The Healthy Grocery Shopping Game | STACK

Become a Better Athlete. Sign Up for our FREE Newsletter.

The Healthy Grocery Shopping Game

November 1, 2012 | Jim Carpentier

Must See Nutrition Videos

Build muscle for your sport with a simple formula: strength training + sleep + proper nutrition = success.  

If you’re like most athletes, you probably have the first two elements of that equation down cold. Hit the weight room? Heck, you practically live there. Sleep? Eight hours every night. (See Build Muscle: Get a Good Night's Sleep.)

But nutrition? That’s the tricky part.

See, choosing the right foods—and eating them consistently—can be tough, because although coaches can tell you what to do on the field, or teach you how to get stronger in the gym, only you can control what foods go into your body. You are the head coach of your diet. Call the right plays and you’ll fuel your cells with disease-fighting, energy-boosting nutrients that support muscle growth. Botch the call and you’ll hinder muscle recovery; and when your muscles can’t recover, they can’t grow bigger and stronger.

Making matters worse, your grocery store is a minefield of misinformation. Plenty of foods labeled “healthy” are anything but. So when you go shopping, how can you tell which foods are "in-bounds" (good) and which one are "out-of-bounds" (bad)?

Thankfully, there’s an answer—and it’s simpler than you think. Broadly speaking, you want to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. The areas around the edges of most supermarkets tend to be home to healthy foods like fresh produce, meats and other natural items that pack more nutrition per calorie. The middle aisles tend to house all of that heavily processed junk you’re better off avoiding.

But to simplify the process even more, we’ve developed a four-step game plan—for a four-quarter game—that you can use to quickly track down all the foods you need and avoid the ones you don’t. If you’re serious about maximizing muscle gains, here’s your winning strategy.

Ready? Let’s play ball! (Saving dough? Check out our Grocery List for Eating Healthy on a Budget.)

Finding the "In-Bounds" Foods

First Quarter: Head to the produce section. Stock up on fresh fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. All are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help improve recovery after workouts and reduce muscle soreness. But farm-fresh foods aren’t just helpful after your gym session. Consuming fruit with protein an hour before hitting the weight room will provide you with a natural source of energizing carbohydrates.

Second Quarter: Go hunting. Protein is essential for muscle growth. Some of the best sources of this mighty nutrient are lean cuts of red meat like beef, pork or lamb. Poultry options like chicken and turkey or freshly caught fish also provide high-quality protein in low-calorie packages.

Third Quarter: Head to the dairy aisle. Besides meats and poultry, dairy items like eggs, cheese, yogurt and milk are all excellent sources of protein. And they come with an added bonus: most dairy products are high in calcium, which supports bone health. Oh, and if you want a fast recovery drink to help you bounce back from your next gym session, don’t forget to grab chocolate milk. Its blend of protein and carbs replenishes glycogen stores and rebuilds muscle tissue.

Fourth Quarter: Head inside for grains. OK, by this point in the game, your cart is getting full and your will to shop is draining fast. But don’t give up. Head into the aisles, but don’t get distracted by those highly-processed snack foods. Instead, chase down arginine-rich oatmeal, brown rice and other whole grains that are sources of quality carbohydrates. Snag a few cans or packages of protein-rich beans while you're there. Now, you’re ready to make one last drive for the goal line—or rather, the checkout line.

Overtime: As you’re making a beeline to the cashier, finish strong by purchasing a case of bottled water. Water keeps you hydrated, helps transport the carbohydrates and proteins you eat to the muscles that need them, and assists in clearing your body of free radicals and waste. (Read Hydration Facts Athletes Need to Know.)

Avoiding the "Out-of-Bounds" Foods

Like in any good game against a strong opponent, there may be setbacks in your search for the right muscle foods. So try to steer clear of fouls and penalties: sugary processed cereals, cookies, cake, candy, chips, crackers, soda and “fruit drinks” (buy only fruit juices with “100% pure juice” on the label). Finally, dietary infractions don’t just happen in carb-heavy foods. Protein sources like lunchmeat, hot dogs and sausages should also be avoided. These tend to pack a lot of sodium, nitrates, fat or other processed junk that you just don’t need.

Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as associate health and wellness...
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as associate health and wellness...
Must See
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 34,226,849
Patrick Willis' Homegrown Off-Season Workout
Views: 1,222,351
NFL Wide Receiver Randall Cobb Outworks Everyone
Views: 25,110,522

Featured Videos

Dwight Howard Ab Workout Views: 62,466
John Wall Elbow-to-Elbow Shooting Drill Views: 186,408
Elite Performance with Mike Boyle: Build Explosive Power With Contrast Training Views: 17,723
Load More


STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers


Latest issues of STACK Magazine


Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice


Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes


Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Colby Lewis's Post-Game Band Splitter Routine
Views: 8,349,368
Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night
Views: 3,988,602
Allyson Felix Explains How To Choose a Coach
Views: 8,690,610
Charging Ground Balls With Skip Schumaker
Views: 29,504
Antonio Brown Juggles 3 Footballs
Views: 1,175,033

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

How to Deal With Your Sugar Cravings

One of the most common things that can easily cause people to get off track is not knowing how to manage cravings. Despite all your attempts to be a...

The Boston Cannons'

How to Eat Organic Without Breaking the Bank

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

5 Non-Boring Ways To Eat Chicken

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

10 Athlete-Approved, High-Protein Healthy Cereals

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

10 Easy Ways to Eat Real Food

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

5 Ways to Fuel Your Early Morning Workout

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

The Case for Red Meat

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

Why You Need Dietary Fiber

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

Living Near Fast Food Could Increase Your Odds of Obesity

5 Nutritional Power Combos for Athletes

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

Spice Up Your Healthy Cooking With These Lively Combos

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

The 6 Worst Foods for Athletes

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight