Eating healthy on a budget is possible. And this study conducted in the USA in 2019 confirms it. The point is that nowadays prices have gone up while wages have not. Sometimes we simply have to set priorities to reduce expenses. Food should be one of those priorities, especially for athletes, no matter their level. There really is no need to buy supplements or superfoods. We do not need so much protein, vitamins or minerals either. There are many myths and little time.
To save that precious time, we can change habits and adopt strategies that allow us to follow a healthy diet without hurting our wallet. Before we begin, please remember that many of these recommendations complement each other and there is no point in buying healthy and cheap products if they are not preserved or cooked properly and end up in the trash. Calculate the time and set priorities. If yours is health and sport, take a look at these tips:
Plan your meals to buy only what you need
Nutrition and training go hand in hand. Therefore, if you have a workout plan, it makes sense to have a nutritional plan as well. This means a range of foods needed for your meals, which leads to creating a list of products and quantities to do the shopping once a week. This way you save time and also money on transport.
We aren’t personal trainers or nutritionists, so we have to follow their advice. Therefore, from their teachings and from our own personal experience, here we have already suggested 20 breakfast ideas with only 3 ingredients (part 1 and 2), also how to fuel your body for training at different times of day and, last but not least, what and how much to eat based on workout duration and intensity. It’s not professional advice, but it’s a great place to start.
Don’t go shopping hungry or in a hurry
Now, you’ve got your shopping list. You finish work and do your workout. You’re done, have a shower and go shopping hungry. Wrong. Especially if you don’t have healthy eating habits. If you do, it’s much easier to resist the temptations, but right next to plain oatmeal there are all kinds of packages and wrappers that are much more eye-catching. Next time you go shopping, take a good look at the products and you’ll see that the least healthy products are the most eye-catching and, even if you have a shopping list, it is very easy to succumb to temptation.
Shopping in a hurry is not a good idea either because it can make you forget about the shopping list, you may miss some of the items or, since you don’t have time, you may end up choosing a more expensive and less healthy option. We’ll talk about quick and healthy alternatives in case of emergency later, but let me just say that preparing a salad using pre-cooked chickpeas, a can of tuna fish and pre-baked peppers plus a yogurt, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper dressing, takes the same time as cooking a frozen pizza. Plus you save money on electricity.
Special deals and seasonal products
Look for deals on the foods from the list. Especially if you eat them regularly or they have a long shelf life so that you don’t have to throw them away. For example: rice, oatmeal, legumes, plant or cow milk, raw or roasted nuts…
Nowadays almost all foods are available all year round, but their price may vary depending on whether they are in season or not. This is especially true for fresh and local produce, because the closer the food is produced and the shorter the supply chain, the cheaper it should be. Same should apply to seasonal products being the cheapest when it’s their season. But the market has its own rules, and sometimes fresh seasonal and local produce is more expensive than goods that come from pretty far away. If you cannot afford fresh and local stuff, it’s fine, there are other options.
Frozen and healthy processed products
When you are on a tight budget, the frozen food section and the variety of processed foods are excellent alternatives to fresh produce. Just make sure you choose well because frozen foods, apart from nuggets, French fries and ice cream, are also vegetables, fish, seafood and fruits. Again, they have a much less appetizing packaging, but let’s be honest, the end result of a frozen pizza is way less appetizing than its picture on the box.
We often hear about processed foods and the first thing that comes to our minds are those artificially-colored cereals that seem to have little to do with real food. However, following the NOVA food classification system, these products are ultra-processed and we have to remember that among the processed and minimally processed foods we can find quality products such as canned fish, bottled vegetables, roasted nuts, ready-to-serve rice cups or other cereals, or the frozen products mentioned above.
Price, calories and health
In order to do sports, we need to be healthy and have energy (calories). There are many products on the market that provide a lot of calories for very little money, but they are not healthy. In contrast, fruits and vegetables are very healthy but provide very little energy given their price. These are some of the reasons why people with lower incomes have poorer health and a higher risk of developing illnesses. Although, we can see in the chart above from this study conducted in the United States that legumes, eggs and cereals are cheaper than sweets and sugary drinks.
In other words, there are healthy, inexpensive, calorie-packed options to meet the energy needs of any athlete. Let’s make it clear: If it were only a question of calories, Tour de France cyclists would run on croissants and sugary drinks, but they opt for healthy energy-dense foods (rice, oatmeal and pasta) combined with eggs, meat and fish plus fruits and vegetables.
Home cooking and DIY recipes
All of the above would be useless if you don’t get down to work. Sure, it requires effort and an expense in electricity or gas, but the best way to save time and money is batch cooking. Prepare rice, legumes, eggs, meat and vegetables at one time of the week to reduce gas/electricity consumption and also to always have those resources in the fridge/freezer and pull them out when you’re short on time. If there is nothing at hand, we run the risk of resorting to more expensive and maybe less healthy options.
DIY recipes aren’t just about breakfast, lunch and dinner. All those products that athletes consume before, during and after exercise can also be made at home. In this post, you will find ideas for homemade drinks, gels and energy bars.
We have got till the end of the process and, if we have done everything right, we shouldn’t have to throw anything away. Sadly, it’s not always the case and the amount of food that is wasted and thrown away per year is insane. That is why we should do our best to use leftovers for other recipes, repeat meals twice a day, freeze food, never throw away broth… These are just some of the ways to make the most of the money spent. Our mothers and grandmothers are experts in this field so ask them or search for solutions online. Just look up aquafaba and you’ll be surprised.