Restaurant and fast food menus are usually loaded with high-fat, calorie-rich foods and meals. Heavy creams and sauces, mile-high toppings and supersized portions can do mad damage to your body. Failing to fuel properly can be problematic when you’re working to maximize your training and achieve body composition goals.
Livestrong.com recently reported that participants who ate fast food a minimum of twice a week gained 10 more pounds than those who ate fast food less often. But rest assured, there are plenty of ways to eat healthy and well when eating out. Chow down on these eight restaurant tips to keep your nutrition—and performance—at a high level.
1. Key in on keywords. Look for foods that are grilled, roasted, baked, boiled or broiled. Stay away from breaded and batter-dipped items and anything fried. University of Maryland sports nutritionist Jane Jakubczak says such foods "come with a heavy price—a lot of saturated [i.e., unhealthy] fat, and that can really weigh down an athlete's performance."
2. Lean out unhealthy proteins [like fried chicken] by removing the skin when possible. Other ways to healthify your meal: for high-fat sides like French fries, request substitutes like steamed veggies, a side salad or a baked potato [without toppings like sour cream, bacon and cheese]. If you're ordering pizza, request half the amount of cheese. Sports nutritionist Cheryl Zonkowski says, "You'd be surprised at how cheesy the pizza really still is, [and] you're cutting out a whole lot of fat."
3. If you don’t know what’s in a dish, ask your server. Don’t hesitate to make requests to keep your meal healthy and lower in fat and other performance-inhibiting ingredients.
4. Avoid cream-based sauces and condiments, like Alfredo and mayonnaise, both of which are high in fat.
5. Fill up on fluids. Water is always a good choice. Unsweetened iced tea or 100 percent fruit juice are also good alternatives. Crave soda instead? Order diet, which gives you some fluid without filling you up with a lot of sugar.
6. If you’re at a fast food joint, order a grilled chicken wrap or a lean hamburger. "Hamburgers themselves aren't terrible," Jakubczak says. It's what's piled on that make them unhealthy. Her advice is to reject high-fat toppings such as bacon, extra cheese and mayo.
7. If you're stopping at a diner, Oakland Raiders nutrition consultant Dr. Liz Applegate suggests breakfast items—such as eggs, pancakes and a side of fruit—as surefire bets. From just a couple of eggs, you’ll get about 12 grams of protein. Add the pancakes and fruit and you'll get plenty of carbs as well.
8. Be cautious about restaurant portion sizes. For instance, one cup of pasta is one cup, which has about 200 calories, 40 grams of carbs and seven grams of protein. But a typical serving of pasta at a restaurant is three cups, loading your plate with three times the aforementioned nutrients. If your meal is huge, share it or put some in a to-go container. Keep portions under control with the following guidelines:
• 4-5 oz. protein source [meat, poultry or fish] = deck of cards
• 1C carb source [e.g., pasta, rice, dry cereal] = tennis ball
• 1 oz. cheese = 4 dice
• 1/4C nuts = enough to fill the palm of your hand