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Breakfast may be called the most important meal of the day, but a nutritious lunch is just as crucial. "A proper lunch will help carry you through the afternoon and a late day run," says Cara Marrs, a sports dietitian in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Yet, too many women rely on nutritionally suspect options at cafeterias, restaurants and in vending machines for their midday food fix.
"Making poor choices at lunch can send your energy levels spiraling downward and increase mid-afternoon cravings," notes Marrs. Getting in the brown bag groove is almost always a better idea than relying on a grab-and-go lunch. Taking the time to make a healthy lunch can boost your intake of vital nutrients, improve portion control and save a surprising amount of money.
Power Up Your Lunch
A lunch worth packing has to satisfy hunger while giving you a tasty energy boost. Here are the 10 golden rules for creating a power-packed meal.
Lunch Rule #1: Eat Enough, But Not Too Much
If you've ever gone to a steakhouse for a business lunch, you're familiar with the fact that an afternoon calorie tsunami can leave you feeling lethargic for the rest of the day.
On the flip side, too few calories will leave your body depleted of the fuel it needs to remain alert, and your tank will be empty for your evening workout. "Active women should aim for 400 to 500 calories at lunch," advises Marrs. So while a burger and fries is too much, a measly garden salad won't cut it either.
Lunch Rule #2: Carbs Should Be Whole
Forget the super-sized bagel, soda or white pasta that can cause your blood sugar levels to yo-yo. "A healthy lunch for active women is one that includes whole carbohydrates, such as beans, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pitas and fruit," says Washington, D.C.-based dietitian and marathon runner, Rebecca Scritchfield. "The steady release of energy will help power you through your afternoon meetings and after-work run."
Lunch Rule #3: Load Up on Fiber
Active women need about 25 grams of daily fiber
. Aim to get a good chunk of that at lunch. Fiber will keep afternoon hunger pangs at bay, and help you to resist the siren's song of office birthday cake. "Adding beans and sliced fruit to salads, loading soups and sandwiches with veggies and opting for whole-grains as opposed to their refined counterparts are all ways to add a fiber pump to lunch," Marrs says.
Lunch Rule #4: Be Pro-Protein
A healthy dose of protein
at lunchtime can slow digestion, providing sustained energy and helping to ward off 4 p.m. donut cravings. Plus, protein provides the building blocks for repairing and creating lean body mass in active women.
Marrs recommends shooting for about a third of your daily protein intake at lunch. "You can do
this by incorporating hardboiled eggs, canned fish, tofu, lean deli meats, lentils and nuts into your midday meals."