Most people know the commonly accepted assertion that celery registers 'negative calories' because you expend more energy chewing and digesting it than the celery provides.
This is know as a food's 'thermic effect' and can play a significant role in both leaning down (fat loss) and muscling up.
The thermic effect (sometimes known as dietary induced thermogenesis (DIT) and specific dynamic action (SDA) ) is the energy required for digestion, absorption, and disposal of ingested nutrients.
And it differs widely across the food groups. Protein (of course!) is king, being difficult to process while dietary fat is the worst offender, slipping onto the hips with barely a murmur of protest from your bod!
As a guideline the thermic effect of the food groups bodybuilders are most concerned with is:
Carbohydrates: 5 to 15 % of the energy consumed
Protein: 20 to 35%
Fats: 5 %
Interestingly studies show the thermic effect of food is increased by both aerobic training of sufficient duration and intensity and by anaerobic weight training. That's pumping iron and cardio to you and me!
Further research at the Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes University also concluded that processed food was a no-no as it slashed the positive thermic effect by 50% and that chillies were a big plus.
The study said: “ Adding increases DIT by over 50 % which over time may accumulate to help induce weight loss and prevent weight gain or regain.”
Bearing the thermic effect in mind and balancing it with necessary fats, fruit and veggies for vitamins and minerals, necessary for recovery from your workouts and the good carbs necessary to fuel your muscles so you feel full of energy at the gym we've selected our favourite 20 super foods.
1. Whole Eggs. Cheap & rich source of protein: 7g/egg. The yolk contains most nutrients: half the protein, vitamins A/D/E and cholesterol to naturally increase your testosterone levels.
Don't worry about cholesterol in eggs. Dietary cholesterol isn't bound to blood cholesterol. Read this, this, this & this. If you have bad cholesterol, lower your body fat rather than throwing the yolk away.
2. Fish Oil. Reduces inflammation (joints/skin), lowers body fat and increases testosterone levels. You need 9000mg EPA/DHA per day. Since you'll probably struggle to get that from eating fatty fish, consider a fish oil supplement.
3. Wild Salmon. One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids that also gets you 20g protein per 100g serving. Farm raised salmon is, however, omega-3 deficient: it's corn/grain fed. Go with wild salmon.
4. Berries. Strong antioxidants that prevent cancer, heart & eye diseases. Any kind works: cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc. Buy fresh or frozen berries and mix with oatmeal.
5. Yogurt. Contain bacteria that improve your gastrointestinal health. Don't buy frozen yogurt or yogurt with added sugar and fruits at the bottom. Get plain low fat yogurt. Eat it with berries & flax seeds.
6. Flax Seeds. Source of fiber, protein & omega-3. Grind the flax seeds to get the most out of them. Take 1 tbsp with yogurt & berries before going to bed. Stay away from flax oil: it's unstable and contains no fiber.
7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 70% monounsaturated fats that protect against heart diseases and cancer. Add 1-2 tbsp olive oil to your salads. Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil: it contains more polyphenols and tastes better.
8. Mixed Nuts. Contain mono- & polyunsaturated fats, proteins, fiber, vitamin E, zinc, potassium, magnesium, etc. Mixed nuts are caloric dense, great if you're a skinny guy who wants to gain weight.
Anything works: almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, ... Peanut butter also works as long as you buy natural peanut butter without added salts/sugars.
9. Red Meat. Protein, vitamin B12, heme iron, zinc, creatine, carnosine and even omega-3 if you eat grass-fed beef. Eat steaks & hamburgers from top round or sirloin. Read Dr. Lonnie Lowery's article on Meat.
10. Broccoli. High in cancer-fighting phytochemicals and anti-estrogenic indoles. Broccoli is also high in soluble fiber and low calorie, helping fat loss. Eat other cruciferous vegetables for a change: cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, kale, ...
11. Spinach. One of the most alkaline foods. Spinach prevents muscle & bone loss, but also cancer and heart diseases because of its high nutrient profile. Try one of the spinach recipes I shared a while back.
12. Turkey. If you don't believe saturated fat is good for you, try white turkey. The leanest beef has about 4.5g saturated fat/100g, while white turkey has close to 0g (that why it's so dry). Eat turkey with spinach & quinoa.
13. Quinoa. South American "king of grains". Quinoa is higher in fiber & protein than rice or oats, tastes a lot better and is gluten free. Buy the whiter grain, it's better quality. Eat it post workout with meat & spinach.
14. Oats. Reduce cholesterol, provide you with low-gi carbs for energy, and high in soluble fiber. Try this post workout shake of whey & oats.
15. Tomatoes. High in lycopene, which prevents cancer. The lycopene in tomato paste is 4 times more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes. Have pizza or pasta with tomato sauce & olive oil post strength training.
16. Oranges. Vitamin C to fight diseases, magnesium to lower blood pressure, anti-oxidant beta-carotenes, etc. Quit drinking processed orange juice which often has added sugars. Eat oranges or make your own orange juice.
17. Apples. Pectin in apples helps weight loss by increasing satiety. Apples are also the strongest antioxidiant after cranberries (eat the peels). Unfortunately apples are one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits. Go organic.
18. Carrots. Their huge vitamin A content improves eye-health, especially night vision. Carrots are also rich in fiber, low calorie and taste good, even raw.
19. Water. Your body holds water if you don't drink enough. Drinking prevents water retention, helps muscle recovery and prevents dehydration from strength training. Get a brita filter and drink 2 cups of water with each meal.
20. Green Tea. Strong antioxidant and natural diuretic. Green tea also speeds up fat loss, prevents cancer and improves blood sugar & circulation. Drink green tea in the morning instead of coffee. Real green tea, not the teabags.