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Shop Like a Boss: The Best Grocery List for Athletes

Shop Like a Boss: The Best Grocery List for Athletes

Grocery shopping was once one of the most basic tasks known to man. Fast forward 100 years and our stores have more products, flavors, food companies, and artificial additives than ever before.  What once felt like a stroll in the park is now a race through the Amazon. In today’s world, how is an athlete expected to stand his or her “health ground” with so many options?

Fear, not my friends. Today I am going to show you the best grocery list for athletes. But first, let’s review a few key principles of grocery shopping.

What Makes a Great Grocery List for Athletes?

A great grocery list for athletes includes foods which help fuel the body for optimal performance. This is comprised almost entirely of fresh, whole foods which help decrease inflammation and support post-workout recovery.

First Step, Shop the Perimeter

Rule # 1 when grocery shopping: shop the perimeter of the store!!! No matter where you grocery shop, there is a good chance that you will find mostly fresh produce and meat or seafood products along the perimeter of the grocery store. Do not let the aisles call your name!
The aisles are where all the beautifully packaged processed foods live, just waiting to lure you to the dark side. Stay strong. Everything you could possibly need to live a nutritious lifestyle resides along the perimeter.

Eat with a Purpose

It does not matter if you are the greatest Olympic athlete of all time or you are currently strapped to a hospital bed suffering from extreme illness; once should ALWAYS eat with a purpose. For example, choose fruits and veggies that are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties such as berries, pineapple, and dark leafy greens. Choose quality protein that is more known for it’s omega 3 content such as salmon or grass-fed beef. Choose whole grains, filled with fiber and minerals vs refined grains.

Read the List of Ingredients Before you Even Glance At the Nutrition Facts Label

Many of us were raised to obsess over grams of protein, fat, sugar, etc. However, we now know that food has the ability to provide premium fuel to our cells and coding to our DNA. As a result, we have to be extra careful when reading a food label. The list of ingredients should be recognizable. I always tell my athletes,

“If you can’t find these ingredients in your grandmother’s kitchen, you probably shouldn’t be putting them into your body!.”

Sure, the protein and fiber may be high and sugar may be low in a certain product but if that product is comprised entirely of chemicals,you are doing a disservice to your body.

The whole point of proper nutrition is completely defeated when we eat  “perfectly balanced”, chemical laden food products. Sometimes it can be really difficult to find such pure products. Hence why it is no surprise we are seeing more illness and injury in the history of our country.

Choose Store Brand Items

Looking to save a little cash? If you do decide to venture down the aisles, purchase store brand items of your favorite foods. More times than not, you will find that these items cost less than the big name brands of the exact same item. Especially when you are shopping at specialty grocery stores. The only time it would be best to pay more for a name brand item is if the quality of ingredients surpasses that of the store brand product.

Don’t Be Afraid to Buy Frozen

Contrary to popular belief, buying frozen fruits and veggies can be more advantageous than buying fresh sometimes.

While there is no way to know for sure, it is often thought that frozen fruits and veggies are picked during their prime and frozen immediately. This allows a great percentage of nutrients to be retained. When it comes to fresh fruit and veggies on the shelves of your grocery store, there is no way of knowing how long the produce sat in a truck, then sat in the back of the grocery store, and then how long it has been sitting on the shelf in front of you. And let’s not forget all of the people that like to massage and sniff every piece of produce until they find the perfect match.

Keep a List of Core Ingredients

Whether your list is electronic or on loose leaf paper, make sure that you always have a grocery “core” of about 10 foods that you know to purchase every time you go to the store.

This is something you will eventually memorize. Not only does this method save time and money, but it helps to ensure that you are eating more balanced.

The core list should be a list of foods that a human could live off of (healthily) for a week. For example, no human needs chips or candy to survive, however, they certainly do need protein and vegetables. No human needs ice cream and juice, yet long-term health would suffer without quality fat and low glycemic fruit. Make sense? A common core list might include one form of animal protein and one form of plant protein, nuts, milk of choice, 2 fruits, 2 vegetables, 1 forms of quality fat, 1 starch. Ideally, these would be foods that could be combined in a number of ways and still taste great. Here is a great example of a core list:

  1. Chicken
  2. Black Beans
  3. Brown Rice
  4. Avocado
  5. Unsweetened Almond Milk
  6. Cashews
  7. Blueberries
  8. Cherries
  9. Peppers
  10. Broccoli

Do not Grocery Shop Hungry

If there was ever a golden rule of grocery shopping, I think this would be it. How many times have you went grocery shopping on an empty stomach only to come out with 10 extra items that you did not originally have on your list!?
Unfortunately, this can happen to the best of us. Never, ever, ever shop for food on an empty stomach! It is much easier to stick to your goals and buy only what is absolutely necessary on a full stomach.

Don’t Forget to Rotate

If last month was peanut butter, try almond butter this month. If last week was rice milk, try almond milk this week. Rotating foods choices is one of the best ways to build the human immune system. Food rotation is also critical for decreasing your chances of developing a food intolerance, especially foods that tend to be richer in protein.

Always Know Before You Go

Choose 3-5 recipes in advance for the week and create your grocery list based on these recipes. Better yet, choose recipes that you can make in bulk and freeze. This strategy will save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

Drumroll, please….and now for the best grocery list for athletes.

Looking to have a grocery list that is well balanced and one that can be used for years to come? Check out the list below.

The Best Grocery List for Athletes
In summary, your health is on your plate. If there is one thing that you can control in this life when it comes to long-term health and performance, it is your nutrition! As a result, it is just as important to grocery shop with your brain as much as you shop with your stomach.  Hopefully, our best grocery list for athletes will steer you in the right direction.
Are you a vegan or vegetarian athlete looking for new ways save a little extra moola in the grocery store? Check out our post on Vegan and Vegetarian Athlete Shopping on a Budget!

About The Author

Kylene Bogden

Kylene Bogden is one of the most well respected Functional Sports Dietitians in the United States. As a high school and collegiate sprinter, she experienced recurrent injury and fatigue. After years of constant struggle, she eventually learned that an abundance of processed foods and poor fueling strategies were the root of her performance issues. Kylene's personal journey as an athlete fueled her passion for finding a more progressive approach to sports nutrition. Since then, she has helped thousands of individuals dramatically improve overall health and athletic performance by taking a whole food approach. To learn more about Kylene's story and how a functional nutrition approach can help you to achieve your goals, simply click on the contact us link in the upper right-hand corner today!


  1. Expert Tips for Dining Out With Food Allergies - FWDfuel - […] food that is normally free of allergens at the grocery store, may not be completely allergen-free at a restaurant.…

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