Fast Food Tips for Athletes: Healthy Eating on the Go

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Fast food may not be your first choice as an athlete, but sometimes it’s inevitable. When you’re faced with limited options, you need to know fast food tips for athletes to make the best of them.

That’s why we’ve compiled these fast food tips for athletes, so you can eat well and optimize your performance nutrition plan.

In this article, you’ll learn how to find the most nutritious and delicious fast food options for athletes, how to customize your orders to suit your needs and what to steer clear of to support your athlete diet.

You’ll also get some handy hacks to make fast food work for you, not against you.

Are you ready to master the art of fast food tips for athletes? Keep reading.

fast food tips for athletes, cover page

Can I eat fast food and be a athlete?

You can eat fast food and be an athlete. You might think that fast food and athletics don’t mix. But sometimes, fast food is the only option available. When that happens, you need to know how to make smart choices that won’t hurt your performance or health.

Fast foods are typically higher in fat, including saturated fat, calories and sodium than a meal you’d eat at home.

So, eating too much of it can lead to inadequate intake of carbohydrates, which are essential for energy to fuel your body.

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)

But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid fast food altogether. You can still find some nutritious and delicious options that will fuel your body and satisfy your taste buds. The key is to follow some simple fast food tips for athletes.

Tips for athletes to find fast food restaurants

Use technology to research nearby fast food options

It’s pretty easy to find local food options using Google, yelp, tripadvisor and more. You can see menus, reviews and map to restaurants that are nearby. You’ll likely recognize a few and know which have the healthiest options.

Choose the fast food restaurants that you know

If you’re traveling for games or often on the road at meal times, you’ll likely become familiar with some of the best options that work for you.

We’ve written some posts on popular restaurants like Chipotle, CAVA and Noodles & Company that can give you a head start on finding some healthy options.

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 helps you resist the temptation of the good smells and overwhelming menu options especially when your belly is rumbling.  

Best fast food tips for athletes-ordering

The best fast food choices for athletes should have high carbohydrates and fiber, moderate protein and be low in fat and sugar. Carbohydrates provide energy, protein helps with muscle recovery, and healthy fats support your brain and heart.

When you follow the performance plate method, it’s easier to make choices on the go.

Our fast food tips for athletes are general enough that you can use them at many fast food restaurants.

1. Choose grilled and lean proteins over fried or double

  • Grilled chicken, fish or plant based sandwiches have less fat than fried options
  • Pick a single burger patty and skip the extra cheese, heavy sauces or bacon

2. Split your sides or try something besides fries

  • Avoid greasy and fat laden sides
  • 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 mixed green salad
  • Add a side of whole wheat bread or pita bread

3. Add vegetables and fruits for toppings

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
  • Add fiber and carb-rich beans

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 for heavy fat laden sauces like mayonnaise, aioli, queso

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
  • Add calcium and protein with a glass of milk

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

Food ideas for good fast food options

In our post on eating healthy at restaurants, we break down menu ideas for a variety of restaurants and fast food stops.

Here are three of our favorite recommendations for healthy fast food options for athletes.

Deli sandwiches, wraps, pita

Deli sandwiches can be a good source of carbohydrates and protein. Emphasize the bread and veggies and choose whole grain breads to add fiber. Choose lean meats like turkey, ham and chicken.

Ask for lots of fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Go light on the spread as it can add fat and calories to your sandwich. Choose mustard or hummus instead of mayo or butter.

Noodles

Pasta is good source of carbohydrates. Choose whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta since it has more fiber and nutrients. Then add some lean meat or plant based protein and veggies to boost protein and vitamins.

Stick with tomato based sauces, or a light pesto and avoid creamy sauces like Alfredo or cheese sauce.

Bowls-burrito, mediterranean, teriyaki

Healthy bowls are a great way to enjoy a balanced and satisfying meal that is packed with nutrients, flavor and variety. We recommend starting with a base of brown rice, Then, you can add some beans or lentils.

Next, you can pile on some greens. Finally, you can top your bowl with some protein and fiber rich toppings, such as nuts, seeds, veggies, avocado, hummus or tofu. 

Avoid overeating fast food

One of the best ways to avoid overeating at any meals is to rely on hunger cues and make sure you’re fueling throughout the day. When you plan ahead and pack some snacks, this can help you to avoid hunger and temptation.

Some examples of healthy athlete snacks are a combination of carbohydrates and protein such as trail mix with nuts and dried fruits, granola bars, cheese sticks and crackers or yogurt.

Final thoughts

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.

However, don’t forget a good diet plan relies on hunger cues and athlete’s knowledge of what they need to eat to succeed. And a well rounded athlete diet builds in sweets and treats as well.

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.

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