Most of us get through breakfast just fine and we are usually mindful enough to have something lined up for lunch. This leaves the evening time! The most dangerous time for all of us, the most time when we might succumb to those terrible cravings and spend hours mooching from the cupboards to the fridge looking for something tasty. The problem for many is not having enough time, especially if we have to fit in a gym session. We are never more likely to make poor food choices than when we come home from the gym starving after a good workout. I’m going to tell you the must have foods for everyone who works out. Many of these are versatile and can be easily used to create a quick, healthy, nutritious meal. Others are essential in achieving and maintaining a lean figure and others will help kill cravings.

Eggs

There are a few reasons I chose eggs. Firstly, versatility and how quickly you can create a meal from eggs. Eggs are a favourite of many gym users because they contain all the essential amino acids necessary for rebuilding muscle. Eggs can be added to mixed veg, left over rice or used to create a quick healthy omelette. They speed up muscle repair, kill cravings and control appetite.

Porridge (Oats)

Good old porridge -this is an essential in my mind. It can be used in so many different ways and is packed full of energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre. It’s a great energy source which delivers energy at a steady rate due to the high fibre content. They also contain a compound which increase nitric oxide -increasing blood flow during exercise. The fibre in porridge also helps lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and contain a compound which kills cravings. Add to shakes, cereal bars, granola or just have them the old fashion way.

Tuna

It’s lean, it’s tasty, it’s easy to prepare, it ticks a lot of boxes. You can throw together a really quick tuna salad if you’re pressed for time and want something quick and easy. Just add tomatoes, onion and 1 tsp. of mayonnaise. Enjoy with a leaf salad and pitta. Tuna is a lean source of protein and contains the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 oil. These combined will help kick-start repair and kill hunger.

Chickpeas

Chickpeas are great for weight loss as they contain loads of fibre and healthy vegetable protein so they regulate insulin and prevent fat storage. They are also high in zinc which is the number one mineral for your immune system. Chickpeas are fine in cans and retain most of their vitamin and mineral content. They can be added to salads, roasted in the oven with spices or used to make a healthy hummus.

Whey Protein

Ok, so it’s not a whole food but it’s something that has several uses and will save you time as well. The traditional shake of course but can also be added to your cereal or used to make homemade protein bars. The big thing here is that this will kill those pesky cravings after a workout. Also found to be excellent for immunity. Go for a good quality whey isolate which does not contain the sugar or fats normally found in milk. (If you are vegan go for a quality pea or hemp protein powder)

Sweet Potato

In all the professional athletes I have dealt with, I think they all had this is common – sweet potato! That tells us something- it works! It’s loaded with thousands of different types of beta-carotenes, high in vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin D. These are absolutely essential for repairing damage, elimination of metabolic by product and nerve and muscle function as well as keeping us in a good mood. They can be roasted in the oven with spices, used in baking or added to normal vegetables. Leave the skin on as they contain 10 TIMES the vitamins of the flesh!

Bananas

Nature’s own energy bar. Who doesn’t love bananas. Everyone knows they are a good source of potassium which may prevent cramp but also regulate blood pressure and are beneficial for heart health. They are also high in Manganese, copper and vitamin C. They are an ideal pre-workout or post-workout snack and can be added to your breakfast, shakes or chopped and then frozen for smoothies.

Trail Mix

Here is an energy rich food source that can be carried in your pocket or added to cereal bars, breakfast or eaten with yogurt. The nuts and seeds in trail mix are not only high in fibre but high in essential fats which our bodies cannot produce. These will help reduce inflammation after a workout and in hormone production, brain health and arterial function. With the variety of fruits, nuts and seeds you will be getting a large dose of your daily vitamins and minerals as well.

Leafy Greens

An absolute must for athletes, gym users or anyone who is serious about their health. This should be number one on your list. In terms of packing a nutrient punch, there is nothing better. Not only are these low in calories, low in fat, high in fibre and very rich in vitamins and minerals but they are the food highest in concentrations of phytonutrients – plant chemicals which have the most power in protecting health and killing disease. There is no combination of supplement which can give you the same benefit as eating a huge bowl of leafy greens. These include spinach, lambs’ lettuce, swiss chard, watercress, alfalfa, rocket and chicory. This is not a comprehensive list -if its leafy and green, it’s great!

Quinoa

It made the list, what health food list would be complete without Quinoa -it is the only grain with a complete range of essential and non-essential amino acids and twice as much fibre as other grains. It has a delicious nutty taste and can be cooked with rice. Quinoa is also very high in lysine which is essential for tissue repair. Don’t be afraid to try it in salads or add different flavours to it.

There are loads of other foods which could make this list. I have included foods which contain all your macros (protein, fats and carbohydrates) and are dense in essential vitamins, mineral, antioxidants and phytonutrients. These are crucial for good function, repair and maintenance of health. These foods will accelerate repair, improve performance and hasten recovery. Nutrition is or really that complicated and people often miss it. Not most but all the professional athletes I deal with know that the most powerful nutrition comes from whole foods and not supplements or powders. Please feel free to contact us with questions on any of the above at tom@mynutritionireland.ie