Most people reading this will already be familiar with a lot of the popular nutritional cliches; “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym,” “it’s 70% diet, 30% training,” and “you can’t out-train a bad diet.”
While these phrases can get annoying after hearing them a hundred times, they’re no less true. Nutrition is the cornerstone to reaching any health or fitness goal.
Everything from preventing and treating illness, improving health, and getting fitter and leaner can be influenced by the food you eat.
Yet, despite the list of articles that outline the many ways to eat healthy on the go, few deal with how to eat healthy at home. The average person will usually eat two out of their three main meals at home. Most snacking often happens at home too.
Alongside your meals at home, those who are preparing healthy meals to eat on the go will always be selecting their ingredients from what’s in their kitchen.
So, no matter what way you look at it, good nutrition starts at home. But, knowing how to stock your home with foods that will deliver the best nutrition for your goals can be tough.
The best foods for you will depend on a list of factors. These include your goals, your gender, experience, your sport, and even personal preference.
So, I decided to put together a complete guide on how to stock your home with the right foods to help you reach your goals.
How To Stock Your Home With The Nutrition You Need
Know Your Goals And How Best To Meet Them
“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going” – Earl Nightingale, motivational speaker and author
No matter what you’re looking to achieve, setting a goal and fully understanding it is always the first step. Yet, this is where many people fall down.
Let me explain.
One of the biggest requests from a female who enters a gym, or the office of a nutritionist, is weight loss. Yet, if asked to name an individual whose figure they would like, they often cite a fitness personality who weighs more than them.
They may also marvel at body transformations that, while undoubtedly effective, resulted in the client gaining weight. An example of this is shown below.
So, the true goal of many individuals who enter a weight loss program is actually fat loss, which can change your nutrition choices drastically.
This issue can be found with many athletes as well. Many competitors have a very “black and white” approach to foods. This is not only a pain, but can also act against your goals long term.
Moreover, fully understanding what your goals are can help you in properly reading nutritional information and choosing the healthier ingredients.
Putting Into Practice: Food choices
While the above step is necessary to prepare you for making the right food choices, it’s of limited use without practical recommendations.
So, below are some examples of common fitness and health goals with a range of good food choices to match.
Foods For Improved Health
If you’re eating for better health, the focus should be on a variety of different foods that have been minimally processed.
This means whole grain pastas, breads and cereals over white versions and mixed fruits and vegetables for your sources of carbohydrates. A good infographic on the nutrients these deliver can be seen below.
These all help deliver a wide range of vitamins and minerals (known as micronutrients), which will help provide a list of benefits too large to mention here.
Everything from mental and physical health, to disease prevention has been shown to be improved by improving your diet to include more vitamins and minerals. So, for better health, fruit and vegetables remain a key addition to your meals.
|Vitamin A||Helps maintain immune system, bone, and other tissue health as well as eye function||Carrots, sweet potatoes, dark, leafy, green vegetables|
|B Vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, B12 and folic acid)||Help cell metabolism, mainly in breaking down sugars, amino acids, and fats for energy production||Fish, eggs, meat, dairy, or cereals|
|Vitamin C||Helps with collagen production, which helps tissue repair. It is also an anti-inflammatory||Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, pineapple etc.)|
|Vitamin D||Helps calcium and phosphorous absorption and metabolism||Cheese, eggs, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, etc.|
|Vitamin E||Helps muscle growth, fight inflammation, protect certain fats from breakdown, prevent blood clot, and maintain eye and nerve function||Almonds, spinach, avocado|
|Vitamin K||Helps regulate blood clotting, bone and cell growth||Green, leafy vegetables and fish|
|Sodium||Helps regulate blood pressure, nerve and muscle function||Salt, meats, dairy|
|Potassium||Helps regulate nerve and muscle function||Sweet, potato, yoghurt, milk|
|Magnesium||Helps regulate nerve and muscle function, the immune system, bone health, as well as regulate glucose levels and aid in cell metabolism||Nuts, seeds, whole grains, dark chocolate|
|Chloride||Helps regulate water pressure in the body and digestion||Salt, lettuce, seaweed, tomatoes, olives|
|Calcium||Helps in muscle function, bone health, and blood clotting||Milk, spinach, beans|
|Phosphorous||Helps with bone health, sugar and fat metabolism, and protein production for muscle growth and tissue repair||Milk, whole grains, lentils|
|Copper||Helps in forming a number of enzymes, iron metabolism, and red blood cells formation||Beef liver, asparagus, almonds|
|Zinc||Helps maintain senses like smell and taste, the immune system, cell health, and sugar metabolism||Oysters, red meat, chicken, soy|
|Iodine||Helps thyroid gland function||Kelp, cranberries, yoghurt, cheese|
|Iron||Helps red blood cell formation and cell metabolism||Red meat, dark, leafy, green vegetables, seafood|
|Probiotics||These are bacteria that are used in the gut to regulate a large amount that of process, including mood, the immune system, and digestion||Yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut|
|Prebiotics||Indigestible sugars that nourish the healthy bacteria in the gut (see above)||Onions, leeks, garlic|
Meanwhile, healthy fats like omega-3s should be looked at, as most diets provide plenty of Omega-6s, which can cause imbalance. Taking in more omega-3 fats from fish like salmon and eggs can help boost the immune system, improve heart health and help with mental health.
But, what about protein?
While protein has less importance for sedentary people just looking to improve their health, it’s still a key nutrient for maintaining muscle mass. However, taking in roughly 0.85 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight should suffice. Meat and dairy are your best options here.
It’s also worth mentioning that following a varied diet may not be enough to take in sufficient nutrients. Certain supplementation, like a fish oil and multivitamin and multimineral tablet daily may help prevent deficiency and improve health.
Foods For Fat Loss
If you’re looking for fat loss, only two things really matter:
- A calorie deficit sufficient to cause weight loss
- A protein intake sufficient to maintain as much muscle mass as possible
Here, your carbohydrates, fats and proteins (known as macronutrients) are far more important. How important depends on the individual who is looking to lose the fat.
For example, an overweight individual looking to lose fat for health issues could probably get away with exercising and following the recommendations from the above section.
But, a person with normal body fat levels looking for a six pack may not see as much benefit from this.
Meanwhile, a bodybuilder looking to get into contest shape will never reach this in a million years with the above guidelines.
The latter two will need to reduce their calorie intake far more to reach the leanness they want. Which brings us to the biggest problem when eating for fat loss:
This factor is directly, or indirectly, linked to the main reason why many don’t sustain a diet. It’s direct effects are obvious and are outlined below.
Hunger → higher desire to eat → eating → higher calorie intake → less weight loss (or none)
They can also indirectly affect weight loss. While cravings may be present even when someone isn’t hungry, they’re far more prevalent when hungry.
So, how do we beat hunger?
This has been the topic of hundreds of studies. Here’s (more or less) what they’ve found so far:
- High fibre foods (particularly soluble fiber) helps suppress hunger
- Heavier foods with less calories per gram (high volume foods) also fight hunger
- Foods with higher water content help fight hunger
- Higher protein foods may help with hunger, particularly if you take in less than 1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day
- The Glycemic Index, which measures how quickly a foods sugar is released into the blood, has no impact on hunger or weight loss
- Solid foods are more filling than liquid foods or meals
- Artificially sweetened foods (diet sodas, gum, etc.) also help hunger and weight loss
- Caffeine can help boost movement and decrease hunger for further benefit
- Healthy fat intake (monounsaturated fats like omega-3s) could also help reduce hunger
- For bodybuilders – higher fat (especially monounsaturated fats) may be necessary to optimize anabolic hormones while cutting calories
- For females – using a diet that accommodates hormone changes in your menstrual cycle may provide better results than normal dieting
|Example of a menstrual cycle periodized diet|
|Week 1-2 |
Carbohydrates: 240 grams
Protein: 80 grams
Fats: 35.6 grams
|Week 2-3 |
Protein: 120 grams
Fats: 35.6 grams
Protein: 120 grams
Fats: 53.3 grams
*a 200-calorie chocolate drink was also included to satisfy cravings in these weeks
Adapted from Geiker et al. 2016
So, one of the best things to look at when checking out the food label is the calories per 100 grams of the food. For comparison, look at the difference between the calories in 100 grams of peaches, and chocolate.
Naturally, you could far more peaches and take in less calories. The greater volume of the food would help extend the stomach, which then helps signal the brain that you’re “full.”
A similar impact has been seen when increasing fibre, healthy fat and protein intake.
So, you need to follow a tolerable diet that reduces calorie intake and contains enough protein to maximize fat loss. It’s also worth noting that the amount of calories you’ll need to cut can change.
This is because your body can adapt to a lower energy intake by reducing your non-exercise related activity (known as NEAT). So, regularly tracking your weight and body fat is necessary for those looking to get lean.
Foods For Muscle Gain
Luckily, this process is much easier than fat loss. This is because humans are generally better at gaining weight than losing it. This is likely an evolutionary trait developed over the years of famine our ancestors endured.
By and large, the rules stand in direct contrast to the rules for fat loss:
- Take in enough calories to gain maximum muscle, but minimal fat
- Take in enough protein to maximize muscle growth
So, once you meet your protein goals (which research suggests could he as high as 2.4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day), you’re a lot more free to eat what you want.
The question then becomes “how many calories are enough to promote muscle gain, without fat gain?”
Unfortunately, there’s very limited research on this.
What research is there indicates that around a 30% surplus in calories is most efficient for muscle gain. Although, that study was done on untrained people. Evidence from other studies indicate that that number may be slightly lower for those experienced in strength training.
So, a 10% to 30% surplus of calories, with a higher protein intake and sufficient healthy fat intake is best for muscle gain.
Foods For Sport Performance and Recovery
Believe it or not, this is also a pretty simple goal to achieve. This is because this area is both well researched and has fewer barriers to completion like hunger or cravings.
All you need to do is eat the required foods at the required times to get the benefits.
Strictly speaking, athletes will generally only use nutrition for three purposes:
- Improve performance in training or competition
- Improve recovery from training or competition
- Prevent injury (less common but should be considered)
So, satisfying all the above goals really only boils down to looking at the demands of the sport and what foods have been proven to work.
Strength/Power/Speed Sports(sprinting, weightlifting, etc.):
For these sports, carbohydrates matter less than fats and proteins. This is because these sports don’t require much glycogen for performance.
(A quick note for the carb-lovers: I didn’t say you couldn’t eat them. I just said they’re less important!)
Here, a higher protein intake from high quality sources like eggs, meat, dairy and fish are essential. Fats may also be beneficial for promoting further muscle growth and recovery.
As for supplements, creatine, fish oil and whey protein are basically the only ones with a proven track record for these sports. Citrulline malate may also have some small benefit for improving work capacity.
|Supplement list for strength/power athletes:|
Endurance sports (long-distance running, cycling, swimming, etc.):
For these athletes, fats and carbohydrates take center stage, with protein taking a back seat. Carbohydrate loading is also an important practice for maximizing performance. This is because it boosts the amount of sugar in the muscle (known as glycogen) for added performance.
For supplements, beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate can help with improving late ace sprints and pace changes. Electrolytes and glycerol may also be important for the longer distances events. Meanwhile, betaine found in beetroot juice could help boost endurance by improving blood flow through increasing nitric oxide.
Luckily, the necessary nutrients for recovery are largely unchanged from strength or power sports. Protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats should do the job. Adding some minerals may also be beneficial.
|Supplement list for endurance athletes:|
Mixed sports (Crossfit, tennis, martial arts and boxing, soccer, rugby, etc.):
These sports can be slightly tricky. This is because they require both high speed, power, strength, and endurance.
So, in short, almost everything matters.
A high carbohydrate and protein diet should be followed with sufficient fat intake. But, carbohydrate loading and electrolyte intake are not necessary.
Both protein and carbohydrates would also help with recovery from strenuous training or competition.
As far as supplements are concerned, beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate could be useful for getting rid of lactic acid. Meanwhile, creatine and whey protein can help boost strength and repeated bouts of power. Fish oil wouldn’t go amiss either.
|Supplement list for mixed athletes:|
In summary, knowing your goals and how to meet them will allow you to plan an effective diet plan. This will then allow you to choose the right foods to stock up at home to help you reach those goals.
Know Yourself And Plan Accordingly
“If you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles” – Sun Tzu, Chinese general, and military expert
This is another key area that people often overlook. One big selling point for many personal trainers is that they create a personalized training program for you.
Yet, many people are happy to accept a general diet plan and to completely overhaul their usual eating routine to follow it.
This can create a big problem.
Changing what you eat, and when you eat it, is tough. Studies show that food influences your biological clock, and may influence when you get hungry. It may also influence how well your body uses the nutrients you take in.
Cravings are another big issue. A lot of people find it to be their second biggest problem with sticking to a diet, right behind hunger.
A lot of athletes who are involved in weight loss or sport already understand this. This led to the creation of cheat meals and cheat days.
So, understanding the foods you crave and when your daily schedule allows you to eat or prepare food will let you create a personalized list of foods that will suit your lifestyle. This will then give you a long-term diet that you can follow for sustained benefits.
Putting It Into Practice: Substitutions and Allowances
These are self-explanatory. Basically, you allow yourself a meal or day, where you can eat what you want. While this can be a good way of satisfying cravings, take care you don’t overdo the calories so that it impacts your progress.
Ideally, keep it to a cheat meal every 1 to 2 days, or try keep some good practice on a cheat day. This option would likely best suit athletes, where fat loss is less important and their lifestyle is already pretty active.
These are another common means of settling cravings. Simple replacements of foods with a similar taste, but better nutritional profile, can help keep you on track longer. So, this is probably the better option for those looking for fat loss or a lifestyle overhaul.
|Craved food||→→→→→→→→→→||Possible substitute|
|Chocolate bar||→→→→→→→→→→||Protein bar|