How to order a healthy takeaway
Some times only a takeaway will do at the end of a long day of training, but is this a disaster for your nutrition? No, says head nutritionist for Team Sky Nigel Mitchell, as not all takeaway food is bad. Here he examines the smartest – and the not so smart – choices for triathletes.
This is a really popular takeaway option and, if we look at it in its purest form, it can be a really balanced meal. It’s when you go for the really thick dough base, with stuffed crust and high fat toppings such as pepperoni that things get dangerous. I even saw one the other day that had garlic butter instead of tomato! My advice? Go for a thin and crispy base, with tomato, and choose nutritious toppings such as tuna, olives and peppers.
You can get some great Indian choices and really poor ones. For example, starters such as bhajis and samosas are deep-fried, while the Indian soup Mulligatawny is a good option. For the main course, go for the drier curries such as tandoori chicken. Sauces often contain a lot of fat (traditionally ghee will be used, which is a clarified butter) so those are best avoided. With the side options it’s easy to double up the carbs – if you have both rice and naan you could easily eat more than 100g of carbohydrate. This may help to replenish glycogen if you’ve just done a real gut-busting track session, but doubling up on the carb sides can be a bit much for many people.
Overall, Chinese takeaways tend to be one of the healthiest options, as the cooking method of choice is the stir-fry wok. The food’s cooked quickly so the nutrients are sealed in and there’s less denaturing of the vitamins. Also, there are a wide variety of vegetables used in Chinese dishes that can really provide great nutritious meals, but again it’s easy to break the calorie bank if you’re not careful. Go for a soup (usually chicken and veg) as a starter, then for your main course choose a chicken chow mein, for example, which will provide carbs from the noodles, loads of veg and also protein from the chicken. For a lower-carb option, choose dishes such as chicken or fish in black bean sauce with vegetables. If opting for rice, pick plain boiled rice rather than the special fried rice.
There are a growing number of Middle Eastern takeaway shops specialising in traditional meals. These can be a good alternative to other takeaways as the chicken or lamb is marinated and then cooked over charcoal – delicious and low fat. These are often served with piles of salad and a flat bread. Just watch out for sauces, such as garlic or sweet chilli, as these can be very high in fat and sugar.
Mexican style takeaway food is also becoming more popular and these meals can be really nutritionally-packed. Dishes such as a burrito (meat, beans, rice, etc in a wrap) with a side of guacamole and black beans can be a really good choice. Try to steer away from any with a cheesey sauce, though, which is high in fat.
Basically, if you’re unsure when considering having a takeaway, think about what you’re looking for in a meal – especially when you’ve been working all day and training. The active triathlete will want a meal that provides protein, carbs, some fats (preferably healthy), vitamins and minerals. So think about whether that dish provides what you need. Generally, something with some protein (that hasn’t been cooked in fat) and loads of nutritious veggies will be a sound choice.
Remember don’t order when you’ve just finished training and you’re starving, as you’ll order the highest calorie foods and order too much. Plan ahead instead and decide what you’re going to have beforehand.