It’s true. You really are what you eat. And that’s why some days you end up feeling more like a cream-filled Twinkie than the lean cut of beef you aspire to.
But you probably already know that. That’s why, like all of us, you’re most likely trying to clean up your act and start eating healthy. But the truth is, that’s just not enough. Because if you’re gorging yourself on apples, bananas, and salads made with iceberg lettuce, you may be eating healthy-but you’re not eating smart.
In order to build the body you want (the thunderous arms and the rock-hard abs, the lightning-quick brain and the unquenchable libido) you need to make every bite of food you put in your mouth count. That means building your diet around the most potent, nutrient-dense, disease-fighting, muscle-growing foods around.
But where do you start? And what foods are the absolute fittest? To find out, we decided to put some of the nation’s top nutritionists to the test.
First, we polled 40 of the country’s most respected food experts-registered dietitians, college nutrition professors, and authors-asking them each: What are the 10 most important foods every guy should include in his diet for maximum fitness? Then, as the results rolled in, we ranked our experts’ recommendations.
We not only tell you which foods made the list, but how much of each you should eat on a weekly basis. So read on to see how you can make your diet more fit.
20) Turkey Breast
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 (a known booster of sperm production), and the cancer fighter selenium. “It’s also got a ton of amino acids, and there are little or no saturated fats,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist in Reading, Mass. “Plus, it’s one of the most versatile cuts of meat around, so you can easily eat it throughout the week and never have the same thing twice.”
19) Olive Oil
119 calories per tbsp
Eat 2 tbsp per day
Olive oil is rich in good monounsaturated fat, making it an ideal food for heart health. In fact, studies show that replacing two tablespoons of saturated fat (found in butter and lard) with monounsaturated fat may reduce the risk of heart disease. But that’s not the only reason to eat it. A study in the journal Nature reports that olive oil also has potent anti-inflammatory properties, meaning it can help reduce pain and swelling just like a dose of ibuprofen. In addition to cooking with olive oil and using it as a dressing for your salad, you can get even more in your diet by mixing a tablespoon or two into your daily protein shake.
318 calories per half cup
Eat 2-3 servings per week
Chances are you may not be familiar with this exotic whole grain grown in the Andes mountains. But you should be. It has a light, mild flavor-making it ideal for guys who hate other whole grains. Even better, it’s higher in protein than any other grain around, and packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy. unsaturated fats. “Quinoa is also a great source of fiber and B vitamins,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. a professor of nutrition at the University of Louisville.
17) Black Beans
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. “Beans of all types are always high on most nutritionists’ lists,” says Chicago-based nutritionist Jennifer R. Bathgate, R.D. So why’d our experts pick the black variety? Easy. Ounce for ounce, they have more fiber per serving than any other member of the legume family.
16) Green Tea
2 calories per cup
Drink 1-3 cups per day
From cancer prevention to weight loss to potentially slowing the development of Alzheimer’s, green tea has been shown to help fight almost every major medical ill. “Hot or cold, there’s almost nothing better you can drink,” says Mohr. Not the teabagging type? Try buying a liquid extract. Drop a bit in water and voila! Instant tea.
74 calories per large egg
Eat 3-7 eggs per week
“An egg a day is A-OK,” says Ward. Here’s why: 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,” says Ward.
118 calories per cup
Get 3 servings of dairy per day
You know milk does a body good, but you may not know that skipping dairy makes your body angry, sort of. When you’re not getting enough, your body releases hormones that cause your cells to retain calcium-and fat, says Michael Zemel, Ph.D., director of The Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee. Calories still count, so you should drink your milk by the glass rather than the gallon. But just make sure you get some. “There are components in dairy that help turn on your body’s fat-burning system and slow down the storage of fat,” says Zemel. And although other forms of supplements are great, this is one case in which the real thing works the best.
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 raft of crucial minerals, says Marietta Amatangelo, R.D., of Germantown, Md. “Without water, none of the other super-foods would matter.”
Although water helps in every way, it 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.
Getting in all that water each day seem like a drag? Try making a half gallon of sugar-free lemonade you can sip throughout the day, or buy a pack of calorie-free flavorings to add to your water bottle at work.
12) Sweet Potatoes
100 calories per med. potato
Eat 1 per week
A four-ounce sweet potato holds more than 100% of our daily supply of beta carotene, a hefty dose of iron, and a plentiful shot of vitamins C and E. Together, these nutrients work together to protect your body against cellular damage of all types, especially in athletes who compete in extreme environments (such as altitude, heat, cold, or pollution). They’re also one of the best foods for muscle recovery after a tough workout, says California sports nutritionist Kim Mueller, R.D.
And there are more ways to eat them than just baked, boiled, or topped with marshmallows. Try stirring cooked, diced sweet potato into chili or your favorite potato-salad recipe. You can also grate them into hamburgers or meatloaf, or use them to make your own oven-baked fries.
300 calories per cup
Eat 2 servings per week
If tough Navy SEALs eat soybeans, you can, too. Dietitian Wendy Jo Peterson, of Virginia Beach, who’s married to a SEAL, serves him and his Navy buddies edamame. “They think they don’t like it until I make them try it, and afterward, I tell them it’s soybeans.” Peterson calls soy a “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 and soy milk-there are easy ways to boost your soy intake. Soy nuts and the soy protein used in some protein shakes and bars not only taste great but are very guy-friendly.
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. Worried about the fat? Don’t. According to USDA data, today’s beef is up to 20% leaner than it was a decade ago. In fact, 19 cuts of beef meet government guidelines as being a lean meat. To keep the meat you’re buying 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.
9) 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,” says Mohr. “They 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.
82 calories per 1/2-oz serving
Eat 3 servings per week
High in protein, fiber, and vitamin E, almonds are great for your heart, digestive system, and skin. Although they’re also loaded with healthy unsaturated fats, some guys avoid them because they’re so calorie-dense. But that’s a mistake. Gary Fraser, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Loma Linda University in California, studied folks who added two ounces of almonds to their diet on a regular basis. Turns out they had no significant weight change. “Since nuts are such a hard food, it appears that a significant amount of their calories are never absorbed into the body,” he says.
To work more almonds into your diet, try keeping a bag of dry-roasted or lightly seasoned almonds in your desk drawer at work-and snack on a handful rather than hitting the vending machine. You can also blend almond butter into smoothies, or use it in place of peanut butter to make an, uh, AB&J sandwich.
154 calories per cup
Get 3 servings of dairy per day
Yogurt has all the benefits of milk, plus active cultures that boost the number of germ-fighting bacteria along your intestinal walls, says Mueller. Why does that matter? It helps keep you from getting sick. Studies show that people who eat yogurt most often are less likely to catch a cold than people who rarely eat the stuff. Like milk, yogurt contains calcium that not only boosts fat-burning but also helps you feel satiated, making it an ideal food for weight loss. “Try to buy yogurt that is less than a week old to ensure you’re getting the most benefit from the active cultures,” she says. (The later the product’s expiration date, the newer it is.) One word of caution: Most yogurt is packed with added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. To see our favorite lower-carb brands, flip to page 26.
7 calories per cup
Eat 2-3 servings per week
What do button-down dietitians have in common with brawl-happy 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, Katherine Tallmadge, R.D., author of Diet Simple, suggests dropping it into burritos, pasta dishes and canned soup.
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. “As far as vegetables go, this is the one I try hardest to get more guys to eat,” says Niki Kubiak, R.D., a private practice nutritionist in Omaha, Neb. Brocco-phobic? Try it on the sly: Slip it into stir-fries, onto pizza, or use raw chunks as a vehicle for your favorite dip.
83 calories per cup
Eat 4 servings per week
Yes, it’s true that tomatoes used to be called “love apples” and have a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. But that lore has nothing to do with why we picked the tomato as the best food for sexual health. Rather, tomatoes win their place on our chart-and their relatively high ranking overall-because of a single nutrient: lycopene.
This powerful antioxidant, which comes from the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color, may actually help fight off a number of diseases and ailments-most important for men, prostate cancer. Numerous studies show that men who have the most tomatoes and tomato-based products in their diet are less likely to develop prostate problems than men who rarely eat the stuff. And the good news for guys on the run: Tomatoes are also that rare food that’s more nutritious when cooked than when eaten raw. “Lycopene becomes more bio-available to the body after it’s been heated,” says nutritionist David Ricketts, a prostate-cancer sufferer who used his disease as the motivation for writing the cookbook Eat to Beat Prostate Cancer. “You can start off the day with a glass of tomato juice and have a tomato-based sauce a couple of times a week. However you can work it in, you’re pretty much on the way.”
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.
If that weren’t enough to convince you to pop a bowl in the microwave, keep in mind that 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, dropping levels by up to 30 points or more in some cases, says Kubiak.
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 harness the firepower to knock them out of service.
Need another reason to eat them? How about your memory? 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 made out list for a number of reasons, but the biggest has got to be because its 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, according to a study published in Clinical Science.
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.