3 Simple Tricks for Athletes to Eat Well on a Budget

Eating on a Budget for Athletes

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.
  • 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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Contributing Authors:

Chrissy Cooper, BS Nutritional Sciences
Email: clc5344@gmail.com

Laura Maydak, BS Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition
Twitter: @lmaydak
Linked In

Email: lauramaydak@gmail.com

Christine Turpin, RD, LDN, CSCS

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  • Nick Yonko, RD, CSCS

    Tip 1c – Unit Price is especially key. The stores use big bright sales techniques that lots of times are not saving $$$! One tip I follow: use the small cart (now typically found at most grocery stores) or hand-held basket. This limits the amount of food you can put in the cart/basket AND the handheld one gets heavy after spending too much time at a store.

  • Nick Yonko, RD, CSCS

    Tip 1c – Unit Price is especially key. The stores use big bright sales techniques that lots of times are not saving $$$! One tip I follow: use the small cart (now typically found at most grocery stores) or hand-held basket. This limits the amount of food you can put in the cart/basket AND the handheld one gets heavy after spending too much time at a store.

  • Dylan A. Bailey

    Tip 3 is phenomenal for not only athletes, but the general public as well! Like Christine mentions, eating at fast food locations frequently, although time friendly, can really drain your wallet. Her tips to save money ( sharing meals, clipping coupons, consuming discounted meal items) and calories (water instead of soda, skipping dessert) are excellent, especially for athletes on a strict budget (i.e. college athletes) or athletes looking to prepare for intra-season performance desires. My go to eating out “hack” is asking for a tap water cup and filling it up with the fountain provided seltzer by pressing the “soda” button.

  • Dylan A. Bailey

    Tip 3 is phenomenal for not only athletes, but the general public as well! Like Christine mentions, eating at fast food locations frequently, although time friendly, can really drain your wallet. Her tips to save money ( sharing meals, clipping coupons, consuming discounted meal items) and calories (water instead of soda, skipping dessert) are excellent, especially for athletes on a strict budget (i.e. college athletes) or athletes looking to prepare for intra-season performance desires. My go to eating out “hack” is asking for a tap water cup and filling it up with the fountain provided seltzer by pressing the “soda” button.

  • Collier Perno

    Love the information in this article! These three tips are not only practical but also very informative. Tip number 3 is especially great! Most people think eating out is less expensive than cooking at home. However even eating at fast food restaurants can become a very expensive habit. Also making smart decisions such as drinking water and splitting entrees helps with saving not only calories but money!

  • Collier Perno

    Love the information in this article! These three tips are not only practical but also very informative. Tip number 3 is especially great! Most people think eating out is less expensive than cooking at home. However even eating at fast food restaurants can become a very expensive habit. Also making smart decisions such as drinking water and splitting entrees helps with saving not only calories but money!

  • Sophie

    These are great tips to help athletes choose appropriate items at the grocery store. I also really enjoy the eatingwell link that has some awesome recipes.

  • Sophie

    These are great tips to help athletes choose appropriate items at the grocery store. I also really enjoy the eatingwell link that has some awesome recipes.

  • Catherine

    Frozen foods are a great tool too! Research from Nov 2013, from University of Georgia and the Frozen Food Foundation, showed that certain frozen foods and vegetables are actually higher in certain nutrients than their fresh counterparts. (http://www.frozenfoodfacts.org/researchers/new-frozen-food-foundation-study-highlights-nutrient-profile-frozen-fruits-and-vegetables)

    They are also often cost-effective, and so easy to prepare!

  • Catherine

    Frozen foods are a great tool too! Research from Nov 2013, from University of Georgia and the Frozen Food Foundation, showed that certain frozen foods and vegetables are actually higher in certain nutrients than their fresh counterparts. (http://www.frozenfoodfacts.org/researchers/new-frozen-food-foundation-study-highlights-nutrient-profile-frozen-fruits-and-vegetables)

    They are also often cost-effective, and so easy to prepare!