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Whether you’re an athlete or just trying to train like one, eating out can be a tough challenge. Generally speaking, training towards a certain physique requires a lot of discipline around fitness and nutrition. Often, athletes will meal-prep a week’s worth of lean proteins, healthy fats, and fibrous carbohydrates to avoid foods that could be detrimental to their progress. But even the most disciplined dieter eats out sometimes, and here are a few of the ways they can stay healthy eating at restaurants.

1. Pre-Planning Is Key

One of the fastest ways to get stuck eating something totally outside of your meal plan is to go out spontaneously. Instead, make sure you’re planning to go out at least a few hours ahead of time. That will give you enough time to create a game plan for that meal. You can check out the restaurant’s menu and restaurant equipment online and can usually see calorie counts alongside each dish.

Then you can plan out what you want to eat, drink, and even if there’s an appetizer option that works for you. If you’re planning way ahead of time, you could plan your day’s food intake around the restaurant meal you want to have. It might be worth it to you to eat a little leaner earlier in the day so you can have that burger later on. Whatever you decide, pre-planning can help you avoid leaving the restaurant full of regret.

2. Read the Menu Closely

A big danger of eating out is how many calories can be hidden in otherwise healthy-looking dishes. If you have a specific calorie count you’re aiming for, it’s a good idea to read your menu item descriptions carefully. Words like “cream”, “breaded”, “crispy”, or “pan-fried” indicate that a lot of fat, salt, and simple carbs are included in the dish.

Of course, those words also indicate that the dish will be delicious, so it’s again up to your discretion how careful you want to be. Descriptions like “grilled”, “seared”, or “steamed” indicate preparation methods that involve little to no added fats, so they’ll most likely be lower in calories. 

 3. Find High-Protein Options

When trying to eat for specific athletic goals, the general advice given is to build your dishes around protein. Protein-rich diets are best for building muscle, while still avoiding excessive calories that will make your goals harder to reach. When perusing the menu, keep your eye out for lean cuts of meat, such as white fish, turkey, chicken breast, or lean beef.

The added bonus of ordering a meal like that is that you’ll be full and satisfied leaving the restaurant. A big salad with dressing and without much protein may look healthy, but it’s giving you a ton of calories that won’t ultimately keep you satisfied for long.

4. Veggies On the Side

Another great way to bulk up your meal in a goal-oriented way is by ordering a side or two of vegetables. A side salad and some steamed veggies are a great way to ensure you’re leaving the restaurant full. If you want to get the french fries, go ahead, just focus your attention primarily on the vegetables and come back to your fries when you’ve finished them. Then, at the very least, you’ll know you’ve had a nutritionally dense meal, even if you made allowances for the more decadent items. 

5. Check Out the Dessert Menu

Sure, if you’re eating out several times a week, you probably can’t be looking over the dessert menu every time and still meet your nutritional goals. But if this is a once in a while occasion, you should participate in the meal, rather than saying “nothing for me” every time the waiter asks a question.

Conclusion 

Plus, dessert menus often have many options that are lower-calorie, while still being delicious, such as berries and cream or sorbet. Even if you want the chocolate cake, you can share a slice with your dinner companions. Enjoying meals out is a big part of life for many people, so don’t let your diet ruin your meal.