Eating on a Budget: Healthy Options for Ultimate Players that Won’t Break the Bank

Eating healthy can be expensive. But not all nutritious foods geared for athletes have to sting your wallet. Kate Schlag shares some great food options for budget-conscious ultimate players.

EggsIn a previous article, I wrote about how, in order to eat enough calories to train, many athletes resort to hypercaloric and nutrient-void foods like frozen pizzas and bowls of ice cream. In my ideal world, an athlete would use avocado instead of mayonnaise on his between-game sandwich; eat salmon instead of a burger on Saturday night; and opt for walnuts over chips. But as “mr. cheapo” points out in his comment, “Some of us are on food stamps. We need to consume all those calories, AND they have to be healthy/organic/unprocessed? I want to, but I don’t know how…How do we stay healthy on a budget while still consuming enough food? Give me specifics; what are your go-to’s?”

In my experience, teams are usually divided between the players who are more than willing to pay extra to have a bed at every tournament and players who would rather sleep in a tent at Nationals than pay a cent more. Luckily for Mr. Cheapo–and the rest of the ultimate population on a budget–I’m a cash-strapped student as well; here are my recommendations for getting the most nutrition for your dollar.

Bananas

Cost: $.32/one banana

Bananas are a great unprocessed source of fast-digesting carbohydrates, providing immediate energy before a game or a track workout. They also offer the portability and convenience of a sports drink without the price tag: bananas are packed with magnesium and potassium, two key electrolytes that are lost through sweat.

When to eat: Eat a banana before a workout or during one for quick energy.

Pair it with: For more sustained energy, pair a banana with one tablespoon of peanut butter: the healthy fats in nut butters slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, making you feel fuller for longer.

Eggs

Cost: $.20/one egg

At 36 grams of protein per dollar, eggs are one of the cheapest sources of protein available. Many experts regard eggs as the perfect protein due to their amino acid profile, making them an ideal source of protein for vegetarians and omnivores. Don’t throw out the yolk–it contains choline, a nutrient that is lacking in most Americans’ diets that contributes to brain function and development and may help fight fatigue.

When to eat: Eat two eggs for breakfast: studies show that consuming a high-protein breakfast increases satiety, helps prevent unhealthy snacking at night, and improves cognitive performance. Or cook two up after a workout; their balance of proteins is ideal for muscle recovery.

Pair it with: Any complex carb, like sweet potatoes or whole grains; the fiber will help make your breakfast or meal even more sustaining.

Can you eat too much? Many people are concerned about the cholesterol in eggs, but epidemiological studies show no evidence between moderate consumption of eggs and a risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, egg eaters often show improved lipoprotein profiles than non-consumers.

Peanut Butter

Cost: $.31/two tablespoons

You probably already know that peanut butter is a great source of healthy fats, especially the monounsaturated fats that can help lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. But it’s also a relatively good source of vegetarian protein: peanuts contain more protein than any other legume or nut.

When to eat: As long as you can find a way to bring it with you (I recommend Justin’s Nut Butter Squeeze Packs for their single serving convenience), peanut butter can be a quick shot of protein and healthy fats any time you need a boost.

Pair it with: A banana: you’ll get quick-digesting carbohydrates, muscle-building protein, and hunger-quashing fats. If you want to up your peanut butter game, make homemade peanut sauce and use it as a dressing on salad and vegetables: the healthy fats increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A.

Sweet Potatoes

Cost: $.50/medium sweet potato

Many diets–especially the increasingly popular-among-athletes Paleo diet–demonize carbs, but they’re essential for athletes: they’re your primary source of energy and can help improve endurance. Athletes tend to snack on processed, simple carbs like white bread, chips, and cookies, but sweet potatoes are a better (and cheaper option): they provide complex carbohydrates, which are broken down more slowly and thus provide sustained energy. They’re also rich in potassium (one medium sweet potato serves up 438 mg), which helps maintain a proper fluid balance in your body to help prevent muscle cramps.

When to eat: While I do know a few players who have brought roasted sweet potatoes to games, they’re not the most travel-friendly food. Eat them before or after a workout: their complex carbohydrates will provide fuel before a workout and replenish glycogen stores post-workout.

Pair it with: At breakfast, pair them with eggs and a dark leafy green vegetable in a hash; at dinner, pair them with a protein (grilled fish or chicken) and your choice of vegetables.

Beans

Cost: $.12 per ¼ cup, uncooked (about ½ – ¾ cup cooked)

For just more than a dime, you can get 15 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein–a nutritional package that neither protein-rich meat nor fiber-rich whole grains can rival. Like other complex carbohydrates, beans have a low glycemic index, meaning they’ll offer slow-releasing and sustained energy. Their variety and versatility means you can add them to just about anything, like salads, soups, side dishes, and dips.

When to eat: Beans may be best left for dinner or after a workout: their fiber may cause digestive distress in some athletes.

Pair it with: It’s a myth that you have to pair vegetarian protein sources with other vegetarian proteins to get a “complete protein”–so you don’t have to serve rice with your beans. Alternatively, look to pair beans with other foods high in vitamin C (like bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, berries, and citrus): vitamin C helps increase the absorption of non-heme iron (the type of iron found in vegetarian foods).

Canned Salmon

Cost: $.75 per serving

A typical American diet is high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids, a balance that leads to a chronic pro-inflammatory state. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for athletes, as they help reduce chronic inflammation and promote a faster recovery. Omega-3s also increase blood flow to the muscles following exercise, reducing swelling and muscle soreness.

When to eat: Because of its omega-3 fatty acid and protein content, canned salmon is a perfect post-workout recovery food.

Pair it with: Add salmon to greens and other vegetables to bulk up a salad, or make salmon burgers instead of beef burgers the next time you grill.

  1. Kate Schlag
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    Kate is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley. As an RD, she is looking forward to a career in sports nutrition and nutrition communications. She started playing ultimate with USC’s Hellions of Troy and now plays for San Francisco Polar Bears.

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