10 Foods Athletes Should Add to Their Grocery Lists
Quinoa, bananas, and peanut butter are recurring characters, but add a little more flavor (and nutrition) to the plot by tossing in these surprising purchases
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
We tapped top nutritionists to find out which items they think athletes should include on their grocery runs. Some fuel workouts, others aid in recovery, and a few make for nutrition-forward instant dinners for when time is short.
The Amazonian fruit has more vitamin C than any other food in the world. “Just a half-teaspoon a day of camu powder provides 400 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. It’s also rich in amino acids, vitamin A, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, iron, and phosphorus,” says Florida-based nutritionist Gisela Bouvier. Throw the powder into your smoothies, protein shakes, or oatmeal for an instant immunity boost. Bonus: Since camu comes from a fruit, there’s no weird supplement aftertaste that you’ll find in many other powders.
“It’s my new favorite grocery store purchase because it’s a nutrition-packed meal that can be on the table in minutes,” says New York City–based nutritionist Chelsey Amer. Lentils contain the endurance athlete trifecta—protein, fiber, and iron—for slow-release energy, lasting sustenance, and more efficient use of carbs as energy. If you can’t find pasta of the lentil variety, chickpea and black bean options taste great and boast similar nutrients.
They’re not just for athletes on the keto diet. “Sardines are packed with protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, making them great ways to help build muscle and maintain strong bones” says Jason Machowsky, sports dietitian and sports performance specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. They’re also easy to prepare: Open the can, plop on toast, and add a drizzle of vinegar.
Low in calories without sacrificing nutrients, daikon radishes should be a part of every athlete’s food regimen, says Andy Bellatti, a Las Vegas–based dietitian and strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity. “A daikon is full of potassium and vitamin C,” Bellati says. He recommends spiralizing it into noodles or snacking on slices between meals.
“I always recommend chocolate milk for a post-training recovery drink,” Machowsky says. “It offers the right blend of protein and carbohydrates, sodium to help restore electrolytes, and calcium and vitamin D for bone health.” Go organic to avoid antibiotics and hormones.
Frozen Wild Blueberries
“I recommend keeping a bag of frozen wild blueberries in your freezer—they’re great for adding to smoothies for a quick meal or snack,” says Amy Gorin, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Blueberries contain polyphenols, which may help protect athletes from illness following intense exercise.” The farm-grown kind are great for you, too, but the wild berries flood your body with even more antioxidants.
“Chia seeds are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, protein, and fiber, all of which help fuel a tough workout or long hike,” Amer says. Chia seeds expand when immersed in a liquid (like almond milk), gelatin (like yogurt), or even the fluids within your own stomach, so they’ll keep you full for longer compared to other nuts or seeds. The near-perfect ratio of protein and carbohydrates in chia seeds also makes them ideal to throw into a post-workout recovery meal.
Bellatti recommends mung beans as a break from the black, garbanzo, and kidney varieties. “Their nutty-sweet taste is unique, and a serving—a quarter-cup dry or a half-cup cooked—packs in seven grams of fiber and ten grams of protein.” Best in salads, mung beans work particularly well with a tangy vinaigrette, minced garlic, and fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley.
Avoid the kind coated in crystallized sugar or dark chocolate. “The only ingredient on the list should be mango,” Amer says. “And as long as you go for a brand without any added junk, it’s one of my favorite shelf-stable grocery store finds because it’s easy to grab-and-go for energy pre-workout.” Bonus: Dried mango is a good source of vitamin A and contains fiber to keep things in your system moving, along with vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
Unsweetened Cacao Powder
Again, this is one of those foods you should toss into the basket only if there’s one ingredient on the label—cacao or cocoa. “The difference between cocoa and cacao powder is in the processing technique, but both provide antioxidants and heart-healthy benefits ideal for recovery after a tough workout,” Amer says.