Nutrition is one of the most talked about topics today, with thousands of people now being faced with a complexity of different nutrition plans and fad diets which will inevitably cause nothing more than a headache. On top of this, a large proportion of ‘fitness-fanatics’ aren’t accustomed when it comes to a balanced diet and they tend to stick to very monotone and tedious food plans. This is most likely because they don’t know what to do when faced with a list of ingredients, or even worse, they don’t actually know what certain ingredients are. This can lead to many snags in their diet such as a lack of variety or under eating (not enough protein, fat or carbs), which will eventually lead to a burden on you achieving your training goals.
I’m not hiding away from the fact that nutrition can be a very confusing subject (even more so when it comes to performance nutrition), however, when whittled down to the very basics, the fundamentals can be quite easily achieved.
Still sat there thinking “Yes, but that’s easier said than done…I need help to be able to cook like Remy from Ratatouille!”? Well, I can’t do that with a click of the fingers (besides, he is a rat… and a fictional character). However, I can give some top tips which can (or may) help you leap towards solid nutrition habits and will certainly assist you on getting the basics right, the rest is in your hands…
Plan in advance.
We’ve all heard of the famous saying by Benjamin Franklin “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, well this couldn’t be any truer when it comes to solid nutrition. Without a planned meal you’ll most probably miss out on key nutrients and as a result end up spending a tonne of your money on a sarnie which includes merely one slice of wafer thin ham. Don’t do it though, it will have huge set-backs over time.
The solution: Buy a good set of lunch boxes and prepare all your meals in advance (glass containers are good, they clean up better and last longer…well if you don’t drop them). To make this easier, when cooking your evening meal try adding extra meat for your next day’s lunch and use different seasonings to mix up the flavour. Alternatively, some people prefer to use two days as their ‘cook days’ (this enables enough time for your food to stay fresh). Try cooking up large batches of your meals and keep in the fridge or freezer ready to be used whenever. By doing this you can also add a lot of variety as well as it taking a lot of strain off your evenings.
Season your foods.
When it comes to great tasting food, it goes without saying that seasoning is key! You only have to observe all the famous chefs on TV to see this. We’ve all been served with overcooked, bland vegetables (nothing worse in my opinion), yet we still sit and wonder why we all hated eating greens growing up as a kid! Seasoning not only brings the flavour out of foods but it delivers a whole new dimension of taste and spice.
The solution: Love and marriage go together like a salt and pepper… no wait, that’s not the lyrics. Well you get it though, these two ingredients are essential to savoury dishes and can really transform foods from being ‘dull’ and ‘boring’. It is important to note that the better the sea salt the better the flavour and minerals provided. I go for Anglesey sea salt with grounded black peppercorns – they go great on a juicy Rib-Eye steak or over salads with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice to dress. Spices are great for seasoning too and are a nice way of adding a variety of flavours to your dish. Try our new Active Seasonings™, a quick and convenient way to add succulent flavour to foods and dishes – available in six different varieties.
Get the right tools for the job.
A carpenter wouldn’t turn up to a job with a pair of scissors so why should we prepare foods with the wrong equipment. I’ve realised, that, when you start to use good cooking equipment, not only does cooking become a lot easier but it also becomes less time consuming and you can really start to enjoy preparing and cooking your meals!
The solution: Choose a select number of ‘tools’ that are central to cooking and spend a decent amount of money on these. By getting decent cooking accessories and utensils you will notice huge differences to your culinary skills and it will be well worth the extra ‘dough’. A good, sharp knife will make you look back in antagonism at the days of hacking away at raw chicken. Ditch the glass chopping board and buy a solid, wooden board. Last but not least, invest in some quality, non-stick pans, not only will it make cooking and frying easier but it will save so much time when it comes to washing up!
Learn your foods.
If you don’t know what the benefits of certain foods are or you don’t know how to cook them, then the chances are that you will probably neglect these from the diet and you may be missing out on a vast array of nutrients important for your health and wellbeing.
The solution: Whether it is a new fruit or vegetable or even a cut of meat that you have never used, try buying ingredients that you wouldn’t usually buy and then experiment with new meals using these. If you are completely new to cooking, try learning off others or starting with a very basic meal such as chicken pasta bake. It also goes a long way to learn your different types of fats to cook with, for example; extra virgin olive oil should be used to dress foods and saturated fats such as coconut oil or butter (proper butter not margarine) are much better choices for cooking.
Cook from scratch.
We all know that for convenience it is much easier to get a takeaway or pop a frozen pizza in the oven, but the satisfaction that you get from home cooking is amazing and not even mentioning the immense health benefits that come with this. Whether it is making a basic sauce or a full blown meal, the fact that you know every single ingredient that has gone in this dish is a reassurance to knowing how ‘fresh’ it is.
The solution: Practice home cooked recipes when you have more time on your hands. If you love pizza, try making it ‘from scratch’ – the base is really easy once you master it and you can add whatever toppings that you want to this (prosciutto, red onion and blue cheese being my favourite). Burgers are another one, use steak mince and make a whopping burger that will provide lean protein with no added trans fats. Again, make meals in advance and freeze them for later use or your lunch the following day! Finally, get family and friends involved in the preparation of meals. Work together on chopping the foods and stay in the kitchen chatting together. In this way, it’s something you can enjoy together.
Don’t be wasteful.
A common problem many people have today is that they have all good intentions of cooking well but don’t actually execute them, the result – a fridge covered in mould and your money running off down the road screaming “I told you so!”
The solution: Use your ingredients to their full potential and incorporate many foods into one dish. A good example is a stir fry – here you can add almost any vegetable – onions, peppers, courgettes, spinach, tomatoes… you get the point. Leftover meat is great in sandwiches or even in stews and curries. Also, cover foods properly as this with have a huge impact on the preservation of foods and will help to keep them fresh for an extra couple of days. Finally, when shopping, check the best-before date on the foods you buy so you’re not purchasing something that is already nearly out of date.
Enjoy your food.
Food is definitely not ‘just a fuel’, instead it should be something that we immerse ourselves in and enjoy with others. On average, in our lifetimes, we spend thirty eight thousand hours eating food, so why not enjoy it! We are vibrant, active people and should take our pleasure from healthy sources of energy as well as the foods shaping every single cell, hormone and metabolic function in our bodies – without food we simply wouldn’t survive. Good food really will make you feel better about yourself and it can be a vehicle to many of the positive emotions that we’re often too busy to enjoy. Take time to cook and enjoy your food.
Steve has a Masters degree in Sports Physiology and works within the BULK POWDERS™ product team. His role includes all aspects of new product development, from recipe concept and formulation to website content and legislations.