Everyone is on the lookout for the perfect diet. If nutrition research has shown us anything, it’s that the perfect diet is unique and flexible to each person. There’s no single regimented way of eating that will yield the body and energy levels you want.
Instead, you need a way of eating that speaks to your individual genes and preferences but that is based on science. This will allow you to eat in a way that optimizes body composition, well being, and energy, without having to obsess about calories, off-limit foods, or mind-numbing workouts.
Here are ten principles that can guide you in developing your daily nutrition checklist.
#1: Stop Skipping Random Meals
Although there is a time and place for intermittent fasting, skipping random meals because you’re too busy or just can’t be bothered to stop and eat is only going to set you up for problems down the road. When you skip meals, the stress hormone cortisol goes up, which over time, can lead to anxiety, trouble sleeping, and belly fat gain in the abdominal area.
#2: Adopt A Set Meal Frequency
Instead of leaving your eating up to chance, plan what and when you’ll eat. This will help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels and cope with stress because eating resets your entire hormonal cascade. It also allows you to hit macronutrient goals so that you consume the right amount of protein, fat, and carbs for optimal cognition and energy levels all day long.
#3: Frontload Water
How many times have you gone all day without a drink of water? Even when people meet their hydration goals for the day, they often end up “backloading” water, consuming the majority at night. This leaves you dehydrated because too much water all at once will flush out electrolytes and nutrients. Start the day with a big glass of water and make sure you get more than half of your daily goal in before lunch.
#4: Plan Meals Around Protein
In our high-carb culture, most people are planning meals around refined carbohydrate foods. By prioritizing protein for every meal, especially breakfast and lunch, you improve neurotransmitter release for better energy and cognition. You also provide the amino acids necessary to trigger protein synthesis so that your body stays in tissue repair mode. Finally, protein foods keep appetite in check and lead to better blood sugar and insulin levels.
#5: Include Healthy Fat
It’s easy to develop food allergies to protein foods. Consuming healthy fat with protein improves absorption of nutrients, reducing the risk of developing an intolerance. Many proteins naturally contain fat—fish, meat, eggs, but if your protein of choice doesn’t, add some nuts, avocado slices, or other healthy fat for a delicious and healthy meal.
#6: Vary Your Protein
Being consistent with nutrition is key, but once you create a basic structure to your eating, variety is important to ensure a range of nutrients for optimal health. Varying your protein source is especially important because food intolerances are likely when you’re eating the same foods without fail. Even something as simple as varying how you cook your eggs can help: Try hard boiled one day, an omelet the next, and poached after that.
#7: Eat Veggies At Every Meal
We all know that vegetables are great for antioxidants, nutrients and fiber, but they also help protect your GI tract from inflammation. This is a game changer because an inflamed gut results “leaks” in the intestinal wall—a condition when waste products escape the GI tract and enter the blood stream—not something you want to happen!
#8: Don’t Cry Over “Mistakes”
How many times have you veered off course from your nutrition plan, and then said, “what the hell,” going on a food binge that does way more harm than your initial indulgence? Or maybe you beat yourself up for eating something you didn’t plan, hammering your emotional reserves with guilt? This just makes everything worse. There’s no need to “start over” or blame yourself. Just learn from your actions, pick up the pieces, and get back at it.
#9: Focus on Workout Nutrition
Optimal nutrition around your training will set you up for a great workout and accelerate recovery. It also helps you avoid “compensation”—that tricky habit many people have of rewarding themselves with food for a job well done.
#10: Look For Solutions Not Problems
When on a restrictive nutrition program, such as a gluten-free or low-carb diet, we often concentrate on what we can’t have. Instead focus on what you can have. For example, if you’re on a very low-carb diet, fruit is generally off limits, but avocado blueberries, or blackberries are often okay. Another trick is to have fruit post-workout—a little papaya or grapefruit is not going to hurt you after a tough training session.
Final Words: Creating a healthy eating checklist shouldn’t be complicated or a burden. Use these simple but deliberate steps to set your plan in motion without overthinking every detail. Your body, brain, and health will thank you for it.