Food is fuel. Plain and simple. Whether you’ve set a goal to lose weight or bulk up, you can only get so far without paying attention to what you put in your body. But in an era where the claims of processed and modified foods may not match up with their nutritional value, putting the “right” food on the table can feel like a full-time job.
The good news is that you don’t need to go to culinary school to figure out how to eat in a way that supports your fitness program. With the right framework that’s built around a few healthy staples, you can create your very own menu of good eats that are good for you too.
As with exercise, there’s no single diet that works for everyone. And just like planning your fitness regimen, choosing the right foods is about balancing a sound structure that facilitates progress with enough flexibility to create consistency.
On the structure side, that means starting with a caloric range that matches your fitness goals. Losing weight? Aim to consume fewer calories than you burn. Bulking up? The opposite is true.
From there, make those calories count with the right blend of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to support both activity and recovery. Finally, make sure you’re getting the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that can support both short and long-term health, because eating well is about more than just hitting your macros.
In terms of flexibility, the goal is to adopt sound nutritional principles in ways that work specifically for you. Price, taste, and accessibility are all important factors when picking foods. You’re not going to consistently eat healthily if it means paying a fortune to choke down vitamin-enriched wheatgrass that tastes like the inside of a lawnmower bag. The best foods for you are the ones that fit your budget, taste good, and mesh with your exercise goals.
The good news is that there’s a whole world of healthy foods out there to explore, and reorienting your diet to support your exercise goals can be the perfect excuse to find some new favorites. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at the five healthy foods that are nutritious enough to form the building blocks of any healthy diet, and versatile enough to eat regularly without feeling stale.
Are avocados the reason millennials can’t afford to buy homes? Who knows. But thanks to heart-healthy, inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fats like oleic acid alongside more than 20 other vitamins and nutrients, this superfood is worth its weight in gold. Absorbing those nutrients is easy thanks to a high concentration of antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which, together with the avocado’s fiber, also protect your gut microbiome. Throw in the fact that half of an avocado offers more potassium than a whole banana while also improving your lipid profile, and you’ll be groping avocados in the produce section before you know it.
One 3.5oz (100g) serving of avocado contains about 160 calories, 2 grams of protein, 15 grams of healthy fats, 7 grams of fiber and over 20 vitamins and minerals — all without any sodium or cholesterol.
Start your day with a homemade (and affordable) version of whole grain avocado toast, adding an egg for extra protein if desired, as well as any other seasonings or savory toppings to taste. Make some guacamole for a smarter way to snack, or pop half of an avocado in your post-workout smoothie. For a pleasurable desert with less guilt, you can even treat yourself to some avocado ice cream. If it’s good enough for Tom Brady, it has to be worth a shot, right?
When it comes to packing in the antioxidants, the small but mighty blueberry is another option that punches way above its weight class. These antioxidants include powerful flavonoids that protect against aging, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, all while also boosting memory and cognitive function. Reducing oxidative stress is what puts blueberries ahead over most other fruits and vegetables, but these spheres of sweetness still provide the essential vitamins and nutrients you’re looking for, on top of tons of fiber. Add in some of the carbs you’ll need before or after a workout, and it’s easy to see why the blueberry is a top pick.
One cup (148g) of blueberries contains about 84 calories, 15 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, plus high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese.
Blueberries are the ultimate finger fruit. Grab a handful to eat fresh or frozen for those sweet, sweet antioxidants. They’re also an easy addition to any smoothie, and they’ll also feel right at home in a salad — especially alongside the next food in our list.
Devouring a can of spinach won’t give you muscles in seconds, but Popeye was definitely onto something with his leafy green of choice. Spinach is a high-fiber vegetable loaded with an alphabet’s worth of vitamins and plenty of essential minerals. Like blueberries, spinach offers tons of antioxidants that can fight oxidative stress and lower the risk for several diseases. Spinach also contains phytonutrients like lutein, kaempferol, and quercetin, key plant compounds that can reduce your risk for cancer, decrease inflammation, and improve eye health. It may not have been your favorite vegetable growing up, but that kind of nutritional profile certainly merits a second chance.
3.5oz (100g) of spinach contains about 23 calories, 3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, plus key vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid (vitamin B9), iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Raw spinach is the perfect starting point for a salad or bowl. It’s also a nutrient-rich substitute for lettuce on sandwiches or burgers, or an easy way to work some greens into your smoothie. Sautéed spinach also makes a tasty side for all manner of proteins.
Although almonds might seem like a high-calorie option that’s more suited to bulking than cutting, that’s counterbalanced by a diverse nutritional profile that includes a high concentration of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. In addition to being endlessly snackable, almonds are one of the best sources of vitamin E around, which has been linked to lowering the risk for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Much like other entries on this list, the brown outer skin of almonds is rich in antioxidants that can lower your blood pressure, improve your lipid profile, and control your blood sugar.
A 1oz (28 gram) serving of almonds contains about 161 calories, 3 grams of carbs, 3.5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat (9 grams monounsaturated), plus vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, vitamin B2, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.
Much like blueberries, almonds can be eaten by the handful, thrown into a salad for some extra crunch, or added to a smoothie (with the skin on, of course). Love peanut butter? Almond butter is just as versatile and offers a slight nutritional edge. One note: be mindful of the sodium content when shopping for pre-packaged almonds, and opt for lightly salted or — better yet — unsalted options.
Humanity’s history with flax dates back an estimated 30,000 years. You’re probably already familiar with linen, arguably flax’s most famous byproduct. While you shouldn’t eat your bedsheets, the wide-ranging health benefits of flaxseed have been recognized for multiple millennia.
From fiber and omega-3s to proteins and antioxidants, this oilseed is impactful even in small quantities. Flaxseeds are one of the richest sources of lignans, which are believed to have powerful cancer-fighting properties. The many nutrients in flaxseeds may help with high blood pressure, blood sugar control, heart health, and digestive issues. Finally, flaxseeds offer a healthy serving of key vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that might otherwise be missing from your diet.
One tablespoon (7 grams) of ground flaxseed contains about 3 grams of fat (high in omega-3 fatty acid), 2 grams of carbs, 1.3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and several vitamins and minerals including (thiamine, copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, vitamin B6, folate, and iron. Flaxseeds also contain several beneficial plant compounds like phytosterols, polyphenols, and lignans.
To properly absorb the nutrients of this mighty seed, make sure it’s ground or milled, as whole flaxseed can pass right through your digestive system. You’ll find both options in stores, or you can do some DIY grinding at home.
Flaxseed oil can take the place of salad dressing, or mix with water as a substitute for eggs or flour in baked goods. Ground or powdered flaxseeds fit seamlessly into yogurt, cereal, or smoothies. They can even find a place in your seasoning the next time you’re throwing some meat on the grill.
Remember when we talked about structure and flexibility? All five of these foods offer an ideal balance of both. They’re cheap, accessible, and versatile enough to suit almost any palate. They’re loaded with essential nutrients and can lower your risk of disease, improve cognitive function, boost gut health, and protect your body from oxidative stress.
Now that you’ve seen some of the nutritional properties you might want to seek out, you can play around with various other healthy foods to build a shopping list that fits your lifestyle, goals, and budget. It’s also important to note that these are just some thought-starters, and it could be worth seeking the advice of a registered dietitian who can help devise a nutrition plan that accounts for any allergies or other conditions that might determine what your body needs.
The foundation of a healthy body and mind lies in your nutritional behavior. Above all, stick to natural, high-quality options when you can, and find healthy alternatives when needed. If you pair a mindful approach to what you eat with a consistent exercise routine, the results will speak for themselves.
If you’re looking to take a holistic approach to exercise and nutrition, there’s a Future coach ready to help. They take the time to learn about everything from your fitness goals to your go-to cheat meal, so they can guide you through a personalized workout and nutrition plan that’s flexible enough to achieve the former without sacrificing the latter. Whether you need advice in the kitchen or crave the accountability that gets you to the gym, choosing the right Future coach can move you from wherever you are to wherever you want to go — all on your schedule.
Hungry for a more convenient way to do personal training? Get a big discount off your first month and find a coach that’ll help you pair these superfoods with a side of squats.