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Eating at Restaurants Without Sacrificing Your Fitness Goals

 Your guide to eating out at a restaurant without sacrificing your fitness goals in 2021

Tip #1 - Plan your meals during the day

If you know you will be going out for dinner that night, then my first tip is to start structuring out your day around that future cheat meal. For example, if I know I am going out to an Italian restaurant I know that I will probably need roughly 1000 calories to play with to enjoy a nice pasta or a small pizza.

Therefore, I would usually try fasting over breakfast and having my first meal around midday. This means that I am eliminating one or possibly two meals in the morning. This depends if you usually tend to have breakfast and morning tea, or just breakfast.

If you try keeping yourself busy in the morning by cleaning, playing a sport or doing something that you enjoy, it is easier to not think about the food you aren’t eating. I know personally, l tend to eat a lot of food when I’m bored or have access to food nearby. This may be the case with many other people too.

If you decide to eat lunch at around midday, then hopefully this meal should last you until mid-afternoon. I would recommend your midday meal being something which is high in protein and low in fats and carbs. This is because protein is slowly absorbed by the body and can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. If you are strictly tracking your calories in the morning, this ensures you get maximum fullness for the same number of calories as a high carb and low protein meal.

These are some examples of meals I might have in this period that are high in protein and lower in fats and carbs.

  • An egg white omelette containing lots of vegetables with a leafy green salad on the side.
  • A smoothie consisting of one scoop of Bulk Nutrients Whey Protein, Plant Protein or Hydrolysed Collagen Peptides shake blended with ice, almond milk and mixed berries or banana.
  • A salad consisting of low starch vegetables and any lean meat. This could be something like tuna, chicken, or pork.

All these options are relatively low in calories and filled with protein that will help you reach your daily protein targets early on. If you opt for a pizza or pasta dish at dinner, these may be lower in protein, so I always like to ensure I get enough protein from my midday meals.

A delicious salmon fillet salad and a pork chop and veg meal at a fancy restaurant.

Tip #2 - Stay active during the day

Another tip is to try and be as active as you can throughout the day. Try going for a short walk or playing a recreational sport that you enjoy. This way it will not feel like you are only doing cardio just to enjoy food at night.

If you find you don’t have the time in the day, that’s okay. Don’t become obsessed over this, it is only one meal after all. Just try to be active the next day instead.

Tip #3 - Choose a restaurant with some healthier options

Some types of cuisine are naturally healthier than others. For example, if you are looking for a healthy type of cuisine to eat out at, a Greek or Turkish restaurant would usually be healthier than a burger restaurant or an American style diner.

If you are serious about eating healthily when going out and you have a choice of which restaurant to dine at, I would recommend doing your research first. Consider the healthier types of cuisines that include high portions of vegetables in most of their meals. For example, Greek, Japanese and Mexican meals often are accompanied by salads or vegetables.

If your friends or family are meeting at a burger joint, check the menu online before the night and see what healthier options they have. Often burger restaurants will offer bunless burgers, which may use lettuce leaves as the bun. This will be much lower in calories than a white, glazed bun. But, if you do want to indulge in the full burger, check out the menu beforehand and work out how many calories that might be, then base your meals throughout the day off what you intend to eat that night. This flexible approach to dieting will allow you to eat the meal you want, without blowing out your calorie count.

Restaurant workers setting up table, getting ready for the dinner rush.

Tip #4 - Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the restaurant

If you are concerned that what you have ordered will come with a creamy sauce or a high-calorie salad dressing, ask if this can be put on the side. This can save you quite easily 200 calories as restaurants don’t have your fitness goals as a priority. This also means you can enjoy a bit of the sauce or dressing without feeling like you are missing out entirely and you have control over the portion.

If you choose to order a steak or something that must be grilled in a pan, ask the waiter if the chef can use less oil than usual. You are paying money to dine at the restaurant, so they will likely be willing to help fulfil your needs. If you're in a big group and you feel embarrassed to ask this, remember that your friends and family should have your best interests at heart. Worst case, just laugh off their banter.

If there is leftover food on the table after you have finished your meal, try and avoid picking at it. This can easily add many more calories to your meal without you even realising it. You should hopefully be satisfied with the food you have ordered and if not try having more protein before going for more fats and carbs.

On this note, unless you have allowed for it, avoid ordering an entrée as well. Often in restaurants, these can be quite large and are often heavy on carbs. If you would like an entrée, consider sharing with another guest or else opt for something which is predominately vegetable-based or high in protein. For example, oysters natural or a salad.

Providing you have not consumed other people’s food and have allowed for it in your calories for the day, you may wish to order a dessert if everyone else is to avoid feeling like you’re missing out. Try opting for something which is lighter and won’t leave you feeling heavy and bloated. Often there will be a panna cotta or fruit crumble on the menu. These are usually not as rich as a chocolate mud cake or a pudding with heavy cream.

Pick a vegetarian option on a night out.

Tip #5 - Portion sizes at restaurants

One big issue I find when dining out is that the portion sizes are far larger than what I have often planned for. Many restaurants tend to have huge plates and the size of their meals are far larger than I may eat at home. For example, when ordering steak at a restaurant they quite regularly are an excess of 400g. If I had been carefully counting my calories all day to allow for a steak, I may find my calories are blown over by the sheer size of it.

A tip that I recommend if you aren’t feeling too hungry is to either order an entrée as your main or order a kid's meal. Most restaurants are more than willing to bring out entrees and mains together. That way you’ll still be eating at the same time as your family and friends, so you won’t feel left out, but you won’t be served up a huge meal that you don’t feel like eating.

Some restaurants may also allow adults to have a kid’s meal if you explain that you’re not very hungry. This is a tough one, as other restaurants may straight out refuse, but it’s always worth a try!

Tip #6 - What to drink when trying to eat healthily at a restaurant

It can be tough turning down a nice glass of wine or refreshing beer when everyone else at your table is having an alcoholic drink. But if you are really committed to your health and fitness goals then unfortunately alcohol will set you back. The average alcoholic drink contains between 100 to 200 calories. These are empty calories and while they taste mighty good, they aren’t helpful in your journey.

If you have trained during the say I would recommend sipping on some BCAAs throughout the day to help satisfy your sweet tooth. These can also help you to recover faster. If they are Bulk Nutrients BCAA Recovery then they also contain Electrolytes which can help you to replenish lost water as sweat during an intense gym session.

But while you are at the restaurant there are a few low-calorie drink options you could choose from. The best option would be to go for sparkling water or a diet soft drink like Coke Zero. Sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon is a refreshing drink which compliments many meals. Having this may make you feel as though you are included in having a drink, while still sticking to your health and fitness goals.

What to drink at a restaurant is equally as important.

Alternatively, depending on what kind of restaurant you are at you may be able to get a kombucha. Kombucha is low calorie and great for gut health. This is a fermented drink made from tea, bacteria, yeast and sugar. Once the drink has fermented, it is very low in calories and can come in many refreshing flavours including peach, ginger, berry or lemonade. Unflavoured kombucha has a dry apple cider type taste and is slightly effervescent.

If you enjoy hot drinks you could always opt for black coffee, black tea or herbal tea. This is particularly useful if you are going out for breakfast or brunch, however, a hot fruit tea could be enjoyed with any meal. Or a fruit or peppermint tea may tide you over after dinner if you’re craving something sweet.

If you are determined to have an alcoholic drink, I would suggest opting for a light beer, a white or red wine or a spirit with soda water or a diet mixer. Another great option is to have a white wine spritzer. This contains half white wine and half soda water, so it is only half the calories of a normal glass of wine and is very refreshing, particularly in the warmer summer months. Try and avoid cocktails as they are often loaded with sugary syrups or creamy mixers and are hard to track.

My top six tips summed up

So, there you have it, my top six tips to ensure you can still get out, be social and enjoy yourself while sticking to your macros.

These six tips will help ensure that the calories you consume at dinner don’t excessively spill over after doing all the right things throughout the day.

There's no need to be the person who's too afraid to be social while on a diet as it is not sustainable, and you will miss out on the long-lasting memories with the most important people in your life. I promise you will not fall off the wagon with your progress by just having one night out. In fact, this may just be even more motivation to train harder and eat well on your non-social days.

Choose a healthy dinner when you go out to eat.

Want to read more about how to diet effectively? To determine the right maintenance calories for your body and activity level, check out this article: How to determine calories for a lean bulk.

Ben Disseldorp

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