Fueling on a Budget: Making Smart Choices on the Cheap

Athletes get hungry. Hungry athletes need to eat ... a lot!

For some people, this means consuming 3,000 to 4,000+ calories per day. For those with limited food money, the question arises: "Where can I buy the most amount of healthful calories for a reasonable amount of money?"

In this day and age, when few athletes prepare and pack their own food, the standard practice is to fill up on fast 'n' fatty foods that do indeed conquer hunger--but also clog arteries and leave muscles poorly fueled.

Given that only carbs get stored as glycogen in the muscles (and glycogen depletion is associated with fatigue), fast-food frequenters can sabotage their performance and experience needless fatigue. (That is, unless they over-consume soda pop--a source of carbs with no health value other than fuel.)

Let's say you are a 150-pound athlete who needs about 3,000 calories per day (1,000 calories per meal). You can buy the following 900- to 1,000-calorie fast food specials for a reasonable price, but they may well cost you the gold medal because about half of their calories from fat, and fat is inexpensive:

  • 3 chocolate frosted cake Dunkin Donuts: 1,080 cals @ $2.15
  • 2 servings Nachos Supreme from Taco Bell: 900 cals @ $3.40
  • Big Mac and medium fries: 1,060 cals @ $4.45

    As an athlete who shows responsibility by training hard, you'll miss the boat if you are irresponsible with fueling your hard-worked body. You'll better reach your performance goals by investing in a daily diet based on wholesome carbohydrates: multi-grain breads, bran cereals, rye bagels, fresh fruits, orange juice, colorful vegetables.These foods not only fuel your muscles but they also offer health-protective vitamins and minerals.

    Sometimes, for only a few more pennies, you can buy wholesome fast food carbs. For example, orange juice at McDonald's might cost you 8.5 per ounce; a soda, 8 per ounce (based on a medium size). A wheat bagel from Dunkin Donuts costs $0.89; only 18 more than a doughnut--but more carbs, less fat, similar calories.

    More often, good nutrition costs more. If you want to buy chicken instead of beef, you'll pay the price. A Big Mac (600 calories) is $2.79; a Chicken McGrill, $3.89 (400 calories).

    So what's a hungry athlete on a budget to do? Where are the sports nutrition bargains? The purpose of this article is to help you identify some of the better bets among fast foods; choices that offer a decent amount of carbs for a reasonable amount of money.

    Breakfast Suggestions

    The best food bargain is to eat breakfast at home or, when traveling, in your hotel. Simply pack along a plastic container with wholesome cereal, raisins (and a spoon), then buy milk at the corner store. (Note: buying store brands of cereal saves money: Kellogg's Raisin Bran costs $1.73 per 1,000 calories; the store brand only $1.25 per 1,000 calories.)

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