Eating well to support athletic performance can be difficult – especially when you have a tight budget. How can you get the biggest bang for your buck and choose healthy options, all while shopping quickly and efficiently? How can you pack and prepare meals, or make smart decisions while eating out? Luckily, it’s not as hard as it sounds. Follow these quick tips to save money, time, and (most importantly) fuel your body to perform your best.
1. Be a Smart Shopper
- Plan and Prepare
- Before you go shopping, think of your favorite healthy foods, and create a list based on what you need. As an athlete, your list should be filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Use this list when shopping – it will keep you focused and prevent you from going over your budget on unnecessary items. Another trick to keep you from spending money on unnecessary items, and keep performance-hindering foods out of your cart, is to eat before going to the store. This may sound odd, but you’re much more likely to pick up unnecessary snacks and treats when you’re hungry. Lastly, look for sales and coupons for your local grocery store, or get a club card that can help you save money in the long run.
- Map Your Route
- Start by shopping the perimeter. This is where the fresh produce, dairy products, and deli counter are usually found. Next, enter the central aisles, but choose wisely – some contain healthful foods, while others do not. Stick to the aisles with frozen and canned fruits and vegetables (without added salt or sugar), beans, and whole wheat breads and pastas. Bonus: These products tend be more budget-friendly, and have longer shelf lives, than the items found around the perimeter!
- Pay Attention to Unit Price
- To find the best price in the grocery store, you need to compare the unit prices of items, not the selling prices. The unit price is located under the item on the shelf – look closely, because sometimes the label is small. This price tells you how much you pay per ounce, pound, or gallon, and it should be used to compare various sizes and brands of a product. Stay within your budget by purchasing the item with the lowest unit price!
2. Prepare Your Own Foods
- Make Extra
- As an athlete, time is precious and very limited – so use it wisely! Designate one or two “off” days to cook in bulk. No meal has to be fancy or complicated, and eating the leftovers will save you time and money. For example, grill up chicken breasts, hard-boil eggs, or make a few whole grain options, like pasta or quinoa, to store in the refrigerator for easy (and healthy) meals during the busy week ahead.
- Check out http://www.eatingwell.com for great tips and healthy recipes for quick meals!
- Pack It Up
- Foods from concession stands, fast food establishments, and vending machines can be detrimental to your performance – and your budget. These items are typically highly processed and lack many important nutrients that athletes need. So what are you, a hungry athlete, to do if those seem to be the only available options? Pack your own foods from home! Some easily portable options include: Trail mix, nuts and seeds, nut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey, venison, or beef jerky, tuna packets, low added-sugar granola bars, and sports drinks. A cooler is also a great investment, and it allows you to pack a wider variety of foods, including: Pre-cut fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products (chocolate milk, Greek yogurt, and cheese), hard-boiled eggs, or hummus. A little preparation goes a long way!
3. Save Money and Calories When Eating Out
- Although eating out is easy and saves time, frequent trips to restaurants and fast food establishments can lead to unhealthy choices and unnecessary spending. Most options while dining out are loaded with added sugars and salt – and the portion sizes are out of this world. If you’re a frequent customer at certain restaurants, start looking for coupons or deals that they offer. Even eating at the less-expensive fast food establishments can add up and drain your wallet. To save money, and calories, follow these tips: Drink water instead of soda, share a meal with someone else (or only eat half of your meal, and save the rest for later), and skip unnecessary appetizers and desserts. Make going out to eat a special occasion, not an everyday affair.
Try implementing some of these tips into your every day life, and you’ll be saving money (while fueling properly) in no time. A little planning goes a long way for your budget and performance. Check out My Sports Dietitian’s eBook, Grocery Shopping on a Budget for Athletes by Sports Dietitian Christine Turpin, RD, LDN, CSCS at www.myathleteseatingonabudget.com for more helpful resources!
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Chrissy Cooper, BS Nutritional Sciences
Christine Turpin, RD, LDN, CSCS