Take it away
Your best meal is probably the one you cook yourself, but sometimes you have to make do with takeaways, which can be something of a nutritional minefield. We asked Dr Kevin Currell, Performance Nutritionist for British Triathlon, for advice on 10 high-street takeaway options, from the not bad to the perfectly awful.
“There has been a lot of negative publicity about the use of the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Chinese food and there are now fewer places using it as an ingredient,” says Currell. However, it’s worth asking if it is used when you’re ordering. Try to avoid items on the menu that are deep-fried; they’re packed with unhealthy hydrogenated fats. Cashew nuts are a good option. “They’re often used in Chinese cooking and they contain a healthy fat that supports the immune system,” adds Currell.
Delicious, and not the worst of the bunch. “Pizza can be great for carb-loading because of its doughy base,” says Currell. This alone makes it a good meal choice the night before a big race. Many elite triathletes eat pizza before overseas races, particularly if they are a little unsure about the local food. But it’s not all good news, says Currell. “It’s better to avoid the pizzas that include high-fat meats such as salami. They contain fats that are most likely to induce gastrointestinal problems and will increase the likelihood of you wanting to go to the toilet during the run.”
“You have to be careful with Indian food because a lot of the meat is cooked in ghee, which is clarified butter,” warns Currell. This means that the fat content can be quite high. However, some of the spices used in Indian cooking are beneficial. “There is evidence to suggest that turmeric is very effective in supporting the immune system, which comes under strain during bouts of hard exercise,” says Currell. A strong immune system will help keep you in good health in all weather. Finally, if you are going to have a curry, it’s better to avoid the creamier sauces, which have a higher saturated fat content.
Currell approves of Thai food. “It tends to be very high in vegetable content and is good for getting your five-a-day,” he says. “Vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals, which are a bit like the body’s police force. They help make sure everything is in working order and enable necessary chemical reactions to occur. As with Indian food, there are good spices in Thai cuisine that support the immune system, such as turmeric.” Once again, however, he has a word of warning: “Avoid curries, which are often cooked in coconut milk and so have a very high fat content. It’s better to go for a stir-fry.” It’s good to have garlic in the meal, too. There is evidence to suggest it supports the immune system.
“These tend to be flavoursome choices that are slow-cooked and can be very good for you,” says Currell. He says Caribbean stews would be a healthy option, if they contain good-quality meat or fish, and also have good vegetable content. Some Caribbean food is deep-fried, so it’s best to avoid that, no matter how marvellous it smells.
Japanese food also gets the nod. “Japanese food can be really good for you. There is always plenty of fish on the menu. Fish is such a quality protein. It has very little unsaturated fat; I would recommend that people eat fish at least three or four times per week,” says Currell. So sushi is a great option. Also go for boiled rice as opposed to fried, which has a higher fat content. Steer clear of the deep-fried options.
These places can be rather good or very bad, according to Currell. “Generally speaking the savoury pies will be high in saturated fat and contain poor-quality meat. It’s better to go for a healthy sandwich with some low-fat mayonnaise. Choose wholemeal bread over white bread.” Wholemeal ranks lower on glycaemic index, which means it releases energy from the carbohydrate stores at a slower rate and can give you more sustained energy for your training sessions.
Not as bad as you might think. “Although a lot of the meat is poor quality, it is possible to get a healthy meal at a kebab house. As a rule, the meat on the spit should be avoided. Chicken and lamb should not look like that,” says Currell. Instead, he suggests a chicken kebab made from chunks of breast and leg meat that can be grilled in front of you. “Added to some salad in pitta bread it’s a healthy meal with quality protein.”
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