As an athlete, you know your body's performance depends not just on the quality of your workout, but on the quality of food, you consume. Eating out can be a minefield in this respect! Many popular chains tout their food as offering "fresh, simple, ingredients" but if you read between the lines, this often translates to a 2,000 calorie meal and over half your daily recommended sodium intake in just one sitting! The New York Times caught our attention with their article on What 2,000 Calories Looks Like.
We took a look at three of the most popular meals enjoyed out at restaurants and came up with some healthy, simple alternatives that will not only save you empty calories but will keep you fueled and ready to perform feeling your best.
1. Hamburger & Fries
If you visit the Five Guys website this is the message that greets you. A promise to never compromise on fresh ingredients prepared by hand. Two criteria that are usually synonymous with healthy eating. But don't be fooled! Just because your food is made to order and your fries are made from fresh potatoes before your eyes that you can enjoy your meal and leave feeling virtuous.
This is what one of their regular bacon cheeseburgers looks like. The burger alone without any toppings and no sides easily amounts up to almost 1,000 calories and half your daily recommended sodium intake. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines currently recommend no more than 2,300mg a day. As athletes, sodium is a crucial electrolyte that helps maintain intracellular and extracellular fluids in the correct balance. It also a key component of the electrical charge needed for nerve transmission and muscular contraction. Too much sodium can cause dehydration which can greatly impair performance as well as your body's recovery.
There's a simple solution to avoid having to worry about the salt content of your food. Make it yourself! You saw that advice coming didn't you? But now that summer is rolling in there's really no excuse. Light up that grill and invite your friends over for a relaxed and enjoyable night under the stars. Cooking wholesome foods on an outdoor grill or BBQ couldn't be any easier. And who says hamburgers can't be healthy? Choosing good quality, lean proteins like bison, grass-fed beef or ground turkey meat are relatively inexpensive and easy to come by at most grocery stores. One of my favorite upgrades to a burger bun without sacrificing those all important carbs is flattened plantains lightly fried in coconut oil. Unbelievably delicious and incredibly quick to make. I got my inspiration from a paleo burger recipe that takes no longer than 25 minutes from start till that first tasty bite! Give it a go, you won't regret it!
Stone-baked pizzas are just so tasty aren't they?! Personally I'm not a fan of deep-dish pizzas the size of a small coffee table like the kind served up at Dominos! I usually start regretting that decision about two slices in...I prefer something a little lighter and more wholesome so when Pizza Night comes around, I tend to veer towards the thin crust variety like the Spicy Chipotle Chicken pizza from California Pizza Kitchen. They have some of the best toppings and freshest ingredients I've come across for chain restaurant pizzas! But if you plan to enjoy a whole one you better set aside a significant chunk of your calories for the day and watch your sodium intake.
Why not make your next pizza night more social and less detrimental on your body and try your hand at this homemade version. Incorporating fresh veggies, cutting out or back on cheese and making your pizza crust from cauliflower florets are some simple suggestions for easily reducing the calories down by half on your next pizza night! My go-to recipe for cauliflower pizza crust is super easy and holds together really well.
Italian cuisine is not synonymous with the Mediterranean diet, at least not as we know it! The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the consumption of fresh produce like fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, natural oils and lean protein like fish, seafood and poultry. Sweets, red wine & cheese are not consumed as abundantly as we'd like to think! The popularity of Italian chain restaurants in the States is not surprising though as the cuisine has been altered to suit the American palate. Serving up huge dishes of pasta and cheese that any born & bred Italian would surely wince at, it's not shocking that our favorite comfort foods are laden with excess calories. Let's take a look at one of the most popular dishes served up at The Olive Garden.
This meal vastly skews the typical balance we would usually look for in a well-balanced meal by predominantly containing fat which makes up 65% of the meal. A moderate and balanced meal should typically contain around 30% fat. It also exceeds the amount of fat that a 220lb male would be recommended to consume by 41g. That's 369 calories of excess energy that your body does not need from fat!
So, whilst it might look delicious and nurture your soul, I would suggest saving this decadent dish for special occasions only! You can easily enjoy this dish at a fraction of the caloric cost and avoid going to bed with the feeling of gluttony lodged in your stomach. I love this simple gluten-free take on carbonara with spaghetti squash. I've also had huge success with an entirely plant-based and vegan friendly recipe by substituting the sauce with coconut milk and nutritional yeast and bacon with tempeh. Give it a go!
What strategies do you use to keep your body feeling primed for performance? I'd love to hear about your favorite healthy alternatives to these classic restaurant comfort foods! Please comment below.
Roz Glanfield is a PN certified nutritionist, personal trainer & CrossFit coach. Roz provides nutrition consultations and coaching via her online business Own Your Eating. She draws on her personal experiences with fitness & nutrition together with her professional training to provide an holistic coaching practice that empowers her clients to make sustainable lifestyle changes. Roz believes this is key in helping her clients look, feel and perform at their best. Find out more about Roz and keep up to date with her blog at ownyoureating.com or follow her on her social media channels.