“Eating healthy is SO expensive!” – “I would never be able to afford to be a vegan athlete!”

I understand it may seem like a strain on the budget to eat fresh food. These phrases may have come out of your mouth at some point, or have at least entered your mind. I know these thoughts are not uncommon because it’s I hear people say them all the time!

Due to many preconceived beliefs about the high cost of eating healthy, many of athletes, especially collegiate student-athletes, believe they can only afford to eat mac and cheese and ramen noodles. Others who are on a tight budget for a variety of reason from attempting to make it as a professional athlete or dealing with life events such as getting married or switching jobs may simply think healthy foods are not essential for peak performance so when the budget is tight, switching to cheap, processed foods is a worthy sacrifice.  However, processed foods such as the aforementioned ramen noodles or mac and cheese are why the standard American diet causes fatigue.

Removing processed foods is not only essential for recovery and achieving optimal conditioning, but can be life-changing for many dealing with undesirable symptoms such as lethargy. A plant-based diet is not required to be a healthy, but it is the preference of many athletes and all athletes can benefit from eating this way a few days a week. So, get ready to learn how we do this while ballin’ on a budget.

Is the Cost Scaring you?

Your training buddies, coaches, and trainers are often hounding you about “fueling to perform.” However, the thought of spending an obscene amount of money to eat quality nutrient-rich food scares you, right? With all the new and fancy products coming out on the market as vegetarian and vegan diets become more and more popular, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of products. You probably feel like you need them all to be successful eating as a vegetarian or vegan athlete.


I am here to tell you that eating clean for vegetarian and vegan athletes is NOT impossible! So, first step, lets think about the foods that are absolute necessities when following a plant-based diet. Many of these staple foods are very affordable, even for college athletes who are living on a budget.

What Should Be on a Vegetarian or Vegan Athlete Grocery List?

A plant-based diet can look a variety of ways since there are so many different and delicious types of fruits and vegetables. Below is a list of the main staples that are essential for vegetarian and vegan athletes, as well as a few examples of each food group that fit the diet and are relatively inexpensive.

  • Fruit (bananas, apples, berries, mango, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, kiwi, and grapes)
    • Purchase a few types of fruit that you can alternate with throughout the week. “In season” produce such as berries and watermelon in the summer, are often on sale and cheaper than those out of season!
  • Vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, kale, and zucchini)
    • Veggies only stay fresh for so long, so pick a few for the week. You don’t want to overstock and have your produce spoil! Wasted money = not good!
  • Grains (quinoa, rice, gluten-free bread, and oats – my favorite!)
  • Legumes and Beans (edamame, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, and black beans)
  • Nuts, nut butters, and seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and chia)
  • Non-dairy milk alternatives (almond, coconut, soy, and hemp)
    • Many of these dairy-free options are available as vegan-friendly substitutes for yogurt, milk, cheese, and coffee creamers.
    • Keep an eye out for coupons that will help cut the cost of these higher priced items.
    • Here is a coupon to save $1.00 on a Ripple dairy-free yogurt!

Stick to the Basics

Vegetarian Athlete Shopping on a Budget

As mentioned, it is possible to walk into your local Whole Foods or specialty grocery store and have $100 worth of food in your cart before even getting to the produce section! If spending extra money on fancy vegan coffee creamers and organic produce is in your budget, by all means, go for it! Maybe you treat yourself to one or two “specialty” products per week. Otherwise, stick to the basics and you will be successful in keeping the cost of groceries very affordable. Below is my grocery list from this morning, and you bet it’s just under $35!

Quick and Easy Snacks:

There are many tasty snacks made with these fundamental grocery items. Here are a few “go-to” snacks that are easy, affordable, and packed with lots of nutrients.

  • Bowl of oatmeal with almond butter, blueberries, or other available fruit
  • Baked sweet potato bites drizzled with local honey
  • Gluten-free toast with smashed avocado
  • Rice cakes topped with almond, cashew, or peanut butter, and sliced bananas
  • Ripple dairy-free yogurt topped with berries, bananas, chia seeds, and any nut butter

Meals Can Be Easy and Cheap Too!

You’re probably thinking, “well what am I going to eat for meals?” As a vegetarian or vegan athlete, it must be hard to plan out healthy meals ahead of time, while trying to balance class, homework, and practice! The crockpot will be your saving grace during the week! It is so easy to throw a bunch of ingredients in the crockpot first thing in the morning and have a delicious soup or chili by dinnertime.

For a list of easy crockpot recipes for vegan and vegetarian athletes, click here.

Additional Tips to Consider:

Compare prices

Do your research and compare prices at your area grocery stores. Spending the extra time comparing prices and traveling to different grocery stores might be a pain, but saving a few bucks here will make all the difference! Stores like Aldi carry many of these essential items for very affordable costs!

Choose generic brands

When purchasing packaged products, try to purchase generic brands. You’ll be shocked at how much money you can save by avoiding the name brands.

Don’t overstock

When it comes to fresh produce, try to purchase only enough to get you through the week. However, your grains, beans, legumes, and other non-perishable foods that sold in cans may be worth purchasing in bulk.

Limit specialty products and organic brands

Purchasing organic produce for its better quality may be worth the extra few bucks, but the specialty products will rack up that grocery bill, so pick and choose wisely! A helpful tool when trying to decide which items may be most important to buy organically can be found on the Environmental Working Group’s list known as the “Dirty Dozen”.  The Dirty Dozen is an evolving list of foods analyzed to have the most issues in terms of harmful substances. There is also the “Clean Fifteen” which are foods that tend to be lower in harmful substances such as pesticides, even when organic. They are often foods you don’t need to necessarily buy organic even if you can afford it.  These lists are modified as newer research and evidence comes available.  You can find an update on the current list here. These foods may be the most important to buy in organic form. On the contrary, fruits like bananas or avocados found on the “Clean Fifteen”, are items less likely to have harmful chemicals, making them more likely to be safe when not organic.

Athlete Shopping on a BudgetHopefully, with this new information, you can see that eating vegan or vegetarian on a budget is not as difficult or expensive as it is often thought to be. It is important to note that as an athlete, you have additional needs regarding quality fat and protein compared to less active individuals. It can be more challenging as a vegan or vegetarian athlete to consume high amounts of protein, so keep this in mind in your evolution of eating. With a good mindset and spending plan, it is possible to be a low-income athlete and still fuel your body with the best possible food!


More Awesome Reading

Eating on a Budget While Traveling

Amazing Non-Dairy Calcium Rich Foods

Why the Standard American Diet Causes Fatigue

7 Crucial Elimination Diet Strategies for Success