Sometimes it's tough to cook a meal from scratch and crank that darn oven on. And that’s why keeping healthy pantry staples on hand is crucial when you need to munch something that’s easy to whip up.
Plus, pantry staples are excellent for meal prep, since you can store them (with long shelf lives), and use them to create everything from weekday lunches to snacks for training. You not only make the most of your groceries at home but also keep a healthy eating schedule, says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
Yet, while a bag of chips might be a pantry item, it isn’t super good for you. Instead, you should pick pantry items that are packed with nutrients, like protein, fiber, and healthy fats, to fuel your body and mind. Add these items to your shopping cart during your next store run!
Pantry Staples Every Athlete Needs
Pistachios are a convenient source of micronutrients and antioxidants, while also packing six grams of plant based protein and three grams of fiber in a serving. “Research has also shown pistachios to be supportive of gut health. You can make pistachio energy balls, use them as a crust on fish, or even a pistachio pesto to boost healthy fat for joint health and muscle recovery while sneaking in some extra protein,” says Jones. Feel free to go with salt if you like to replenish electrolytes post-workout.
“Medjool dates deliver delicious natural energy and are a good source of potassium, which helps maintain fluid balance and muscle function. They're also one of my top recommendations as a pre-workout snack, dipped in some nut butter,” says Jones. They are great for pre-workout, too. “I also suggest them as a carbohydrate source during endurance exercise lasting longer than an hour to maintain intensity and prevent excess hunger post-workout,” Jones explains. You can blend dates with pistachios 1:1 in a food processor to make energy balls for easy snacks.
Peanuts match up with pistachios to provide the most protein per serving compared to others and provide vitamin E to support the heart, as well as niacin, a B-vitamin important for energy metabolism. Niacin needs may be higher in very active individuals, adds Jones, so make sure to get enough. “You can chop peanuts to add crunch and nutrients to a stir fry or mix them with some dried fruit and keep in a container in your gym bag when you need a quick snack to hold you over til dinner,” she says.
Canned beans are a quick source of protein and iron, two nutrients essential for any active adult. During a busy week, instead of choosing between your workout and preparing dinner, you can just rinse a can and mix with quick-cook quinoa and veggies from frozen packages for a balanced recovery meal, Jones suggests. “They're also great to replace flour in baked goods,” she says.
These seeds are packed with fats and protein for great fuel pre- and post-workout. “Hemp seeds are an item I always have on hand to add to anything and everything. A serving provides plenty of healthy fats that support exercise recovery processes as well as 10 grams of protein and 20% of the daily value of iron,” says Jones. “I sprinkle them onto oatmeal, roasted veggies, salads, and even creamy soups.”
A can of fish is an amazing source of quick, high-quality protein that's fabulous for post-workout recovery. “Since most people do not consume the 8-12 ounces of seafood recommended per week, canned tuna, salmon and sardines are an easy and instant source of protein and omega 3 fats,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
Add some to avocado toast or to a bagel instead of lox. If you are watching carb intake, mix up some tuna or salmon salad with plain Greek yogurt or light mayo and stuff it into a scooped out red or yellow pepper.
“One of my favorite pantry staples is dried plums/prunes. Prunes are a source of potassium, magnesium, vitamin K and polyphenols, which have been shown to support bone health by increasing bone mineral density and reducing bone loss,” says Harris-Pincus. Plus they keep you regular and your gut happy. “Toss a few into a container of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese for refueling after exercise or keep a handful in your gym bag for an energy burst when you need one,” she suggests.