Reservations on the menu? Follow these five rules.
Eating out can present a nutritional minefield that can sabotage a generally healthy diet. My top five tips for sidestepping unhealthy choices:
1. Choose your seat wisely!
Yes, good food decision-making begins even before (or as) you sit down. Studies show that we tend to conform our eating to those around us. So strategically sit yourself next to the healthiest eaters in your dining group. You should chat with your fried appetizer-ordering friend after you eat, not while you absentmindedly down the cheese fries and mozzarella sticks he graciously offered to share with you.
2. Your new mantra: Hydrate, cheers, hydrate, cheers!
As soon as you sit down, order a round of water (or seltzer) for the table. Any aspect of dehydration left from your day or earlier workout will manifest itself as hunger. Drink 1–2 glasses of water before any other beverage touches your lips. If you do opt for a second glass of vino, make sure to drink 1–2 glasses of water or seltzer in between.
3. Choose your splurge from the get-go.
Decide whether tonight it’s a glass of wine (or two) or the famous apple pie? One trick I use with clients is to have them choose as if each healthy choice item will cost them the price listed on the menu, while each unhealthy choice will cost them an extra $20. Just the thought of this will likely help you choose more wisely.
4. Get in your antioxidants.
Fruits and veggies—shoot for 1–2 cups per meal—contain powerful antioxidants that hard-working muscles need for recovery. They don’t take a break just because you are out to dinner.
5. Include lean protein early on in your meal.
Adequate protein is key for muscle recovery and rebuilding, and you should aim to eat lean protein 3–4 times daily. Eating your protein early on will help you reduce your portions of any other high-calorie splurge foods that might be on the table later. Order a protein appetizer such as chicken skewers, ceviche or cocktail shrimp (just go easy on the sugary sauces) rather than starting with onion rings, chicken wings or other fried foods.
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.