Coaching Association of Canada

Dining Hall Eating for Top Performance

Athletes away from home for camps or competitions, or living in university residences may find healthy eating in a dining hall to be a challenge. The variety of food and relaxed social environment present temptations that can interfere with optimal nutrition. To develop food selection strategies that consistently result in high performance, it is important to first understand the difficulties associated with communal eating.

The Challenges

  • Great quantities and an array of food choices make it easy to eat more than needed, potentially compromising athletic performance;
  • Not knowing how various dishes are prepared, resulting in uncertainty about hidden fats, nutritional quality, carbohydrate adequacy of meal selections;
  • Conversely, unfamiliar foods and dishes cooked in a different manner can reduce appetite resulting in less than optimal fuel intake and unplanned weight loss;
  • Eating is a social event and meals taken in relaxed group environments can increase the likelihood of over-consumption;
  • Timing of meals: Hot meal stations often close before athletes in some events are able to get to the dining hall.

Tips for High Performance Eating in the Dining Hall

  • Know your nutritional goals and eat according to YOUR PLAN. The nutritional needs of other athletes may differ from your own, therefore it may not be wise to make the same food choices as your teammates! A Sports Dietitian can help you select the best foods from those available in order to achieve your individual goals. Ask if there is a Sports Dietitian on site or visit to find a sports dietitian in your area.
  • The menu tells all. Words such as fried, crispy, breaded, scampi-style, creamed, buttery, au gratin, and gravy all suggest high fat content. Better choices are items described as: steamed, broiled, boiled, charbroiled, poached, marinara, tomato sauce, and "in its own juice". (See Table 1 for top meal choices)
  • Plan your plate. Make use of menu boards and websites before entering the dining hall so that you can pre-plan your meal. This strategy will prevent over-eating from the array of buffet choices.
  • Relax and eat slowly. Remove yourself from the dining area when your meal goals are accomplished. Don't be victim to "boredom eating".
  • Source menu nutrition information. If you are unsure of the foods served, don't be afraid to ask food service staff or the on-site dietitian, if available. Many cafeterias have menu nutrition information posted on websites or nutrition labeling cards.
  • Box it up. With athletes' hectic training schedules, missing meal times is common. Ask the Food Service Manager to have a boxed meal ready for pick-up either prior to or after activity. Remember food safety! Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Bottom Line

By eating a variety of foods from the 4 food groups, you will get the necessary nutrients and energy to perform at your best! Athletes should focus on boosting carbohydrate intake by consuming additional servings from the grain products and vegetable and fruit groups.

  • Vegetables and fruit: supplies vitamins A and C, and carbohydrates;
  • Grains products: supplies foods high in carbohydrates, iron, niacin, thiamine, and fibre;
  • Milk and alternatives: supplies calcium, riboflavin, and protein;
  • Meat and alternatives: supplies protein, thiamine, iron, and zinc.

Table 1: Dining Hall Top Performance Food Choices

FOOD STATION Choose From These High Performance Foods Slow Down on these Foods
Breakfast Station Waffles with fruit and syrup
Bagels / English muffins / whole grain breads / French toast
Hot & cold cereals & granola Pancakes
Baked ham
Boiled / poached egg
Bread sticks / low fat muffins
Fresh / frozen / dried fruit or fruit salad
Jams / honey / peanut butter
Fried potatoes/ hash browns
Fried eggs
Regular muffins
Tea biscuits
Breakfast sandwiches with sausage or bacon
Cream cheese
Cheese spread
Soup Station Vegetable soups
Lean protein (poultry, beans, lentils) soups made with broth
Cream soups
Macaroni & Cheese
Salad Bar Dark green / orange and red veggies
Cottage cheese
Fresh fruit: pineapple, mandarins, strawberries, melon
Dried fruit: cranberries, apricots, raisins
Nuts: sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, walnuts
Low fat cheeses (e.g. skim mozzarella)
Breadsticks / melba toasts / crackers
Light dressing, oil and vinegar
Bacon bits
More than 2 tbsp. of regular dressing
High fat cheeses
(parmesan, cheddar, feta)
Sandwich Station Roast beef / lean meat: turkey, chicken, dry tuna
Cheese (in moderation)
Whole grain / rye breads rolls, tortillas, pitas, foccacias, paninis Egg salad with mayo
Tuna Salad with mayo
Cole slaw with mayo
Macaroni / potato salad
Caesar salad
Lower fat pizzas: vegetarian; lean meat / chicken;
(tomato sauces)
Whole wheat pasta
High fat pizzas: pepperoni; salami; ground beef; 3 cheese Meatball Subs
Hot Food Station Chicken, fish, lean beef
tortillas, pork tenderloin
Red or black beans/lentils 
Rice, pasta / noodles
Chicken / beef fajitas
Potatoes / yams
Steamed vegetables
Bean burrito
Fatty steaks (e.g. T-bone) / prime rib
Pork ribs, pork chops
Deep-fried chicken or fish
Sauces Tomato
Mustard, honey mustard
Barbecue sauce
Light mayo
Tzatziki and pesto (in moderation)
Cheese sauces
Cream sauces
Mayo-type sauces (e.g. Aioli)
Alfredo sauce
Hollandaise sauce
Added butter
The Grill Veggie burgers
Grilled chicken breast
on a bun
Baked / mashed potato
Baked wedges
Lean beef burger
Side salad
Plain hamburger
Deli meats
Hot dogs
Breaded, fried chicken
strips / nuggets
Fish patties
Chicken wings
Beverages 100% fruit juice
Low fat white milk
chocolate or smoothie / milk
Tomato / vegetable juice
Sports drinks
Carbonated soft drinks
Fruit drinks / punch
Energy drinks
Desserts/Snacks Frozen yogurt
Fresh fruit
Low fat puddings
Rice cakes
Fig Newtons
Fresh / dried fruit
Low fat milk
Baked tortilla chips
Low fat granola
Low fat breakfast bars
Oatmeal cookies
Cakes / pies / crisps
Regular pudding
Ice cream
Regular muffins
Potato chips
Chocolate bars
Banana bread/chips
Corn chips

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