Food on the Go

How to Eat Like a Bodybuilder, Even at McDonalds

Want to lose some fat and get those abs ready for full summertime display? Or is your main goal to pack on tons of muscle mass and finally break that 200 pound barrier? To most people, the key to physique success, no matter what their goals are, lies in an eating plan. I don't care what percentage you want to assign to the importance of diet, whether it's 50% of the equation, 80% of the equation, or whatever, just know that diet is extremely important.

Although we all know diet is crucial, few trainees actually map out an eating program that supports their meticulous training programs and detailed physique goals. I've even heard of guys bringing clipboards and binders to the gym to record everything from weights and reps to how many steps it takes to get from the squat rack to the leg extension machine, only to get home and eat the first thing they see. This makes no sense to me.

Others, however, do plan their diets well only to fall victim to that little distraction called life, a distraction that steps in and makes it difficult to stick to any eating program. Sure you've painstakingly picked out the highest quality sources of protein, the best sources of fats, and the lowest glycemic and insulin index carbs, but sometimes these foods just aren't going to be available when it's time to eat.

I know, I know, as far fetched as it sounds, even the best of us sometimes neglect to bring high protein meals with us to work or school. There's that pesky life thing again. Maybe you woke up late one morning and only had time to slam down a quick shake. (Or is that every morning?) Maybe you were distracted while watching the neighbor's 18-year-old daughter mow the lawn in her bikini and left your burgers in the broiler for a few too many minutes. Or maybe you've got a lunch date with that little vixen in the office that everyone's been pining for since the day she bent over to pick up a dropped pencil. What are you gonna do, invite her out to the parking lot for canned tuna and bottled water? Nope, she'll expect you to take her to a nice restaurant. Heck, you might even have to pay for it! Women! Sheesh!

It's on occasions such as these that most people are caught with their pants down, nutritionally speaking, of course. So now you're out in the cold harsh world with no bodybuilding nutrition in sight. What are you going to do? For starters, you should always have some protein powder or an MRP packet or two stashed discretely around your workspace. Personally, I keep a shaker with some protein powder in my car, and two or three MRPs in my glove compartment. You could also stash some MRPs and bars in your desk, briefcase, school bag or toolbox for emergencies. To be honest, I even keep one protein bar in my underwear at all times, prompting several ladies to ask whether I was happy to see them or is that 42 grams of protein in my pocket.

Before I digress even further, back to being unprepared. If you haven't planned for such contingencies there's no need for panic. You can still eat well without your usual Tupperware and foil packet cuisine. If you've done your homework, you can still get a few healthy, high-protein meals from just about anywhere. Remember, not eating all day is not an option! So how can you eat out and still eat well? Read on.

Scenario #1 – The Work Lunch

You're headed out to a business lunch for some wheeling and dealing. It doesn't matter if you're trying to close a big business deal or just taking the cute intern out for a get-to-know-you lunch. Either way it's clear that Tupperware, chicken, and rice aren't going to project the image you're looking for. So you'll probably be headed out to a decent restaurant; nicer than the Sizzler you took your date to last Saturday night.

Nicer restaurants are full of great opportunities to stick to your meal plan and eat something maybe a little different than you're normally used to eating. The easiest thing to order is a grilled chicken salad with at least a double order of chicken. But if you're out to impress, a grilled chicken salad is a little, well, girlie. If you're wining and dining the meat and potatoes sort of crowd, ordering a chicken salad screams, "I'm weak, have no appetite, and can be walked all over!" Might as well order a club soda with a twist of lime.

Instead of projecting that kind of image, go ahead and order something that screams Testosterone, like a big strip steak or some kind of fish steak. If your diet calls for low carbs, you can always substitute a salad or broccoli and beans for that baked potato that they're going to melt six pounds of butter all over anyway. Remember, you're the customer and you can order anything you want. It doesn't matter if you want your baked potato dry or you want your salad served in the waitress's panties (no empty calories there), you have the right to ask. If the staff hooks you up, leave an extra big tip, especially if that panty thing works out.

Scenario #2 – The Quickie Lunch

You've brought no food and it's lunchtime. Or maybe you're headed out to lunch with some buddies to the closest place with food. Turns out the closest place with food is a fast-food dive. Believe it or not, you can get a decent meal there, too. It may not fit exactly into your eating specifications, but you gotta' be flexible. After all, you can't not eat and you're the dummy who forgot your food at home.

An old favorite of mine is to eat three or four hamburgers. Just put all the burgers between one set of buns and toss the rest. Another option is to get a salad and a couple of grilled chicken sandwiches and toss all the buns. Put the chicken on the lettuce and you've got a nice chicken salad! Turns out the stuff they call chicken is actually chicken. Well, it's chicken parts, but they're low in fat and have anywhere from 20 to 45 grams of protein, depending on the size. At least it's not hydrolyzed horse hooves (found in some of the cheaper protein bars on the shelves and counted as "protein" on the label.) Alternatively, I also like a big bowl of Wendy's chili and their chicken salad. That makes for a decent meal in a pinch and beats starving down to Richard Simmons size.

Now, don't get me wrong, fast food isn't the best option if you're trying to keep those abs looking like etched marble, but what's the alternative? All day long catabolism? I'll take the fast food every time. Just don't do it very often and when you do, eat smart or you'll end up a McFatty.

Scenario #3 – The Road Trip

It's road trip time and not only have you forgotten your jug of protein at home, but your underwear containing the food bar is still hanging on the bathroom doorknob airing out. (Can you tell I'm a college student?) No worries, mate. Whether you're driving across the country or just to grandma's, getting some protein won't be a problem.

First of all, more than likely there's going be some rest stops along the way. Just about every supermarket, gas station, convenience store, and rest stop sells beef jerky and mixed nuts. There may not be a restaurant anywhere nearby, but there's a gas station somewhere on every street corner in America. Pick yourself up a couple of pieces of beef jerky and a small bag of nuts and you're talkin' 44 grams of high-quality protein and about 26 grams of unsaturated fats. I've never heard of a more convenient and tasty source of high-quality protein and fats.

And if your stop happens to be at one of those higher class truck stops, you know, the ones where you gotta' ask for the key to the bathroom, you could possibly substitute the jerky with sliced turkey breast. "What about all that sodium?" you ask. What about it? It still carries all that high quality protein. Just get yourself a bigger bottle of water to flush out that extra sodium.

The Cheat Sheets

No matter where you're getting your emergency food supply, you've got to be wary of the calories contained in most foods. Don't get fooled like everyone else and let your perfectly good meal be spoiled by high calorie, fat-laced sauces and dressings. Try getting that entrée without the thick cream or butter sauce. They have the potential to add upwards of 300 extra calories to your meal. At least order them on the side.

In addition, order your salad dressings on the side. Sure, a little bit of those oil-based dressings won't hurt, but those damn creamy dressings may ruin a perfectly good meal (and if you're lactose intolerant like me, a perfectly good time in public).

Many restaurants and even fast food joints will give you a little sheet listing the macronutrient and caloric values. Just be careful of many places' "healthy choice" dishes. Some of these places only keep the fat content in mind when they label something "healthy". Thus a steaming plate of pasta served with white bread is on the healthy side of the menu. Sure, if you want to get almost no protein and go into an insulin induced coma, eat up. I'll stick to the chicken, steak and salad myself.

Since you've probably memorized exactlythe number of protein, carbs, and fats in your everyday foods, I want to give you a little cheat sheet for some of the more common foods you'll be finding in your travels:

Fast Foods

McDonalds Protein Carbs Fat
Hamburger 12 35 10
Cheeseburger 15 36 14
Chicken McGrill (no mayo) 26 46 7
Chicken Caesar Salad (no dressing) 17 3 2.5
Burger King Protein Carbs Fat
Whopper Jr. (no mayo) 20 32 16
Hamburger 19 30 16
Cheeseburger 22 31 19
BK Broiler (no mayo) 29 51 8
Wendy's Protein Carbs Fat
Jr. Hamburger 15 34 10
Jr. Cheeseburger 17 34 15
Grilled Chicken 34 36 8
Chicken Salad 22 10 8
Large Chili 23 32 10

If you haven't done your homework and memorized the caloric value of all your everyday foods, here's another cheat sheet to study. Print it out and stick it in your wallet if you have to.

  Protein Carbs Fat
Salmon (3 oz) 21.6 0 7
Chicken Breast (roasted 3 oz) 31 0 3.5
T-Bone Steak (broiled 3 oz) 20 0 17
Beef Jerky 22 2 1
Tuna fish (3 oz steaks) 25 0 5
Tuna fish (can) 42 2 3
Beef Liver (pan fried) 25 0 5
Kidney Beans (red) (1 cup) 13 1 0.4
Egg 6 1 5
Peanuts (28 g serving) 7 6 13
Natural Peanut Butter (2 tbsp.) 8 7 16
Cheese (American, 1oz) 6 0 8
Butter (1 tbsp.) 1 0 7
Oatmeal (1/2 cup) 5 26 3
Baked Potato (6 oz) 3 34 0
Sweet Potato 3 44 0

Macronutrients and Post-Workout Meals

Another thing to keep in mind is the combination of macronutrients you eat at any given time. This is part of my brother John's new diet plan that will be posted soon at T-mag, but I'll give you a sneak preview. Besides, since he's my big brother, I've gotta' talk about it or he threatens to give me wedgies and noogies 'till I submit.

Seriously, though, I've tried the diet myself, and I can tell you that it kicks royal ass. What I can tell you is that the diet revolves around staggering high protein and moderate carb meals with high protein and high fat meals. This is great for when you're on the road. You can't always get one type of meal, but with this plan you have options. One chicken and chili meal at Wendy's (high protein and moderate carbs) can be followed by a snack of beef jerky and peanuts (high protein, high fat) a few hours later. You'd be wise to structure your meals like that when possible. Just keep that in mind when you're eating on the go and John will give you the whole skinny when his article comes out.

Lastly, while we're on the subject of eating in a hurry and on the road, I think this article would be incomplete if I didn't say a few words about post-workout nutrition. To begin with, you should always be in a hurry to eat after a workout. Some people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but your post workout meal is even more important since often times it'll be the determining factor in how well you perform during your next workout.

The main rule you need to know about post-workout nutrition is to get some! Although this article is all about what to do if you can't otherwise eat a proper bodybuilder's diet, post-workout is not the time to screw the pony. Drink an MRP, or if nothing else is available, you might want to run to a convenience store and chug some milk. Be sure you pay for it first. That's not ideal, but in an emergency at least you'll be getting some fast liquid protein.

In the perfect world, your post workout meal should consist of at least 0.4 g/kg of a quickly digestible protein source (such as whey hydrolysate) and 0.8g/kg of a simple carbohydrate to allow your muscles quick access to glycogen replenishing substrates. Add in a few BCAAs and other amino acids and it'll also help with protein balance. No matter what post workout nutrition you choose to consume, it's important to do it within 30 minutes of putting away your last set of dumbbells.

In summary, eat, eat often, and eat well. You can get high quality meals all around you with minimal hassles; you've just got to know where to look. There's no reason to break your diet if you're not the one preparing the meal. Your best bet is to play like a boy scout and "be prepared."

John Berardi, PhD, is the founder of Precision Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition coaching and education company. Berardi advises organizations like Apple, Equinox, and Nike. He's coached the San Antonio Spurs, the Carolina Panthers, US Open Champ Sloane Stephens, and 2-division UFC Champ Georges St-Pierre.