Welcome, my friends, to grocery shopping with T-Nation.

Grocery shopping?!? That's right; this article is all about grocery shopping. And I'm not kidding either!

So what's up with that?

What's up with a fluffy grocery store piece appearing at Testosterone, the website devoted to hardcore muscle building, fat melting, and performance enhancing knowledge? I'll tell you what's up with that – you don't know how to shop.

Okay, maybe some of you do. But I'd wager that most of the newbies on this site don't have a clue as to how to navigate the perilous aisles of the grocery store. And I'm willing to bet that at least half of the grizzled veterans out there aren't comfortable at the grocery store either.

They've simply gotten by through years of aggressive, "art of war" style grocery excursions, racing through the grocery corridors, hoping not to get sniped by one of a multitude of dietary assassins laying in wait to seize their hard earned gains.

Am I being dramatic? Of course. But although I jest, I still maintain that learning how to navigate the grocery store is critical to your physique progress – if you're trying to build muscle, lose fat, or improve your health.

In fact, it's so important that I devoted an entire chapter in my new book (Scrawny to Brawny – the Ultimate Guide to Building Muscle the Natural Way) to it. So when I say that your trip to the grocery store is the first, and probably the most important stop on your road to massive, I mean it.

Interval Shopping

In North America we shop less frequently than our European counterparts. While we shop every 1-2 weeks, they may shop every 1-2 days. Why the difference?

One reason is that these norms have become habit, for sure. But the other is that Europeans typically buy items that are closer to their natural state, items that have short shelf lives. Conversely, we North Americans buy a lot of packaged stuff loaded full of preservatives that takes a little (or a lot) longer to expire. So we need to shop with less frequency. Of course, this is to our detriment.

I suggest that my clients shop once per week or even more frequently, based on their schedule (but never less than once per week). With all the fruits, veggies, and meats they're buying, once per week usually is just about right to ensure nothing goes bad.

And, of course, getting in a set pattern of shopping ensures that there are fewer occasions in which my muscle-building acolytes run out of food. Amazingly, some of my clients, when they start with me, forget to shop and even claim that they forget to eat! Obviously, if the fridge is stocked, it's less likely that they'll forget.

The shock collars help too.

The Psychology of Shopping – Visualization Techniques

With my extensive background in sport psychology, I often like to take the principles that work with my athletes on the field and apply them to my clients in the store. Therefore, at least once per week, clients and I go through shopping psychology lessons. These lessons usually include some form of visualization. This helps them stay focused while at the store.

Think I'm kidding? Well, you're right.

While shopping visualization is hokey, my clients do visit the grocery store prepared. Each one of them visits the store with a pre-planned list that'll cover them until the next planned shopping excursion.

Below is an example of a one week shopping list that I give my No Nonsense Nutrition DVD customers.

This is a muscle building plan, so if gettin' your brawn on is the goal; you can use this as a template to start with. Eventually, once you customize your intake (something you can learn more about in the DVD), you'll need to make your own lists based on the number of calories you should be eating as well as which foods you're going to incorporate into your plan.


7 large bags fresh spinach
3 large bags fresh carrots
2 pineapples, either fresh or precut
7 apples
7 plums (or oranges, pears, etc.)
4 bananas
7 potatoes/yams
1 bag of quinoa (ancient grains)
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
4 large red bell peppers
1 onion
1 lb walnuts

1 container non-stick cooking spray
1 box high fiber cereal
1 jar of pesto
1 box green tea
1 container apple cider vinegar
1 bottle flax oil
1 bottle extra virgin olive oil

7 lbs extra lean beef
3 packages of chicken or turkey sausage

7 containers egg whites
1 dozen omega 3 eggs
1/2 lb sliced cheese
2 large containers plain yogurt

1 bottle salmon oil/fish oil capsules

High Intensity Shopping

Once you've got a grocery list goin' on you'll be able to breeze in and out of the grocery store in a mere 15-20min; you'll know exactly what you need and exactly where it's located.

Sure, from time to time, you can feel free to browse the aisles for new healthy offerings, for interesting food variety, and for some ingredients to make some of the fantastic recipes Dr. John Williams and I suggest in our new book Gourmet Nutrition.

But most of the time, you're not going to want to waste time walking up and down the aisles being tempted by the newest BBQ sauce or frozen entrée. Make your shopping a high intensity affair and you're in and out of the store in a flash.

Disease Aisles

If you knew a woman had the clap, would you bed her down? Probably not? Heck, you probably would just steer clear of her for fear of catching somethin' through simple proximity.

Well why not treat the grocery store the same way. Since many of the aisles contain foods that'll surely "infect" you with diseases like diabetes, heart disease, etc. why not just steer clear of them? To this end, I encourage my clients to avoid all the aisles that contain foods not conducive to their goals.

Much of the best food is found around the perimeter of the grocery store. Around the perimeter you'll find the produce section (fruits, vegetables, potatoes, nuts, etc), the meat section (chicken, lean beef, fish, etc), the bakery section (choose the fresh whole grain breads and not the desserts, please), and the dairy aisle (cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs, etc).

Sure, the middle aisles might have to be visited from time to time for things like legumes, oats, etc.

But be on guard, it's the aisles in the middle (snacks, juices, etc) that can get you into trouble with their pretty packaging and "magically delicious" flavors. Stay away from the bright, shiny objects.

Why So Many Rules?

Ok, I know what you're thinking. Does shopping really matter that much? Why so many rules?

Well, if you're looking in the mirror and aren't liking what you see, the chances are that you've got your own set of rules (whether you know it or not) and these rules are just perfect – for creating a sorry physique.

The rules I put forth in this article are perfect for creating a perfect physique.

So which would you like to follow again?

In all seriousness, when you're trying to re-pattern your life, there's little room for "winging it." Although training to gain muscle mass is fun, eating to gain muscle mass is fun, and watching other people's faces as they appreciate your new muscle mass is fun, exchanging old, ineffectual habits for new habits isn't always fun; in fact, it can be downright difficult.

However, like all good investments, the larger the amount of capital you're willing to put into the investment, the larger the reward.

John Berardi, PhD, is the founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition coaching and education company. Berardi advises organizations like Apple, Equinox, and Nike. He's coached the San Antonio Spurs, the Carolina Panthers, US Open Champ Sloane Stephens, and 2-division UFC Champ Georges St-Pierre.