Exercising and eating well go hand-in-hand, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. These are the healthy eating kitchen essentials everyone needs.
Your food should provide the nutrients that give you energy for day-to-day activity, as well as restore your muscles and help you recover after a workout.
Achieving your fitness goals doesn’t rely on exercise alone; what you eat is crucial too. Your food needs to provide the nutrients that give you energy and allow you to perform at your best, as well as to restore your muscles and help you recover after a workout.
Of course, eating fresh foods – especially lots of fresh vegetables and fruit – is an important part of this. But there are also a few healthy ‘staples’ that every fitness lover should keep in their cupboard.
They can help you make a quick healthy meal when you get in from a workout, or a nutritious snack to eat on the go, and provide lots of those energy and muscle-restoring nutrients.
Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns and Joe Wicks, The Body Coach share their kitchen essentials for a healthy diet.
Table of Contents
Joe says eggs are vital for every kitchen: “The home of healthy fats and good any time of day.”
Eggs are great to have hard boiled and kept in the fridge in an air-tight container, this way you always have a healthy snack to pick up and eat. Provided you’ve already peeled the shell, of course.
Tinned beans and pulses
Cassandra explains: “Beans, lentils and chickpeas have a lot going for them as a store cupboard staple. They’re a great mix of carbohydrates and protein, both of which are needed to restore your muscles after a workout. They’re a good way to quickly and easily add some extra protein to salads, soups, stews and even stir-fries, and are a particularly important source of protein if you’re vegan or vegetarian.”
Make a quick meal or snack by missing drained lentils with avocado, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, and olives. Drizzle it with some lemon juice and olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper.
Joe thinks we should all be using coconut oil is perfect for cooking with as it's a natural saturated fat. Use it to fry eggs as well as in your beauty routine, there're so many different uses for coconut oil.
Cassandra says: “If you work out early in the morning, a big bowl of oat porridge can make a perfect post-workout breakfast. Nairn’s Gluten-Free Porridge Oats (£1.99, www.nairns-oatcakes.com) provide slow-releasing carbohydrates to help replenish your muscle glycogen (the energy stored in your muscles) and are a good source of magnesium, which may support muscle recovery and relaxation. Stir in chopped nuts, raspberries or sliced strawberries, and cinnamon. Porridge can also be a good ‘emergency’ supper on the odd occasion you come in really late from a workout and don’t have time to prepare a meal.”
Coconuts are definitely enjoying their health status of late, and coconut milk, according to Joe, is perfect to have to hand to whip up a curry in a hurry. Much more delicious and nutritious than ringing the local takeaway.
It seems that normal pasta just won’t cut it anymore. Cassandra explains: “We’ve already seen the benefits of getting your carbs and protein together in the form of beans and pulses. Well, now you can get this combination from your pasta too. Clearspring’s Green Pea and Quinoa Pasta (£2.89, www.clearspring.co.uk) provides 21 g of protein per 100 g compared to around 12 g in standard wheat pasta and only 8 g in brown rice pasta. This makes it fantastic as part of a meal for refuelling after a workout. Use it in place of any ‘normal’ pasta.”
We imagine we’d be hard-pressed to find any health enthusiasts’ kitchen without this green goddess fruit that’s packed with plenty of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
“These should be in everyone’s cupboard, but particularly if you’re into your fitness,” says Cassandra.
“They’re a great source of protein for restoring your muscles and building strength. They contain lots of omega-3 fats, which may help with reducing inflammation – particularly helpful if you’re sore after a workout or want to recover faster. (Note that tuna provides protein, but not the beneficial omega-3s) Sardines are also one of our best non-dairy sources of calcium – if you eat the soft bones. Calcium plays a vital role in muscle function and energy as well as keeping our bones strong.”
Sweet potatoes are a great kitchen essential because they’re so versatile. Joe loves to make mash, fries and fritters with them. And there’s a new trend of using them as toast as well. But honestly, we find them so difficult to cut we’ll be sticking with the easiest method of eating them – a jacket spud.
“Believe it or not, intensive exercise can have a negative effect on your gut health. So eating foods that are rich in easily absorbed nutrients and are gentle on the gut can be particularly helpful after a workout,” explains Cassandra.
Traditional fermented foods are the answer. As the fermentation process can increase their nutrient levels, as well as making them easier to digest.
Two great store cupboard staples are miso paste and umami paste. Try Clearspring’s Japanese Umami Paste (£4.49, www.clearspring.co.uk), which is made with organic, natural ingredients – soy sauce, cultured rice and spices. It can be used directly as a dip or condiment with a few oatcakes or carrot sticks, or added into stews, stir-fries or sauces.
Blueberries are the little blue fruit that packs plenty of punch when it comes to health benefits. Joe suggests eating them with your pancakes or oats in the morning, and they’re great for snacking throughout the day too. They’re packed with antioxidants, are great for your skin and help flatten your stomach too.
Nut or seed butter
Cassandra says it’s important to have nut or seed butter in the cupboard: “They are good sources of restorative protein and healthy fats. They’re rich in minerals too, including magnesium and calcium that support energy, muscle function and bone strength, and zinc for the immune system.
“Nut or seed butter (which are simply nuts or seeds ground to a creamy paste) make a fantastic tasty, filling snack when combined with complex carbohydrates such as oatcakes. Rather than peanut butter, go for almond, walnut, cashew nut, hazelnut or pumpkin seed butter, as they have a better nutrient content and a superior profile of healthy fats. But because they’re so delicious, it’s easy to overdo nut butter – keep it to a teaspoon or two at a time rather than half the jar.”
Whether they’re dried or fresh, keeping these in the kitchen will bring spice to your life according to Joe. They add flavour to your meals and chillies have been found to help boost metabolism too.
“Honey is not just sugar. Honey can also have healing, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties,” explains Cassandra.
Manuka honey – which is produced by bees that pollinate the manuka bush – is renowned for its antibacterial activity in particular, and has become a popular natural remedy for coughs, sore throats and other mild infections.
This can be particularly relevant for athletes and fitness fanatics, as intensive exercise can temporarily suppress the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to coming down with a bug.
Add it to your smoothies, yoghurt and porridge for a touch of sweetness, but keep it to a teaspoon at a time.
“Protein powders can be a great way to top up your protein intake,” says Cassandra.
“Whey protein is a popular choice for gym-goers and athletes, of course. But pea protein is a winner too. It’s suitable for vegans (who are often in particular need of extra protein) and those with a dairy intolerance. It’s more filling than whey protein. And because it has a neutral flavour and high tolerance to heat, you can add it to warm or hot foods such as soups, stews and porridge to give them a protein boost, as well as using it in shakes and smoothies.
“All in all, a great store cupboard staple! Try Nature’s Plus Pea Protein powder (£22.50, www.naturesplus.co.uk) an organic pea protein that’s free from sweeteners, sugar and artificial additives.”