How an Athlete Eats Out and Enjoys Their Drinks

How anIt’s 4 weeks out from a fight, training is starting to get really intense and things need to be as perfect as possible. I have my schedule all planned out for the week. Today, I’m supposed to eat, train, go home, eat again and repeat the process at night.  However, some emergency suddenly arises and my schedule is completely thrown out of whack. I’m forced to divert from my regular meals and eat out. The first question that goes through my mind is…

What is a HEALTHY yet caloric-dense meal when eating out?!

Let’s face it, we all live unique, busy lives that can get extremely unpredictable.  Job responsibilities, social functions, recreational sports games, kids, and illnesses can pop up out of nowhere leaving us without the necessary time or effort to prepare our own meals.

eating-on-the-run
Let’s face it, sometimes we make poor eating choices when things get busy

Eating out is okay. In fact, you can still enjoy the “bad” foods.

It’s just a matter of understanding some basic nutrition principles and knowing how to figure out which are the lesser of the evils.

Now note that eating out is not necessarily bad. Some restaurants offer very healthy options.

Choosing the right options when eating out is actually not that difficult. Remember, we are also trying to be healthy while getting bigger. Ideally, we are trying to maximize muscle gain while minimizing fat gain. There are so many nit-picky guidelines and tips that I could give you, so I will try to simplify things.

First off, remember these simple conversions:

1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories

1 gram of protein = 4 calories

1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Second, focus on getting the proper amount of protein and calories.  Don’t worry too much about the carb or fat intake. If you focus on the right amount of calories and protein, then just simply remember: The Carb/Fat Sliding Scale:

The more carbs you eat –> the less fat you can consume.

The more fat you eat → the less carbs you can consume.

Let’s illustrate this principle with a mathematical example. Say that you are to consume about 800 calories and 40 grams of protein at a certain meal.

800 calories – 160 calories (40g of protein x 4) = 640 calories split between carbs & fats


 

Scenario 1:  High carb meal with a lot of pasta and bread

640 calories – 480 calories (120g of carb x 4) = 160 calories remaining for fat

And since 1g of fat = 9 calories

160 calories / 9 = 17.7g of Fat


 

Scenario 2: High fat meal with lots of nuts and oils

640 calories – 540 calories (60g of fat x 9) = 100 calories remaining for carbs

And since 1g of carb = 4 calories

100 calories / 4 = 25g of carbs

Now if math isn’t your strong suit (I’m Asian :)) then perhaps this illustration will help you understand things better:

Fat-Carb Sliding Scale
The more fat you eat –> the less carbs you should consume.           The more carbs you eat –> the less fat you should consume.

Now you may be asking, what happens if I don’t follow this Carb/Fat Sliding Scale? Well simply put, you will definitely gain weight but a lot of it will be fat…and aside from a sumo wrestler, who would want that? :)

Konishiki
Pretty sure this is not what we are aiming to be!

Okay, so what do you eat when you go out?

A simple rule for me is this:

  1. Minimize breaded, deep fried foods if possible.
  2. If possible, a balanced meal of carbs, protein and fats.
  3. A starchy carb (preferably with no oil: Baked potatoes, plain rice, noodles, and bread) and a protein source.  Ideally none are breaded and deep-fried.

Below are popular foods and the strategies I employ when eating them:

ASIAN:

  • Chinese food:  Shoot for stir-fry meat and vegetables with plain rice or noodles.  Steamed dim sum or buns with meat is okay too.
  • Indian food: Similar to Chinese food, avoid the deep fried and breaded stuff.  Although delicious, avoid samosas. If you choose to then opt to eat a little less rice or naan bread.
  • Pad Thai: High in carbs, protein and cooked in a lot of oil. Skip the spring rolls or any deep fried appetizers.
  • Pho: Get a large or extra large and enjoy. Already high in carbs, protein and fat. Skip any spring rolls or deep fried appetizers.
  • Sushi: High in carbs, decent in protein and generally low in fat if there isn’t too much creamy sauce or tempura. Pretty guilt-free food.
beef-with-broccoli-combo
The lesser of the Chinese evils: Rice w/ beef and broccoli.

EUROPEAN:

  • Fish and Chips: Both ingredients are deep fried. Since fish has more protein, I would opt for more of it and less chips.
  • Pasta: High in carbs and a great choice if there is an accompanying meat source.  I’m okay with creamy sauces, just will not eat much or any bread as an appetizer.
  • Pizza:  High in carbs, protein and fat.   To reduce the amount of carbs, I normally just skip the crust. Also, definitely no pop with pizza.
pasta
Pasta in general is pretty guilt free.

NORTH AMERICAN / MEXICAN

  • Hamburger: Moderate in carbs, high in protein and high in fat. Since, it is already very high in calories, I will normally eat this by itself.  If you want fries and a drink, then pick one.  Pick water or a small juice over soft drinks.
  • Steak and Potatoes/Rice: Great source of carbs, protein and fat. Add a salad to this! If you want wine then cut down on the rice and potatoes.
  • Sandwiches/Pitas: Avoid adding too much creamy sauces like mayo. Pick whole wheat if you have problems with gluten. Otherwise, choosing white bread will pack a little more calories.
  • Wings and Beer: Wings (fat) and beer (carbs) are on a sliding scale.  More wings means less beer and vice versa.  Ideally, it would be all wings with no beer.
  • Tacos: Balanced food and good! Just don’t go too crazy on the sour cream!
burger's priest
If a burger is this dense and tasty, then you may want to skip the fries and drink.

ALCOHOL:

Beverage Calories
Vodka (40%) w/ 150 ml of soda water 64
150 ml of Sparkling Wine (11.7%) 70-120
150 ml of Red Wine (13.5%) 100-120
1 Can of Beer (5%) 154
vodka soda water
Vodka w/ soda water: 40% and low in calories!

Based on the numbers above, we can say that vodka w/ soda water is your best bang for your buck. Low in calories with the most alcohol content :)

CONCLUSION:

So, even though this article may have been a little long,  my strategies for healthy restaurant meals are very simple. To tie everything together:

  1. Remember the rule of the Fat/Carb Sliding Scale.  Keep protein intake high; fat and carbs are inversely proportional.
  2. Minimize deep fried foods
  3. Vodka and soda water is the best choice for an alcoholic drink.

Remember,  eating out is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable.  Next time, be more aware, use these tactics and I promise you will not as guilty.

 

About the author:

Albert Cheng is a strength & conditioning coach and professional mixed martial arts fighter and founder of www.fitlikeanathlete.com.  You can also follow his Facebook page. He hasfought in the UFC and on The Ultimate Fighter: China reality show.  He specializes in helping skinny guys achieve that strong, muscular, lean body that looks and moves like an athlete.