Grocery Shopping 101 for Runners & Walkers
Rebecca Youngs, MS, RD, LD
Fit For Life Physical Therapy
Grocery shopping can be an overwhelming thing! With all the new products and labels claiming that one product is better than another, it can be difficult to decide what to buy. As an athlete, it is important to focus on the basics of nutrition to ensure that we are getting adequate nutrients to fuel and recover from our runs or workouts. In this article, we are going to talk about how to navigate the grocery store, a basic way to put together a meal, some key pantry staples to have, and what to look for on an ingredient label.
The Grocery Store: Shop the Perimeter
My first suggestion for a successful grocery trip is to shop the perimeter of the store. If you think about it, the prepackaged snack foods are usually in the middle. There are some great healthy options and staples in the middle of the store but doing most of your shopping on the outside is your best bet. The produce section is a great place to start! Stock up on plenty of fruits and vegetables that you can use throughout the week.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy and can be even more cost effective than fresh produce. Frozen vegetables are picked and frozen at the peak of ripeness, so the flavor and nutrient values can be higher than fresh produce that takes a few days to ship across the country. The best way to get nutrient dense and cheap produce is to shop seasonally. For the late winter and early spring, this includes root vegetables, squash, brussels sprouts, broccoli, dark greens, and citrus fruits. Look for frozen vegetables that have no added sauces and sugars.
The meat and seafood counter are the next stop on the perimeter of the store. Look for lean cuts of meat such as chicken, turkey, lean ground beef, fish, shellfish, and low-sodium deli meats. Eggs and dairy are great additions to a runner’s diet providing protein for recovery and calcium to keeps bones strong. Yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, milk alternatives such as almond or soymilk, and cheese all have a place in the diet of an athlete!
The Grocery Store: Navigating the Packaged Food
When it comes to packaged foods, I have a few guidelines that will help you make the best decisions possible! You may have noticed the new food label rendition that came out recently. Updated features of the food label include a more appropriate serving size, a larger and bolder calorie count, the mandatory listing of Vitamin D since many Americans are deficient (hello Central Ohio!), vitamin and minerals labels that must give milligram (mg) amounts in addition to Percent Daily Value (%DV), and an emphasis on added sugars. This added sugar row is different than naturally occurring sugar in fruit, dried fruit, or dairy. If you are going to buy a packaged item, aim to look at the serving size, keep the trans and saturated fat to a minimum (this is the kind that can clog arteries), and keep added sugar as low as possible. Some hidden sources of added sugar include yogurt, salad dressing, condiments, and bread!
Creating a Meal
A general guideline that I give athletes when forming a meal includes: a protein source + a carbohydrate source + some color. Examples of a protein source could be poultry, beef, seafood, beans, tofu, tempeh, and peanut butter. When it comes to carbohydrates, look to grains such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain bread, and potatoes. Colors should be represented by fruits and vegetables! Athletes need protein to help aid in muscle repair, carbohydrates to give us energy, and colors from fruits and vegetables to provide essential vitamins and minerals that can help us fight off inflammation.
The Healthy Stocked Pantry
A question I get asked a lot is “What I should keep in my pantry so that I am ready to make a healthy meal?” or “What things should I have on hand to throw together if I don’t have something planned for dinner?” I have formulated a basic list that can serve as a guideline when shopping those “inside” aisles of the grocery store. Keep in mind that there are many other snack options and supplements that can be great additions to an athlete’s arsenal.
- Canned Items
- No salt or low-sodium beans (black beans, kidney beans, great northern beans etc.)
- No salt or low sodium canned diced tomatoes
- Vegetable or Chicken Stock
- Tomato sauce
- Canned tuna (Low Sodium)
- Canned vegetables
- Canned fruit
- Applesauce (sugar-free)
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat pasta
- Rolled oats
- “Fancy” grains: Quinoa, Faro, Cous- Cous etc.
- Nuts/Dried Fruit
- Sunflower seeds
- Dried cranberries
- Coconut chips
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Ketchup, Mustard, BBQ sauce
- Peanut, almond, or nut butter
- Protein powders
- Trail Mix
- Whole grain crackers
- Dry beans
These are some brands of products that athletes have really liked in the past for their nutritional value!
- Pasta: Banza Chickpea Pasta or 100% Whole Wheat pasta
- Tomato sauce: Rao’s Tomato or Marinara Sauce, Prego No Sugar Added Tomato sauce, any low-sodium option
- Salad dressing: Bolthouse brand, Tessemae’s, Annie’s Organic, Newman’s Organic
- Yogurt: stick to <8g sugar: Siggis, Two Good, Chobani Low- Sugar Greek, Kite Hill
- Granola bars: Larabars, Larabar Nut and Seed, RXBAR, KIND bars, Junkless, Kashi, Quaker
- Cereal: Cheerio’s (plain, multi-grain), Chex Cereal, Puffed Rice, Nature’s Path Sunrise, Barbara’s Original Puffins, Kashi Heart to Heart Toasted Oat, Kix
- Bread: Aunt Millie’s 35 calorie Whole Wheat bread, Dave’s Killer Bread, Nature’s Own Sugar Free 100% Whole Wheat, Pepperidge Farm Light bread
- Sour cream: Low-fat or skim; also try plain Non-fat Greek yogurt
- Cheese: part skim mozzarella, cottage cheese
- Sweet treats: Yasso Greek Yogurt pops, Whole Fruit fruit bars, Dole Snack Bites (chocolate covered strawberry or banana), Skinny Cow Ice Cream Bars, Fruit Sorbet
- Peanut Butter: (look for no added sugar) Simple Truth Organic Almond Butter, Crazy Richard’s 100% Peanuts Peanut Butter, PB Fit (powdered PB), Jif Natural
- Jelly: look for sugar free or added sugar <5g
- Chips/Crackers: Pretzels, Popchips, Enjoy Life Lentil Chips, Bare Baked Crunchy Chips (carrot, beet etc.), Terra Veggie Chips
- Frozen veggies: Green Giant, Alexia, Birds Eye
Other Healthy Eating Tips
- Plan a meal around a salad or vegetable-based soup, then add meat on the side
- Add shredded zucchini or carrots into muffins, bread, and meatloaf
- Participate in “Meatless Monday”
- Instead of all spaghetti, use zucchini or other vegetable spirals as “noodles”
- Slice beets, sweet potatoes, and zucchini thinly and bake into chips
- Bring red pepper, carrots, celery, cucumber, or radishes to work to snack on
- Use pureed vegetables to thicken a soup or stew
- Add vegetables to a stir-fry, on a sandwich, in an omelet, or even in a smoothie!
- Use brown rice instead of white rice when making a stir-fry
- Make stuffed peppers using quinoa instead of rice
- Make a cold Greek salad using faro, olives, tomato, cucumber, red onion, and feta cheese
- Use whole wheat, spelt, or oat flour when baking instead of all-purpose flour
- Make a pilaf using a mixture of various grains
- Use whole grain cereal as a coating for chicken instead of breadcrumbs
- Serve brown rice crackers with cheese
- Use 100% whole wheat pasta or thins sheets of zucchini in lasagna
- Make a wrap with a whole wheat tortilla
- Spread hummus on a sandwich instead of mayonnaise
Registered & Licensed Dietitian Rebecca Youngs is an avid marathoner, loves to work out, and has specialized her practice in gastrointestinal health, as well as sports nutrition and fueling athletes of all levels. She is available for individual consultations at Fit For Life Physical Therapy or through zoom video conference.
Fit For Life Physical Therapy cares for people of all activity levels - to help prevent, recover from, or rehabilitate sports & orthopedic injuries. We are proud to move people every day.
Please visit our website https://www.fitforlifephysicaltherapy.com/, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or text us at any of the phone numbers for our three convenient locations inside Fleet Feet/FrontRunner stores:
Polaris: 1270 East Powell Road Lewis Center, Ohio 43035 ~ 614-981-2065
Upper Arlington: 1344 West Lane Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43221 ~ 614-981-1979
New Albany: 5792 North Hamilton Road, Columbus, Ohio 43230 ~ 614-581-7441