Cheap, Healthy Fuel for Athletes

We have to value food and take an interest in what we are putting in our bodies.

Source: Bev Childress

Every top college and pro sports organization has figured out the obvious: what you eat fuels your performance. Sure, athletes might splurge on cheat meals following exhausting training gauntlets, but by and large, the performance industry has become aware of the edge proper nutrition offers and the disadvantage of inadequate fuel and nutrient deficiency.

Unfortunately, few high school and youth athletes have benefitted from any trickle down effect. On the contrary, the lack of nutritional education and overwhelming availability of sugar-laden sweets in the youth developmental sector is a tremendous embarrassment. Kids subsisting on fast food and treats alone has become a cultural staple, like fireworks on the fourth of July or drug company commercials during the evening news. What’s really needed is a plan of action and exposure to inexpensive, easy staples every young athlete should know how to cook.

Meal Planning Is Critical

Yes, I believe food preparation is an essential skill that every youth should learn. Without this knowledge they have little control over one of the most important arenas of life: what you put in your own body. We should give each child the tools and understanding to promote their own physical vitality. They should know what actions and skills are likely to help them live a longer, higher quality life.

The opposite trend has become the norm, however. Fewer kids than ever know how to prepare healthy meals, likely because the family meal is becoming a historical relic, or at least a holiday novelty. Far more common is for high-schoolers to have fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In fact, this is probably even more common with athletes, whose busy schedules keep both child and parents running around most evenings.

Healthy Food Is Less Expensive

Eating healthy is far more expensive than it should be. Our government ensures this by subsidizing corn, making high fructose corn syrup practically free. Consequently, all those packaged, addictive filled foods, scientifically engineered with ingredients unpronounceable, become the cheap staples of the average American’s diet. Even if it is more expensive, and it doesn’t have to be, consider why wouldn’t you be willing to pay more for food? As the old adage goes, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your priorities are. Most budgets would indicate people value convenience and temporary pleasures far more than their health.

Still, it is actually more expensive to eat fast food a couple times a day. We often reference McDonalds as the convenient, cheap staple. Using them as our example, a sausage biscuit off the dollar breakfast menu and a small orange juice adds up to $2.78, before tax. A quarter pounder with cheese meal that comes with fries and a soda is $5.79, before tax, and to mix it up at dinner we’ll go with the BBQ pulled pork sandwich meal for $4.99. Without adding tax, you’re looking at $13.56 for this day of eating.

Compare this to a trip to Sam’s Club:

  • 10 large chicken breasts average around $17 ($1.98 per pound).
  • 12 pounds of pork chops go for about $27 ($2.28 per pound).
  • 5 lbs of minute Quaker Oats is $3.99.
  • 32 oz of organic chia seeds is $7.48.
  • 3.75 lbs of Sun Maid raisins is $7.16.
  • A 6 count of 12 oz. bags of steamable mixed vegetables is $5.88.
  • A 16 oz bag of Taylor Farms Organic Baby Spring Mix is $3.98.
  • 3 lbs of bananas is $1.38.
  • A package of 2 40 oz jars of natural peanut butter is $9.18.

That may look like a lot of money, but let’s remember this shopping is done before the week begins and is split into meals. Thus, one day’s breakfast of oatmeal, chia seeds, and raisins takes less than three minutes to make and costs $1.50 or less. One day’s lunch of a full pound of chicken and two ounces of baby spring mix is less than $3. Dinner of a full pound of pork chops, along with steamable mixed vegetables, is less than $3.50. These three meals add up to $8 or less. Add to that a daily snack of a banana with natural peanut butter and you are looking at about $8.75 or less per day to eat on this healthier plan. That’s almost $5 cheaper than the fast food day, leaving plenty of room for whatever mixed nuts or additional snacks you think are necessary.

As for the habitual cravings, you must understand this is a process. Only sustainable changes matter, as the yo-yo up and down dieting trends of most people are tough on the metabolism and no fun. Gradual incremental changes will put you on the path to change the way you think about food. It is essential that your approach to food shifts, especially if it is your family and young athletes who you are trying to get eating better. Very little else could be as helpful to their future development as demonstrating healthy eating patterns. Not only do you build willpower, perseverance, and delayed gratification (perhaps the number one indicator of future success), but you provide skills and experience that greatly enhance the likelihood that your child lives a long, quality life.

The Value of Food

Most of human history was spent in search of food. What we eat is important. The expectation that we’d just drive up and be given our food is a level of comfort that truly is startling to think about. We have to value food and take an interest in what we are putting in our bodies. It does not have to be as expensive as many people make it. There are plenty of cheaper options, and even if you don’t eat quite as healthy as the plan I proposed, planning meals and preparing them at home will undoubtedly save money and improve everyone’s health.


1. “McDonald’s Prices and Locations.” Menu With Price. Accessed July 11, 2017.

2. Sam’s Club: Find Wholesale Clubs Near You or Shop Online. Accessed July 11, 2017.