Don’t have time to wait in line at Subway? San Diego Chargers nutrition consultant Karen Freeman offers some quick tips on fast food eating for before and after your workout.
Pre-activity – Three hours before
Freeman says the pre-activity meal should have enough carbohydrates to maintain your blood sugar levels so you don’t work out feeling drained. She recommends one gram of carbs for each kilogram of bodyweight.
You don’t need to supersize your meal to match your appetite or meet your carb requirements. According to Freeman, a 400- calorie meal is sufficient—unless those calories come from a fast food salad, which has too much fiber for a pre-activity meal, not to mention the large number of calories and fat in the dressing. Don’t believe it? A packet of Caesar dressing dishes 18 grams of fat and 190 calories, almost as many as two slices of bread.
“You’re always better off [eating a] sandwich,” Freeman says. Just avoid any high-fat options, which affect the digestive and hydration processes.
“If you have [high fat] food in your gut, you need more fluids to help with the digestive process,” Freeman explains. You want your fuel to be used for working muscle, not aiding the digestive process.
Freeman also suggests forgoing the works, opting instead for a “skinny burger,” like a Wendy’s Jr. Hamburger or a McDonald’s Hamburger, which have 230 and 250 calories, respectively, and only about nine grams of fat each.
Another menu item that slows fluid absorption: carbonated beverages. “Soda is never a good choice,” Freeman says. “The sugar gives you a buzz, along with the caffeine, which gives you a high. But you really can’t control that buzz and high, and [then] there’s a low. If that happens when your performance needs to be at its best, your body is being compromised by that physiological drop in sugar and caffeine.”
Freeman recommends substituting soda with 16 ounces—a typical medium-sized cup—of apple or orange juice. Just make sure you have one to three hours to digest the meal before you get set for action.
Post-activity – Within one hour after
“The purpose of the post-activity meal is to take your body from the catabolic state of sport and provide the fuel you need for an anabolic state—replenishing the carbohydrates and protein,” Freeman explains.
Since liquids are absorbed within an hour, Freeman says a milkshake is a good option. A McDonald’s small Vanilla Triple Thick Shake delivers 420 calories and nine grams of protein, while a Wendy’s small Chocolate Frosty has 320 calories and nine grams of protein, a few less than an Arby’s regular shake, which packs 13 grams.
If you prefer solid food, Freeman suggests two to three regular-sized burgers without any special sauces or cheese. They provide carbs from the bun and protein from the meat. “This is [also] a great time for a salad,” Freeman says, “if you watch the dressing.” Just make sure to add some carbs to the meal.
She suggests avoiding options with fried items, because the breading sops up the oil it’s cooked in and therefore can hold more fat than some burgers. For example: you could down three Wendy’s Jr. Hamburgers and get 100 calories and 29 grams of fat less than what you’d get from the same joint’s Chicken BLT Salad with Homestyle Chicken Fillet [780 calories, 53 fat grams]. A better Wendy’s salad option is the Mandarin Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken Fillet, and a low fat dressing of your choice. It’ll provide 370 calories, 30 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat.
Another great salad choice is McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken and low fat Italian dressing, which has 430 calories, 31 grams of protein and 11.5 grams of fat.
Freeman says the post-activity period affords slightly more wiggle room to eat higher fat foods. So if you are eyeing some fries, “go for it, [but] you want the small [order]— [not] the large.”
She adds, “Athletes work really hard. They earn the right to choose the foods they really like on top of the foods they really need.”
*For a McDonald’s hamburger and a medium Minute Maid orange juice
*For two Jr. Hamburgers and a small chocolate Frosty