The buffet conundrum

July 29, 2013

I have one final blog from the US Open that I wanted to share… It follows on from some of the core messages that came through the previous four blogs – eating within a buffet environment. I believe this is a skill, and one that requires good habits, behaviours, and above all – the ability to adapt basic nutrition principles to the situation you might find yourself in.

Buffet food options are fantastic for delivering food fast and allowing individuals to tailor their food choice according to their individual goals and situation. It does however; require discipline and education on the part of the athlete to understand exactly how to do this. These are my tops tips to maintain your nutritional goals whilst eating in a buffet environment:

  • Don’t over-complicate meals! Keep to your normal food plate composition – there is a tendency to start eating a bit of everything, or even adding extra “small” bowls of something because it is there, interesting, and hey – “why not”. Try to avoid this behaviour, as before you know it, you are eating for two.
  • If you want to try something that is different to your normal food choices then by all means, please do. However, do this on a rest day, or after you’ve supported your immediate nutritional needs. Stay focused on eating the foods you know will meet your nutritional needs at the right times.
  • Be aware of the factors that may lead to over-eating. Grand Slam environments are demanding, but you still only need to match energy expenditure with a specific focus on recovery. Before going into the buffet, think about your nutritional needs and the foods you would usually choose at home.
  • Watch out for the hidden calories. The salad bar was supported by large bowls of dressings, some of which were ok, others poor. Always read the nutrition labels and ask for dressings to be served on the side. Preparing your own food allows you to control for any hidden calories.
  • Hit the buffet on your own or more specifically, not with a load of peers. This might be tough in team sports, but in tennis it is possible. The ability to get sidetracked and have food envy is really obvious. I’m sure I watched two young players have a “pasta-battle”! Control the controllables – concentrate on you, not your mate.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you want to know how a food was prepared, just ask. The staff are there to help, and if they don’t know the answer, then see if they can find out. Don’t always make assumptions.
  • Avoid hanging around in the buffet area in classical “downtimes”. Boredom can lead to comfort eating. Once you’ve finished eating, leave the buffet area and only return when it’s time to refuel again.

Finally, the key to success in a buffet environment is to first decide what your nutrition goals are. Based on this, decide what options are correct for you and go and order them. Don’t see the buffet as an opportunity to graze. The biggest mistake is people see a range of interesting options and order what they want, or fancy at that time, without first thinking about what they need.