With the Christmas party season fast approaching, chances are youre going to be eating out more often than normal. Whether its a party with work colleagues, a night out with family and friends or a house party with the neighbours, the festive season can play havoc with any sort of healthy eating plan.
When youre watching your nutrition as part of customised exercise plan, eating out can throw any number of spanners into your perfectly organised work. Planning your own meals at home helps you to monitor your macros, your calorie intake, your portion size and the quality of ingredients you use. Eating at a restaurant, or even at someone elses home, takes all of those controls out of your hands.
The thing is, your nutritional plan shouldnt be so restrictive that you need to shy away from going to a party, but you should be able to incorporate your own dietary needs so it continues to work to your advantage. How do you do that? Lets take a look.
A restaurant menu is a literal feast of amazing food, many of which sound perfectly delicious, but will contain an abundance of all those things youve been trying to keep a close eye on. Whether its fats, carbs, protein or oil, you have little or no control over how much (or how little) your food will contain. More and more restaurants are starting to publish nutritional information on their menu, which is a good start, but its less common than it should be, which makes it hard to calculate to any real degree.
The fact is, youre not going to be able to accurately establish the nutritional data that you need down to the last calorie. Its just not possible. The thing is, unless youre in the final stages of training for an elite event, it doesnt really matter that much. All we can hope for is a best guess which will get better the more you learn about the food you eat. Also, I wouldnt turn to apps that claim to offer this information. The fact is chicken will vary in size, weight and how its cooked, so any apps that claim exact nutritional information is misleading. Similarly with things like garden salad. There isnt a standard size or list of ingredients for those so again, those apps should be discarded.
Its important to look at portion size first. Dont worry too much about getting it spot-on, youre always going to be off a little bit. Restaurant portion sizes vary as much as people. From the Man vs Food-style enormo-plates to the smaller, nouvelle-cuisine elegance. The key is knowing whats in your food.
Its all too easy to forget about things like cheese in sauces or crumbled in salads when looking at portion size. High fat cheese in the smallest of meals can throw your best intentions out the window. When it comes to meat, again its hard to be exact, but the macros for things like steak can vary enormously depending on the type of cut youre having, but most restaurant will list the weight. For example, sirloin steak is around 282 calories per 4oz serving, rib-eye is around 437 calories and rump is around 200. Again, if you have a sauce with that, youll need to give it your best guess. Dont forget to add some grams for the fat (i.e. butter) it will be cooked in.
If youre a vegetarian (or vegan), then try and estimate the proteins, carbs and fats in the individual food components. For vegetarian diets, I would set protein lower and carbs and fats higher than normal. You can begin to see why its difficult to monitor your macros when dining out. Its all too easy to forget about the nuts, dressing, oil, butter, cheese and bread that often accompany your meal.
So what can you order that will keep you in line with your goals. Obviously I dont know what your individual goals are, but lets assume youre wanting to lose weight and / or gain muscle through a high-protein diet. With that in mind, I would recommend some safe options like grilled chicken, pork loin, game or shellfish like crab or lobster. If these can be combined with a salad, then even better. I would always try and go for meals that have fewer components, i.e. meat, vegetables and carb-heavy food like potatoes or rice. Any more than that and even guessing your macros becomes difficult.
You can also utilise some tried-and-tested routines when it comes to eating out. You could try the Pick Two rule, which means you can order two courses (rather than three) which should probably be the starter and main. You could also try intermittent fasting and plan your day around the meal youre going to have later in the evening.
If youre worried about letting all your good work go to waste over the Christmas period then I would say that you shouldnt. Your success isnt measured by one (or even two or three) nights out with your friends. Of course you shouldnt just throw caution to the wind and gorge yourself either, but even if you did, it doesnt mean failure. Your progress isnt measured over the course of one meal in one night, its measured over a week or a month. If you do over-indulge, then just go harder in the gym the next day. Its Christmas. Enjoy yourself.