The 7 Best Ways to Cut Empty Calories

When you’re trying to slim down or get healthy, cutting empty calories are the easiest way to give your efforts a jump start.

By empty calories, we mean soda, desserts, doughnuts, chips—stuff that you eat and drink that delivers calories with little long-term satisfaction and precious few nutrients. To pare them down, you don’t need to start cooking every meal from scratch (although that’s not a bad idea. See what happened when our fitness director tried it). But you do want your food to be filled with something other than calories. Like hunger-busting and health-boosting fiber, or muscle-friendly protein. And lots and lots of micronutrients that come from plants that your body runs on.

Putting healthy calories where empty ones used to be doesn’t have to be a big, hangry nightmare. Just start with these tips from Leslie Bonci, R.D., sports dietician for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Be smarter about sports drinks

“You don’t need 32 ounces of a sports drink every 15 minutes during physical activity,” says Bonci, who’s seen far too many guys construe “stay hydrated” this way. In fact, if you’re doing a 45-minute CrossFit class, or any other workout that’s less than an hour, you probably don’t even need a carb-containing (calorie-containing) drink. Skip a 20-ounce bottle of the stuff, and you’re saving yourself 150 calories without even trying. Of course, sports drinks are valuable in the right situation, but they’re generally just adding calories to a short workout.

Choose better chips

Get some nutrition for your crunch. Roasted chickpea snacks, roasted soybeans—they’re legit, tasty, easy-to-eat foods, but they have more satisfying fiber and protein than your basic machine-made crunchy thing. You can even get chips made out of mushrooms (Shrooms), Bonci says. In addition to the plant-based nutrients you get, “they provide crunch and flavor and they’re savory, which a lot of guys like.”

Wing it right

After your basketball game, you go to the bar, “and the chances of a vegetable are nowhere in sight, unless it’s a stalk of celery in a Bloody Mary,” Bonci says. But you have your keto friends to thank for some better menu options at some bars, which have started serving grilled wings, so you don’t only have the option of breaded ones, she says.

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Try a different kind of fast food

If you want something to munch on until you get wherever you’re going, skip the fries from the drive-thru and go to a convenience store. While the shelves tend to be chock full of empty calories, you can find nutritious ones, too, if you know where to look. You can get a pretty satisfying snack—and nutrients to boot—from hard boiled eggs, string cheese, packets of pickles, and a piece of fruit. A small bottle of milk gets you protein and nutrients for your calories as well. It’s all hand-held, so none of these options is a production to eat.

Let packaging help you

A lot of guys think a bag is a serving, Bonci says. And it can be, but you have to choose the right bag (even healthy foods can deliver too many calories if you polish off too much of them). Here’s where the convenience store wins again—“the package sizes are for one person on the go, not for a family of five,” Bonci says. Look for items like nuts in one-ounce packages, and get those small portions of nut butter or peanut butter. “It puts a calorie cap on the snack,” Bonci says.

Bring these strategies to your game, too

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