Pub grub picks
How to choose the most nutritious meal You slog it out at the gym and eat well (most of the time), but a life that’s all work and no play can get pretty boring, pretty quick. Here’s MF’s guide to choosing the best meal down at the local without blowing your gains. By Tatyana Leonov.
A man walks into a bar. That’s it — there’s no joke. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has no stats on how many Aussie men visit pubs, or how often, but having a couple with your mates is an Aussie tradition. Choosing the right cuts of meat teamed with right sides can make a big difference to your daily energy intake.
It’s really that simple. Looking after your body comes down to making the right decisions most of the time — but be realistic. We’re not saying skip the pub or just order salad with dressing on the side (although that’s a pretty smart way to go if you’re trying to strip fat) — just think before you act — and eat.
If you know you’re going to down a beer or two, order your food before the first round. Trudy Williams, Accredited Practising Dietitian with foodtalk.com.au and author of , says it’s a commonsense decision. “If you wait until after a few drinks to decide, you’ll make a dodgy decision sparked by alcohol’s appetite stimulation effect.”
Go one step further and check out the menu online before you turn up (if it’s available), and don’t be afraid to ask questions about how your meal will be prepared. “People tend to be scared to ask questions because they think they’ll be seen as difficult,” says Mike Campbell, creator of unleashyouralpha.com, an online community and coaching program designed for men. “However, you’re simply taking charge of your nutrition and health.”
Think like a caveman
Back in prehistoric times, humans ate food straight from the source. Anything our ancestors could pick from a tree, pull from the ground, harvest or hunt was seen as edible — plenty of grass-fed meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Refined carbs, grains and processed meats were unheard of and simplicity was the key.
A team of scientists at Purdue University in the US found eating caveman-style foods could lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of disease and help eliminate obesity and diabetes. But you don’t have to go Paleo and cut out a bunch of food groups. In fact, an Australian study discovered that swapping just eight percent of your carb intake with red meat could help to lower blood pressure.
Luckily for us, most Aussie pubs have a decent selection of steaks on offer. Go grass-fed if you have the option, and choose a lean cut, such as the eye fillet or sirloin. If it is not available, Williams recommends opting for a small rump or porterhouse. If you’re dining at a pub that offers self-cooking facilities, think like a caveman and DIY. “Cooking your own meal gives you control over how much oil and sauce you use and portion size — plus you can select your own lean cut,” suggests Kara Landau, an accredited practising dietitian and author of The Clean Separation.
And it goes without saying you should limit your intake of processed meats such as salami, chorizo, bacon and [most] sausages. These meats aren’t in their natural state (having undergone a processing method) and are often full of salt and additives.
Mix it up
Don’t always order the same lean cut of beef. Apart from being boring, even the best meal isn’t the best if you eat it day in, day out. According to the updated (2013) National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Dietary Guidelines, “to enhance dietary variety and reduce some of the health risks associated with consuming meat, up to a maximum of 455g per week” of red meat is ideal.
Depending on your nutrition requirements, you might need more — but alternating your proteins is the way to go. Egg whites, soy, nuts and beans are all good vegetarian protein sources, and chicken can be a great choice — order a grilled skinless breast for a low-fat protein punch.
Seafood is one of your best bets. Eat fish often enough (locally sourced for freshness if you can), and you may even reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and macular degeneration in the eyes. “A grilled piece of salmon is a fantastic way to get a huge dose of healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids and vitamin D, which is important for warding off depression,” Landau explains. “And oysters are extremely rich in zinc, which is important for testosterone production.”
A little bit on the side
Diversify — change is good! A healthy diet consists of all the different food groups, and usually the more colourful your plate, the better the dietary punch. Always eat your vegies (you know your mum was onto a good thing); just make the right decision as to which ones. If choosing between a salad and cooked vegetables, go for the leafy salad with dressing on the side. “Vegies often come cooked in butter, plus are often boiled, which results in the loss of many of the water-soluble vitamins,” Landau explains.
If you’re a three-veg-with-meat kind of guy, “Ask for no extra butter/ spread/oil if stripping body fat and cutting kilojoules are part of your plan,” Williams suggests.
There’s no need to ditch spuds completely. They contain starch, which keeps you fuller for longer, and contrary to popular belief there’s no obvious winner between sweet and white potatoes. The sweet variety is lower in GI and contains more fibre and vitamin A, while white potatoes have more iron, magnesium and potassium. It’s the way potatoes are often cooked at pubs that’s the problem. Chips are usually deep-fried and full of trans fats, while mash can have a heap of cream, butter and salt added to it. “A jacket potato minus the fatty toppings is your best bet,” suggests celebrity personal trainer and author of the Clean & Lean diet and cookbook series, James Duigan.
So you’ve got a beef pie with a buttery crust next to a huge leafy chicken breast salad. The pie is physically much smaller, but it’s obvious which one is better for you. “Too many guys are socially afraid to order a salad,” Campbell says, “but that’s just insecurity. Man up and get the food you want that’s best for you.”
If you’re a regular at a pub that’s known for super-sizing, don’t be afraid to ask for an entree-sized main. “Entree-serve sizes are usually closer to the portion sizes that people prepare for themselves when they’re at home,” Landau explains. That said, stay smart when ordering — an entree of deep-fried salt and pepper squid isn’t better for you than a steak and salad main.
How much you need to eat will depend on your training regimen and health goals. “Thoroughly chewing your food helps your brain catch up to your stomach and know that you’re full,” says Duigan, “and stops you from wolfing down all your food.”
Grease isn’t the word
Try to avoid these artery cloggers.
Schnitzels. Crumbed, fried health disasters. “A small schnitzel without any cheese or sauce contains more than 2000kJ, on average — it’ll take a 7km run to burn it off [for an 80kg man]” says Williams. And who eats just plain schnitzel? Add chips and a beer and you’ve got an epic food failure.
Fish and chips. Fry overload! The fish is battered then deep-fried, and then you’ve got your fried chips on top of that. “Fried foods are loaded with unhealthy trans fats. The fat clogs up your heart, makes you tired and gives you a fat belly,” says Duigan.
Burgers. A chicken breast wholemeal burger served with avocado and leafy greens (and no nasty extras) isn’t a bad choice, but most pubs don’t do that kind of a burger. The quality of hamburger mince varies greatly from pub to pub, and chicken doesn’t equal grilled chicken breast. “Go into salvage mode with burgers. Ask about the meat and avoid mayo and butter,” Williams recommends. “And definitely swerve past massive burgers with the lot — unless you’re prepared for a blood vessel clogging, heart-stopping fat overload."