Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Muscle Foods for Men

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.

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