A salad is a super, convenient, easy and affordable way to work in a few servings of vegetables into your daily diet. I won't mention all of the health benefits that come from a plant strong diet but for athletes, vegetables act as a low calorie method to pack in fiber, antioxidants and an abundance of vitamins and minerals into your daily diet, to support proper immune system functioning while optimizing metabolic and hormonal health.
When constructing the perfect salad, we must differentiate between eating a salad as part of a meal versus eating a salad as the main component of the meal. As I mentioned above, most days during the week, a salad is my lunch meal but on my longer workout days, when energy expenditure is quiet high and I need to focus on consuming more energy dense, nutritious foods, a salad complements my my main meal (which is typically rich in carbohydrates and plant protein).
From a nutrition perspective, as it relates to creating a salad that acts as the main component of your meal, here are a few tips to ensure that you are meeting your individual nutrient requirements.
Keep in mind that a balanced diet is one that meets your individual needs in a cultural, enjoyable and financial way. There is no one-size-fit all "balanced diet" as a healthy eating plan is a sustainable style of eating that allows your body to function optimally on a day-to-day basis.
- A perfect salad starts with a bed of greens. Don't limit yourself just to the popular options like spinach, kale and romaine as there are so many different greens that can add a nice texture and taste to your salad. Check out this list of greens, featured in a previous Trimarni Newsletter. As mentioned in the newsletter article, combine together 3-4 different greens. A mild lettuce like red or green leaf will compliment a crisp choice like romaine. A peppery or bitter green like arugula or radicchio will add a little kick. Take advantage of pre-washed greens when you are in a hurry, as they are convenient and easy when it comes to meal prep.
- Is your diet lacking color? Phytochemicals give plants their distinctive colors and may act as antioxidants, which have many disease-preventing properties. Phytochemicals and vitamins and minerals work together, so a varied diet, rich in color, will help optimize health. Make sure your salad is bursting in color - red, purple, orange, yellow, green, white - so that you can eat the rainbow! This step in your salad making process is where you can add a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices.
- If your meal is lacking a crunch, it's likely that you will be searching to fulfill your crunchy craving soon after you eat your salad meal. Crunchy foods, like nuts and seeds, provide a nice texture to a salad meal. Plus, when added to a salad, you can easily control the portion (unlike snacking on nuts and seeds). These crunchy foods also offer a healthy amount of calories and fat to help you absorb fat soluble vitamins. Add a small handful of crunch to your salad - your taste buds will thank you with every bite.
- Speaking of fat, avocado, oil and cheese can help promote satiety. It's common to feel incredibly full after eating a nutrient-dense salad but if it's lacking fat, you will likely feel hungry soon after the contents in your gut begin to digest.
- Don't forget the protein! Beans, legumes, edamame, tempeh, tofu, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, chicken, turkey, red meat, fish - there are so many options! Opt for around 20-30g of protein in your salad meal. To make sure that protein gets on your plate, I suggest to prep your protein ahead of time and to always have a few go-to options (ex. cottage cheese, hardboiled eggs, frozen edamame) when you are in a hurry.
- Last comes the dressing. Since many commercial salad dressings are high in calories, fat and salad, opt to make your own dressing or keep it simple with olive oil, balsamic or salsa. To help evenly coat your greens, make your salad in a container (with a lid) so that you can pour on the dressing before eating and then give it a big shake. Another tip is to drizzle your dressing on your salad and then use a pizza cutter to "cut" the dressing into the salad. If all else fails, have a large zip-lock bag to give your salad a shake with your dressing (probably not the best strategy if eating out at a restaurant - instead, I would go with the dip the fork into the dressing and then pick up your greens).
But where are the carbs????
As it relates to carbohydrates in the athletes diet, I find that many athletes will opt for the most convenient carb out there......bread. While there is nothing wrong with bread (fresh local bread is a daily staple in our house), I find that our society (America) has an unhealthy relationship with bread.
For many cultures, bread is not suppose to be low-calorie, gluten free or filled with chemicals that inhibit mold growth, not to mention sliced and stored in a plastic bag. Perhaps I have a different appreciation of bread because of my European husband, who grew up on fresh, local bread that was purchased every day by walking to the nearby grocery/bakery and his mother wouldn't never buy something if it could be made at home, with love.
(Botanically speaking, quinoa, the "grain" featured in the Path of Life products, is a relative of spinach, beets and chard and it's technically a seed. But, it's still a great addition to your daily diet, along with whole grains.).
Happy salad eating!