For more than a year, I’ve been writing about my cooking and eating habits in the “Muscle Chow” column. I used to get asked about exercises. Now it’s questions like “Did you ever cheat, or have you always eaten perfectly?” Well, sure I’ve cheated. How would I know what good eating is if I’d never eaten badly?
I had a healthy start, though. Growing up, we never had cookies in the house, we never snacked on chips or sugary cereals, and soda wasn’t allowed past the front door. My parents introduced tons of healthy foods into my life-and I’m doing the same for my kids. I never knew our family was different until I saw the cookie jar on the counter one day at my grade-school friend Vince’s house. “You mean you can take a cookie whenever you want?” And yes, I headed for that cookie jar every time I went to Vince’s. My parents’ strict approach to food meant I could afford-and savor-such a treat.
When I began training and competing in bodybuilding contests, I realized that my diet was my best edge on the competition. Over the years, I’ve learned which foods accelerate or slow my gains. I think the right nutritional strategy can help any man build the body he wants. But, as I’ve said, that’s only the first question. There are plenty more, like the ones on these pages, which I’ve received through MensHealth.com since I started writing the column. So here are my answers-everything you need to know about creating a model meal plan.
Is there a secret to your meal plan? My diet revolves around protein intake. It’s the touchstone that determines how many carbohydrates I’ll eat in a given meal or snack. I average out my meals and snacks over the course of a day, but the final percentages I like to hit are about 35 percent protein, 55 percent carbs, and 10 percent fat. I stick to white-meat animal proteins like chicken (canned or regular), fish (including canned tuna and sardines), turkey breast, shrimp, oysters, and lobster. Chicken, fish, and turkey probably make up 50 percent of my daily protein. I rotate the rest about once every 10 days. Other protein mainstays include whey-protein powders, eggs (mostly egg whites), yogurt, cottage cheese, and unsalted nuts.
Does the rest of your family eat what you eat? It’s funny how many people ask what my kids eat. Readers must think I’m this tyrant who’s force-feeding his children carrot juice, spinach salads, and unsweetened oatmeal.
I just want my kids to have an understanding of which foods are good for them and which ones aren’t the best choices. In the end, my wife and kids pretty much eat what I eat. And the kids eat at McDonald’s once in a while. It’s like me with Vince’s cookie jar-as long as they’re eating healthfully most of the time, an occasional fast-food burger won’t hurt them.
What do you have lying around the kitchen for a quick snack? There’s fruit everywhere. On the counter, I keep apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, oranges (I live in Miami), apricots, bananas, and whatever else is in season. (I try to buy organic.)
In the fridge, cantaloupe, watermelon, berries, and grapes. There’s nothing wrong with impulsively munching on any of these.
What’s a typical weeknight dinner for you? It’s always simple-that’s the key to consistently eating well. Poached salmon with steamed vegetables is about as easy to make as a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and it’s a fast way to get protein, creatine, essential fatty acids, glutamine, and phytonutrients into your diet. This kind of meal is easy and offers a nice, balanced nutritional profile. Remember to keep an eye on your portions, using your palm as a simple gauge to measure a single serving. One palm for protein, two palms for vegetables, one palm for a starch, and you have a nice, balanced meal.
Poached Salmon with Steamed Vegetables
1 salmon fillet
1 celery stalk, diced
Pinch of lemon pepper
Assorted raw vegetables
Put the salmon fillet, celery, and lemon pepper in a pot filled with just enough water to cover the fish completely. (Don’t fill the pot more than you have to.) Bring the water to a slow boil and let it continue for about 10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the fish is done. Using a spatula, remove the salmon, gently turn it over, and scrape the skin from the underside. At the same time in a separate pot, steam some mixed vegetables. I use a metal steamer that sits at the bottom of the pot. Just fill it with about an inch of water, drop in the vegetables, bring the water to a boil, and cover the pot for 3 to 5 minutes.
Here’s another easy dish I do on the fly. I make enough for two meals and store the leftovers in the fridge.
Pan-cooked Pineapple Chicken
1/4 c diced onion
Pinch of black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into
1 Tbsp orange juice
8 oz can diced pineapple
1 banana, sliced
1 tsp maple syrup
In a skillet over medium heat, cook the onion, black pepper, and olive oil for a minute, until the onion is slightly browned. Add the chicken-breast cubes, orange juice, and pineapple, stirring as you do. Once it all comes to a boil, immediately reduce the heat to medium and add the banana and maple syrup. Reduce the heat, stir, cover, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve as is or over a small bed of rice.
Don’t you get the munchies? What do you eat? Of course I do. The key is simplicity. You just want to grab something. Here’s the healthy way.
No, not the stuff that looks like ice cream. I buy containers of low-fat yogurt (caramel flavor) and throw six at a time in the freezer. When I want one, I take the lid off and pop the yogurt in the microwave for about 30 seconds. (The time will vary according to your microwave.) Enjoy. It’s as good as ice cream but better for you.
Cottage cheese and jam
My favorite midnight snack is a small bowl of cottage cheese with some whole-fruit jam mixed in. The protein in the cheese helps keep you anabolic through the night, the glutamine aids in muscle recovery, and the tryptophan will help you get a good night’s rest. And the jam just helps it go down easy.
No, really. I always keep it on hand. It’s the purest food you’ll find bottled or canned. I use the fruit varieties as a postworkout simple carb to replenish my glycogen stores, but the vegetables are good as well.
Vein-Poppin’ Tapioca Pudding
This is a simple postworkout snack that helps replenish glycogen stores. It’s not really tapioca, but it has the same texture.
-6 oz jar Gerber Hawaiian Delight dessert baby food (It has pineapple, rice flour, lemon juice, and a little sugar.)
-1 Tbsp soy-lecithin granules
-Mix it and eat.
Don’t you crave burgers? I don’t eat much red meat, but I do make burgers once in a while.
I buy organic lean ground beef, with no hormones or antibiotics, and make very thin patties. I wrap them separately and store them in the freezer. After thawing in the fridge, they cook in minutes.
What do you eat at the movies? I bring a bottle of water and a package of ABB Steel Bar Rivets. They taste like chocolate-covered malted-milk balls but have a much better nutritional profile than anything you’re going to find at the theater: 16 grams (g) protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 8.5 g fat. They’re easy to carry along, you’ll save 15 bucks, and you’ll be able to watch the movie with a clear conscience.
What about in airports? I fly a lot and see people devour a personal-size pan pizza in the terminal, then lumber onto the flight. Not me. I carry a Tri-O-Plex bar (available at drugstore.com) and a couple of pieces of fruit in my carry-on. And I always bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated. Plan ahead so you don’t cave in to the aromas in the terminal.
Anything weird in your fridge? Not weird, but maybe unexpected. For instance, I’ll bake, grill, or poach boneless chicken breasts six or eight at a time. Then I’ll store them in the fridge separately, in resealable bags. That way, they’re always there to cut up into salads, onto pasta, or in a sandwich. Sometimes I’ll just grab one and eat it in the car.
Do you take any supplements? Which ones, and when? I take a multivitamin, whey protein, and glutamine every day. Beyond that, I cycle supplements like creatine and coenzyme Q10. What’s cycling? It’s important, that’s what. I believe cycling enables your body to use a supplement more effectively, especially when you allow your system to recuperate between cycles. For instance, if I were going to do a cycle of creatine, I might go 3 months on and 3 months off. Cycling can be motivating. The first time I took Co Q10, I felt this amazing energy shift within the first 3 days of taking it. After several months, though, the feeling began to level off, and I decided to take a break. When I got back on, I felt that same energy shift. I’ve determined that cycling my Co Q10 is most effective on an every-2-months basis. But multivitamins, whey protein, and glutamine are exceptions-I use them year-round.
Are some brands of whey protein better than others? Do you have any tricks to make shakes taste better? My favorite is American Whey, Double Chocolate flavor. I buy 25 pounds at a time. Instone Intake Lean is also a great-tasting whey protein in both vanilla spice and chocolate flavors. Mixed with water, this stuff gets so thick you can’t drink it through a straw. If yours needs a flavor fix, try these recipes.
Chocolate-Whey Protein Doctor
1/2 c soy milk
1 frozen banana
1 tsp maple syrup
Pinch of nutmeg
1 serving chocolate whey protein
1/4 c fat-free milk
In a blender, blend all the ingredients except the fat-free milk, then slowly add the milk until you produce the right consistency.
Vanilla Whey-Protein Doctor
1/2 c soy milk
1 frozen banana
1/4 c canned strawberries (with syrup)
1 serving vanilla whey protein
Skim milk (optional)
Blend the soy milk, fruit, and whey protein until smooth and, if needed, slowly add a little skim milk until you reach the desired consistency.
What are your key kitchen tools?
- An espresso grinder for my flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of fiber, and they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids. You can buy preground flaxseeds at a decent price, but in the long run, it’s much cheaper to grind your own. I grind a week’s worth at a time and store them in the fridge.
- A bamboo steamer for steamed vegetables, chicken, and fish. I’ve used one since college. I put chicken or fish on the bottom level, then longer-cooking vegetables on the next level, and the quickest-cooking vegetables on top. All you do is place the steamer over a pot of boiling water and sprinkle in some salt-free lemon pepper. This way you have a complete meal in minutes.
- A hand mixer for blending smoothies. I don’t use it every time I mix a whey-protein shake, but it’s a great, inexpensive tool.
Do you drink? What’ll you have? I don’t drink alcohol very often, but when I do, I like a nice glass of red wine. Too much alcohol can deplete your body’s calcium, as well as potassium and magnesium-all-important nutrients for building muscle and staying lean.
By Gregg Avedon, Men’s Health