- Mary Caldwell For the AJC
When you're looking for recommendations for nutritious foods, who better to consult than metro Atlanta trainers? Their workouts require plenty of energy, so they usually turn to healthy foods that will deliver the nutrients they need.
Catherine Luciano, personal training director at Concourse Athletic Club in Sandy Springs, talked with the club's trainers and, combined with her personal preferences, said the following are foods Atlanta trainers can't live without:
Trainers like a variety of nuts, Luciano said, but they particularly like to eat almonds. They're an excellent source of vitamin E, manganese, healthy fats and protein, and they're very low in saturated fat. They may also help lower your risk of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.
Any type of fruit is good, as long as you don't eat it all day, but trainers especially love bananas, Luciano said. They're loaded with potassium and pair well with peanut butter. They're also easy to grab and go. When you're having fruit, Luciano recommended eating them in their whole form – not fruit juices or dried fruit. Others forms can add in extras you don't want, like sugar, and lose fiber and other benefits.
People tend to be afraid of the fat content in oils, but Luciano said she's a fan of coconut oil. It contains medium-chain triglycerides, which go into the liver, where your body is able to burn it off. Luciano praised its versatility, pointing out that it holds up well under higher temperatures and is good for sautéing or roasting.
She recommended dark chocolate with a cacao (cocoa) percentage of 80 or above. It contains antioxidants and provides many overall health benefits, such as decreasing LDL cholesterol and increasing blood flow in your arteries and heart.
Egg whites contain most of the egg's protein and also have potassium, folate and other nutrients. They have no cholesterol, as opposed to an egg yolk, which has about 186 milligrams.
Trainers who aren't vegetarians tend to like lean meats like chicken or turkey breast, Luciano said. They also eat red meat in moderation, especially preferring leaner cuts such as loins, top loins and fillets. She recommended looking for grass-fed, free-range meats.
"We're definitely fans of oatmeal – preferably the steel cut kind, but it doesn't have to be," Luciano said. Oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate, so it breaks down more slowly than simple carbohydrates, she said. It also has a lot of fiber, which is good for your system and helps fill you up.
"We laugh about this one, but peanut butter is a staple for most of us," she said. It's high in fat and calories, but you also get a lot of nutrition, including protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. All-natural versions are preferable, she said.
Quinoa is loaded with protein, so it's great to have, Luciano said. It can be prepared for breakfast or any meal and is one of the most nutrient-dense carbs available. It has lots of iron and lysine, an amino acid that can help heal sore muscles after a workout.
Trainers also love sweet potatoes, she said. They're excellent sources of potassium, calcium and vitamins A and C, and they don't have any fat or cholesterol, unless you add toppings.
"Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables – I can't stress that enough. No one gets enough vegetables," Luciano said. She loves raw vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli paired with some hummus. Raw celery is also a favorite when topped with (you guessed it!) peanut butter. When you're not eating raw vegetables, she recommended steaming frozen veggies or trying canned, as long as you watch the sodium content. She also likes chopping up veggies and adding them to omelets.
What about protein bars and treats?
If you're wondering why protein bars didn't make the list, Luciano isn't a big fan. Some can contain lots of fat and sugar, making them glorified candy bars. They can also contain as many calories as an entire meal but won't be as filling. If you want to have a protein bar, she recommended reading the labels carefully to see if it's a healthy option.
As for treats, trainers definitely enjoy those, too. If the vast majority of your diet is healthy and you work out on a consistent basis, it's OK to indulge in some unhealthier options, Luciano said.
"Of course we indulge," she said. "But there has to be balance."