Fast foods are here to stay, and thankfully many of today's quick-service restaurants offer some healthful, low-fat options. Athletes can actually choose a decent sport diet at most places if they make wise choices. It also is important to have on hand foods with supplemental carbohydrates, such as apples, oranges, pretzels, fig cookies, bagels, pitas, crackers, raisins, dried fruits, juice boxes, sports bars or granola bars. That way, an athlete who succumbs to the fast and fatty options at least is able to add on the carbohydrates the muscles need for energy. The best bets for fast-foods-that-fuel include the following options at quick-service restaurants:
Best fast food breakfast bet - McDonald's offers a tasty sports breakfast: pancakes with syrup, orange juice and milk. Hot cocoa is an appealing choice for higher carbohydrates than coffee. Or choose cold cereal, juice and a muffin or English muffin with jelly.
Best bagel breakfast bet - Find a deli or bagel shop with whole-grain bagels, fresh fruit, juice and yogurt. A little low-fat cream cheese and/or jam can complete the meal.
Best hotel breakfast bet - Save yourself time, money and temptations by bringing your own cereal, dried fruit and spoon. Either pack powdered milk or buy a half-pint of milk at the corner store. Use a water glass or the milk carton for the cereal bowl.
Best sandwich bet - Seek out a deli that offers a sandwich with more bread than filling. For example, a large submarine roll provides far more carbohydrates than does a small pita. "Hold the mayo" and add moistness with lite salad dressings (if available), mustard or ketchup, tomatoes and lettuce. The best meat fillings are turkey, ham and roast beef.
Best soup bet - Hearty bean soups, including minestrone, lentil and split pea soups, accompanied by crackers or crusty rolls, provide a satisfying, carbohydrate-rich low-fat meal. Chili, if not glistening with a layer of grease, also can be a good choice. For example, a Wendy's large chili with eight saltine crackers provides about 400 calories, of which only 25 percent are from fat. Ideally, meals should be less than 30 percent fat.
Best chicken sandwich bet - Grilled chicken sandwiches are fine, except for the special sauces. The 29 grams of fat in the Burger King BK Broiler makes it almost as fatty as a double cheeseburger. Request no mayonnaise or wipe it off.
Best burger bet - If there is no eatery that offers more than just burgers and fries, then make the best of a bad situation. With an order for a burger, request an extra roll or extra bread. Squeeze the grease into the first roll, and then replace it with a fat-free one. Boost carbohydrates with fluids such as juice, soft drinks and low-fat shakes. Enjoy the high-carbohydrate snacks (pretzels, fig bars) for dessert. Athletes with big appetites should order two small burgers (each with a roll) rather than a double burger with one roll. It is better to get more carbohydrates with the two rolls while paying a similar price.
Best red meat bet - Better than burgers, satisfy a craving for meat with a lean roast beef sandwich. At only 260 calories, a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich (4 grams of fat) is preferable to the 260-calorie McDonald's hamburger (10 grams of fat).
Best salad bar bet - At a salad bar, be generous with the colorful vegetables, chick peas, kidney beans, pasta salads and hearty breads, and carefully choose lite dressings. Beware of Caesar salads. For example, Boston Market's chicken Caesar salad with four tablespoons of dressing totals 670 calories, of which two-thirds are from fat (47 grams). A chicken breast (without skin), corn bread, steamed vegetables, and dill potatoes totals only 15 grams of fat and 570 calories.
Best baked potato meal bet - The helpful hint is to order two potatoes, one plain and one with topping. For example, at Wendy's, by splitting the broccoli and cheese topping (14 grams of fat) between two spuds, an athlete has a hearty 770-calorie carbohydrate-based meal that fuels the muscles. For added protein, drink a glass of low-fat milk.
Best pizza bet - Order a pizza that is thick with extra crust rather than cheese. The more dough, the more muscle fuel. For example, one slice of Pizza Hut's pan pizza (260 calories) has 10 more grams of carbohydrates than does a slice of its Thin 'n Crispy variety (200 calories). Pile on vegetables (broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, onions) for a vitamin boost. Blot off any grease with a napkin.
Best chicken dinner bet - Roasted, rotisserie or grilled chicken meals are generally preferable to fried chicken meals. No matter the manner of preparation, it is important to abstain from eating the skin. By removing the skin and wing from a Kentucky Fried Chicken Rotisserie Gold quarter breast, you remove 13 grams of fat and 115 calories. If fried chicken is the only option, order the larger pieces, peel off the skin and eat just the meat. For carbohydrates, order extra rolls, corn on the cob, potatoes or baked beans; include nutrient-rich carrots, squash, spinach or broccoli. Although the vegetables are sometimes buttery, the extra fat from the butter can be balanced by eating lower-fat foods at other meals.
Best dessert bet - Low-fat frozen yogurt is fun, refreshing and carbohydrate rich (read that loaded with sugar). Frozen yogurt may be a best bet for dessert, but do not think of it as a meal replacer. Regular yogurt has far more nutritional value.
Run The Planet thanks Nancy Clark for the permission to reprint the article "Nutrition for athletes: Fast food best bets" by Nancy Clark. Text © by Nancy Clark. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, is the Director of Nutrition Services, SportsMedicine Associates and author of "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook" and "Nancy Clark's Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions". Books and sports nutrition teaching materials are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. Illustration © 2003 by Run The Planet. Trademarks (and products) of the companies mentioned herein appear for identification purposes only, and are the property of their respective companies.