Fast Food Tips For Athletes

Women's Sports Medicine Center,
Hospital for Special Surgery

Fast food restaurants provide a quick, cheap and filling meal. However, many fast food menu items are high in fat, calories and sugar. Theyíre also low in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Here are some tips to help you eat a healthy fast food meal.

Fast foods are often FAT foods! Too many fat calories get in the way of eating enough carbohydrates. If you eat too few carbohydrates, you lose energy for sports performance. Carbohydrate foods include bread, rice, pasta, fruits, vegetables and beans. Fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrate, which means you should cut down on high-fat pre-game snacks or meals. You donít want to be sluggish, throw up or have stomach cramps during sports.

Whatís good?

    • Thick crust pizza tastes great and provides lots of carbohydrate. The cheese also gives you calcium. Pepperoni or other greasy meats add fat, so try veggie varieties, meatballs or plain cheese.
    • Order burgers with extra tomatoes and lettuce. Hold the sauce. If youíre in the mood for fries, choose the small size.
    • Roasted or grilled chicken dinners are definitely better than fried chicken. But thereís still a lot of fat in the skin. So remove the skin before you start munching.
    • Pasta (spaghetti or noodles with meat/poultry/veggies), chili, hearty soups are mmm good!
    • Salad bars can offer healthy high carbohydrate meals. Ask for extra broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, beans or other colorful veggies on top of your salad. Go easy on the salad dressing; you may add nearly 400 calories of fat! Or try diet dressing. Enjoy whole grain rolls or pasta salads. Be careful of cream sauce.
    • When ordering deli sandwiches, emphasize the bread and veggies. Go light on the spread. Choose whole grain breads to add fiber.
    • Wraps and pita sandwiches are a new trend in fast foods and they can be low or high in fat calories depending on the ingredients. Choose wraps that are filled with lots of fresh vegetables, as well as meat or cheese. Watch out for high fat toppings which soak the wrap with calories.



  1. DONíT supersize it! Supersize means more high-fat food and extra calories! Donít get sucked into the trap of ordering food you donít want or need, even if it seems like a bargain. Let a teammate supersize while you order a simple sandwich. Then you can both share the fries.
  2. Soft drinks are high in sugar, but do provide energy. Diet drinks supply fluid, but no nutritional value. Better choices are juices, seltzer, low-fat milk, hot cocoa, or just plain water! As an athlete, itís important to keep well-hydrated. If you like soda pop, caffeine-free (non-cola) types are best. Ask about low-fat shakes; if it doesnít say milkshake, thereís no milk in it!
  3. Order things"your way". Ask for salad dressing on the side, extra veggies and bread, or "hold the sauce". This will lower your fat intake and guarantee the freshness of your meal. Why? Because a special order must always be made on the spot.
  4. Everyone knows fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you. But itís hard to find them at fast food restaurants. Baked potatoes are great, but can be sabotaged with gobs of sour cream, bacon or other high-fat spreads. Go light on the toppings (just enough to add flavor or try hot sauce/salsa, mustard, veggies or light cheese on top). Donít be afraid to bring fruits or juices with you to the restaurant.
  5. Donít scarf the meal down! If you take your time, your stomach will holler "Iím full!" before you overeat.
  6. Fast foods are often high in salt (sodium), which may cause you to retain fluid. This can temporarily increase your weight, making you feel bloated. The carbonation in soft drinks can make you feel bloated too! Balance fast food meals with healthier, fresher food choices.
  7. What about breakfast? Pancakes with syrup or hot/cold cereal are great breakfast choices. Eggs and toast/ biscuits are good too; just limit the fatty bacon or sausage.
  8. If you go to a certain fast food place all the time, ask for a nutrition breakdown of their food, so you can make smart choices. Sometimes youíll find a chart posted on the wall. If you eat an overall healthy diet and only occasionally go to fast food restaurants, eat whatever you want and ENJOY IT!
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