones and teeth and all the hard stuff, either –
we’re talking blood vessels and cells, too.
Also considered major minerals are electrolytes – sodium, chloride, and potassium. These guys regulate all the fluid in your body and transmit nerve impulses. Kind of a big deal, especially for active people who do a lot of sweating.
Phytonutrients come from plants. When we eat the plants, we are also eating the nutrients inside them that protect them from sun damage, pests, bacteria and fungus. They include carotenoids and flavanoids which appear to slow the aging and oxidization process, protect cells, and maintain bodily functions.
Prebiotics are indigestible plant fibers and starches that feed healthy bacteria in your intestines. Probiotics are live cultures of beneficial bacteria that are added through your diet to maintain a healthy digestive tract.
Three Ways to Meal Prep
Basically, what I do is take those nutrition factors into mind and either create or assemble meals based on a ratio of 40% Carbohydrate, 40% Protein, and 20% Fat. I make sure the majority of my carbohydrates come from vegetables, so that I get phytonutrients as well. Then, depending on my time and energy for the week, I prep in one of three ways:
#1 – The Full Bro
If you like to cook or want precise control of your caloric intake,
you can go full gym bro and prepare all your meals for the week.
Generally, this is done on Sunday and it takes a few hours. You will
need to buy meal prep containers. You will end up cooking 5-6 portions
of three to five different meals and eating the same stuff throughout
Tip: Start each meal with a protein, fill with veggies, then add a smaller serving of simple carbohydrate.
Check out the #mealprepsunday hashtag on Instagram for new recipes and ideas.
#2 – The Grab and Go
This is for the person who doesn’t have as much time on a Sunday to cook and would like to be a bit more flexible about what they eat. You can go to the store and buy pre-made or easy prep foods, such as rotisserie chickens, yogurts, oatmeal cups, pre-cut veggies and fruit, salad mix bags or frozen veggies.
Fill your fridge with ready-to-go foods that require little to no cooking and prep. Portion out as needed.
Tip: Have a few different sauce options and salad dressings on hand to mix it up. I always have a freezer full of different kinds of frozen veggies for easy microwaveable sides.
#3 – No Time at All
Invest in a pre-prep meal company and get food that you like, specifically tailored to your caloric needs. This is becoming a trend in the professional athlete community, because they are getting sponsored and can afford it. But, there are many different tiers of commitment and many of these companies are surprisingly affordable, especially when you factor in not having to shop or cook anything.