Menu

Food on the fly

  • By Monique Ryan
  • Published Sep. 9, 2011
  • Updated Oct. 12, 2012 at 12:52 PM EDT

Many pros traveled to warmer environs early this in 2007 for early season team training camps and plenty of quality miles on the open road. You may also have your own travel plans sometime over the next few weeks, in order to train and get a jump start on your own race preparation. Chances are that this cycling vacation includes plenty of restaurant eating, including the fast food, diners, and a variety of ethnic cuisines.

Like the pros who have plenty of roadside eating experience, you too can make good food choices and prevent greasy platter predicaments that would normally thwart your body composition goals and nutritional recovery. Even if your agenda is lacking in some exciting travel plans, chances are that you eat out several times weekly, or regularly order out for convenience due to your busy schedule of both work and training. Restaurant eating can be healthy-it is all about planning, a little culinary know-how, and some discipline.

On a regular basis, lunch is the meal most commonly eaten away from home, followed by dinner and breakfast. More than 45 percent of the money spent on food in the United States goes toward restaurant meals and foods consumed away from home. Despite your desire for high quality training fuel, regardless of where you eat your meals out, and especially if you are traveling and will consume all meals out, the basic strategies are the same.

Watch out for hidden and added fats, and keep a close eye on the portions. Despite your higher energy requirements for cycling training, not all restaurant meals fit nicely into your nutrition plan. Successive days of longer training rides (more than four hours), do deplete muscle fat stores, and you need to consume enough fat in your diet to replace these stores. But restaurant meals are often too high in fat even for these longer training rides, or provide unhealthy types of fats, and therefore require some negotiation on your part. Eating higher fat meals can also miss the mark on providing enough carbohydrate to replace muscle glycogenstores, and these meals may not provide other healthy ingredients that your body requires during hard training.

Travelers can easily jump on the Internet for locations and phone numbers of appropriate restaurants near their hotel (and near your race site locations later in the season).  Call ahead and inquire about the menu to determine if these restaurants have the types of meals that you require, and if they prepare special requests. Don’t hesitate to request modifications so that you can creatively outsmart the menu and stick with your nutrition plan. Internet research can often help you locate smaller establishment such as health food stores that offer fresh lower fat fare and plenty of sandwiches, fresh fruit, vegetables, and salads.

Fast Food: Quick, easy, and often greasy?
Fast food restaurants are often the cheapest option. But many establishments encourage super size eating by offering the largest portion sizes at only a small mark-up- a choice that result in consuming excessive amounts of unhealthy types of fat. But you can make lower-fat choices at some fast-food establishments. The very small hamburgers (regular or children’s size) provide a few ounces of meat, and can be ordered without cheese, and you can forego the fries and choose a baked potato whenever possible. Broiled chicken sandwiches are decent choices (watch the sauce), though chicken pieces are usually fried. Stay away from high caloric additions such as salad dressing (ask if they have low fat dressing options), added sauces, mayonnaise, cheese and cheese sauce, gravy, and sour cream. Other good choices are low fat deli sandwiches on wheat or pita bread, or lower fat wraps.

For beverages, stick with water or low fat milk. Salads with plenty of vegetables and grilled chicken are better than those with croutons, cheese, heavy dressings, and fatty meats.  Look for fruit and yogurt on the menu as well. Most fast-food and chain restaurants post nutritional information about their food choices on their websites. Visit a few sites before your trip and become familiar with lower fat choices. You can easily compare fat content of various choices and may be able to determine how special requests (such as removing the sauce and cheese) can lighten up a few options.

Ethnic Cuisine
Chances are good that you will enjoy a variety of ethnic cuisines when traveling and eating out, and these cultural edibles can fit into your training diet if you navigate around higher fat choices. The sampling of ethnic cuisine below outlines a few of the cultural options available. You can use a commonsense approach for many other types of cuisine as well, such as Indian or Middle Eastern.

In addition to making low-fat choices, you may also need to learn to say when enough is enough. Even with smart ordering, portions often exceed what your body needs at that particular meal. You can save foods for lunch or a snack the next day. It is not in your best interest to finish feeling stuffed and uncomfortable only to have excess calories stored as fat.

Italian
Italian food is a popular favorite that can be consumed in a variety of settings, such as upscale or family style. By focusing on grains and vegetables, you can make Italian eating out quite healthy. Some relatively light choices include: lower fat starches on the menu including spaghetti and other pastas (not cheese filled varieties), risottos made without cheese, and polenta; vegetables such as zucchini and tomato-based sauces; lean meats such as shrimp, chicken, and grilled fish. Top your pasta with marinara or red clam sauce, watch the olive oil intake at the table, and fill upon minestrone soup. Order your salad dressing on the side and have Italian ice or sorbet for dessert. Heavier choices at Italian restaurants include garlic bread and foccacia, fried vegetables, and meats such as salami, prosciutto, and sausage. Watchout for high fat cheeses and dishes prepared with butter, cream, and plenty of cheese. Alfredo sauce, lasagna, and parmigiana dishes are all high in fat because of the ingredients and preparation methods.

Mexican
Mexican cuisine also contains both high fat and low fat fare. Some staples of Mexican cuisine such as whole beans, refried beans prepared without oil, tortillas, rice cooked without oil, grilled vegetables, and salsa are low fat. Grilled proteins, such as fish and shellfish, chicken, and whole black beans are also good choices. You may need to make specific inquiries as to how the refried beans are prepared. Marinated vegetables, and gazpacho are also low in fat.

Burritos can be ordered with modifications such as less cheese and with chicken rather than beef. One of your better choices at Mexican establishments is fajitas- choose chicken or shrimp for protein.Some higher fat choices at Mexican restaurants include tortilla chips, chimichangas, and taco shells. Avocado and olives are healthy fats, but watch portions. Other high fat add-ons include sour cream, and of course the all pervasive cheese.

Chinese and Thai

Like many Asian cuisines, Chinese and Thai provide a variety of regional cooking styles and are frequent favorites.  There are plenty of high-fat pitfalls here, but lighter options are available with knowledge and special requests, especially Thai, which is a bit lighter and healthier than Chinese restaurant fare. Almost any Chinese or Thai restaurants will provide a stir-fry with low fat proteins such as shrimp, tofu, and chicken, along with nutritious vegetables such as peapods, broccoli, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, cabbage, and peppers. What is important is that the rice be steamed (avoid the fried rice at Chinese) and that you request the stir-fry beprepared light on the oil. Protein portions provided can be high, so split these dishes as needed.

Noodles dishes should also be prepared low-fat, so make the same request when ordering rice or egg noodles dishes at Thai and avoid any fried noodles. Always ask questions as to how foods are prepared. Don’t assume that pot stickers are steamed, only to have them arrive in deep-fried form at the table. Steamed spring rolls found at most Thai establishments are a better choice than fried egg rolls. Fatty meats to avoid include fried seafood, pork, spare ribs, and duck. Dishes with nuts and peanuts will increase the fat content, though these items are healthy sources off at, and you should keep an eye out on the peanut sauce portions at Thai restaurants. Coconut oil can be used quite liberally in Thai cooking, and it is loaded with calories, so you may need to navigate around these dishes. Soups and salads are regulars on the Thai menu, and though high in sodium, any soups that do not contain coconut milk should be low in fat. Vegetable side dishes can also be ordered.

Other strategies to survive eating out after you have carefully chosen a restaurant include:

• Don’t arrive with a ravenous appetite. Pack snacks for your trip so that you can eat something quickly after training. This will take the edge off hunger until you make it to lunch or dinner.

• Make sure you do have it your way. Don’t hesitate to make special requests. Ask for food to be baked, broiled, or grilled, and inquire as to how items are typically prepared.

• Split and share items. Entrees can easily be shared, especially if you consume side dishes such as vegetables and salads.

• Add to a meal. You can keep items such as fresh fruit and yogurt on hand to add to fast food choices or when eating on the run. You can also add low fat shakes and smoothies to the mix.

• Stick with continental breakfast choices. Avoid high fat muffins, but instead choose whole grain cereals, skim milk, and fruit. Add toast with jam before longer rides, and have egg white omelets for some low fat protein. Pancakes and waffles can be good pre-ride choices (though higher in fat) with adequate digestion time. Choose the “light stack,” but for calorie watchers limit syrup portions and butter. The important thing is to learn what works for you when travelling and to avoid any foods that are too unusual if you are doing some serious training.

Because you are eating out daily, it might be a good idea to not treat every meal out as a special occasion. Pack food items that you absolutely need such as granola bars, dried fruit, cereals, and crackers. Of course, you should also make sure that you pack your favorite sports drinks, energy bars, gels, and recovery drinks for your late winter training.

FILED UNDER: MTB / News / Nutrition TAGS:

Stay Up to Date on Everything Cycling

Subscribe to the FREE VeloNews newsletter