Building a Healthy Cava Bowl for Athletes
Athletes are commonly looking for healthy meals they can enjoy on-the-go. At the restaurant CAVA, athletes can create custom Mediterranean bowls to enjoy as part of their sports nutrition plan.
Let’s take a look at the best CAVA bowl options to help athletes meet their sports nutrition needs.
Is CAVA Healthy?
CAVA is a fast-casual restaurant chain that focuses on providing healthy Mediterranean-inspired food. Their menu features a variety of healthy bowls, salads, and pita options that customers can choose from.
At CAVA individuals can select from a variety of lean proteins, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats to include in their meal. Athletes can easily find a meal at CAVA to fuel up prior to competition or enjoy afterwards to help with meeting their recovery nutrition needs.
Athletes following a plant-based diet can find a variety of healthy vegetarian and vegan options at CAVA as well.
Building a Healthy Meal for Athletes
Athletes looking to build a healthy meal should focus on foods that provide a good source of carbohydrates and a moderate amount of lean protein, as well as healthy, unsaturated fats.
Carbohydrates for Energy
Carbohydrates provide the body with the energy needed to perform at its best. Athletes can get protein in their meals from grains (bread, pasta, rice, cereal), fruit, starchy vegetables (beans, lentils, potatoes, corn, green peas), milk, and yogurt.
Lean Protein with Meals and Snacks
Consuming protein throughout the day with meals and snacks is important for athletes (1). Protein helps support athletes with building and maintaining lean muscle mass.
Protein recommendations for athletes are often based on body weight. Consuming ~0.25 – 0.3 g of protein per kg of body weight with meals and snacks spaced evenly throughout the day can help athletes with meeting their protein needs (1, 2). For most athletes this calculates to be approximately 25-30 grams of protein with each meal.
Choose Healthy Fats
Athletes should round out their meals with healthy, unsaturated fats. Athletes can get unsaturated fats in their diets from the following foods:
- Fatty fish: Salmon, trout, herring, tuna, sardines (contain omega-3 fatty acids)
- Nuts and nut butters
- Vegetable oils: Olive, canola, sunflower, safflower
Healthy CAVA Bowls for Athletes
Now that you understand the key nutrients for building a healthy meal for athletes, let’s take a look at options for creating a CAVA bowl that can help you meet your sports nutrition needs.
What is a CAVA Bowl?
An item CAVA features on their menu is the CAVA bowl. The bowl is made of a combination of grains, leafy greens, a selection of protein and vegetable toppings, as well as a variety of sauces.
CAVA has several premade bowl combinations available on their menu. However, individuals also have the option to build their own custom bowl to meet their unique tastes and nutrition needs.
For comparison purposes, a CAVA bowl is a Mediterranean style version of a build-your-own-burrito bowl, which has become popular at several quick-service Mexican food restaurants.
Note: All the nutrition information included in this article comes from the CAVA website. Menu options and nutrition information may change as products are updated. For the most current nutrition information, refer to the CAVA website.
CAVA Bowl Base
For the base of your bowl, CAVA offers a variety of grains, lentils, and greens. You can select the type of base for your bowl from the following options:
- Greens + Grains Bowl
- Grains Bowl
- Salad Bowl
Since carbohydrates should be at the foundation of an athlete’s training diet, I encourage athletes to include grains and/or lentils in your CAVA bowl.
CAVA Grains & Lentils
The following grains and lentil options are all great ways for athletes to add carbohydrates to their CAVA bowl:
- Brown rice – 48 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Saffron basmati rice – 54 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- RIghtRice® – 53 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Black lentils – 37 grams of carbohydrates per serving
For a pre-workout or pre-game meal, I would suggest athletes choose either the saffron basmati rice or the brown rice as a base in their bowl. Typically, it is recommended that athletes limit high-fiber foods before activity, as they may lead to GI distress during exercise (2).
The black lentils (15 grams of fiber) and RightRice® (9 grams of fiber) are both higher fiber options. While they are healthy choices for athletes, it may be best to enjoy these options at other times than pre-competition.
What is RightRice®?
RightRice® is a plant-based rice made with lentils, chickpeas, peas, and rice. RightRice® contains more protein and fiber than regular rice.
In 2020 CAVA partnered with RightRice® and now offers RightRice® as a grain option on their menu. Adding a serving of RightRice® to your CAVA bowl will add 53 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of fiber, and 18 grams of protein.
Athletes following a vegetarian or vegan diet can add RightRice® to their CAVA bowl to boost both the carbohydrate and protein content of their meal.
Add on the Greens
In addition to grains and lentils, athletes can add a variety of leafy greens to their CAVA bowl. Dark green leafy vegetables are packed full of nutrition containing many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They provide the body with Vitamins A, C, E, and K, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, as well as fiber.
CAVA offers baby spinach, arugula, romaine lettuce, SuperGreens, and a SplendidGreens variety. Regardless of which you choose, adding leafy greens to your CAVA bowl is definitely a nutritious choice for athletes.
- SuperGreens: Blend of cabbage, chicory, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale
- SplendidGreens: Blend of romaine lettuce, radicchio, escarole, chicory, and endive
CAVA Bowl: Mains
After you have decided on your base, athletes can continue to build their bowl with the addition of lean proteins and plant-based toppings. The grilled chicken (28 grams of protein), harissa honey chicken (26 grams of protein), and braised lamb (24 grams of protein) are the leanest options.
Vegetarian and Vegan Options at CAVA
Athletes following a plant-based diet can add regular or spicy falafel (6 grams of protein) or roasted vegetables (3 grams of protein) as their main topping on the CAVA bowl.
Keep in mind – all of these options are relatively low in protein. You can further boost the amount of protein in your bowl with the addition of lentils or RightRice®.
CAVA Bowl: Toppings & Sides
Adding a wide variety of the CAVA vegetable toppings can help further increase the nutrient content of your bowl.
Great choices include: Persian cucumbers, tomatoes and cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, cabbage slaw, pickled onions, fire roasted corn, lentil tabbouleh, and shredded Romaine lettuce.
For healthy, unsaturated fats, consider adding avocado and kalamata olives to your CAVA bowl.
If you want an added crunch in your bowl, top the bowl off with some pita crips (10 grams of carbohydrates).
Pickles & Olives
A unique topping CAVA offers for their bowl is salt-brined pickles. Each serving of the pickles contains 280 mg of sodium.
Since athletes lose sodium in sweat, including foods that contain sodium in their diet, particularly after a workout, can help replace sweat losses. Sodium also helps to stimulate thirst, thus encouraging athletes to hydrate (2).
In addition to the pickles, the kalamata olives also contain sodium (260 mg of sodium per serving). Thus, athletes who enjoy pickles or olives, can consider adding them as toppings to their CAVA bowl.
Note: Athletes who have been advised to restrict sodium in their diet should work with a sports dietitian nutritionist to develop an individualized plan for meeting their sports nutrition needs.
On the Side
With your bowl, CAVA offers pita bread as a side. Each slice of pita bread provides 13 grams of carbohydrates. Enjoying pita bread with your bowl is an easy way to further boost the carbohydrate content of your meal.
CAVA Bowl: Dressings, Dips, & Spreads
There are a variety of dressings and dips you can get with your CAVA bowl to add some spice and flavor. Similar to dressings on a salad, I encourage athletes to request the dressings at CAVA be served on the side so you can control the amount added to the bowl.
Healthy dressing choices at CAVA include:
- Yogurt dill
- Balsamic date vinaigrette
- Lemon herb tahini
- Tahini Caesar
- Hot harissa vinaigrette
* Each of the dressings above contains ≤1 gram of saturated fat per serving.
CAVA Dips & Spreads
In addition to dressings, there are several dips and spreads you can enjoy as a topping on your CAVA bowl.
Hummus is a nutritious, plant-based food that is made with chickpeas. CAVA offers two types of hummus on their menu, regular hummus and red pepper hummus.
Either hummus option (or both) can be a good addition to your CAVA bowl. One scoop of the hummus provides 4 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fiber, and no saturated fat.
Other CAVA Spreads
Other spreads you may consider adding to your CAVA bowl include the roasted eggplant spread and the harissa spread. These spreads both contain ≤1 gram of saturated fat per serving, making them a healthier topping choice for your bowl.
If you like spice, try adding the harissa spread as a topping in your bowl. Harissa is a traditional North African spicy chili sauce made from tomatoes, peppers, and spices. The CAVA version has a Greek twist with the addition of garlic, parsley, and Greek seasonings.
Ready to Enjoy Your Healthy CAVA Bowl
You are now set with a variety of ideas for building a healthy CAVA bowl to help you meet your sports nutrition needs. Remember, the items you select for your bowl may vary based on whether you are planning to enjoy the bowl before competition, after competition, or on your day off.
If you are interested in additional sports nutrition tips for dining out, check out my blog: 10 Whataburger Healthy Options for Athletes.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.