When you’re pressed for time or on the road, fast food may not be your first choice, but sometimes it’s the only choice. While calorie counts are frequently available at most chain restaurants, they don’t tell the whole story, and in some cases, the lowest-calorie item isn’t your best bet because it’s missing runner-friendly vitamins and minerals.
“I tell clients to look beyond total calories, and focus on protein and fiber, so they feel full and satisfied,” says Kim Hoban, a registered dietitian and runner. When that information isn’t readily available, look for items with animal or plant-based proteins such as meat or poultry, fish, or beans, legumes, cheese, yogurt, nuts, or tofu. And menu items that have whole grains, fruits, or vegetables will be higher in fiber.
Fat is also important for satiety — but you won’t struggle to find plenty of that in many fast-food menu items. The more important thing may be what type of fat they have. Kelly Jones, a certified specialist in sports dietetics (C.S.S.D.), cautions athletes to avoid items too high in saturated fats, especially for recovery meals. You’ll find the highest amounts of saturated fats in animal proteins (especially beef and dairy), fried foods, and desserts. This means skipping the chicken nuggets, burger patties, and dairy-heavy options like cream-based soups, quesadillas, or a side of sour cream.