"When we travel as a team, we eat at fast food places because they fit with our small budget. What's the best fast food for athletes...?"
"After my workout, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner. Where can I buy affordable but healthy sports meals...?"
A limited food budget creates a fueling challenge for many athletes, including college teams traveling to games, students responsible for their own meals, parents of active kids, and semi-pro players hoping to get to the next level.
The name of the fueling game is: How can you buy enough healthy calories with the least amount of money? These practical tips can help optimize a low-budget sports diet.
1. Stop at a Large Supermarket
Everyone can find something they like: vegetarians, gluten-free eaters, picky eaters who want to lose weight, and chowhounds who need lots of calories. By walking around the inside perimeter of the store, you will find the makings for a balanced meal—even hot meals, if desired. Shop for:
Fresh fruit: Banana, apple, pear, grapes. Buy what's on sale.
Fresh veggies: While you can easily create a colorful salad at the salad bar area, it might be a bit pricey. The simpler option is to simply buy: a green or red pepper (eat it whole, as you might eat an apple), a bag of baby carrots (along with a container of hummus), or a container of cherry tomatoes. Enjoy the whole thing; a hefty dose of veggies on one day can help compensate for another day when you have none. To clean the fresh produce, plan ahead. Pack extra water to rinse the produce before getting on the bus. Or nicely ask an employee in the store's produce area if he or she could help you by giving the fresh produce a quick rinse.
Protein: Buy a quarter-pound of deli turkey, roast beef, or ham along with a few whole-wheat rolls to make sandwiches. Small or large tubs of cottage cheese, tuna packets, and peanut butter are other popular protein options. Share a rotisserie chicken with friends, or save the leftovers if you can refrigerate them within an hour.
Grains and other carbs: Pita, wraps, baked chips, whole-grain crackers and pretzels are carb-based options that refuel your muscles. Look for freshly baked whole-wheat rolls, hearty breads, and whole-grain bagels. You might be able to find a plastic knife at the salad bar so you can slice the rolls to make a nice sandwich with deli meat and low-fat cheese. Pop a few cherry tomatoes between bites, and you'll have a balanced meal with all four foods groups: lean meats, beans, nuts; low-fat dairy or calcium-alternative; fruit; vegetable; grain.
Calcium-rich foods: You can easily buy a small or large tub of low-fat yogurt, a single milk chug—or even a whole a quart of chocolate milk if you are really hungry. For athletes who are dairy-free, soymilk is a fine alternative. Pick up some pre-sliced low-fat cheese in the dairy or deli area. (Note: Hard cheese, such as cheddar, is lactose-free and comes in convenient single portions.) Add an apple and whole grain crackers—voila, a balanced sports meal! While it may not be the hot meal your mom had in mind, it will do the job of contributing needed nutrients to refuel from the day's event, fuel-up for tomorrow, and invest in future good health.
Beverages: You can save a lot of money (plus save space in landfills) by packing your own gallon jug of water. To spend money on plain water (void of calories, carbs, and vitamins) seems wasteful when tap water is free. Instead buy 100 percent juice (orange, grape, carrot, V-8) to boost your fruit and veggie intake and simultaneously boost your immune system with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Plus, 100 percent juice is a strong source of carbohydrate to refuel depleted muscles, as well as fluid to replace sweat losses. Chocolate milk is another winning beverage, with protein to build and repair exhausted muscles, as well as carbs to refuel them.