Following some key fast food tips for athletes can help you stay on top of your game. Since eating fast food at restaurants is a normal part of a competitive athlete’s life, you’ll want to keep these fast food tips on hand.
Finding the best fast food options for athletes can be challenging when trying to optimize performance nutrition diets.
Whether eating on the road while traveling for an event or trying to get a quick meal in between games, you want to find food that will provide energy without contributing to GI issues or cause you to feel sluggish.
Want to learn the best fast food tips for athletes. Keep reading.
Why do healthy options matter
Fast foods are typically higher in fat and calories than a meal you’d eat at home. A high consumption of fast foods could result in a less than adequate intake of carbohydrates necessary to fuel activity.
Additionally many fast food meals have high sugar content and may be low in nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals that support your immune system and other body functions. (1)
Generally fast food has a higher saturated fat content, something athletes want to limit, especially before a game.
Tips for athletes to find fast food restaurants
- Use technology to research fast food restaurants in the area. Google the area and see what restaurants are available. You’ll likely recognize a few and know which have the healthiest options.
- Choose the fast food restaurants that you know have healthy options. As you begin to apply these tips to find the best fast food for athletes, you’ll know which restaurants you can rely on. Keep a short list on your phone.
- Review the menus ahead of time. Before you step foot in the fast food restaurant, look at the menu online or place your order in the app so you can pick up. Making decisions ahead of time, you can resist the temptation of the good smells and all the menu options and choices when your belly is rumbling.
Best fast food tips for athletes when ordering
1. Choose grilled over fried
- Try a grilled chicken, fish or plant based sandwiches since these have less fat than fried options.
- Having a single burger patty avoiding the extra cheese and fat laden sauces or bacon instead of a double patty.
2. Split your sides or try something besides fries
- Split an order of fries, sweet potato fries or tater tots with a teammate.
- Choose a different side like fruit, side salad, baked potato, steamed veggies, grain salad or green salad.
- Add a side of whole wheat bread or pita bread.
3. Add vegetables for toppings
- Ask for extra tomato and lettuce on a sandwich.
- Request extra veggies or salsa on your burrito bowl or in your burrito.
- Add extra veggies on top of your salad, pasta or entree bowl.
4. Swap high fiber carbohydrates instead of refined
- Ask for a whole grain bun instead of white.
- Choose whole wheat breads for sandwiches.
- Swap a whole wheat tortilla instead of white for your burrito.
- Choose brown rice instead of white rice in your bowl.
5. Request sauces on the side
- Try healthy fats like avocado, guacamole and olive oil based dressings.
- Limit sour cream, cream based and cheesy sauces such as alfredo.
- Watch out of fat laden mayonnaise based sauces.
6. Don’t supersize
Supersizing means more calories and more fat, and probably doesn’t line up with your performance nutrition plan. This isn’t your last meal. So, you should eat to meet your energy needs and have a healthy snack later when you get hungry.
7. Rethink your drink
- Drink less soda since it adds extra empty calories. (2)
- Try fruit juice, unsweetened tea or water with lemon.
8. Make a sweet choice
- Try a low fat frozen yogurt.
- Choose a small fruit-based milkshake.
- Ask for a single scoop in a cup.
Generally athletes need to focus on their daily calorie intake to ensure they get the right energy and nutrients to fuel performance. Following some easy tips for fast food options can help athletes perform optimally.
And for those days when you have time to sit down at a restaurant before or after a game, check out our post on eating healthy at restaurants.
What tips do you use at fast food restaurants?
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 20 years in public health and nutrition experience. As a performance nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.