The right meal plan will have you looking and feeling great.
Figuring out what and how much to eat on the other hand… can be frustrating.
The wrong plan could set you further back- along with all the time and energy you’ve invested.
You’re not alone, thousands of Canadians join our meal service every year with the same worries.
In this article, you’ll learn exactly how to achieve the mind and body of your dreams.
Think of Your Body as Your Home
Your home needs regular maintenance. So does your body.
You need to take care of it, make repairs, and sometimes make additions (build muscle) or remove an unwanted part of the home (lose fat).
The right foods give you the building blocks and the workers to maintain your body. The wrong foods will weaken your workers, or worse, give you poor workers that cause more harm than good.To be strong, healthy, and unstoppable, you need to give your body the nutrients it needs.
Rule #1: Keep It Simple
Creating healthy habits can be hard. But when it comes down to it, eating well isn’t complicated.
It boils down to just 2 things:
- Making sure you take in the right number of calories for your health goal
- Making sure you get all the nutrients your body needs to be the powerhouse it can be
It’s that simple.
So ignore the fad diets, miracle cures, and fancy supplements. Instead, focus on eating a balanced diet that gives your body the nutrients it needs.
That’s the approach we’re going to take because it’s easy to do on a daily basis and it helps you build a stronger, healthier body.
Rule #2: Build a Framework
There’s a nearly inexhaustible list of foods that are good for you. If we were to list them, we’d be here forever.
Instead, we’ll focus on ordinary, easy-to-get foods you probably already eat. I’ll also give you a framework to expand on the list, so you’ll know how to make smart food choices all on your own.
You see, eating well depends on your goals, activity, and your body’s individual needs.
What an Olympic athlete like Michael Phelps needs is very different from what you or I need to eat. That being said, we’re all humans, and we all need the same kinds of nutrients.
The bottom line is this: Good eating isn’t limited to expensive gourmet options that only the wealthy can afford.
There is no big secret to healthful eating. It’s about choosing the basic types of food that will fuel your body, protect you from illness, and help you thrive.
Fuel Foods Your Body Loves
Here’s a quick overview of the fuel foods your body needs.
Now let’s dig into each of them, so you know how to create a diet that’s personalized to your unique needs.
Protein is one of the core building blocks of your body. It’s used for building and maintaining bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It’s also an essential source of energy.
When you eat meat or other protein sources, your body converts the protein into its essential components: amino acids. Then, depending on the types of amino acids it extracts — there are 20 different types in a protein molecule — it goes to work in your body:
- Protecting you from viruses and bacteria
- Repairing and building new tissue
- Coordinating biological processes between different tissues and organs
- Allowing your body to move and stay youthful
- Carrying atoms and small molecules throughout your body
While 20 amino acids form proteins, 8 are “essential” — our bodies can’t produce them, so we must get them from the foods we eat.
Choosing the Best Sources of Protein
Meats and dairy products are a complete source of protein, providing all the amino acids you need.
Other protein sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains, but these sources may lack one or more essential amino acids.
If you have a diet that includes meats, your challenge is to choose protein sources that have healthy fats and fiber. Lean meats that are low in saturated fat are your best option.
The challenge for vegetarians and vegans is to get enough proteins for your body to be at its best. That’s because plant-based protein doesn’t always contain the essential amino acids you need.
Concentrated sources of plant proteins are grains, legumes, and nuts. Grains that contain complete proteins are soy, quinoa, hemp seeds, and buckwheat.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The amount you need depends on your age, weight, activity level, and goals. On average, adults need around 50 grams a day. However, some people need more:
- People over age 50
- Anyone who’s injured or has undergone surgery
- People who consistently break down muscle during exercise
Not getting enough protein can lead to muscle loss, lack of energy, increased chance of sickness, a weakened heart, and respiratory problems.
To calculate how much protein is right for you, use an online protein calculator that estimates your needs based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level.
Carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet. However, it’s important to eat the right types of carbs.
There are 3 kinds of carbohydrates:
They’re broken down further into 2 categories: simple and complex, depending on their chemical makeup and how efficiently your body can break them down.
Your body turns both simple and complex carbs into glucose to fuel your body and your brain.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars, so your body doesn’t have to work to use them. They give you a quick, short burst of energy that, once over, can leave you feeling drained.
While simple carbs occur naturally in fruits and milk, most of the carbs we consume are processed sugars that sweeten sodas, desserts, packaged cereals, and juices.
If you want to build an unstoppable body, you need to reduce simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates are made of more extended series of sugar molecules. Because they’re more complex, your body takes longer to turn them into glucose. As a result, they give you a slow, steady energy boost without the highs and lows you can get from simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them an essential part of a healthy diet.
Choosing the Right Amount of the Right Carbs
The average person eats way too many carbohydrates—especially empty carbs.
What do we mean by “empty” carbs?
These are simple carbs that don’t give your body any value besides quick energy. When you eat too many, your body creates more glucose than you need—and if you don’t burn it all, it converts to fat.
Empty carbs include high-sugar, high-fat items such as sweetened fruit drinks, candy bars, and fast foods.
Keep in mind: Carbohydrates aren’t unhealthy, and they don’t make you fat—if you eat the right amount of the right carbs.
According to health.gov, you should make at least half your grains whole. Whole grains break down slower, so you can burn off the glucose as it’s created. They also have much higher levels of fiber compared to other grains, and they supply you with a medley of vitamins and minerals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are your primary source of vitamins and minerals. They also provide small amounts of fiber and fuel for your body and brain.
Eating a varied diet of fruits and vegetables can help prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. They can also help you control your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and protect against stroke.
Now here’s the problem…
Most of us fall far short of the number of fruit and vegetables our bodies need. This graphic by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines by the USDA is a poignant reminder of how much more we need.
Here’s why it’s so important to get plenty of fruits and vegetables…
Without them, your body can’t function properly. You also have an increased risk for disease, including cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
The Victoria State Government in Australian recommends between 2 ½ and 5 cups of vegetables a day, depending on whether or not they’re cooked.
They also recommend two medium-sized pieces of fruit a day.
So try to start a habit of adding more vegetables to every meal you eat.
Choosing the Right Mix of Fruits and Vegetables
To get all the nutrients you need from fruits and vegetables, choose foods in a wide range of colors.
Red foods like tomatoes and grapefruit contain lycopene, which protects against prostate cancer and heart disease, improves cognition, and fights free-radical damage.
Green vegetables (think leafy greens) contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants known to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and fight skin cancer.
Blue or purple foods, such as berries, red onions, and grapes, contain anthocyanins, which improve heart health and protect against obesity and cancer.
White foods, like cabbage and cauliflower, contain sulforaphane, a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, detoxifier, and brain enhancer.
Dairy is an integral part of a healthy diet because it’s a rich source of calcium.
Calcium keeps your bones healthy and improves your cardiovascular health. Fermented dairy, such as Kefir, can also improve your gut health.
That said, 65% of people have some degree of lactose intolerance, making it difficult to break down the sugars in products that contain cow’s milk.
If that’s you, don’t worry. You can get calcium from other sources, including nuts, soybeans, sardines, and some leafy greens.
Choosing the Right Dairy Products
Always select low-fat or fat-free options. According to the Physicians Committee, whole-fat dairy products can add too much cholesterol and saturated fat to your diet. They can also increase your risk for cancer.
Don’t count cream cheese, cream, and butter toward your calcium intake. They have little to no calcium.
Do include calcium-fortified soy and almond milk. They’re an excellent source of calcium.
It’s recommended that you have about three cups of dairy a day, a little more or less depending on your age and gender. Here are the USDA’s recommendations.
Ahhh, fats! The food group, 99% of us, try to avoid, and for a good reason. Westerners tend to eat way too much fat—and lousy fat at that.
Does that mean there are good fats? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
Unsaturated fats, which are usually liquid at room temperature, can be very good for you. They contain polyphenols, which modulate your metabolism and reduce cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity. Also, they contain Omega-3s that are good for your heart and brain.
Now, let’s touch on bad fats for a moment…
You need to reduce saturated fats and trans fats. These fats are solid at room temperature: butter, the fat in animal products, and partially hydrogenated oils.
They can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke while raising your bad cholesterol levels (LDL).
The simple rule of thumb is this: Avoid or limit any fats that are solid at room temperature. The only exception is coconut oil, which provides many health benefits.
Here’s how to get enough healthy fats—while reducing bad fats:
- Cook with olive oil instead of butter.
- Use oil-based dressings and spreads instead of butter, margarine, or cream cheese.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- When baking, replace cream and sour cream with low-fat plain yogurt.
The more varied your diet and the more diverse your sources of nutrients, the better. You’ll feel happier, healthier, and, well, unstoppable.
We evolved as hunter-gatherers, eating foods that are in season and available. As Yuval Harari says in his book Sapiens,
“Foraging provided ideal nutrition…. This had been the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years, and the human body was well adapted to it.”
He goes on to say,
“The foragers’ secret of success, which protected them from starvation and malnutrition, was their varied diet.”
So, you see, our bodies evolved to thrive on a vast and varied diet, and even today, thousands of years later, that’s what our bodies want and need.
Staple foods are a relatively new invention, and while they are convenient, they can keep us from eating enough variety to build a robust and healthy body.
Don’t worry though.
Eating rice every day isn’t going to hurt you, but you will do better to mix up your source of carbs, or at the very least mix up the foods that accompany that rice. That way you’ll be sure to get all the nutrients necessary.
How to Be Sure You’re Eating the Right Food
So, you may be looking at all of this, feeling overwhelmed: How do I know what foods have what in them, and how do I make sure I’m getting enough of everything?
Thankfully, you only need 3 resources to figure out which foods belong in your diet (and which ones don’t).
1. Read Nutrition Labels
This is your starting point. Reading nutrition labels will help you know exactly what you’re putting into your body.
Over time, you’ll get a feel for the foods that are good for you and the ones you should avoid. Once that happens, you won’t need to read every label every time you shop. However, for now, take the time to read them.
Here’s an excellent excerpt from a great book, Endurance Sports Nutrition, about how to read nutrition labels.
2. Use a Calorie Calculator
Use a calorie calculator to estimate the number of calories you need to eat each day based on your age, gender, and activity level.
Plan to eat more calories if you’re trying to gain weight, and fewer if you’re trying to lose weight.
3. Look at the Average Recommended Daily Values
It’s important to know how much of each nutrient your body needs. Don’t stress about it, in any case. You don’t have to be perfect. Just try to be in the ballpark of those recommended values.
Public Health England has published a table that breaks down exactly how much you need of what by age and type of food, vitamin, or mineral. You can find it here.
Supplements Are There for a Reason
Don’t be afraid of supplements. They’re there for a reason, and they aren’t just for bodybuilders and the elderly.
If we got everything we needed from our food, we wouldn’t need them. However, for the vast majority of us, we don’t get everything we need from our diet.
For instance, here are a few supplements that you may need to take.
Protein Powder – If you are working out or just can’t seem to get enough protein through your meals, protein powder is an excellent choice. It can be mixed into tasty smoothies or simply stirred into water. Good protein powder will also give you essential amino acids and vitamins.
Omega-3 – Very important for brain and joint health, Omega-3 supplements can help protect against rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. If you don’t eat much fish, you’re probably low on this.
Vitamin D3 – The sunshine vitamin improves your heart health, brain function, and skin. It’s a vitamin you primarily get from sun exposure, so if you work inside a lot, you may be low on this.
Different people have different nutritional needs. Talk to your doctor about any supplements you might need for your unstoppable body.
Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference
Ready to start adjusting your diet, so you give your body the building blocks and fuel it needs? All it takes are a few simple replacements:
- Instead of high-calorie snacks like chips or cookies, eat nutrient-rich snacks like carrots and a veggie dip.
- Instead of fruit products that are loaded with sugar, eat the raw fruit.
- Instead of refined grains like white bread or white rice, choose whole grains.
- Instead of candy or sugary snacks, pick up some unsalted nuts.
- Instead of cooking with solid fats like butter or shortening, use healthy oils.
- Instead of drinks with added sugar, drink no-sugar-added beverages.
Then start replacing typical foods with nutrient-dense options.
If you want to build a robust and healthy body, you’ve got to give it the right building materials. If you want lots of energy, you need to give your body the fuel it needs.
The typical western diet includes too much sugar, carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats.
Just by cutting down on these energy drainers and replacing them with healthy, body-building foods, you can have the unstoppable body you want.