Runners are a fairly health conscious group of people, but when you’re on the go, fast food can occasionally become your only option for dinner. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, but aren’t sure what your healthiest bet is for a meal, below are our suggestions.
The restaurants chosen for this examination are some of the most popular Canadian fast food joints, and also the spots you’re most likely to find while you’re on the road. Many restaurants have started publishing calorie counts on their menus, however, a meal is more than the sum of its parts. We’ve broken down the nutrition facts with the help of Naturopathic Doctor, Melissa Piercell.
Piercell says, “Ideally with fast food, the first thing to look at is protein.” There are many fast food items, such as McDonald’s chicken McNuggets that are primarily corn. Chicken may be in the name, but don’t let it fool you.
In terms of protein intake, Piercell says that a good rule of thumb is half your weight, per day, in grams. So, a person who weighs 180 lbs would be looking to take in 90 grams of protein a day. Piercell adds, “And that’s for a relatively inactive person, for a runner, they will likely need a little more.”
Once you’ve found several options with adequate protein, Piercell suggests choosing the option with the least sugar. Certain foods will have loads of added sugar, for example, Tim Horton’s chili has five grams of sugar. That’s a lot for a savoury dish.
The final key to eating well in a pinch is, “avoid fried food.” Piercell continues, “Fried food and trans fats are so difficult for your body to break-down. Try choosing grilled chicken over the spicy, crispy option for example. Go with the salad over the fries.”
Tim Horton’s: Based on Piercell’s guidelines, your best bet at Tim Horton’s is their Artisan-Style Grilled Cheese Sandwich. The sandwich comes in at 490 calories, with 29 grams of protein and only 2 grams of sugar. Compared to other menu items, the sandwiches easily had the highest protein counts, and typically lower amounts of sugar. Another good options is the Chipotle Grilled Chicken Wrap which comes in at 430 calories, 27 grams of protein and 4 grams of sugar. The sugar content in the chicken wrap is still relatively high, but you can make a compromise because of the good protein levels.
Subway: Subway was the biggest surprise of this analysis. What is commonly regarded as “healthy” fast food stop, is one of the highest in both sugar and calories. Getting your protein in at subway is no issue, most of their sandwiches include around 30 grams of protein, but the sugar content is surprisingly high. The best option at Subway is a Greek Chicken Panini, which has 6 grams of sugar, 32 grams of protein and 580 calories. The only menu items with a lower sugar content is the triple cheese sandwich, but there the protein count suffers.
McDonald’s: Now that McDonald’s is serving breakfast all day, we explored their breakfast menu. In terms of food on the run, you could do worse than the Sausage and Egg McMuffin. At 430 calories, 2 grams of sugar and 20 grams of protein, it isn’t an ideal meal, but it covers the bases. While the oatmeal might seem like a health-conscious choice, it’s to be avoided. Coming in at 290 calories, a whopping 33 grams of sugar for only 5 grams of protein, it isn’t your best bet when stopping at the golden arches.
Harvey’s: Harvey’s does a grilled chicken wrap that rings in at 440 calories, 3 grams of sugar and 31 grams of protein. That’s checking most of the boxes. If you’re a vegetarian, they also have a veggie burger that comes in at 340 calories, 3 grams of sugar and 24 grams of protein.