Healthy athletes have developed a way of eating that optimizes performance and recovery. This is a method that applies to you, even if you’re not into sports or a fitness enthusiast. It’s built around 10 basic rules for optimizing the way you eat to achieve health and higher performance in your daily life.
To get started, don’t make it a goal to eat healthy by incorporating just one or two of these objectives into the way you eat. That will only delay the health you can begin experiencing today. Instead, recognize that the path and goal of healthy eating are the same.
Get Started on the Path to Healthy Eating
- Eat predominantly (up to 90% or more) plant-based, nutrient-rich, whole foods—vegetables, beans, fruits, raw seeds and nuts, and whole grains (optional).
- Eat high on the nutrient density chart, a useful chart that reveals clear information about the nutritional profile of foods you want to be eating, with examples of some of the best and healthiest foods—a value based on micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, as well as appropriate amounts of macronutrients like water, fiber, and health-promoting proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Incorporate raw and cooked foods, with a smaller percentage of cooked foods. You can include a high proportion of raw foods (up to 50-75%) depending on your preferred ratio. Some foods increase in nutritional value when cooked conservatively, and in some foods—like soups—nutrients are neither lost nor destroyed through cooking.
- Eat small amounts of animal products. Ideally, choose wild, grass-fed, or farm-raised products, if you eat them at all. Many people feel better including small amounts of animal products in their diet for a variety of reasons, while many feel better not eating any. Eating animal food products is not essential for healthy eating and can have huge ethical and environmental implications (just to keep in mind).
- Reframe the idea of processed foods, as long as nutrient value and integrity are maintained. Smoothies, hummus, and chopped salads are all processed foods, but they can still be high in nutritional value. Instead focus on removing refined foods from your diet.
- Eliminate and/or limit refined foods, in which the nutrients are stripped out and pleasure-stimulating chemicals are either left in or added. These ingredients can cause addiction, over-consumption, and rapid increase of insulin levels, and they can lead to a host of health issues and diseases.
- Be creative in how you prepare whole foods, so you can experience similar pleasures to what you derive from traditional junk foods without the harmful result of overly refined products. You can actually have your cake and eat it too! (Cake and other enjoyable “extras,” while never an ideal dietary staple, can be made from whole, natural, nutrient-dense foods.)
- Customize the way you eat to your individual needs based on genetic predisposition, blood tests, and prior conditions (with the help of qualified nutrition experts and health care practitioners), as well as environment, present situation, preferences, and goals.
- Supplement essential nutrients in which you might be deficient. Whether it’s due to your previous diet or difficulties caused by age, gender, or life circumstances, supplementation may be essential. Vitamin D, B12, DHA, and EPA (Omega 3) are commonly recommended, but the necessary supplementation needed to bring your body to peak wellness should be determined by a qualified nutrition expert or health care practitioner.
- Include the use of natural products that are easy to consume on the go. Look for healthy, convenient products made from whole, natural, organic foods without refined or added salt, oil, or sugar in any significant quantities.
With these guidelines, you can develop an eating style that promotes health, fights disease, and works for you. One that enables you to eat to live and live to eat—healthfully, joyfully, and wisely—without sacrificing taste, health, or convenience.
Truly Optimize the Way You Eat
To further optimize the way you eat, incorporate these additional performance lifestyle nutrition guidelines into your daily habits. Note: There are nuances to every guideline.
- Eat when you are hungry. This could mean several small meals during the day. Or it could mean less than that depending on your activity levels and how you ate the day before. See the 5 golden rules of healthy eating.
- Think of fueling your body first, not just eating. Most of us eat according to time of day, not based on hunger or for nutritional reasons. We just eat. If you filled your car on gas, would you fill it again just because it was mid-day? Or would you wait until you needed more gas? You get the idea. And, of course, you’d put in premium gasoline as often as possible.
- Vegetables (in particular) and fruits should be the basis of your diet. Vegetables are the most nutrient rich food source. Plus, they are low in calories and you can eat them in large volume.
- Time how you eat based on your needs. Also known as chrono-nutrition, this practice refers to the timing of your nutritional intake, especially as it relates to training activities, time of day, and fueling needs.
- Eat a performance meal before bed (but not right before bed and not too much). Go to bed satisfied, but not on a full stomach, with the nutrients your body needs to heal and repair. Keep it light and nutrient-dense. This will enable you to wake up feeling powerful and rested, and it will increase the time between meals.
- If you haven’t eaten enough the night before, you will be driven to eat more at breakfast is a common belief, but this seemingly time-tested rule is not actually true. Don’t break your fast until you are hungry. Also know that if you are exercising in the AM, you likely will eat breakfast sooner.
- Drink water, but be careful about thinking you need to drink it constantly or with meals, which dilutes the digestive process. When you are eating a whole-foods, plant-based, nutrient-rich diet of your own making, you are “eating” water all day! These are foods with high water content. Most recommendations for drinking water are based on a high-sodium, refined, and animal-product-rich diet, which is why you need to drink a great deal of water to stay hydrated.