You log countless miles on the roads and laps in the pool and generally make healthy eating choices to fuel your training. But, despite your best intentions, you could be falling victim to these common nutrition pitfalls.
A typical stack of pancakes can sound reasonable after a morning training session, but those flapjacks and sides can set you back more than what you just burned off. A hearty plate of four hotcakes, eggs, hashbrowns and toast with butter can reach 1100 calories! Instead, choose four buttermilk pancakes, topped with powdered sugar and fruit for 400–500 calories, or better yet, two pancakes and two eggs for a balanced carb and protein meal at 400 calories.
As a general rule, skip wraps, which can be a whopping 300 calories before you put anything nutritious into them. Also avoid paninis, which can easily contain more than 900 calories due to the cheese and buttery, grilled bread. Beware of grilled vegetable sandwiches, which often contain more total fat than a burger due to the oil used while grilling the veggies, plus the addition of sauces. Instead choose grilled chicken, steak or tofu with tomato and avocado or hummus. Even what seem like healthier dining options, such as Chipotle, require savvy navigating, with burritos that start at 300 calories. Piling on cheese (100), sour cream (115) and guacamole (170) will put most of us over budget for a meal. Stick to one or two of the higher fat/caloric ingredients.
Any soup touting cheese (such as four-cheese) or “cream of” is likely around 400 calories per cup. Instead, choose minestrone, chicken noodle or dairy-free versions of squash, pumpkin or carrot-ginger soups. They’re delicious, immunity-boosting and typically around 100 calories per cup.
Salads can sound (and be) healthy, but only if you choose wisely. Avoid salads with lots of tempting-sounding additions—candied walnuts, fried goat cheese, bacon and creamy dressing—which can amount to 500 calories. A tasty salad with olives, tomato, beets and vinaigrette on the side can be delicious for only 150 calories.
When eating out, avoid breaded and/or fried dishes (like chicken Parmesan), which can total 1000–1400 calories, pasta with cream sauce or fried chicken strips which can set you back 1500–2000 calories in a typical restaurant. A smarter choice is chicken cacciatore (made with tomato, onion, pepper, wine, garlic and a little oil) or opt for a main of fish with a side of pasta for a more balanced and lower-calorie dinner.
Coffee drinks such as a 16-ounce Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte contains 360 calories and 13 grams of fat. Instead, choose a low-fat cappuccino for 120 calories, or coffee with steamed milk for less than 50. At cocktail hour, avoid Sangria (200+ calories per glass) and frozen margaritas (550–600 calories). Lower calorie choices are a gin and tonic (115), a bloody Mary (180, and justifiably a great way to replace salt) or a glass of wine (90–120).
Cheesecake carries the most calories (900–1500 per slice). Cobbler can sound healthy (fruit!), but it can add up to 500 calories for a restaurant portion. Instead choose (and share) a slice of flourless chocolate cake, or a simple scoop of ice cream (both less than 200 calories per serving).
Any menu item labeled “grandma’s,” “mom’s” or “country”—these comfort food-sounding menu items are often the highest in calories and fat.
Edible bowls, such as bread bowls for soups, tortilla bowls for salad—they pack on hundreds of calories you don’t even realize because they simply held the healthy soup or salad you ate.
Pre-made salad specials. Unless advertised as low-calorie, these seasonal salads are generally higher in total calories and saturated fat.
Loaded nachos. This appetizer is a no-go (unless you’re sharing with your entire tri team!).
Lauren Antonucci is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.