In athletics, speed is key. But when it comes to nutrition, athletes who rely excessively on "quick" meals and beverages—e.g., fast food, energy bars and protein shakes—are way off key. Although they are fast and convenient, these options usually lack important vitamins, minerals, fats, protein, complex carbohydrates and antioxidants—all the things you need to boost your recovery from exercise and sports, enhance your immune system and heighten your mental and physical performance. (Check out Your Guide to Optimal Recovery.)
The healthiest approach is too consume foods and beverages that are minimally processed and contain few additives. A truly balanced diet has all the basic food groups: carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and wholesome grains); protein (lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy); and essential fats (avocados, olive oil). These foods supply all the nutrients required for physical and mental health and for optimizing sports performance. (See also Iron Chef Michael Symon: Eat Natural Foods for Improved Performance.)
Below are my recommendations for healthy food and beverage choices instead of unhealthy ones.
Water, black and green tea boost mental and physical performance, speed recovery, and enhance fat-burning metabolism. Protein-rich milk and chocolate milk build muscle after and between workouts.
Fruits and veggies contain those plentiful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances that keep your immune system in top shape to prevent nasty colds, flu and other illnesses that confine you in the bedroom instead of in the classroom, weight room, or on the field. Plus, fruits and veggies help you recover faster from exercise and sports
Egg yolks have immune-system-boosting vitamins and minerals and antioxidants for eye health and recovery from sports and exercise.
Margarine contains harmful trans-fats that cause inflammation and damage arteries. Olive, peanut and safflower oils have heart-friendly antioxidants; and strong hearts are necessary for both athletes and non-athletes.
Processed meats have unhealthy preservatives and are generally high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure in some individuals.
Go with the more natural and nutrient-dense 100% rolled oats, 100% whole wheat bread or brown rice over processed sugary cereals, white bread and white rice.