The pages of Muscle & Fitness are always packed full of monster training tips, super clean eating advice, and delicious recipes that are loaded with nutrient-dense ingredients—in a perfect world, all guidelines, tricks, and information that’ll keep your muscles pumped and your waist trim. Unfortunately, the reality is that getting (and staying) ripped requires a huge commitment of time and resources that we don’t always have at our disposal. Our world is filled with distractions that pull us away from clean eating, consistent workouts, and on-point discipline.

We understand that as well
as anyone, and we like to take a step back every now and then to explore how to keep your diet and training goals in line with the fast food options that are out there and tempting us every single day. Every corner and strip mall in

America is loaded with fast-food joints pulsing out cravings that call to us, a siren song of slop that can sometimes cause even the most disciplined guy to break down and stop for a convenient—and greasy—snack. And it’s usually not even that we can’t control the yearnings for fast-food fare, as once you commit to a diet of whole, clean, and fresh foods, the hankerings for fatty ones quickly dissipates.

It’s really more about the ease of a drive-thru or quick stop in a culture that demands more and more of our time. So we consulted with nutritionists and dietitians and scoured lists upon lists of nutrition info on countless websites to come up with a guide to getting the most out of fast-food joints. This year we found the 17 best options for picking up quick pre- and post-workout meals that can provide you with the macros you need to stay on target. Eating well on the go is possible if you know what you’re looking for.

“Good options for both meals will include a combination of healthy carbohydrates, lean protein, and a bit of healthy fats,” says Heather R. Mangieri, R.D., C.S.S.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified specialist in sports nutrition in Pittsburgh, PA.

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Fill the Tank

When fueling for a workout, start with a balanced meal that includes high-quality carbohydrates and lean protein with a ratio of carbs to protein somewhere between 2-to-1 and 1-to-1, with carbs being the main focus. “Pre-workout meals should include a combination of healthy carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and a serving of lean protein, such as low-fat dairy, eggs, chicken, or fish,” Mangieri says. You need a meal that is going to give you sustained energy to keep you going through a workout but that will also reduce hunger pangs. “You’ll also want to steer clear of foods that can cause gastrointestinal distress such as fatty foods, along with refined carbohydrates that can cause

your blood sugar to bottom out during your workout,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., a registered dietitian in New York City and creator of The F-Factor Diet. “An ideal snack consists of complex carbohydrates— your muscle’s main energy source—plus a little protein for sustained energy.”

If you are going to eat a larger meal, make sure you consume it three to four hours before working out and stick with 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates and 30 to 40 grams of protein. “Those trying to squeeze their workout into a hectic day can get away with a smaller meal of 30 to 45 grams of carbs and 20 to 30 grams of protein
60 to 90 minutes before hitting the gym,” says Jessica Cording, R.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian and owner of jessicacordingnutrition.com.

Pre-Workout Meals

Here you’ll find a range of options
that offer a moderate amount of carbs, protein, and healthy fats—whether you want a whole meal or a light snack (or just a shot of caffeine). No matter what kind of diet you’re on, you can’t derail it with one of these nine pre-workout options.

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NEXT: Post-Workout Meals >>

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Replenish the Reserves

An intense workout will deplete the body of glycogen—the readily available fuel stored in your liver and muscles—so it’s important to build those stores back up by eating enough carbs after training. “A meal that contains fiber-rich vegetables will fill you up on relatively few calories, while replenishing glycogen,” Zuckerbrot says.

Eating protein as part of that meal will also help jump-start muscle tissue repair. “Ideally, a recovery meal should be consumed within two hours post-workout. A 3-to-1 ratio of carbs-to-protein can help maximize protein uptake and glycogen repletion,” Cording says.

If you’re not planning a second workout for the day, it’s not critical to get a meal in right away.

“Recovery nutrition is often overemphasized,” Mangieri says. “It is not necessary to hurry up and get the muscles replenished immediately.”

Perhaps more important, never forget to keep your water bottle full while you train and afterward: “Drinking enough water during and post-workout is important because dehydration can mimic hunger and lead to overeating,” Zuckerbrot says.

Post-Workout Meals

You have a little more dietary leeway in the post-workout window than you do at other times of the day. When your muscles are exhausted—and depleted of glycogen—they can more readily absorb the carbs you ingest. In the post-workout window, carbs are more likely to be converted to glycogen than they are to become fat. Hence, several sandwich options (from Panera, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts) served on white bread. If you’re trying to lean out, stick to the cleaner options.

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NEXT: The Worst of the Worst >>

The Worst of the Worst

From a burger with 95 grams of fat to a shake with a day’s worth of calories, these diet bombs need to be avoided at all costs.

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Stealthy Fast Food Fatteners

They sound innocuous enough, but don’t let a tame name fool you. These four nutritional nightmares will wreck your diet in a hurry.

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