Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Fight with Fast Food

by Spencer Ward on July 3, 2012

In today’s society, the fast food mentality that so many people posses is quickly becoming the norm. People want everything accomplished, purchased or finished yesterday and feel entitled to have everything now, now and now. This is most apparent in our food choices and if you’re a fighter or just someone trying to eat healthy, this mindset is even more detrimental for you.  Think about it. If you take your training seriously, there is so much more to take into consideration when it comes to food choices. For a fighter to be successfully following a diet he has to be constantly evaluating food quality, quantity, including a variety of food groups, convenience and the time it takes to eat.

For many people, and fighters are no exception, this is a huge undertaking.  Unfortunately it’s not usually given enough consideration when convenience and time come into the picture.  The question is…at what cost are we choosing time and convenience over health and nutrients? And are there options and methods to eat healthy and still have some of the convenience of being able to eat out?  My personal feeling is yes, it is possible as long as you can willingly change your habit and trade in a Super Size mentality for a Superman-style physique.

We all know that cooking your own food is unquestionably the best, healthiest option. Unfortunately, this is just not always possible, practical or something most are willing to do. It can make a world of difference in the size of your waist, as well as your wallet. Making meals ahead of time requires a little planning and follow through, but should always be your first consideration. Use a day of the week to plan a number of meals that can be made a day or two ahead of time. Foods that can be taken on the go and require little or no cooking, such as mixed vegetable salads, fruits, raw nuts, trail mixes, chicken salad, cold meats and hard boiled eggs fairly portable.  Any of those are smart choices that are healthy, taste good and require very little effort to prepare. Brown-bagging it may not sound as appealing as picking up one with a redheaded, pigtailed girl on the outside of the package, but that’s where a fighter’s discipline comes into play. You have to exercise it as much in life as you do in the gym.  Besides, once you get out of the habit of eating fast food junk, it usually only takes a couple of weeks to get in a better habit and way of life.

That being said, let’s go back to the norm and explore how we can live in it without it killing us in the process.  Even though the term “Fast Food” is most often regarded with a negative connotation, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t places that offer healthy meals on-the-go. In fact, healthy options are popping up more and more everyday. Panera Bread is one good option. With 1,230 locations in the US and Canada it’s not unlikely that you live nearby one. They offer a wide selection of healthy meals with an emphasis on whole grains, vegetables, and clean meats (most of there chicken is antibiotic and hormone-free).  Plus, you have control over the sides that come with your meal (such as an apple or baked potato chips) so those can be healthier choices too.  You can even “half-size” any soup, salad, or sandwich, which makes portion-control easier and you don’t feel obligated to eat all of the food, you paid hard-earned money for, after you’ve become full.  Panera Bread also won awards at Kid Fare for serving dishes that are healthier, like squeezable organic yogurt, natural peanut butter on PB&J and organic grilled cheese on their homemade bread. To be honest, in terms of “healthy fast food,” Panera Bread is not my favorite, but I think the facts certainly show that they’re a company that is making an effort to provide better quality and healthier options than 95% of the other fast food alternatives.  That alone makes them challengers in my book.

Jason’s Deli is another great fast food option. With only 206 locations in the US, it doesn’t quite match up to Panera, in terms of availability, but I feel like it is way ahead in quality.  It has an obvious devotion to providing not just healthy, but organic food choices. Around one-fifth of all the ingredients found at Jason’s Deli are organic. Whether that is spinach, mixed greens, whole-wheat wraps or blue-corn tortilla chips, Jason’s utilizes the freshest ingredients to construct creative dishes that aren’t just healthy, but taste good.  Yes, it can be done.  To top it all off, they are more than willing to provide you with the nutritional information on all of their menu items and that’s always a good sign.

Now let’s get to my favorite on the list… Chipotle. This fast-growing, popular Mexican eatery is currently boasting 800+ locations nationwide. Before I get into all the reasons I think this is the best fast food restaurant available, let me address the big issue that “healthy eaters” have with its food. “It’s loaded with calories” everybody says. To a degree, that is true.  I know that a typical Chipotle burrito is loaded with calories, but that’s not the only thing on the menu. I don’t care where you go, or how high the quality of food your eating is, if your pilling on cheese and sour cream and wrapping it in a white-flour tortilla, then “yeah, its going to have some extra calories.” The key is to exercise a little bit of self-control (and that goes for heading into any restaurant). I don’t know of any food company that does that job for you by only allowing certain foods and moderate portions to customers. So, before you walk in the doors of Chipotle, rethink what you want to order.  Remember that a big giant-sized burrito isn’t the only thing they offer, so get the image of a 5lb. mammoth burrito, stuffed with all the amenities, tightly-wrapped in a shiny tin foil sleeping bag, out of your mind. That’s not deprivation, that’s the great thing about Chipotle! It gives you full control.  It gives you, the customer, complete decision-making power over what goes into your burrito, taco, or salad. Isn’t that empowering?  Plus, all of the ingredients are fresh, local and some are even certified organic. They source from local suppliers and only offer meat that is hormone and antibiotic-free. This is revolutionary for a big restaurant chain and it’s sales are showing that people do care. They just need the convenient choice.  With a company that is so committed to serving its customers the highest quality food and doing it in a way that is affordable and convenient, its hard to believe it could get better … but it just might. Chipotle Mexican Grill has just opened a new Asian-inspired restaurant chain called Chophouse: Southeast Asian Kitchen, offering the same great quality of food, but in a Southeast Asian package. With only one location currently open, it has a ways to go to catch up with its big brother, but if history repeats itself, you may see a ChopHouse down the street very soon.  Then, you’ll have two topnotch, championship-caliber food choices.

As a fighter you have to be extra picky about where and what you eat.  Your body is your temple. Your food intake matters for training, gives you energy and will definitely factor into your weight gain or loss. No part of a fighters preparation should be overlooked when training and, all too often, diet is one of the most neglected components. Education, commitment and preparation are key to getting and staying on top of your food intake during training. Choosing what is fast and easiest is seldom best.  Making those important decisions ahead of time and on a consistent basis is what will separate you from those less committed fighters. You will see a difference on the scales and the spectators will see it in the ring.  It’s time to show them what your hungry for…extra fries or success.

Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.

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