9 Essential Items for an Athlete’s Grocery List
It can be helpful for athletes to know what items to shop for at the grocery store to help meet their sports nutrition needs. Let’s examine steps athletes should take prior to going to the grocery store. Then we will look at 9 essential items athletes should include on their grocery list.
Preparing to Shop
Prior to going to the store, there are several important steps you can take to prepare for your trip. First, consider your plans for the week. Having an idea of what your schedule looks like for the week can help you with determining food needs.
Consider the following:
- Do you have any morning practices scheduled that you will need to plan to have breakfast-on-the-go for?
- Do you need to pack your lunch during the week or will you have time to eat lunch at home?
- Do you have any evening games or travel that will reduce the number of meals you need to prepare this week?
With your weekly schedule in mind, take a brief inventory of your kitchen. Identify what items you are running low on and any specific items you will need for recipes in the upcoming week.
Create a Grocery List
Next, athletes should take time to create a grocery list before shopping. Making a grocery list can help ensure you get all the items needed in one trip, saving you valuable time during the week. Having a grocery list can also help with limiting impulse purchases at the store.
Understand the Store Layout
As you make your grocery list, it can be helpful to organize the list according to the layout of the store. In general, the outer perimeter of the store tends to be fresh food items, such as:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Dairy and eggs
- Meat and seafood
- Deli counter
On the interior aisles of the store you typically find canned food items, breakfast cereals, crackers, rice, pasta, packaged bread, baking mixes, as well as the frozen food section.
9 Essential Items for an Athlete’s Grocery List
Now you are familiar with key steps to take before grocery shopping. Let’s look at 9 essential items athletes should include on their grocery list to help them with meeting their sports nutrition needs.
#1 Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
The first item I recommend athletes include on their grocery list is frozen produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash-frozen at their peak of ripeness. Therefore, they retain a similar nutrient content to that of fresh produce.
Consider keeping a variety of frozen berries, tropical fruit, and sliced bananas on hand to make smoothies with, add to your yogurt, or stir into overnight oats.
When it comes to frozen vegetables, select those that are packaged without added sauces or seasonings. This will allow you versatility when preparing recipes on how you use the frozen vegetables. You can now purchase frozen vegetables that can be steamed directly in the bag, which make for a convenient addition to meals.
#2 Greek Yogurt
The next item I encourage athletes to include on their grocery list is Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a great way to add protein to your daily routine. It contains ~21 grams of protein per cup, while regular yogurt only has ~7 grams of protein per cup. In addition to protein, Greek yogurt provides calcium and some brands are also fortified with Vitamin D.
Greek yogurt can be a great addition to breakfast, a nutritious afternoon snack, or enjoyed with your post-workout meal. Plain, unflavored Greek yogurt is also extremely versatile and can be used as a substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise in recipes. For additional ideas on ways to add Greek yogurt to your sports nutrition meal plan, check out my blog: 5 Great Uses for Greek Yogurt.
Purchasing eggs at the grocery store is an easy way for athletes to add protein to their day. One large egg contains 6 grams of protein. The majority of the protein in the egg comes from the egg white (4 grams), however, the yolk is rich in vitamins and minerals. Eggs also contain choline, important for cognitive function, as well as selenium, riboflavin, Vitamin K, and antioxidants1.
Once purchased, eggs must be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that eggs be stored in their original carton and used within 3 weeks for highest quality.
In addition to the use of eggs at breakfast to make omelets and scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs can be a great addition to meals and snacks. If you prepare hard-boiled eggs at home, they should be eaten within 1 week of cooking to reduce the risk of foodborne illness2.
#4 High-Protein Milk
Next on your athlete’s grocery list I suggest adding high-protein milk. Milk is packed full of nutrition, containing protein, calcium, Vitamin D (when fortified), Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B12, potassium, and phosphorus. A cup of regular cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup. However, athletes can purchase higher protein milk options to help with meeting their sports nutrition needs.
Ultra-filtered milks, such as Fairlife® or H‑E‑B MooTopia®, are filtered to remove the lactose and concentrate both the protein and calcium content of the beverage. A cup of ultra-filtered milk has ~13 grams of protein, which is ~50% more than regular milk. If you are lactose-intolerant, ultra-filtered milk is a good high-protein milk option, as it is lactose free.
Adding high-protein milk to your breakfast cereal, overnight oats, smoothie, or as a drink with your meal are all great ways to add protein to your sports nutrition meal plan.
#5 Nut Butters
Including nut butter on your grocery list is a nutritious way to add protein, healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, and minerals to your meals and snacks. Nut butters make a great topping for sandwiches, dip for celery or apple slices, and a tasty ingredient in your smoothie or overnight oats.
In general, a 2-tablespoon serving of nut butter contains ~7 grams of protein. When selecting a nut butter, choose a product that has limited added ingredients. Some nut butters contain added sugars and hydrogenated oils, making them less healthy choices.
If you have a nut allergy, consider trying SunButter® products, which are allergen free.
Oatmeal is another great item for an athlete’s grocery list. Oats are a great way for athletes to add whole grain carbohydrates and soluble fiber to their sports nutrition meal plan. In addition, oats contain B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, and antioxidants.
I encourage athletes to keep instant oatmeal on hand for a quick breakfast on the way out the door. You can mix in nut butter, dried fruit, and frozen berries for added flavor and nutrition.
In addition, I suggest purchasing old-fashioned rolled oats to use for making overnight oats. Protein overnight oats are a great breakfast or snack option for athletes. By mixing in different types of fruits and spices, you can enjoy a wide variety of flavor combinations.
#7 Whole Grain Bread
Another item to include on your athlete’s grocery list is whole grain bread, bagels, English muffins, wraps, and tortillas. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a healthy part of an athlete’s sports nutrition meal plan.
When selecting whole grain items, read the package to ensure the product is 100% whole grain. As you read the ingredient list, the word “whole” should be listed as the first ingredient in the product, such as whole wheat, whole rye, or whole oat.
If you are not sure you will eat the whole grain bread items you purchase before they go stale, consider storing them in the freezer. According to the USDA, commercially baked bread can be stored in the freezer for 3 months. This may be a good option for athletes who frequently travel, as you can defrost the bread to enjoy as needed.
In addition to whole grain bread, quinoa is a great addition to an athlete’s grocery list. Quinoa is a type of seed that provides carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Quinoa is a complete protein, which means it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids the body cannot make.
In addition, since quinoa is a seed, it is gluten-free. This makes quinoa a great carbohydrate option for athletes who need to avoid gluten in their diets.
If you are looking for a quick side dish to enjoy with your meal, consider purchasing quinoa in microwavable pouches. Quinoa can also be used in burrito bowls in place of rice, as an ingredient in soup, or used to make a hearty quinoa salad.
#9 Lean Protein
Finally, I encourage athletes to make sure their grocery lists contain a variety of sources of lean protein. When purchasing beef or pork, leaner cuts of meat typically have “loin” or “round” in the name (i.e., top sirloin, pork loin, or bottom round roast). When it comes to ground beef or ground turkey, athletes should consider purchasing varieties that are 93% lean or leaner.
Chicken breasts (without skin) are a lean source of protein athletes can enjoy with their meals. Consider purchasing frozen chicken breasts to keep on hand for meals when needed.
Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, herring, and mackerel, are all good sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If fresh fish is not available at the store, consider purchasing frozen filets you can defrost as needed to prepare for meals. Canned tuna or salmon (canned in water) is also a good option for adding seafood to your sports nutrition meal plan.
Additional lean protein sources athletes can add to their grocery list include:
- Deli meat: Turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef
- Plant-based: Tofu, hummus, seitan, beans, edamame
- Cheese: Reduced-fat sliced cheese, cheese sticks, cottage cheese
Ready to Grocery Shop
You are now ready to create your athlete’s grocery list and go shopping. Remember to take time prior to shopping to review your schedule for the week and make a list of all your grocery needs.
For additional sports nutrition tips check out my blog Meal Prep for Athletes: 5 Easy Steps to Success.
Download Your Free Athlete’s Grocery List
Click HERE to download a free athlete’s grocery list to print and take with you to the store.
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 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.
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- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2019). What You Need to Know About Egg Safety. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/what-you-need-know-about-egg-safety