There are days when I open to the fridge to see nothing but beer and mustard staring back. Even though I live within a half mile of a grocery store, my house suffers from a chronic lack of food.
It’s not that I don’t go grocery shopping. Certain supermarkets in the neighborhood know me and my habits so well they’re confused when I skip the chocolate bar I usually buy with my coffee (“Cutting back on your sweet tooth, sweetheart?”). In fact, I visit a neighboring grocery store daily. But I’m usually shopping for a meal and trying to get in and out as fast as possible.
After yesterday’s hard, ten-mile trail run, I opened my fridge without hope, knowing that the only calories I’d find would lead to inebriation rather than recovery. I looked at my phone, calculating the cost of ordering Chinese food vs. hitting the Whole Foods Salad Bar. But my embarrassing collection of takeout fortune cookies in my junk drawer and the irresponsible pile of to-go food containers filling my trash can kept me from actually making the call.
Instead, I made a grocery list and vowed to have the healthy staples stocked in my pantry from that day forward. Here is my definitive grocery list for busy athletes who have to weigh the cost of convenience against health.
Oatmeal has been a staple of mine, even before composing a definitive list of healthy foods. In desperate times, I’ve been known to eat it for all three meals in a day. Rich in fiber and often fortified with iron, it’s the perfect base food that’ll keep you full and help deliver oxygen to working muscles during exercise. New York-based nutritionist Chelsey Amer notes that oats are loaded with naturally occurring magnesium, which maintains strong bones and metabolizing carbohydrates.
If you’re sick of the classic breakfast oatmeal, try cooking your oats with some full-fat coconut milk, turmeric, seasonal veggies and topped with an egg to make a healthy, comfort food Oatmeal Curry.
Nuts and nut butter is another one that is always in my pantry and can often even be found in my purse. Because they’re a natural combination of protein and healthy fats, nuts and the products derived from nuts, are an easy way to get nutrient dense calories on the go. Sports Nutritionist Jill Pluhar says they are easy to digest and can help balance your blood sugar when paired with carbs such as a whole grain bagel or a brown rice cake.
Dark Leafy Greens and In-Season Veggies
In my mind, all veggies are good veggies. Even the ones lower on the food chain help provide the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal performance. That said, dark, leafy greens and members of the cruciferous family like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale, have more antioxidants, fiber and other important nutrients. As a general rule, says Pluhar, “darker is better” with the exception of cauliflower, which offers rich health benefits and antioxidant properties.
If you’re unsure what to do with your vegetables, throw the hardier ones in the oven until cooked thoroughly and toss with some fresh leafy greens coated in olive oil. I have never gone wrong with a roasted vegetable salad!
Berries, Frozen or Fresh
Jersey City Nutritionist Amy Gorin recommends keeping berries around the house at all times. It’s fine to resort to a variety wild frozen berries when they’re out of season or the budget is tight. Gorin says all berries, especially blueberries, contain polyphenols, which can help fight off illness after intense exercise. They also contain powerful antioxidants that aid in cell repair and the soreness-easing plant compound anthocyanins.
Add berries to your post-workout smoothie, toss them in your salad or cook them in your oatmeal to sneak in that little extra punch of antioxidants.
Quinoa has gotten a lot of attention and for a good reason. It has twice as much protein (about 8 grams per serving) as other grains, and it’s one of the only foods to contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need to build lean muscle and foster full recovery from intense exercise. Gorin is a huge fan of quinoa for its great source of fiber, complex carbohydrates and its versatility.
Purely for convenience, I prefer this superfood in pasta form. It cooks in five to eight minutes and is an easy platform for my favorite toppings. Need a simple healthy meal? One of my go-to quinoa pasta recipes includes sardines, a garlic-heavy marinara sauce and fresh leafy greens. It guarantees recovery and the need to brush your teeth.
Sweet potatoes are a slow-burning carbohydrate proven to stabilize blood-sugar and insulin levels, making them an ideal food to ward off hunger pangs and fuel endurance workouts. The starchy root veggie is rich in vitamin A and C, two antioxidants that work to remove free-radicals from our bodies. Stocking up on sweet potatoes in a great way to get a little extra potassium, iron and copper—all minerals that are crucial in healthy muscle function that many athletes don’t get enough of.
Lather them up in olive oil, sprinkle with some sea salt and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes to an hour for the perfect sweet, salty and crispy snack. If you don’t have the time to wait around, you can stick them in the microwave on high for 4-6 minutes or until soft.
According to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eggs pack nutrients from B12, riboflavin, selenium, phosphorus and, most importantly, protein. Actually, eggs rank the highest in the protein digestibility and amino acid concentration, indicating all protein from eggs is absorbed. They are an excellent source of the amino acid leucine, the most important amino acid for signaling protein synthesis, better known as muscle repair.
As far as preparation, eggs almost speak for themselves. Throw a fried egg on anything from a waffle, to a salad or a burger to enhance taste, and it’s nutritional content. My go-to easy egg recipe is to throw a hand full of greens into a frying pan with a couple of scrambled eggs for a quick and healthy meal.