The Right Stuff: Performance Food
Certain foods can actually help you get the things you want: a good nights sleep, a big raise, a long-awaited pregnancy, and more. For the lowdown on the perfect fuel, we asked the experts for their secrets on what to eat to gear up for lifes little (and big) challenges.
Battling the sniffles
Best to eat: Warm fluids, plus garlic
Why: Liquids help by thinning mucus, easing a dry cough, and fending off dehydration due to fever, Heller says. “Garlic has disease-fighting compounds that can give your body a little boost,” she adds.
Try: A soup that has garlic or onions. Either can easily be added to chicken or vegetable broth.
Dreaming of sleep
Best to eat: Whole grains with protein
Why: If you toss and turn in bed, the right snack can help you unwind. Whole grains have carbohydrates that will increase the serotonin in your brain. Eating a meal with carbs, along with proteins that have the amino acid tryptophan, can help insomnia.
Try: A half-cup of whole-grain cereal with skim milk about an hour and a half before sleep. Other picks: hummus on a whole-wheat pita or a rice cake topped with tomato and a slice of turkey breast.
Trying to get pregnant
Best to eat: Complex carbs and protein, plus folic acid
Why: The carb-protein duo keeps insulin levels stable, and that helps fertility, says Jeremy Groll, MD, coauthor of Fertility Foods. “High insulin levels prohibit normal ovulation," he says. Take a prenatal vitamin (ask your doctor), Dr. Groll advises, and fill up on foods rich in folic acid to reduce the risk of spinal-cord defects.
Try: A fruit smoothie with yogurt and protein powder. For folic acid, eat more asparagus, leafy greens, oranges, and fortified cereals.
Before a workout
Best to eat: Light snack with carbs and water
Why: A small bite a half-hour to an hour before a workout will give you staying power but wont weigh you down. “It takes the edge off hunger and gives your body some calories,” says Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, author of Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food.
Try: Yogurt and a few whole-grain crackers if you have an hour or more before the workout; half a banana or 6 ounces of orange juice if you have less time, because they turn into energy (glucose) faster.
Hitting the road
Best to eat: A low-calorie meal that travels well
Why: Since youll probably be sitting for hours in a car or plane, you dont need a lot of calories. You may not be able to keep foods fresh either, so nonperishable, portable foods are also a smart bet. And a healthy snack will keep you away from fat-filled fast foods.
Try: A prepackaged green salad with chicken at the airport, or soup and a whole-wheat roll. For a short flight, shoot for a protein bar with about 15 grams of protein, Wurtman says. For a long road trip, Heller suggests trail mix made with whole-grain cereal, nuts, and dried fruit.
Asking for a raise
Best to eat: Lean protein and whole grains, plus caffeine
Why: You want to be alert and upbeat when youre hitting up the boss. Protein foods have an amino acid, tyrosine, that helps increase mental alertness, and whole grains have been shown to improve energy, says nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD. Also, caffeine improves attention and short-term memory. The effect is strongest if you down one to two 8-ounce cups at least 20 minutes (but no more than an hour) before your sit-down with the boss.
Try: An egg-white and spinach omelet, or a whole-wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese and java.
Speaking to a crowd
Best to eat: A high-protein, low-fat meal
Why: Its the perfect combo to help concentration and keep those butterflies in check. “Amino acids from the protein will not only help you with the ability to learn and recall information, but theyll also enhance your ability to concentrate and stay alert,” Moore says. Combine chicken, fish, beef, or tofu with some veggies or whole grains, but go easy on the greens, which have fiber that can make you feel gassy or bloated.
Try: A lightly dressed tuna salad with whole-wheat bread or grilled chicken on a small bed of greens.