This blog post was written by dietetic intern Natalie Larsen. Reviewed and edited by Mandy Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, LAT.
College athletes face unique physical and mental demands, requiring them to perform their best both on the field and in the classroom. Proper nutrition plays a vital role in their ability to meet these performance and academic challenges.
A well-planned grocery list for college student athletes can help ensure they are fueled to perform at their best. In addition, it can help college athletes stay within their desired food budget.
Planning a College Student Athlete’s Grocery List
Consider Your Schedule for the Week
Before heading to the grocery store, it is important for college athletes to review their schedule for the week. This will help athletes with determining the items needed at the store to support their sports nutrition needs.
Key considerations when reviewing your schedule include:
- What is your class, study hall, and practice schedule for the week?
- Do you have early morning practices you need to meal prep breakfast for?
- Are you practicing or working out multiple times a day?
- How many high-intensity workouts do you have scheduled?
- What evenings do you have competitions?
- Will you be traveling for competition during the week?
Consider Your Grocery Budget
As a college student, budgeting is often a crucial aspect of grocery shopping. When planning nutritious meals and snacks, it can be helpful for athletes to have ideas for how to save money at the store.
Tips for shopping on a budget include:
- Comparison Shop – When looking at items, compare the nutrition labels, as well as the price, with the store brand equivalent. Athletes will often find that they can get a similar product for a reduced cost.
- Buy in Bulk– If possible, purchase items in bulk packaging rather than single-serving bags (i.e., large box of cereal rather than small individual serving boxes). When athletes buy individual serving containers, they will generally pay more for the additional packaging.
- Stick to the Grocery List– While shopping, athletes should try to avoid impulse purchases for items that are not on their grocery list. It is easy to go over budget when items are added to the cart that you were not initially shopping for.
- Purchase In-Season Produce: Produce that is in-season will be more flavorful and less expensive than produce that is out-of-season. Also make sure to only purchase the amount of fresh produce you can reasonably consume within the week.
- Shop Store Sales and Weekly Specials: Look at store sales ahead of time and try to plan weekly meals and snacks around items that are on sale.
Essential Nutrients for College Student Athletes
As an athlete, it is important to understand the nutrients to include in your sports nutrition meal plan to support both health and performance goals.
When shopping, athletes should include items providing these nutrients on their shopping list and in their weekly meal plans.
Including a wide range of carbohydrates on your shopping list is important for athletes. Carbohydrates provide the energy the body needs to perform at its best.
Athletes can get carbohydrates in their diet from a variety of food groups, including grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, milk, and yogurt.
The carbohydrate needs of athletes vary based upon the intensity and duration of the workout or game. Thus, athletes need to consume more carbohydrates on days they will be exercising more intensely, for a longer duration, or completing multiple workouts within the day (1).
Carbohydrates for a College Student Athlete’s Grocery List
Possible carbohydrates to include on a college student athlete’s grocery list include:
- Oats, instant oatmeal, whole grain breakfast cereal
- Quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, couscous, barley
- Pasta: Whole wheat pasta, chickpea pasta, lentil pasta
- Whole grain bread products: Bread, bagels, English muffins, tortillas, wraps
- Pretzels, pita chips, snack crackers, graham crackers, granola bars
- Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried, canned in natural juices, applesauce
- Legumes, beans, lentils
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, peas, corn
- Milk and yogurt
Grocery List Items for College Student Athletes Living in Dorms
It can be helpful for college athletes that live in dorms, to have ideas for items that can be easily prepared in the microwave.
Microwaveable Pouches of Rice and Quinoa
Consider purchasing microwaveable quinoa and rice pouches. The microwaveable pouches are an easy way to make a quick side dish containing carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Baked potatoes and sweet potatoes can also easily be prepared in the microwave. When preparing potatoes, don’t forget to first scrub the outer skin to remove dirt.
It is also important to poke holes in the potato with a fork prior to microwaving, which allows steam to escape when cooking. Otherwise, the potato may explode in the microwave when you cook it.
Canned Beans, Chili, and Soup
Canned beans are a great item for college athletes to keep on hand to boost the protein, carbohydrate, and fiber content of meals. Athletes can make their own burrito bowl with the canned beans, microwaveable brown rice, and pre-cooked frozen chicken fajita meal.
Canned chili with beans can be a healthy, carbohydrate-rich option for athletes to enjoy in the dorm. Athletes can further increase the carbohydrate content of the meal by using the canned chili as a topping on a baked potato or sweet potato.
Similar to canned chili, soup can be an easy meal option for athletes living in the dorm. Choose a broth-based soup rather than a cream or cheese-based soup, as broth-based soups are lower in saturated fat. In addition, look for soups that contain noodles, rice, potatoes, or beans, which can be higher carbohydrate options.
In addition to carbohydrates, protein is an essential component of an athlete’s diet. Protein has many important roles in the body, including supporting athletes with muscle growth and repair.
Ideas for Adding Protein to a College Student Athlete’s Grocery List
Protein options that should be considered for a college student athlete’s grocery list are:
- Lean meats: Lean ground beef or turkey, chicken, turkey, seafood
- Deli meat: Turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef
- Eggs, hard-boiled eggs, egg whites, flaxseed eggs
- High-protein milk
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese, reduced-fat sliced cheese, cheese sticks, string cheese
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds and seed butters
- Beans, lentils
- Tofu, tempeh, edamame, hummus
Selecting Lean Cuts of Meat for a College Student Athlete’s Grocery List
When selecting beef or pork, look for the word “loin” or “round” in the name, as these are typically leaner cuts of meat (i.e., top sirloin, pork loin, or bottom round roast).
In regard to ground beef or ground turkey, athletes should consider purchasing varieties that are 93% lean or leaner.
Meeting Protein Needs on a Plant-Based Diet
It can be helpful for athletes following a vegetarian or vegan diet to meet with a sports dietitian nutritionist. The sports dietitian nutritionist can ensure the athlete’s meal plan provides adequate protein and essential nutrients to support their nutrition needs.
Athletes should also make sure to incorporate healthy, unsaturated fats into their diets. The body needs fat for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, K).
Fat also serves as an energy source for the body, helps protect internal organs, and provides structure to cell walls. Essential fatty acids (omega-3 fatty acids) are necessary for optimal brain function. In addition, dietary fats are more calorically dense, which can support athletes with meeting their daily calorie needs.
Healthy Fats for a College Student Athlete’s Grocery List
Healthy fats to include on a college student athlete’s shopping list include:
- Healthy oils: Olive, canola, corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds and seed butters
- Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel (contain omega-3 fatty acids)
Single-serving pouches of tuna or salmon can be a great option for college athletes. Salmon and tuna provide lean protein as well as healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
When selecting tuna, albacore white tuna is a better source of omega-3s than chunk light tuna. In addition, choose tuna or salmon that is packed in water rather than oil. When the fish is packed in oil the product will be higher in saturated fat.
As a college student athlete, it is important to not only plan meals, but to plan for snacks as well. Healthy snacks provide athletes with energy throughout the day. Snacks can be especially important when athletes have busy days requiring them to go straight from practice to class.
When possible, college athletes should aim to plan well-balanced snacks that contain a good source of carbohydrates along with lean protein. These snacks can serve as “mini-meals” that support an athlete’s sports nutrition needs.
Grocery List Snack Ideas for a College Student Athlete
Snack ideas for college student athletes to add to their grocery list include:
- Whole fresh fruit
- Dried fruit
- Applesauce squeeze pouches
- Veggies: Baby carrots, mini peppers, cherry tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower
- Granola bars, fig bars, breakfast bars, protein bars
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Whole grain crackers, pretzels, pita chips
- Individual containers of nut butter and hummus
- Nuts: Enjoy a variety of nuts as each type provides different nutrients
- Cheese sticks or string cheese
- Individual containers of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
- Trail mix made with nuts and dry fruit
- Beef or turkey jerky
Proper hydration is important for a college athlete’s health as well as sports performance. College athletes should make staying hydrated a daily priority.
Tips to help athletes stay hydrated throughout the day include:
- Carry a reusable water bottle with you to class and practice. You can refill the water bottle as you move around campus throughout the day
- Enjoy fruits and vegetables that have a high water content such as watermelon, oranges, cucumbers, and celery. All of these can be a great addition to an athlete’s meals and snacks and contribute to meeting hydration needs.
- When focusing on stay hydrated for sport, it is important to remember that the body loses both fluid and electrolytes in sweat. When athletes will be exercising over 1 hour, have multiple games or workouts in the same day, or if it is hot and humid outside, sports drinks can be beneficial in helping athletes meet their hydration needs (1, 2).
Beverages for a College Student Athlete’s Grocery List
Ideas for healthy beverages college athletes can add to their grocery list include:
- Bottled water
- Sparkling water
- Low-fat milk, high-protein milk, chocolate milk
- 100% fruit or vegetable juice
- Sports drinks, individual packets of sports drink or electrolyte mix
- Coconut water
Meal Prep for College Athletes
With busy weekday schedules, taking time to meal prep on the weekend can help college athletes stay on track with their nutrition needs.
Meal prep does not have to be complicated to be effective. Even college athletes living in a dorm can take small steps to prepare meals and snacks in advance.
Easy Meal Prep Tasks for College Athletes
Easy meal prep tasks that can save college athletes time during the week include:
- Bag individual servings of pretzels, snack crackers, trail mix, or nuts.
- Prepare overnight oats to enjoy for breakfast during the week.
- Slice fresh fruit and vegetables and individually portion to enjoy with meals and snacks.
- Pre-make sandwiches or wraps (i.e., turkey and cheese) to take with you for lunch.
- Make homemade trail mix by combining your favorite dry cereals, pretzels, snack crackers, dried fruit, and nuts.
- Combine your favorite frozen fruits and veggies in individual portion baggies for easy smoothie preparation. When you are ready to make your smoothie, just pour the ingredients into blender, add milk and Greek yogurt, and blend.
College athletes who have access to a kitchen can consider the following meal prep tasks:
- Hard-boil eggs and store in the refrigerator.
- Prepare a large batch of pasta, brown rice, or quinoa to enjoy with meals during the week.
- Brown ground beef or turkey to have ready to add to pasta sauce, use for making tacos, or include in chili.
Grocery List for College Student Athletes
You are now set with ideas for food and drinks to include on a college student athlete’s grocery list. By planning ahead, college athletes can ensure they get items at the store that will support an A+ performance on the field and in the classroom.
Join the Nutrition By Mandy Email List & Get a Free Athlete’s Grocery List
Click HERE to join the Nutrition By Mandy e-mail list. When you join you will receive a free athlete’s grocery list to print and take with you to the store.
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.