From the Gym to the Kitchen

How often have you become frustrated, in the gym, because you are not reaching your goals or seeing the results of your hard work?  You have the stamina and are determined, dedicated, and motivated.  You feel as though you’ve hit a wall.  Your efforts are not paying dividends and you are contemplating taking a break from working out.  If this is your experience, rest assured you are not alone.  Before you make any hasty decisions let’s explore a couple of possibilities that may help you increase your muscle gain, lose fat, contribute to increased endurance and reinforce healthy diet and eating habits.   The solution may be as simple as tweaking your diet and eating habits.

The first thing I share with all new athletes that I have an opportunity to work with is:  “It does not matter how much time you spend in the gym working out IF you do not modify your eating and cooking habits.”  Regardless of your personal or professional training goals, healthy eating is the backbone to any workout program.  We all learned in grade school that food serves as fuel for the body.  Without the proper nutrition or right food choices, you may be sabotaging your efforts.  Let’s explore how our eating and cooking habits affect what goes on in the gym.

Let’s review some basics.  Regardless of your training goals, our eating habits (nutrition) serves as the foundation to what happens in the gym.  Food is the fuel that our body uses to help us reach our goals.  Without the proper nutrition, you may be unintentionally sabotaging your efforts and stalling the results you want to achieve.  A balanced diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, complete proteins, and fats from such things as fish oils, flaxseed, and avocados.

Since nutrition is our foundation, how can you ensure it does not get short changed throughout the week?  A trick that I use is planning ahead.  I routinely set Sunday afternoon aside to prepare meals for the upcoming week.  This will include some breakfast items, definitely lunch and all dinners.  By planning ahead, I have time go to the store, think through the menu, smartly choose proteins and piece together the appropriate vegetables and greens.  Micah LaCerte, a personal trainer and fitness competition world champion advocates that by planning ahead and preparing food in advance is the best practice and will ensure that you do not miss a meal or eat bad foods.  My next point is counter intuitive; Eat more food.

Yes, you read that right!  Eat more food.  Over the years physicians, dietitians, personal trainers, fellow athletes and gym owners have reinforced this concept.  Eating five times per day (approximately every three hours) stimulates your metabolism (the body’s ability to produce energy.)    The more energy you have, the active you become. The more active you are, the more calories you will burn throughout the course of the day.  There are multiple sources available that can lend assistance in menu planning.  I personally like to refer to Men’s Health.  Here is a sample menu that lays out a five meal plan.

Sample Meal Plan

Breakfast Calories Carbohydrates Protein Fat
½ cup granola 180 36 6 2.5
6 oz. low fat vanilla yogurt 140 25 7 1.5
1 medium apple, chopped with ½ teaspoon cinnamon 74.76 20 0.36 0.3
TOTAL 394.76 81 13.36 4.3
Snack 1
2 teaspoons (TSP) dried cranberries 48 11.5 0 0.2
10 almonds 69.4 2.4 2.6 6.1
Total 117.4 13.9 2.6 6.3
Roast Beef and Spinach Wrap
    3 oz. roast beef, sliced 135 0 21 4.5
    ½ cup black beans 109.2 19.9 7.2 0.4
    2 table spoons (TBS) salsa 10 3 0 0
    1 cup baby spinach 10 2.6 0.6 0
    2 Tbs dried avocado (can substitute fresh if dried not available) 30 1.6 0.4 2.8
    1 whole wheat flour tortilla 140 22 4 3
Total 434.2 49.1 33.2 10.7
Snack 2
1 medium banana 105 27 1.3 0.4
½ cup low fat cottage cheese 81.4 3.1 1.4 1.2
Total 186.4 30.1 15.3 1.6
5 oz. grilled salmon 327.3 0 36.4 19
2 cups steamed Swiss chard with 1 tsp flax oil and lemon juice 110 14.5 6.6 4.8
1 cup sliced cucumber 15.6 3.8 0.3 0.1
Total 452.9 18.3 43.3 23.9
Snack 3
½ cup blueberries 41.3 10.5 0.5 0.2
1 oz. walnuts 185.4 3.9 4.3 18.5
Total 226.7 14.4 4.8 18.7
TOTALS: 1812.36 206.8 112.56 65.5

Source:  Men’s Health Fitness Challenge (1800 Calorie Meal Plan)

Since you are eating more often, portion control becomes extremely important. Professional athletes, dietitians and medical experts all recommend that “meats, to include the chicken breast, is no larger than the palm” and a serving of pasta is no larger than your fist.  A technique, I use, that helps with portion control is selecting a smaller plate, bowl or cup.  Trust the process, it works and you will reap the rewards of your hard work.  At the end of the day, “Everything that you eat should serve some sort of nutritional purpose for your body, serve to fuel your workouts, and be geared toward helping you achieve your goals and optimizing your body.”  Dan Trink, Health and Fitness Expert


By now you may be thinking, this all sounds good but how do I begin?  If you are asking this question there is no doubt that you are committed, dedicated, and motivated and ready to move ahead.  You may recall, earlier I discussed the importance of planning ahead.  This will always be an ongoing process and begins with you trip to the grocery store.  

Here are a few tips that you may find useful:

(1)    Shop the perimeters as much as possible.  The center aisles contain the junk food.

(2)    Try to select as much “real food” as possible.  A few examples include:  100% fruit juices, 100% whole grain items, dried beans, etc.  The less processing your food endures, the healthier it is.


(3)    Avoid any food containers that have cartoon characters on the label.  The best way to avoid eating junk food is to avoid having in your home or apartment.

(4)    Avoid foods with more than five ingredients, artificial ingredients, or ingredients that you cannot pronounce.

(5)     Make a checklist.  Planning your menus in advance will identify the ingredients that you need for each dish that you are making.

(6)    Produce and Fresh ingredients are essential.  You want to spend most of your time in the produce section.  When making your selections, consider choosing a “rainbow of colors” in the fruits and vegetables that you select.  The colors reflect the different vitamins, nutrients, minerals, etc. contained in each fruit and vegetable.


(7)    Breads, cereals, and pastas.  This is where even the most seasoned shopper can struggle. The goal is to select breads, cereals, and pastas that have the least amount of processing.  In many cases, this is easier said than done.  Here are a couple of things to consider.  Look for items that have at least 4 grams of fiber per serving and be sensitive to sugar content – (one level teaspoon of sugar will equal four grams.) Breads, cereals, and pastas offer you an opportunity to incorporate whole grains into your diet.  Whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur and barley are all solid choices.

(8)   Meat, Fish, and Poultry.  When making your selections, try to choose lean cuts of meat.  Personally, I opt for the fish and poultry on a regular basis.  When buying turkey or chicken, many fitness experts recommend going for the skinless option.  I find that skinless chicken breast is almost double the cost of a chicken breast with the skin on.  I purchase the chicken breasts with skin on and bone in.  Before cooking, I remove the skin and cook as I would a skinless breast.  This method helps save money.  When purchasing fish, ensure that it is fresh.

(9) Dairy.  Dairy products are a great source of calcium and vitamin D – both components required for building strong bones and teeth.

(10)  Frozen Foods.  Frozen fruits and vegetables that are not cooked in a sauce, are a great substitute for vegetables found in the produce aisle.  This can be especially useful during the winter months when produce costs escalate.

(11)  Canned and Dried Food.  These are necessities in every kitchen.  However, even with canned and dried food, you will have an opportunity to make some decisions to compliment your goals.  Specifically, whenever possible, consider selecting canned foods that do not have salt added (your blood pressure will thank-you) and fruit that is only packed in its own juices (eliminates needless sugar.)   In addition, tuna packed in water is always a plus.  Olive and Canola oils are wise choices along with assorted vinegars.

So far our journey has taken us through the menu planning process, creating a shopping list and going to the store to buy or groceries.  The next step in the journey is preparing and cooking our meal.  Here are four cooking methods that will help keep your menu light, retain nutritional value and enhance the flavor of your meals.  Here are four cooking methods that I use on a regular basis.  

Cooking Methods

Method Description Advantages
Boiling or cooking in water Food is cook right in the water.  Good for pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, fish, meat, and poultry. Safe and simple.  Food properly cooked inside and out.  Allows you to make light foods and in some cases, brings out the flavor.
Steaming Cooks food using humid heat.   Heat comes from boiling water avoiding direct contact with the water.  Foods cook at a relatively low temperature. Retains the most flavor with little loss of vitamins and minerals.  Foods like meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables, potatoes and pasta are great for steaming.  Food retains flavor.   Best cooking method for retaining vitamins and minerals.  Nutritional value depends upon what seasoning and sauces you add.
Microwaving Rapid heating by passing high frequency waves through food or liquid to be heated.  Quick, easy, and convenient Cooks food quickly and in less time.   Theoretically less butter and fat are needed to cook the food.  (The microwave technique lacks in nutritional value; basically destroys vitamins and minerals.)
Roasting Retains minerals in meat and seals in juices that concentrate inside the skin. Deep penetration of flavor.  Develops more pan juices that can be used for gravy.  Healthier than searing and frying.  Oven temperature is controlled.   (If food is cooked too long, it may become dry.)


There are no right or wrong answers when selecting your cooking method.  Each choice offers advantages regarding speed in cooking, flavor profiles and retaining nutritional values.  Just keep in mind, for every advantage, there may be a disadvantage.  Your decisions will be guided by what you goals you are trying to achieve and how well you want to compliment your gym efforts by modifying your dietary habits.  

written by  GJ PUHL, Free Lance Photojournalist and Creative Director Of Photography


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