If you’re looking to improve your health and build a head turning physique, you’ll need to establish a healthy shopping routine at the grocery store.
The moment you walk through the doors, you’ll be met with displays of candy, energy drinks, and other “quick fixes” which can hold you back from your goals.
Remember, your training session is only a small part of your day, but healthy nutrition is a day-long habit.
Whether your priority is losing fat, increasing muscle mass, improved performance, or simply improving your health, making the right choices at the grocery store can be the difference between success and failure.
With so much conflicting information on the internet, I can appreciate why it’s difficult to make the right choices all the time. Don’t get frustrated, I’m here to help.
Follow me around the aisles of a grocery store as I educate you on what to avoid and what to buy.
What To Avoid
The most obvious things to avoid are heavily processed foods such as prepared frozen meals, candy, ice cream and anything which is deep fried. For the most part, if a food is in any of the following aisles, it is likely not the healthiest option:
- Frozen food
- Frozen meat
- Chips & snacks
Keep in mind that there will be exceptions to this guideline. For example, frozen vegetables, found in the freezer section, or oatmeal in the cereal aisle, are absolutely fine. But generally speaking, these aisles tend to be full of foods which are either loaded with sugar or unhealthy trans fats.
While the guideline of “shopping the perimeter of the store” is more well-known, what about the more intricate details which tend to separate those with lean muscular physiques and those who never get there? Read on and I’ll tell you.
A good example of how a healthy food can become less healthy is canned tuna. Tuna is a terrific lean protein source for its low cost and convenience factor. However, you need to pay attention to the substance it’s packed with.
Some are packed in water, some in brine, and others in oil. I always suggest avoiding anything which is going to elevate your sodium intake such as brine, or unintentionally add a lot of fat into your diet such as oil. These are nutrients you can add to your meal as you need them – with better control than if the food is packaged with it.
Another white fish, tilapia, is a commonly consumed protein source among bodybuilders, but it should be selected with caution. I’m very aware about the rearing process of the foods I eat, as well as the environment they’re subjected to, as that can influence how the food impacts my body and my performance.
Most of the tilapia on the shelves in North America has been aggressively farmed in China, living in overpopulated pools, leading to a high level of exposure to waste product. When compared to Alaskan wild cod, the wild caught fish has lived in a large volume of clean, fresh water. This factor is definitely worth considering to help mitigate toxicity and the cleanliness of your food choices.
The meat aisle is another place to be an educated consumer. People tend to think purely of protein as a staple macronutrient, but don’t consider the type of meat and its quality, including things like trans fats, toxins, and sodium.
Mass produced meat products such as sausages and boxed burgers should be avoided as they’re usually full of unhealthy fats, filler ingredients, and way too many calories per serving.
Instead, buy good selections of ground meats and make your own burgers at home. Sources such as freshly ground turkey, grass-fed beef, and chicken have solid nutrient profiles and make great tasting meals.
The one food group which might shock you is fruit. While I will include some fruit in my diet, for the most part I typically avoid most of them due to their high sugar content. Vegetables give me plenty of vitamins and micronutrients without as much sugar.
Overall, some broad rules to help you would be to avoid anything which is high in sugar or fat because it will be highly caloric and often low in nutrition. Eating foods high in sugar or fat will make it difficult to meet your nutritional needs for the day without consuming too many calories.
My rule is to always look for the most nutrition from the least amount of calories, which allows me to eat more food without blowing through my calories for the day. For example, eating plenty of vegetables, like broccoli, keeps me full with less calories. Feeling full also helps minimize cravings – another benefit of nutrient-dense foods.
What To Buy
Now that you know the areas of the grocery store to avoid, we can focus on the items you’ll want to fill your shopping cart with. First, pretty much anything in the fresh vegetable aisle gets a green light. I like to include a wide variety to get lots of different colors.
This isn't just to make my plate look pretty, the wide spectrum of colors actually yield different nutritional properties. One may be rich in Vitamin C while another may be loaded with Vitamin A and iron. Greens are always a staple vegetable selection because they’re very dense in fiber, which is fundamental to anybody on a health-focused journey.
When it comes to meat, anything which is natural and low in fat is generally fine, although I like to avoid pork. Lean cuts of steak; chicken breast, and turkey are all good choices. Fish can also come under this category. I’ll usually go for cod as a lean option, or salmon if I’m after a boost of healthy omega 3 fats.
While I mentioned that I usually avoid fruit because of the sugar content, there is one exception. Berries are relatively low in calories and are the most nutritious fruit available with plenty of antioxidants. I’ll add blueberries and strawberries to my oatmeal, and sometimes pineapple because it is rich in bromelain which helps the body break down and digest protein.
To add some flavor to my meals, I’ll opt for low fat cheese, fat free yogurt, and calorie free hot sauces. These are all things which give me extra taste without adding too many calories, like fat-based, creamy sauces and dressings might.
Another item which adds flavor, but is richer in calories, is natural almond butter. If I’m on a muscle building plan, or training for an ironman as I am right now, and require extra fat, almond butter is a great way to achieve that while enjoying the added flavor. In fact, one of my all-time favorite snacks is dipping celery sticks in almond butter.
The Benefits Of Healthy Food Choices
The fitness industry has shifted to solely focusing on numbers. Calories and macros are all I hear about, but what about food quality?
You can meet your exact nutritional needs every day and still have a diet which is full of processed or unhealthy foods which can cause inflammation and digestive issues. All of this can make recovering, burning fat, and growing muscle much more difficult.
In my experience, the greatest benefit of buying healthy, natural food is the ability my body has to absorb everything I eat without bad side effects.
Before the nutrients can be properly dispersed into my blood stream, and thereafter benefit my performance and physique, my gut has to be able to digest and assimilate all of it. If the food choices I make are less healthy, regardless of the “numbers”, the outcome will be compromised.
Every day I need to be able to rise early, fulfill all my business obligations along with traveling and training. To do this, my body and brain have to be primed with the very best nutrition which keeps me healthy and functioning optimally – both mentally and physically.
By default, this allows for more energy, effortless fat loss, muscle growth, improved performance, and faster recovery.
Hopefully this trip around the grocery store has shed some light on what should be going into your shopping cart. Healthy habits are the most powerful things you can develop.
Once you become accustomed to making healthier choices in the grocery store, you will quickly learn what to choose and what to avoid. All of a sudden it becomes normal to check the labels and packaging more thoroughly, and identifying things you don’t want to consume is easier.
Soon you’ll be well on your way to your heathiest self.