You already know what foods are bad for you. We won't name names, but some make you feel bloated, others spike your blood sugar levels, and many leave you hungry minutes after you've swallowed. But even if you never lay a finger on junk food, you may be falling short on some nutritional powerhouses that can fuel your workout and maximize weight loss. Read on and discover eight edibles that will prime your body for the results you deserve.
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This whole grain superstar is a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids, which are crucial for building strong muscles. Just 1 cooked cup touts 8 g of protein and 5 g of fiber. Substitute quinoa for white rice and double your protein; swap quinoa for brown rice and cut your prep time in half. "Quinoa is awesome because it cooks quickly and is nutrient-dense," says Tara DelloIacono-Thies, RD, at Clif Bar & Company. Serve it with grilled chicken or salmon for a healthy meal that's also gluten-free.
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Popeye may have been on to something. Rutgers University researchers found that spinach contains the hormone lutein that increases protein synthesis, repairing muscle tissue faster after you exercise. Though you'd have to gobble massive quantities to reap extraordinary benefits, experts agree this dark leafy green is still one of the healthiest foods you can eat. One cup (raw) offers 15% of your day's folate, a vitamin that may help protect against heart disease and stroke. If you can't stomach the texture of spinach in a salad, Jason Machowsky RD, CSCS, suggests blending 1 cup of packed leaves with one ripe banana, 8 ounces of low-fat milk, and eight ice cubes for a morning smoothie.
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Never underestimate the importance of water. It boosts energy, builds muscle, and promotes satiety. "Sometimes we eat food, but we are actually thirsty for water," Machowsky says. And being just 2% dehydrated can severely impact athletic performance, he adds. Not sure you're getting enough water? Divide your weight in half. That's roughly how many ounces you need to drink each day. Try guzzling the first 16 ounces as soon as you wake up. Drinking cold water in the morning can spur metabolism by 24%, according to German researchers.
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Greek yogurt boasts all the benefits of regular yogurt (friendly bacteria that rev your metabolism, calcium that strengthens your bones and helps you slim down) with nearly double the protein. Opt for low-fat instead of fat-free. The latter may contain more sodium, and people tend to overeat when they see "fat-free" on the label. Besides, your body needs a little fat to function properly.
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Because an egg contains all the essential amino acids, it's one of the best protein sources to promote muscle growth. And the yolk touts vitamin B12, a nutrient that helps contract muscles and break down fat. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition also found that high-quality, low-fat protein, like that in eggs, may prevent muscle loss in older adults and promote muscle growth in active adults.
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Not all fat is bad. It's necessary to protect organs, absorb vitamins, and regulate body temperature. It's the type of fat you're consuming that matters. Saturated fats, typically found in animal products, can clog arteries and hinder blood flow. But healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), can help lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, and reduce belly fat. In the world of produce, the avocado reigns as the MUFA king. Avocados may also double the absorption rate of carotenoids, antioxidants believed to lower the risk of heart disease, according to a Lancet study.
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Mother Nature may not approve of a king-size chocolate bar, but she'll be fine with berries when your sweet tooth is calling. A cup of strawberries has 3 g of fiber (a respectable amount relative to candy) and as much vitamin C as a cup of orange juice--with far less sugar. And strawberries may help you stay satisfied after a workout. A study in the Journal of American College of Nutrition reported that adults who drank juice infused with pectin, a type of fiber found in strawberries, stayed full 4 hours longer.
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This is one of the fastest ways to get your daily fill of whole grains. Have a cup of cooked oatmeal first thing in the morning or as a quick snack and you'll pack in 6 g of protein and almost 70% of your daily dose of manganese, a mineral that helps process protein. Oatmeal may also protect against high blood pressure and diabetes. Just make sure your oats aren't loaded with sugar.
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