Tuesday 4 June 2013

Week 23 Nutrition Habit: Your Restaurant Guide

On occasion, it is fun to go to a restaurant and totally splurge. If this is a rare occasion, then just enjoy and don't feel guilty. However, what do you do if restaurant eating is a regular part of your life? What if because of travel with athletics/business or other reasons you often find yourself frequently eating at restaurants? Is it possible to make restaurant eating work for and not against your health, body composition and performance goals?

Challenges with restaurant eating
Just say "NO"! 
When you walk into many restaurants, you are nose is bombarded with wonderful food aromas of your favorite goal-sabotaging foods. Get to your table, open the menu and you are subjected to tantalizing pictures and descriptions of more forbidden foods.

Limited performance nutrition-appropriate options
Restaurants are businesses that cater to the needs of their target market - which is likely not you. This means you will have limited menu items that fit what you need.

Inappropriate portion sizes
$40 for this?!
At main-stream restaurants this means too big - especially if your goal is fat loss. However, I have also had the opposite problem with fine dining: $40 for 2oz of meat/fish and 1/2 a cup of veggies (not much there to build lean muscle or fuel high performance).

Eating out is expensive. If you are on a tight budget, this is not an efficient use of your food dollars.

Loss of control
When you cook your food, you are in total control. When a restaurant cooks it, you lose this control. As a result you likely get poor quality ingredients (e.g. heat-processed olive oil instead of extra virgin), unwanted additives (e.g. MSG) or hidden calories (e.g. steamed veggies smothered in margarine). 

Your Guide to Performance Nutrition Restaurant Eating
Make a wise selection
Restaurants can range widely in their menu items and ability to accommodate performance nutrition. If you find some good ones, be sure to support them when you do eat out!

Decide before you get there
Is this a treat/cheat meal? Is this a special occasion or do you need to stick to your performance nutrition plan? Don't wait until you are at the restaurant and tempted to answer these questions.

Think outside the box and order outside the menu
Too often people think that they can only eat a specific menu item when they go to a restaurant. The result is that a potential progress meal quickly becomes a maintenance meal or even a sabotage meal. The great (yet undiscovered thing) is that most restaurants have some decently healthy food in the kitchen. Though they may not have it as a specific meal, piece together the appropriate foods you see in the main menu or side orders.

Start with lean protein and veggies
Great Choice!
Look for fish, chicken, turkey or beef. Getting high quality protein is a great start to a high-performance meal. Then, look to add some sort of vegetable in the form of a salad or steamed veggies. If your goal is fat loss, stop at that and you have a winning meal! A simple way to do that is to take a normal menu item (e.g. chicken breast with salad and pasta) and request extra veggies in place of the starch. Thanks to the Adkins craze of the late 90's and early 2000's, most restaurants are used to accommodating this request.

Add carbs as needed
Again, if your goal is fat loss, I would avoid adding the extra carbs. However, if you have just trained or need the extra carbs because of your body type or training goal (e.g. muscle gain) then look for the best option. This can be a real challenge as most places give you options like white pasta, white rice, white bread or french fries. Assuming you don't get the option of a really good carb (e.g. yams, quinoa), I would go with potatoes as my number one choice and the rice as number two. For more info on personalizing your carb intake, click HERE.

Pass on the bread
Again if you have not  just exercised, are not trying to gain muscle and are not certain you do not have a gluten intolerance, leave it.

Look for healthy items you don't normally cook at home
When scanning a menu, I look for wild salmon (note: if the salmon is wild, they will want to brag about it on the menu) - something I'm not that good at cooking and less likely to cook at home.

Make water your beverage of choice
This will save you money and unwanted sugar & calories while optimizing hydration.

Make special requests of the kitchen staff
While you will not have total control, make special requests when you can like extra veggies instead of the starch. You may also ask for olive oil and vinegar on the side instead of salad dressing. In addition, ask if they can skip soaking your vegetables in hydrogenated margarine and grill your meat instead of deep frying it in trans fats. Request no MSG in the seasoning. One very important note here: consider how you ask (i.e. don't repeat what I just wrote to your server). Don't come off as a self-righteous, health obsessed, demanding jerk. Request (don't demand) politely, use "please" and "thank you" continually and tip generously. 

Adjust to get the optimal portion sizes
For those with fat loss goals, you will often get portions that are too large. Get a dogie bag and leave knowing you have one less meal to prep. For those with muscle gain and high-performance training goals, you may need extra food. If money allows, order extra sides (e.g. an extra chicken breast or baked potato) or do what I do - eat before or after at home as needed.

Recognize that the meal won’t be perfect
Eating in a restaurant is not ideal. However, once you have selected the most appropriate options and asked for some helpful changes/substitutions, sit back, relax, enjoy and don't stress the small stuff you cannot change. 

The Application
If you are at a restaurant this week, you now have a game plan to follow. If not, do two things: 1) tuck this info away for the next time you do go and 2) work on your meal prep and planning to reduce you need to go to restaurants. Try to cook as many of your own meals as possible. As Chris Shugart wisely said, "The more you cook, the better you look."

In case you have missed any of the previous weeks in this series, check out the links below:
Week 22: Eat Natural

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