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Barbecue Basics

Trent Richardson, who was the No. 3 pick in this year's NFL draft after leading Alabama to a national title, is one of several Crimson Tide athletes who've worked with Amy Bragg, the school's director of performance nutrition. Marvin Gentry/US Presswire

In the seventh nutrition article of our year-long Build A Better Athlete series, we take a look at how to take a healthy approach into a backyard barbecue. Barbecues are a staple of summer, especially on the Fourth of July. But if you're an athlete, they're also a place where you can rack up plenty of unwanted calories. University of Alabama director of performance nutrition and registered dietitian Amy Bragg, who works closely with the school's defending BCS National Championship football team, details how to healthfully navigate a barbecue.

ESPNHS: What mindset should you take into a barbecue?
Bragg: Think about it in advance. You should have a solid breakfast beforehand, like an omelet with veggies and 2-percent milk cheese. And make sure you're properly hydrated going in. When you're at the barbecue, choose one thing that's going to be your indulgence for the day. But bring along healthy options like fruit, water and food such as a Ball Park white turkey frank, which is only 45 calories and has zero grams of fat.

ESPNHS: What specific foods should you avoid?
Bragg: The worst things would be the heavier meats, like burgers, brisket, sausage and wings. Heavier meats have a ton of fat. You can't separate the skin from the wing. And for a guy to get full, he's probably going to eat 40 of them. Chips are just something you eat mindlessly. And some chips have trans fat. That type of fat prefers to be stored and isn't easy to burn, so you can't use it as fuel. Mayonnaise-based foods like potato salad have a lot of empty calories.

ESPNHS: What specific beverages should be avoided?
Bragg: Generally anything high in sugar like soda. Sugar adds up and is completely empty. That high fructose corn syrup is going to make you hungry again in a couple of hours. You get a blood sugar high and low from drinking soda.

ESPNHS: What are healthy food and beverage options you can have at a barbecue?
Bragg: Water, Propel, Crystal Light, Minute Maid Light Lemonade and Lipton Diet Green Tea with Citrus are all low-to-no calorie fluids that are much better options than soda. And there's really nothing better than water. Seasonal fruits like plums, berries and peaches are good options because the different colors give you different benefits. For example, the purple-colored fruits like plums, eggplant and grapes are good for mental acuity. As for protein, go with lean options like barbecue chicken, any kind of turkey like turkey dogs and turkey burgers and veggie burgers.

ESPNHS: What are some barbecue staples that are OK to eat in moderation?
Bragg: Burgers are OK if it's a 90 to 10 protein to fat ratio. And it depends on what you put on the burger. You can really add up calories with extra stuff like cheese, mayo and bacon. Stick with ketchup, mustard and vegetables as toppings. Guacamole and salsa with baked chips are a good option, too. The fat that's in guacamole is a healthy fat, while salsa is a low-calorie option that contains vegetables.