Healthy Cookout Options to Fuel Summer Training

Convert the summer cookout into a healthy meal with grill tips from STACK Expert Jim Carpentier.

Strip steaks and peppers on the grill

It's summertime. Time to fire up the grill.

We already know to avoid eating chips, hamburgers, hot dogs and mayo-loaded potato salad. But since those are all BBQ staples, what does that leave to eat? (Find answers at Navigate a Backyard BBQ With Healthy Choices.)

Below are some healthier summer cookout options. You might be surprised at how many common foods can help boost your performance, recovery and muscle growth.


Watermelon is a rich source of vitamins A and C, and it also contains citrulline, an amino acid that serves as a precursor for several important, daily functions. [1] More important for athletes looking to build lean muscle, citrulline helps muscles work longer during exercise. [1]

Watermelon also has an extremely high water content to help you stay hydrated during the summer heat. (Read more in Watermelon: The Athlete's Superfruit.)


Cherries contain an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which helps reduce muscle soreness.

An Oregon Health & Science University study found that consuming tart cherries and cherry juice can help reduce the pain you feel after intense activity.[2] Anthocyanin has also been shown to help boost memory and brain cognition.[3] (See Foods That Help Athletes On And Off The Field.)

Anthocyanin is also found in other popular summer fruits like red grapes and pomegranates. (Learn more about the Health Benefits of Cherries.)

Corn on the Cob

Corn kernels contain lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamins that play an essential role in maintaining eye health. Just avoid the butter and salt. Corn is naturally sweet and has a great flavor on its own.

Potato Salad

Traditional potato salad is loaded with fat and calories from mayonnaise, which is a shame when you consider how healthy potatoes are. Potatoes contain vitamin C and potassium, which can help fuel tough workouts.

Offer to make the potato salad at your next cookout. You can actually make it at the grill with little additional effort.

Grill potato slices, but instead of mayonnaise, drizzle them with olive oil and add a little salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. Voilà, you just created a healthier version of potato salad.

Baked Beans

Beans contain muscle-building protein, plus they're full of fiber to help promote fullness.

Instead of baking beans in sugar or honey, try using blackstrap molasses, which contains more vitamins and minerals. (See The Surprising Health Benefits of Maple Syrup.)

Avoid using canned baked beans. They often contain an excess amount of sugar. Instead, make a healthier version with a can of regular navy beans. Drain the beans, place in a dish with molasses and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes or until set.

Turkey/Beef Burgers, Barbeque Chicken and Grilled Fish

Grilled poultry (turkey or chicken) and fish are always safe options (as long as you take off the skin).

There's nothing wrong with burgers either, as long as they're made with 100 percent ground turkey or lean ground beef (look for brands with a 85/15 ratio of lean to fat). (See Grill a Guiltless Burger: The Healthy Cheeseburger Recipe.)

We're all aware of the role protein plays in promoting muscle growth. Grilling fish (salmon or tuna) also provides a source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Grilled Veggies

Think the grill is just for meat, poultry and fish? Not at all. Brush squash, peppers and eggplant with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt for a side dish loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Condiments: Mustard and Ketchup

Did you know that the mustard or ketchup you use on burgers have powerful health benefits?

Mustard seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids and calcium that helps build strong bones.

Ketchup contains the antioxidant lycopene from tomatoes. Lycopene helps prevent osteoporosis and protects against vision problems like cataracts. (See Choosing Healthy Condiments.)

The healthiest ketchup varieties contain no sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Always check the ingredients on the label.


[1] Powers, S. K., & Jackson, M. J. (2008). Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiological reviews, 88(4), 1243-1276.

[2] Kuehl, K. S., Perrier, E. T., Elliot, D. L., & Chesnutt, J. C. (2010). Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial.

[3] Gómez-Pinilla, F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(7), 568-578.

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