Whether you’re a man or a woman, the basics apply when it comes to choosing the best diet for health and longevity: mostly plant-based foods with some lean protein, and limited fats, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. But a man – especially if you’re at or approaching middle age – has specific nutritional needs when it comes to retaining strength, energy and vitality in the face of lifestyle challenges and even genetic predisposition to diseases. So listen up, guys!
“In my consultations with many of our male guests, I find two main types,” says Chrissy Wellington Garner, MS, CNS, LDN, CPT, nutritionist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. “Either they are totally on board with a healthy diet – maybe they’re very athletic and into cycling, running, or cross-training, or – this is very common – they’re hyperfocused on work. They tell me they are ‘too busy’ to pay attention to what they eat. Maybe they travel a lot. Chances are, their wives or girlfriends signed them up to see me.”
Are you in the time-crunched, work-obsessed group? If so, it’s likely your daily diet is way off-kilter. You probably don’t eat a balanced breakfast, pack a lunch, or even carry your own snacks. You’ll grab a bite in airports and hotel restaurants. In fact, the only time you get a healthy meal may be when you’re at home and someone cooks for you.
Risks & challenges
Chrissy says that, by far, her biggest challenge in counseling men is “getting them to eat their fruits and vegetables.” She starts by explaining the importance of a healthy, balanced diet – especially as they approach age 50 and are increasingly subject to specific health concerns – notably cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, prostate issues, decreased testosterone production and depression.
Depression often can mask a hidden physical problem, but isn’t always easy to spot because it can manifest differently in men. “A depressed woman may be sad, may cry or feel fatigued,” Chrissy explains. “In our society that’s unacceptable for men. A depressed man may become more aggressive, lose himself in work or step up his alcohol intake.”
Chrissy shares a great take-away about men’s nutritional needs: The same advice applies whether the issue is weight control, disease prevention, depression, premature aging or low libido. Of special importance:
- Protein – serves as building blocks for bones, muscles, skin and blood, supporting enzymes, hormone balance and vitamin absorption. Sources: lean meats, fish, beans, soy.
- Antioxidants, B vitamins and omega-3s – reduce cancer risk, support cardiovascular health, nervous system and energy function. Sources: salmon, nuts, fruit, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil.
- Vitamin D – supports cellular and bone health. Some foods contain this essential nutrient (milk, salmon, tuna), and our bodies produce it, but deficiencies are surprisingly common. This is why nutritionists will often recommend a vitamin D3 supplement. Chrissy advises consulting your doctor and getting a simple blood test to determine your vitamin D levels.
- Potassium, zinc, magnesium – support fluid balance, bone and muscle health, nervous system function. Sources: meats, milk, greens, nuts and seeds.
- Fiber – important to regulate bowel function and provide bulk to avoid overeating. Sources: plant-based, minimally processed foods.
Tips & tricks
“I often urge men to try smoothies as a great way to get their fruits and veggies in a concentrated form,” Chrissy says. For guys on the go, she also recommends soups and salads – “excellent ways to combine your vegetables into a single meal.”
Super-active guys have special nutritional needs, depending on the preferred form of exercise. Weight training requires plenty of protein for repairing the “microtrauma” of damaged muscle tissue. Endurance athletes who burn through mega-calories need to take in extra carbohydrates.
Chrissy cautions everyone to watch their consumption of alcoholic beverages, both because of health risks and caloric load. “It’s OK for men to have up to two drinks per day – a drink being 12 ounces of beer, a shot of liquor or 5 ounces of wine. But beware of some of the craft beers or ‘winter beers,’ which can be very high in calories. That extra weight around the middle tends to accumulate a lot faster as you get older!”