We’ve worked with athletes from all levels and know how to make a grocery list for athletes the easy way if you follow these 9 steps. 

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 confusing marketing claims and mislabeled products. Are Cheerios really “heart healthy?” Heck NO!

In today’s world, how is an athlete expected to stand his or her “health ground” with so many options?

Easy, work with a pro sports dietitian who knows how to make a grocery list for athletes easy. 

Fear, not my friends. Today I am going to show you the best grocery list for athletes and provide a downloadable Grocery List for Athletes PDF. 

What Makes a Great Grocery List for Athletes?

A great grocery list for athletes includes foods that help fuel the body for optimal performance and muscle repair.  We don’t get stronger and faster while we train, we get there then we train hard then recovery fully from those workouts

Whether you’re an endurance athlete, football player, boxer, etc. training when you’re not fully recovered leads to impaired performance. Each workout needs to build on the previous and to get there we need to maximize recovery between workouts. 

To do this, we need make sure we get enough protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. This may be confusing at first, but, follow the steps below and we’ll make it super-easy. 

>>>Read more: What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Protein While Working Out

You probably know that an ideal grocery list for athletes is comprised almost entirely of fresh, whole foods that help decrease inflammation and support post-workout recovery.

It also includes healthy snacks to make it easy to fuel up on the go as well. 

Read all the way to the bottom to learn how to make an athlete grocery list the easy way. 

Step 1: Shop the Perimeter

Rule # 1 when grocery shopping: Whop the perimeter of the store!!! 

No matter where you grocery shop, there is a good chance that you will find whole foods, healthy foods without packaging or artificial ingredients, on the perimeter of the store. These foods are the ones that are the most anti-inflammatory, and likely to boost recovery.

The perimeter is mostly fresh produce and meat or seafood products along the perimeter of the grocery store. Do not let the interior aisles with breakfast cereals and foods with added sugars call your name!

The aisles are where all the beautifully packaged processed foods with high sugar content live, just waiting to lure you to the dark side. 

Stay strong. The best options to live a nutritious lifestyle and enhance recovery reside along the perimeter.

Step 2: 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; you should ALWAYS eat with a purpose.

What does this mean?

Well, did you just do a heavy-lifting workout? If so, the purpose of your meal should be to make sure to get a good source of protein along with some carbohydrates so your muscles have everything they need to repair.

Are you getting ready to a race the next morning? If so then you should have a small but easy-to-digest lean protein source like chicken breast or salmon and a larger amount of complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes with a small amount of fat. 

Are you recovery from an injury and really in the grind of your season leading you to feel a bit wore down? If so, then choose fruits and veggies that are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties, such as berries, pineapple, and dark leafy greens. Also, choose a quality protein that is more known for its omega-3 content, such as salmon or grass-fed beef. 

>>>Read more: The Top Anti-inflammatory Foods on Earth

Step 3: Read the List of Ingredients Before You 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 grams of 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 it is no surprise we are seeing more illness and injury in the history of our country.

Step 4: Save Money By Choosing 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. 

As a general rule, 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. This more often applies to buying over-the-counter medications where the primary ingredient is the same in the generic brand but the other added ingredients are garbage. 

Step 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Buy Frozen

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

While there is no way to know for sure, frozen fruits and veggies are often picked during their prime and frozen immediately. 

This allows a greater percentage of vitamins and essential nutrients to be retained, and research has proven that these foods have just as much, if not more, vitamins than fresh produce

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 who like to massage and sniff every piece of produce until they find the perfect match.

Step 6: Keep a List of Core Ingredients

Whether your list is electronic or on loose-leaf paper, make sure that your grocery list for athletes always has 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

Step 7: Avoid Grocery Shopping When Hungry

If there was ever a golden rule of grocery shopping, I think this would be it. 

How many times have you gone 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.

Step 8: Don’t Forget to Rotate

A great way to make sure you’re getting a variety of vitamins and minerals from your food is to make sure you’re rotating them.

Apples don’t have the same vitamins as oranges and sweet potatoes don’t contain the same vitamins and minerals as white potatoes. 

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.

Step 9: Plan Your Grocery List for Athletes Ahead of Time – 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.

We even freeze protein shakes at our house and often recommend it for our clients to make a batch on Sunday and throw 2 in the freezer to grab and go in the morning. 

The Best Grocery List for Athletes + Downloadable PDF

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

If you would like to download or print the list. Here is the Best Grocery List for Athletes PDF.

Infographic of the best grocery list for athlhets


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.

If you’re having health issues such as gut problems or looking for more specific, consider working one on one with a sports dietitian. We offer a free 15-minute strategy call to map out a plan. We’ve worked with pro athletes, youth athletes, vegan athletes, and everything in between. We can help you achieve your goals, so don’t delay, book your call today.