This is an excerpt from Energy Every Day.
Now, let's discuss in a bit more detail what and how much you should eat during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We recommend that you follow the same rule at each meal: Imagine dividing your meal into three components: grains (e.g., rice, pasta, cereal, bread), fruits and vegetables, and protein (e.g., lean meat, dairy products, nuts). Aim for 40 percent grain, 40 percent fruits and vegetables, and 20 percent protein (see figure 3.1). That's 40/40/20. This approach provides the balanced, healthy nutrition that is essential for optimal functioning of the body; it also provides you with sustained energy. Do not skimp on one of the food groups; if you do, you will compromise the sustained energy this approach promises.
One simple but effective way to measure how much you should eat is to use your hands, which, regardless of whether you are male or female, are generally proportional to your body size. Aim to eat no more than five handfuls of food at each of your three meals: two handfuls of grain, two handfuls of fruits and vegetables, and one handful of protein. Cup one hand and imagine how much food you can hold in it (not a heaping cupful but a level one). That amount is one handful. For meat, use the palm of your hand as a gauge for the size and thickness that is appropriate (don't include the fingers and thumb). It's that simple! If you are a very active person, you should eat more often (including snacks) rather than increase the amount of food at mealtime.
For example, your breakfast could consist of two handfuls of cereal, one handful of fruit (such as chopped banana), a small glass of juice (i.e., another handful of fruit), and one handful of milk (for the cereal). Try applying the rule to a lunch or dinner meal for yourself. Table 3.1 shows a sample meal plan for two days. Now, remember those want foods (e.g., desserts, fries, alcohol) and the four-to-one ratio of need versus want foods? Well, to improve your ratio, all you have to do is replace one handful of grain with one handful of want food. For example, if you want to include a glass of wine with dinner, reduce your grains by eliminating bread or rolls with that meal. As long as you adhere to this ratio, you will still get one handful of grain, and the want food will provide energy too. This approach will help you meet your goal of sustaining high energy and enjoying foods you want. However, we recommend no more than two alcohol substitutions per day.
A note about supplements: Many folks spend a lot of time trying to figure out whether to add nutritional supplements to their diets. We believe that a healthy, balanced diet is by far the most important factor in providing energy and that if you follow our guidelines for proportions of different food groups you'll more than satisfy your nutritional needs. At most, we would suggest that you consider a daily multivitamin if you are not able to consistently adhere to these guidelines. Beyond that, we urge you to consult your personal physician or a certified nutritionist for special needs or circumstances.
If you are interested in a thorough treatment of nutrition, we strongly recommend the following books:
- Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Fourth Edition (2008, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL)
- The Anti-Diet Book, by Jack Groppel (1997, Human Performance Institute, Orlando, FL)