I recently walked into a grocery store looking to buy some water. Having forgot my water bottle that day, I asked the clerk where I could find a bottle of water to purchase. She directed me to an aisle where I could find “all the varieties and brands of water to my liking”. I almost laughed at how ridiculous that sounded—our societal push toward healthier food had led to a generation where grocery stores carry over 20 varieties and brands of water (maple, coconut, mineral, natural, spring, prepared…you get the picture). As a Division I athlete, and now post-collegiate exercise enthusiast, it struck me how complicated and overpriced nutrition products are becoming, and how difficult it can seem to manage your nutrition on a budget. I opted for the cheapest water there (would the $3.50 maple water really make me feel more hydrated than the $1.29 natural spring?).
Like most trends in health, and in society, we have swung to the far end of the pendulum when it comes to nutrition. The large push toward cleaner eating is a positive change for Americans, to be sure, and I recognize some regions of the country may feel this change (i.e. California) to a greater extent. However, athletes everywhere need to learn where to draw the line on spending for premium products to fuel their performance. I’m here to offer you a rough guide to your nutrition on a reasonable budget.
When is it Worth the Extra $$?
Rule #1: Do not skip meals or under-fuel to save money. Refueling takes precedence for elite athletes, and if the only option is to overspend a little, it is worth it.
Rule #2: Plan ahead with your nutrition and you will never be caught in a situation where you need to purchase overpriced items. Packing snacks and fluids to bring with you, or making your own meals instead of buying take-out will alleviate this issue.
Rule #3: Fresh produce is a large component of healthy nutrition. Given the choice between fresh fruits and veggies, and processed/packaged food, opt for the fresh items. People assume fresh produce is expensive, but often times the processed foods can be just as pricey, if not more so.
Navigating the Store: What are the Cheaper Healthy Staples?
On average, the following popular healthy food items fall into these price categories. This will help you decide which items to buy as staples and which to purchase as a luxury.
In the confusing world of modern nutrition, stick to the age-old phrase of “everything in moderation”. This guide can help you trim costs while putting clean fuel in your body, but feel free to tailor it to your personal needs as an athlete. And lastly, choose the cheaper water.