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Top 10 Grocery List for Athletes

Professional, elite and even amateur athletes all have one thing in common - in order to be at their best they need energy and nutrients. How much energy an athlete needs varies widely, from 1800 calories for some skill based athletes to over 8000 calories for highly active athletes. Regardless of the energy needs, athletes have to fill those calories with essential nutrients and meet the specific needs. Often times this means eating foods with the biggest bang for your buck, or the foods that give you the most nutrients for the calories.

Ideally, the nutrients we use for fueling comes from a whole food source, meaning from food rather than supplement. What we eat is far more than just nutrients.

Food is a complex combination of phytochemicals, polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, macronutrients, and more far more that science is yet to understand. Supplements may provide a specific nutrient, but it's missing what cannot be replicated in a pill or powder.Some supplements, in the form of sport drinks, sport bars, and nutritional shakes, can be used in a pinch or when eating whole food is difficult. But think of it this way: eating whole nutritious foods is like a car, while supplements are like a car air freshener. The air freshener (supplements) can help the car be nicer, but without the car (whole foods) the air freshener is pointless.

With all this in mind, here is a list of the top 10 foods to add to your grocery list. Eating these foods regularly, in addition to training hard and having a growth mindset will help you perform at your best.

Top 10 Foods to Add to your Grocery List

1. Vegetables (of every color possible) – vegetables deserve more attention than the afterthought side item of meals. Vegetables are incredibly nutritious and provide us with numerous vitamins, minerals and fiber, all of which boost performance and health. And what about those colors? Those color pigments are potent nutrients we can only get from plant food called phytonutrients. Many of these are antioxidants, which help athletes in many ways including reducing inflammation. Aim to eat a variety of colors as often as you can.

2. Grains and whole grains – grains contain carbohydrates, which are important for fueling exercise, performance, recovery and all other activities. Non whole grains, including white rice, crackers, and many breakfast cereals, can be useful when quick energy is needed before practice or between practices. Whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat breads, are great for providing energy over long periods of time.

3. Oats – oats are another whole grain that gets special attention on this list thanks to the versatility. Oats are highly versatile in cooking as they can use used in sweet or savory dishes. Oats are also high in fiber and carbohydrates, which give us long lasting energy or eaten after training to promote recovery. And oats can act as a thickener, which can add texture to shakes, smoothies and overnight oats. Oh, and oats great for your health too.

4. Milk – low fat milk is an all in one nutrition powerhouse for athletes that is also budget friendly. Milk contains protein, carbohydrates, calcium and vitamin D, all of which promotes performance, recovery, muscle function and bone health. Research also shows that chocolate milk is as effective, if not more effective, as a recovery drink than most commercially made sport drinks. At a fraction of the cost and usually much better tasting, chocolate milk repairs muscle, restores depleted energy and rehydrates the body.

5. Fruit (of every color possible) – Just like vegetables, fruits are highly nutritious with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. Unlike most vegetables, fruits also contain carbohydrates for energy, making fruits a good fuel food. When eaten as snack before or after training, fruit provides energy needed for performance and recovery with extra nutrients too.

6. Nuts and nut butters – nuts are a great source of heart healthy essential fats and tons of energy. During intense training schedules or during increasing training frequency, nuts and nut butters can help support your needs and provide an easy on the go snack. When training periods are lighter, these foods can be dialed back (but not completely removed) to meet your energy needs easier.

7. Eggs – one of the best nutrition performance foods you can eat is the wonderful egg. Eggs are high in protein, contain lutein, choline, vitamins A, D, E, K and the B complex, iron and some even have omega 3 fats. In other words, eggs are packed with nutrients that promote performance. If that wasn’t enough, eggs are also very versatile to cook with and low cost.

8. Lean meats and fish – including lean chicken, turkey, pork and beef, tuna and cod, lean meats and fish are high in protein low in fat and many have essential minerals including iron and zinc. Pair lean meats with a good portion of vegetables and whole grains for a well-balanced meal.

9. Yogurt – another good source of protein and calcium, yogurt is a great choice for athletes. Greek yogurts are generally higher in protein compared to traditional yogurts, making it a good choice for athletes. Yogurt also contains probiotics, which are essential for a healthy gut, digestion and even immunity.

10. Salmon – another nutrition powerhouse, salmon (and mackerel and sardines) is the best source of omega 3 fats. Omega 3 fats are essential fatty acids, meaning we must get from foods, which reduce inflammation, delay soreness and promote muscle repair, along with many other health benefits. Research is also showing that it reduces recovery time from injuries.

If you are looking to fill your kitchen with the best foods to help you perform better, these 10 will certainly help. While this is a great guide to point you in the right direction, your unique needs may be different. To maximize your performance and get individual nutrition guidance, seek a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition to provide you with what is right for you.

If you would like more information check out my Sport Nutrition Foundation class. This Four Part Series will take a closer look at YOUR current nutrition plan and how we can IMPROVE YOUR PERFORMANCE!


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