Salty Triathlete: In Defense of Fast Food

"You're a triathlete. You must be a health nut. What do you eat? You probably eat super healthy. You, like never go to Mcdonald's right?"

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Sorry to disappoint every person who’s ever asked me this, but I definitely go to McDonald’s—and not just because the Oreo McFlurry (with extra Oreos) is amazing. It’s because McDonald’s doesn’t have to be shorthand for “unhealthy.” In fact, fast food, prepared foods, or frozen meals don’t have to be terrible for you; sometimes they might be the best option you’ve got. And not everything at Whole Foods is automatically good for you either. It comes down to our individual choices. Wendy’s makes solid salads when you’re on the road traveling to a race; and there are high-fat, high-calorie cookies you can binge on at the natural food co-op. It’s your choice. And a lot of times it’s just our biases getting in the way of what could be smart choices. Why do we feel like Chipotle is healthy but the local taqueria is unhealthy? They both have meat, cheese, beans, rice, veggies, and guacamole (and food safety issues). And full disclosure: I eat at both. But when I tried to nail a friend down on why he felt better about Chipotle, it might have just been because melted cheese looks greasier and fattier than unmelted cheese—even though they’re nutritionally the same.

What if I told you I had rice and some mixed veggies and beef with mushrooms and onions for dinner? Sounds great. What if I told you it was from Panda Express?

Setting aside the issues with factory farming, preservatives, and processing—which are obviously nothing to ignore—most of the major problems with fast food are that it’s high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sodium. Yet, most triathletes are trying to get in a few more calories and a little extra salt. French fries: They’re like salt pills but they taste better. And for time-pressed triathletes, the one thing fast food does have going for it is it’s fast. Hitting that golden window of caloric intake sometimes needs a little helping hand from the golden arches.

Should you eat all your meals at fast food places? Absolutely not. Should you eat some whole fruit, unprocessed vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains? Of course! But it’s 2019—the range of options that come pre-made or off-the-shelf are endless. There are vegan and organic and high-quality frozen meals. You don’t need to make eating healthy complicated or time-consuming or expensive. And you don’t need to give up on eating healthy just because you’re on the road and the main options are drive-through. Just focus on the important nutritional facts and not on preconceived stereotypes about what’s good and what’s bad. You might be surprised what you nd at the Taco Bell Cantina.

But you won’t be surprised to find there’s at least one other triathlete there.

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