Boost energy with these hour-by-hour tips
Raise your hand if you wish a nutritionist would tell you exactly what to eat and when to look and feel great all day long. Yeah, we thought so—that’s why we tapped three experts who counsel real women on the simple secrets of smarter meal planning. Kick your sugar addiction and get ready for summer in only 21 days!
Here’s what they told us:
1) Have a meal or small snack every 3 to 4 hours. This fuels your metabolism and helps prevent binges and blood sugar crashes.
2) Combine protein (meat, fish, beans, nuts, eggs, dairy) and fiber (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) at every meal. When eaten together, these foods take longer to digest than simpler carbohydrates, so you stay fuller, longer.
3) Get up, move around, and drink water often. This daily meal plan has a wide range of calories (from about 1,550 to 2,100); if you’re active you can go toward the higher end of the range.
Finally, remember that even the “perfect day” isn’t perfect if you eat the same thing over and over again. Use the principles outlined here to mix and match your own delicious, healthy meals
6:30 to 7 am: Wake up with water
“Before you put coffee, tea, or food into your body, it’s best to first break your fast with a glass of water with lemon,” says Ashley Koff, RD, a nutritionist and Prevention advisor. When you sleep, Koff says, your body isn’t just abstaining from food but from water, too. “Because many vitamins are water-soluble, having a glass before you eat will help your body better absorb nutrients from food.” The acidity of the lemon helps rebalance your digestive tract by making it alkaline, allowing “good” bacteria in your intestines to thrive and facilitate optimal nutrient absorption.
7:30 am: Breakfast
All of our experts loved oatmeal for breakfast. Have one-half cup of uncooked oats or a packet of instant. “Your body digests the fiber slowly, so you stay full for a couple of hours,” says Brooke Alpert, MS, RD, founder of B Nutritious, a private nutrition counseling practice in New York City. For protein, add a glass of fat-free milk, yogurt, or a hard-boiled egg. Or stir some nuts (almonds or walnuts) into your oats. For fruit, Alpert recommends one-half cup of mixed berries for vitamins and antioxidants and more fiber. You can also pour a small glass of OJ, which has nutrients like vitamin C, folate, and potassium. (These 9 almost-instant breakfasts are perfect for when you’re short on time.)
10:30 to 11 am: Small snack
Eat every 3 to 4 hours to keep energy up and avoid big mealtime binges. For fiber and protein, try an apple with a string cheese or a handful of nuts (especially if you didn’t have them at breakfast). “Everyone should have an apple in her desk drawer,” says Alpert. “They’re the perfect take-along snack—they don’t bruise in your purse and they’re easy to eat anywhere.” Or try yogurt (Koff likes the nonfat Greek kind) with some berries (check out these 6 yogurt add-ins for more ideas).
1 to 1:30 pm: Lunch
Build yourself a rainbow salad, says Alpert. Start with dark, leafy greens and pile them high with a mix of colorful veggies, protein, and good-for-you fats. Try tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and mushrooms for a healthy mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Add ¼ cup of avocado for healthy, monounsaturated fat, and ½ cup of protein, like tuna fish, grilled chicken, turkey, beans, or lentils. “Get adventurous with different veggies every day,” Alpert says. “The more color and variety, the better.”
All of the nutritionists gave the okay on dressing, but don’t drown your salad in it, and choose a light version or an olive oil-based one. “You want some fat in your salad because it helps your body digest fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K,” says Skolnick. Wash your meal down with water.
3:30 to 4 pm: Afternoon snack
Welcome to the witching hour: Almost everyone needs to snack between lunch and dinner, says Alpert. For a fiber-protein mix, try a 6-ounce yogurt (the natural milk sugars help with sweet cravings) and a handful of high-fiber cereal. Have a banana with a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter. “Or pick something fun,” says Koff, like an ounce of dark chocolate (70% cacao). It’s packed with polyphenols, a type of antioxidant shown to help lower blood pressure, keep your brain sharp, and more.
6 to 7 pm: Walk or work out
If you didn’t walk in the morning, now is a good time to squeeze in some exercise. “When you’re home waiting before dinner is when the munchies happen,” says Alpert. She recommends some kind of regular predinner activity to all her clients, whether it’s just circling your block a couple of times or going to the gym. “When you have something scheduled, you’re less likely to float in and out of the kitchen.” It’s also a smart to try to include walking in your commute. If you drive to work, pick a far-away parking spot, says Alpert. If you take a train or bus, hop off a stop earlier than your usual and hoof it the rest of the way.
7:30 pm: Dinner
Start this meal off with soup, recommend our experts. Studies show that people who do end up eating less overall. Have a cup of a low-fat broth-based kind, like minestrone, miso, or gazpacho. For the main meal, “I’d like to see a nice portion, 3 or 4 ounces, of grilled wild salmon because it has lean protein and provides healthy omega-3 fats,” says Alpert. Add cooked vegetables like sautéed broccoli or spinach and ½ cup of brown rice.
For a nonfish option, try turkey meatballs (roll in some whole oats for extra fiber and spices for antioxidants) over a bed of spaghetti squash, which has the texture of pasta but counts as a veggie serving. Use ½ cup of tomato sauce, and sprinkle a handful of pine nuts on top for extracrunchy texture. Have water with dinner, ideally, but a small (4-ounce) glass of wine is fine from time to time, our nutritionists concurred.