How To Nail Sports Nutrition On A Budget

Nigel Mitchell and cyclist Manon Lloyd in a kitchen
Nigel Mitchell in the kitchen with cyclist Manon Lloyd (Image credit: Courtesy Global Cycling Network)

Whatever your preferred type of exercise is, if you are training regularly it’s wise to think about your diet and how that can support your training. That doesn’t necessarily mean making huge changes – it’s more about ensuring you’re getting the energy you need to perform and the nutrients you need to recover.

When people do consider sports nutrition their first thought is often about supplements. However, these can be expensive, and certainly are not always necessary. For advice on how to make sports nutrition more affordable we spoke to Nigel Mitchell, a nutrition expert who has been advising elite athletes across a range of sports for decades, including British Cycling, Team Sky and British Athletics.

Mitchell is the author of The Cyclist’s Cookbook: Food To Power Your Cycling Life, which is full of easy-to-make and affordable recipes to help support your performance on the bike – or in any sport.

Here are Mitchell’s tips for making sports nutrition more affordable.

Look Beyond Supplements

People think of nutrition and they think of supplements. This is often driven by people feeling that supplements are higher-quality than food, and that they have a more direct impact on performance. But real food is much better-quality and it’s much more affordable. And I’d argue it’s smarter. If you’re choosing whole foods, then what supplies your protein and your carbohydrate will also supply all the micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals as well.

Stock Your Cupboards Smartly

A great thing to have in your store cupboard is mixed beans. There’s a five bean chilli recipe in the book, where you mix all these beans together, and it supplies protein and carbohydrates. Plus, it’s really quite affordable.

In another of the recipes we talk about using things like tinned mackerel on a bagel – keep a store of bagels in the freezer – for a very quick meal. If you’ve got some frozen spinach, add it. It tastes fantastic, it’s really affordable and it’s got everything: carbohydrates, protein, iron, micronutrients.

Shop Around

You can be a bit smarter about where you do your shopping. People go “oh gosh, fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive”, but if you go to some of the more affordable supermarkets, like Aldi or Lidl, their fresh produce tends to be quite a lot cheaper than the equivalent from some of the main supermarkets.

Use Frozen Food

I always have frozen spinach in. It’s really nutritious, tastes great and is really quite inexpensive. It’s the same with other frozen vegetables, and frozen fruit for fruit salads is very affordable. You don’t have any waste either. Many people will buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and leave them to go off.

Think About Nutrition When Considering Value

When it comes to some of the staples, like rice, one of the things to consider is wholegrain versions, which supply a lot more nutrients, a lot more B vitamins and a lot more fibre. They can be a bit more expensive, but since you’re actually getting a lot more nutrition it becomes better value.

Plan Ahead And Batch Cook

This can be the biggest problem for athletes. A lot are on budgets but a lot are also time-poor. I have to be careful I don’t become patronising by saying “cook this, cook that”. A lot of people just don’t have the bandwidth to do it.

Planning can really help here. At the start of the week or at the weekend, plan what you’re going to have for evening meals for the week and plan the shopping around it – that can save so much time. And then do some batch cooking as well.

Nigel Mitchell’s The Cyclist’s Cookbook: Food To Power Your Cycling Life (GCN £16.99) is out now

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Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.