Intelligent investors don't come in one shape or size, and neither do market-beating strategies. I have my favorite approach (see No. 3 below), but choosy types have options. Here are three of 'em:

1. Be a bear.
If you're the pessimistic type, you can stuff your nest egg under a mattress (or into fixed-income investments) and hope that stock prices fall. Pessimists of the daredevil persuasion, meanwhile, can "short" the market, which is tantamount to making an active bet that equities will hit the skids.

The trouble with this strategy, of course, is that over time, stock prices have risen, giving long-term types a big bang for their investment bucks. The upshot? As formulas for beating the market, staying on the sidelines or betting on a downturn are short-term solutions. They might work over a particular market cycle -- see 2000 to 2002 for the gory details -- but if history is any guide, investing in (rather than against) the market is the better tack, which leads us to ...

2. Be a bull.
Folks with the time and inclination to research and invest in individual stocks can make out like bandits. Just ask shareholders in the likes of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), Pulte Homes (NYSE:PHM), and Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB). For the 10 years that ended with February, each of those companies delivered an annualized gain of more than 20%, easily surpassing the S&P 500's return of roughly 7.6% over the period.

And while the margin of victory hasn't been quite that wide, Home Depot, Carnival (NYSE:CCL), and First Data (NYSE:FDC) -- three stocks with price-to-earnings ratios that currently fall below the S&P's -- have gotten the long-term job done, too.

Thing is, while cherry-picking individual winners packs plenty of rearview-mirror appeal, it's easier said than done. Indeed, of all the aforementioned, none has made money for shareholders over the trailing 12 months that ended last Friday. That may be good news for prospective investors, but current shareholders may be licking their wounds.

That point underscores the riskiness of hitching your nest egg to a portfolio of individual picks, but not to worry: If you hate losing money but still want to beat the market, consider option No. 3.

3. Be a realist.
For my money, world-class mutual funds are the best vehicle for the lion's share of your long-term investment dollars. The diversification that funds provide takes the edge off the market's occasionally sharp turns. They make it relatively easy to assemble a razor-sharp portfolio, too: From emerging markets to municipal bonds, mutual funds have all the asset classes covered.

The question, of course, is how to identify worthy prospects, the kind of picks that are worth building your portfolio around.

Foolish conclusion
The answer -- or at least a part of it -- is to look for funds with below-average price tags and managers whose long-term track records indicate that they know how to navigate both downturns and upswings. Those are among the core criteria at the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service, where, since first opening for business, all but one of our recommendations has made money for shareholders. Taken collectively, our picks have bested the market by more than 13 percentage points, too.

If you'd like to sneak a peek at our winners' list, just click here to snag a completely free 30-day guest pass. I'm a fund geek, of course, but I think even folks who invest primarily in individual stocks can benefit from laying a rock-solid foundation of cherry-picked funds. The challenge, of course, is finding those worth picking, and Champion Funds aims to do that homework for you. Check it and see.

This article was originally published on Jan. 2, 2007. It has been updated.

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service. At the time of publication, he didn't own any of the securities mentioned above. Best Buy, Starbucks, and Biogen are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Home Depot and First Data are Inside Value picks. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.