Eating out in Huntsville, Alabama exposes the CrossFitter to a harsh world with no regard for balanced carbohydrate/protein portions or quality foods. However, you can successfully zone at almost any restaurant if you understand the Zone diet and are willing to make a couple special requests. You won’t have a perfect weighed and measured 4 block zone dinner like you could prepare at home, and your food quality absolutely will not be up to Paleo standards, but you’ll be close enough that an occasional lunch with friends won’t derail your body composition and fitness goals. While the following meals are the exception to the rule, and wouldn’t provide great results if eaten multiple times per day, they will serve you well in moderation. I repeat, most of these choices are not perfect, but they are pretty damn good, which is good enough for me.
1. Lamb Salad at Tazikis Greek Fare
This favorite of mine combines zone friendly portions with mostly Paleo ingredients. Grilled lamb is served in approximately 1 oz slices for easy zoning. It also features high-quality carbs such as spinach and lettuce in the salad, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It also includes some Feta cheese for extra taste and protein. For a tasty and quality fat source you can either go with the standard dressing served with the salad, or ask for Skordalia, a hummus-like sauce. Only eat the small pieces of toasted pita bread if you can’t fully get your carb blocks from the vegetables. [Nutritional Info for a Comparable Lamb Salad]
2. Grilled Chicken on the Barbie at Outback
This is normally served with rice and grilled veggies. Ask for no rice and extra grilled veggies. Whether you choose chicken or steak, both will arrive in bite sized portions that are easy to eyeball into zone blocks. I always ask for the chicken plain with just house seasoning as it comes glazed with bbq sauce. The grilled veggies taste great– a little too great– so I’m almost sure some type of light sugary glaze is applied to them during cooking, however you can also ask for fresh steamed brocolli (minus the butter) or asparagus. The double portion of grilled veggies should be enough for up to a 4 block meal. I don’t generally add fat because I’m sure enough butter was used during cooking to comprise my fat blocks, unless you opted to skip the butter, and you can always ask for butter on the side so you are in control. Skip the bread completely. Better yet, tell your server you don’t want any, so he won’t even bring it to the table. [Nutritional Info (Includes the Rice)] [Menu]
3. Curry Dishes at [Insert Favorite Thai Restaurant Here]
The difficulty with Thai food is that it’s almost always served with rice. I zone Thai food by ordering curry dishes that are essentially just stir-fry meat over vegetables. I find that Masaman Beef and Cashew Chicken work well. Then I eat very, very small portions of rice. I actually dip the meat into the rice and just eat whatever rice sticks to it. Rice is an insanely dense carb, so tread lightly. Peanuts and cashews are an excellent part of many Thai dishes that provide a quality fat source. If you need some extra fat and protein content then order some chicken coconut soup.
4. Fajitas at Cantina Laredo
This fajita dish is great to eat as a cheat, complete with flour tortillas galore, but it’s also completely zoneable and enough to share between two people. Using quality carbs in this meal will be difficult unless you special order some vegetables. The salsa and diced tomatoes are the closest you’ll find to quality carbs. However, you can request corn tortillas instead of flour to make zoning easier. Corn tortillas are 1/2 block per tortilla compared to 1 block per tortilla for flour. This meal also has a large variety of quality protein to pick from: chicken or beef, or depending on your daily block requirements you can do go for the combination. You can also get quality fat from the guacamole. Menu
5. Ginger Chicken with Brocolli at P.F. Chang’s
P.F. Chang’s has a surprisingly affordable lunch menu, and they even have a gluten free menu now. The Ginger Chicken and Brocolli is my favorite. Most dishes are served with rice, you can always sub for veggies or you can now substitute with quinoa! I’ve found they generally include about 2 blocks of brocolli. The chicken has a light ginger glaze that will add some carb blocks if you decide to leave it on. I usually scrape it off and go with “fat replacement” where I substitute extra fat blocks for missing carbs. I get my fat blocks (and probably more than necessary) from the egg drop soup that is also on their gluten free menu as well. [Nutritional Info ] [Menu]
6. Grande Latte at Starbucks
OK, it’s not a meal, but it’s commonly available, quite tasty, and it’s really not that bad. A grande latte is actually a pretty zone-balanced 2-block snack with 18g of carbs, 12g of protein, and 7g of fat. Yeah, it’s just a shade protein light and fat heavy, but as long as you aren’t drinking seven per day then you’ll probably be OK. A tall size is approximately a 1.5-block snack. I like to order the half-caffeinated version to lessen any dependence on caffeine for energy. If you decide to start adding sugary syrups for mochas and other variations, understand that you’re overshooting on carbs. This won’t hurt you too badly if the rest of your diet is in check, but be aware of it. [Nutritional Info and Beverage List]
7. Cobb Salad at Steak Out
This has a bunch of quality ingredients: lean meat (chicken or beef), hardboiled egg, shredded cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. The portions are a little carb-light, but you can make up the missing carbs in additional fat content from some light ranch or bleu cheese dressing. The cubed ham and bacon bits are a little fatty, pushing this meal way over the recommended fat content. If you want to be strict you could delete the cubed ham and ask for a double order of chicken or steak (which isn’t very expensive), but the numbers actually come out pretty close if you use the extra fat content as carb replacement. Either way, this is a good choice that’s drastically superior to anything served with a baked potato. It’s about a 4-5 block meal.[Nutritional info]
8. Any burger customized at SmashBurger
At SmashBurger you can build your own of pretty much any menu item. Instead of a traditional bun you can sub for a lettuce bun or gluten free bun. You also have your choice of a traditional beef patty, grilled chicken or even a black-bean patty. Instead of traditional lettuce you can have spinach for a high quality carb. You can also add quality fat by adding avocado or guacamole. They even have the option to add a fried egg to any burger which will give you your protein blocks.
9. Tacos Al Carbon at Rosie’s Cantina
This soft taco dish puts fajita style beef into three soft tortillas along with a few sauteed onions and vegetables. It’s similar to fajitas, only the fajitas are already made for you. You can ask for corn tortillas to lower your carb blocks, but the fact is that you’re not really getting any quality carbs from a Mexican restaurant, so just focus on quantity and make the best of the situation. Guacamole is provided as a decent fat source. I estimate this is about a 4-5 block meal that is just a shade protein light and plenty fat heavy. No online menu or nutritional information available, and they’re closed on Sundays. Boo!
10. Pulled Pork Barbecue at [Insert Favorite BBQ Restaurant Here]
These last few options are certainly not ideal, as they provide almost zero quality carbs. However, if you’re just trying to stay in the zone between “clean” meals then pulled pork barbecue can work. This is easy: order a pulled pork plate, eyeball your protein blocks from the meat, apply 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce per block for your carbs, and ignore everything else on the plate. Yes, throw away the roll. Just throw it away. If you like you can cut a little barbecue sauce and have some baked beans. Still not a great option, but slightly better than getting all your carbs from sugar and tomato juice in the barbecue sauce.
If you were to eat the above meals 5 times a day as your regular routine, then you would undoubtedly get very slow, if not downright poor results. However, this is somewhat of a “best of the worst” list, kind of like a Garth Brooks greatest hits album. Eating out is never going to be extremely zone friendly. Restaurants partially compete on taste, and most of the world is willing to ignore everything else such that restaurants will do anything to make a dish taste better. However, you can survive an occasional lunchtime jaunt with a little bit of thought and planning.