Eating Healthy at Restaurants-Athlete Guide

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When athletes travel for games and competitions, eating healthy at restaurants can be challenging. Athletes need to eat the right foods to fuel their performance

Often, restaurant foods have choices high in saturated fat, calories, sodium and possibly lacking the nutrients athletes need. (1)

How do athletes get enough of the carbohydrates they need to fuel their performance? 

With so many options on menus what are the best choices for eating healthy at restaurants and on the road? What about tips for eating at fast food restaurants?

We’ll cover some of the best options at different types of restaurants so you’ll have the information you need to make good choices.

Best meal timing for eating healthy at restaurants

If you are eating a pre game meal you’ll want to follow your performance nutrition plan and focus on choices for eating healthy at restaurants. So, you’ll want to choose nutrient dense high carbohydrate meals with moderate protein, color (fruit and/or vegetables) and healthy fats. 

However, as you get closer to a game, you may want to look for a lighter option at a restaurant, or opt for a healthy snack instead. Perhaps you’ll wait to eat out until you’re ready for your recovery meal

Some of the options recommended to eat “less often” would best be eaten after your last tournament game when you aren’t trying to reload for a game the following morning. 

For healthy fast food options, check out our fast food tips for athletes.

Keywords on menus for eating healthy at restaurants

Generally, tips for eating healthy at restaurants include these keywords below for food preparation and ingredients. 

Choose foods more often that have healthy preparations like:

  • Steamed
  • Broiled
  • Poached
  • Grilled
  • Baked
  • Stir fried
  • Roasted
Healthy Restaurant Choices-Choose More Often

Eat less of or avoid foods that have been prepared:

  • Fried
  • Buttered
  • Au gratin
  • With gravy
  • Creamed
  • Sauteed
  • Rich
  • Breaded

Best types of restaurants for eating healthy

Eating healthy at restaurants has become easier these days. Since many restaurants have become accommodating of diet specific needs, you’ll likely find or be able to customize a menu choice that works with your athlete diet plan. 

Generally, you can ask the server how the food is prepared, and request substitutions to make your choice a healthier option.

Eating healthy at:

Sandwich shops and cafes

Soups and salads

  • Choose broth based, bean and vegetable soups
  • Choose less often cream and cheese based soups and chowders
  • Pile your salad with veggies and limit the high fat extras like bacon and cheese
  • Order dressings and sauces on the side
  • Choose non cream based dressings or have oil and vinegar on the side
  • Select prepared salads in moderation. Mixed salads like tuna, egg, chicken and potato are often high in fat

Sandwiches

Breads

  • Opt for whole grain, whole wheat or rye breads and rolls
  • Choose a wrap or pita with whole wheat 
  • Ask for biscuits, scones and croissants less often

Meats

  • Choose lean cuts of meat like turkey, chicken breast or plant based slices
  • Have less often ham, roast beef, bacon and pastrami

Cheese

  • Use cheese sparingly to add a little flavor to your sandwich
  • Opt for choices like mozzarella, provolone and swiss which may be lower in fat

Condiments

  • Choose lower fat options like ketchup, mustard and relish
  • Opt for healthier fats like avocado, pesto and olive tapenade
  • Save the mayo and creamy sauces for occasional options

Sides

  • Choose pretzels and popcorn instead of chips
  • Opt for raw vegetables with hummus or salsa
  • Select a baked potato with butter and sour cream on the side

Italian restaurants

  • Choose pasta with a tomato or vegetable based sauce. Some pestos may be a good anti-inflammatory recovery food.
  • Limit cream or cheese sauces
  • Ask for vegetarian lasagna light on the cheese
  • Select veggie based pastas like spinach or butternut ravioli
  • Choose thick crust pizzas that have lots of veggies, light on the cheese, lean protein (chicken sausage or plant based sausage) and a tomato based sauce
  • Opt for minestrone soup, salad and breadsticks
  • Watch out for adding too much butter or olive oil to the bread at the table

Asian food restaurants

  • Order items that are steamed, boiled, stir fried and served over rice or soft noodles
  • Select lower fat soups like egg drop soup, wonton and hot and sour
  • Choose foods like chick chow main, steamed vegetables with protein and tofu based
  • Eat less of fried foods like egg rolls, wontons, pan fried noodles and fried rice
  • Ask for sauces to be served on the side
  • Use low sodium soy sauce 
  • Enjoy the fortune cookie

Mexican food restaurants

  • Choose fillings with rice and beans and lean protein like chicken, shrimp and plant based
  • Ask for black or pinto beans instead of refried beans that may have added lard
  • Opt for a meal like fajitas, chicken or seafood (grilled) tacos on soft tortillas
  • Limit the endless baskets of chips and fried options like taquitos 
  • Order a burrito bowl with brown rice and pile on the salsa, veggies and lean protein

Indian food restaurants

  • Choose tomato and spinach based sauce options with beans, vegetables and lean protein
  • Ask for rice and naan to add additional carbs
  • Limit coconut milk and cream based options

Healthy dessert options

So many options for desserts may not be low in fat, but you should still enjoy them on occasion or order a few for the table and share. Some healthier sweets include:

  • Fruit sorbet
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Gingersnap or oatmeal cookies
  • Fruit or fruit salad
  • Graham crackers
  • Angel food cake
  • Greek yogurt
  • Vanilla wafers
  • Gummy bears
  • Licorice 
Healthier Dessert Options-eating healthy at restaurants

Best drink options for eating healthy at restaurants

  • Water
  • Fruit or vegetable juice
  • Skim milk or 1%
  • Unsweetened ice tea
  • Limit carbonated soda or diet soda

Putting it all together

Armed with the tips in this post, you should feel confident in making choices and asking how foods are prepared. You’ll want to focus on high carbs and moderate protein for your pre game or recovery meals

What are your favorite tips for eating healthy at restaurants?

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