If you were a car, what kind of car would you be? Would you be a puttering commuter ride, stuck in the slow lane and waiting for an exit? If so, you might be able to subsist on the lowest-grade fuel—those heavily processed dishes that are low on nutrition and high on cheap sources of energy. As the years go on and the miles pile up, of course, you might start wonder why you never seem to run right and keep ending up in the shop. 

But if you like to muscle up a mountain road, make heavy loads look light, or simply go cruising down the freeway of life, you might want fuel that's a little richer—a little more complete. You may want to prioritize fuels that give you adequate amounts of key nutrients that have been shown to keep your engine purring. 

You may scoff at the comparison of something as familiar as your body to something as exotic as, say, a Lamborghini. But the truth is that our bodies are much more complex and well-wrought than even the fanciest cars. The last thing they need is nutrient-poor food full of excess sugars and fat that burns fast initially, but then slows you down. Our bodies don't run well on protein sources that are high in saturated fats, which can lead to inflammation and slow down our post-workout recovery. 


If your grocery store had "grades" of food, here's what they'd look like. 

Top-Grade Protein

  • Eggs
  • Chicken or turkey breast
  • Beef: sirloin, filet, flank
  • Lean ground meats (90/10 or leaner)
  • Fish: salmon, tilapia, tuna, cod
  • Seafood: scallops, oysters, crab
  • Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
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Top-Grade Carbs

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Oats
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Rice
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potatoes

Top-Grade Fats

  • Oils: olive, canola, coconut
  • Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews
  • Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, flax, chia
  • Nut butters: peanut, almond, cashew
  • Avocados

Regular-Grade Protein

  • Greasy ground meats 
  • Fried fish
  • Chicken wings
  • Anything breaded or heavily sauced
  • Sweetened yogurt

Regular-Grade Carbs

  • Sugary cereal
  • Sweetened drinks
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Desserts

Regular-Grade Fats

  • Vegetable oil
  • Lard
  • Bacon fat
  • Baked goods

Look at the list, and you'll see that top-grade protein maximizes muscle growth and repair without weighing you down with copious amounts of extra calories. Top-grade carbohydrates provide you with long-lasting energy and a boost in several essential nutrients. And top-grade fats are rich in vitamins and minerals, and have strong anti-inflammatory properties. 

These are the foods you want to put in your tank. So, the next time you roll up to the grocery store, hold yourself to a higher standard!

About the Author

Paul Salter, MS, RD

Paul Salter, MS, RD

Paul Salter, MS, RD, CSCS, received his BS in dietetics from the University of Maryland and his MS in exercise and nutrition science from the University of Tampa.

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