Athlete’s Top 10 Shopping List

For professional, elite and serious amateur athletes, heavy training schedules can mean massive amounts of calories need to be eaten each day. 4500kcal for a rugby player is normal, for a tour cyclist this could be 7000kcal, while for a 45kg gymnast they may only need 1700kcal. Whatever the calorie needs, athletes need to pack in as much nutrition punch as possible. That means forgoing nutrient empty junk food, and swapping for food and drinks that will fuel the training and recovery. So what are the things that regularly appear on the pro’s daily shopping list?

For optimum nutrition, performance and health, there is nothing better than REAL food. The incredibly complex makeup of food simply cannot be artificially produced in a supplement powder or pill. Real food provides phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein and possibly, many other beneficial constituents that science hasn’t identified yet.

Sports drinks, supplement shakes and bars can be useful as a stop gap, when good food is not readily available, or when calorie requirements are so high that it is difficult to achieve with food alone. I often use an analogy of the bricks of a house being food, and supplements being the chimney. If you don’t have the nutrition basics of food (walls and roof) in place, it is daft to think that there is any point to having a chimney (supplements).

Here are some top foods that should feature on your shopping list. These are all mostly ‘nutritionally dense’ meaning that they are choca-block full of good nutrition allowing your body to train, perform and recover to it’s maximum potential:

  1. Vegetables – often overlooked in favour of carbohydrates and protein, and served as an after thought with just a spoonful on the plate. Vegetables are absolutely essential to maintain health, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phyto chemicals, fibre etc. all of which simply cannot be bottled or put in a pill. Vegetables also ‘feed’ the healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Easy staples include broccoli, onions, spring onions, peppers, and carrots – not very adventurous, but that is fine! Fresh, frozen, boiled, steamed, microwaved, stir fried, raw…….just get. them. in!LN_012697_BP_9.jpg
  2. Oats – for breakfast, you can’t go far wrong with oats. They are high carbohydrate, so idea to have before or after training. Oats come in various textures, from the very fine in Ready Brek, to the chunky Flahavins. You can add all sorts of things to basic oats to add some oomph: milk, raisins, sliced banana, cocoa powder, cinnamon, desiccated coconut etc. You can also put them in a smoothie for breakfast or for post training recovery. 10 ways with oats
  3. Milk – protein, carbohydrate, low fat, calcium for bones and muscle function. Added to tea, coffee, porridge and breakfast cereals. Research shows that milk post-exercise is just as effective and recovery and rehydration, if not more so, than commercially-available sports drinks005045.jpg
  4. Coffee – because it’s one of life’s pleasures, but also when taken before/during exercise, caffeine has been proven to enhance athletic performance. A recent study showed that two cups of coffee improved endurance performance by 4%.
  5. Peanut butter – good for protein, energy and good fats. If you are trying to drop body fat/weight then go easy as it’s very high in calories – too much is often one of the biggest mistakes for my weight loss clients! Mix a tablespoon in to porridge or spread on oatcakes/rice cakes.
  6. Eggs – one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: high in protein, omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, and iron.  Omelettes, poached, scrambled, fried or to make egg fried rice. You can even mix one in to hot porridge (just don’t put in the microwave with the oats or you’ll get scrambled oat-eggs……yak!)
  7. Rice – carbohydrates are very important for fuelling exercise,
    for recovery, and for the immunity. White rice can be particularly useful when there is only an hour or two between training sessions and fast release carbs are needed. Whole grain rice is higher in fibre, digested more slowly, and is more filling.
  8. Chicken – high protein, low fat, and very versatile. There are endless ways to use chicken: plain grilled, a whole chicken roasted, stir fried, mixed with light mayo and veg in wraps, stuffed with pesto and cheddar cheese. One of the easiest ‘recipes’ is a whole chicken in a slow cooker for 6 hours.
  9. Yogurt – the high protein ones can be particularly beneficial for athletes eg. Total greek yogurt, Danio, Liberte etc These have double the protein of normal yogurts (greek ‘style’ is not usually higher in protein), so good for muscle repair and maintenance. Yogurt also contains ‘probiotics’ which are beneficial for the digestion and immunity.
  10. Salmon – or any oily fish (mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna). Oily fish is the best food source of anti inflammatory omega 3 fats which is essential in every athlete’s diet to reduce muscle inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness. Aim to take at least 2-3 times a week. If you don’t like any of these fish, then I advise taking daily fish oil supplements.288543.jpg


For loads of recipes using all of the above ingredients click…….here!

low sugar biscuits

Hob Nobby Biscuits (low sugar)

Here is a recipe for biscuits that are low sugar, high in fibre and very importantly: high in taste and crumbliness! The original recipe is one from my Mum’s very old and battered ‘Belfast Cookery Book’. I’ve simply replaced half the sugar for desiccated coconut. If you compare these biscuits to HobNobs (an oaty biscuit you can buy in the UK) they are 60% lower in sugar.

They are very popular with my kids, and popular with me because I don’t have the ‘mummy guilt’ about them having a biscuit with too much sugar.


4oz butter/margarine

1 oz caster sugar

1oz desiccated coconut

2oz plain flour

5oz porridge oats


  • Cream the butter and sugar together
  • Add the dry ingredients
  • Roll in to a ball. Flour a surface and your hands.
  • Roll out the dough to biscuit thickness with a rolling pin
  • Cut out biscuit shapes.
  • Put on baking tray, and put in oven (180 c) for approx 20 minutes or until starting to turn crisp and golden.



Oaty Banana and Date Cookies



Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle, with a lovely sweetness from the bananas and dates. These healthy no added sugar cookies are chocca block full of fibre, B vitamins, magnesium and potassium.

Many of my dietetic clients and friends ask me about fruit being full of sugar and therefore being ‘bad for you’. Yes, fruit is sweet, but the sweetness comes from ‘intrinsic sugars’ which the body processes and responds to differently to the sugar found in biscuits, cakes, sweets and fruit juice (extrinsic sugar). Whole fruit is a wonderful source of essential vitamins, minerals and phyto chemicals that are very nourishing for the body. The fibre is also important for the digestive system – not only does fruit keep things ‘moving’ along, it also maintains a healthy micro biome (the beneficial gut bacteria).



2 large ripe bananas

½ cup datesIMG_0866.JPG

¼ cup vegetable oil or coconut oil

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups of oats

small handful raisins or dark

chocolate chips


  1. In a food processor, put the bananas, dates, coconut oil, cinnamon and baking powder and whizz up until smooth.
  2. Mix in the oats and raisins/dark choc chips with a spoon.
  3. Spoon generous dollops (about 2 tablespoons) on to a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Gentle press down so thy splodge out a bit.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes at 170c.
  5. Remove from the hot baking tray and let cool on a cooling rack (no one likes a soggy bottom!)


Super Healthy Flapjacks – no butter or sugar

It can be frustratingly difficult to find a healthy flapjack recipe that isn’t loaded with butter, sugar or syrup. If you would rather not load up on these ingredients, here is an alternative recipe to try.

Here’s why they are so great:

  • Super quick to prepare the mixture
  • No sugar, syrup or butter.
  • Ripe bananas and raisins add the sweetness.
  • If you feel the need for some extra sweetness, you can some honey, but you really don’t need too much.
  • Oats provide soluble fibre to keep you feeling full up, reduce cholesterol, keep your digestive system healthy and blood sugar levels steady.
  • Berries/Raisins are choca-block full of antioxidants and fabulous phytochemicals
  • Seeds/peanut butter are full of protein and healthy fats.


Top tip 1 For a seriously healthy and delicious Bircher Muesli breakfast, keep a few tablespoons of the pre cooked mixture in a bowl overnight in the fridge. In the morning, loosen with more milk.


Top tip 2 Did you know that the chunkier the oat the slower it is digested and will keep you full up for longer?


Basic Flapjack Ingredients  (makes about 9): each provides 90 calories, 1.5g fat, 15g carbohydrate, 3g protein

150ml milk – or a milk alternative e.g. soya, almond, rice milk etc.

2 mashed bananas – the riper the better as sweeter and easier to mash

150g porridge oats (about 2 handfuls)


Ideas for optional extras:

  • a handful of whole/chopped/ground up sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon
  • a tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • a handful raisins or cranberries
  • a few tablespoons of dessicated coconut
  • 1 cup frozen berries (defrosted)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed with a little extra milk (very good for constipation!)
  • For extra protein e.g. as post exercise snack, you can add a scoop of protein powder


Mix all the ingredients together. Put in to cake tin lined with greaseproof paper, or silicone bun cases. You can also make them in to cookies by placing the mixture in cookie shaped blobs on the greaseproof paper.

It can sometimes be a bit tricky to peel the greaseproof paper off, so you can grease the paper first with some oil.

Bake for about 40 minutes at 170 degrees C. Or until they are browning and you can smell the lovely aroma……..this is my method to check for readiness as I usually forget to look at the time I put them in! Enjoy playing around with variations of ingredients 🙂

 If you like these, you’ll also LOVE Seriously Healthy Pancakes (2 ingredients), and Low Sugar Biscuits

Super Simple Smoothie

Here’s a super healthy smoothie using REAL food……a complete breakfast containing protein, antioxidants, calcium, vitamin C and soluble fibre. Nutritionally, this is an incredible combination of ingredients. It’s also an easy way to get fruit in to kids!

Unknown-2IDShot_90x90-2Shop bought smoothies tend to be very high in fruit juice, and therefore high sugar.

150ml milk (normal cow’s/Lactofree/almond/rice milk etc.)

1 tablespoons natural yogurt e.g. Total is high in protein

1 banana/handful of oats

Low fat, high protein yogurt

Low fat, high protein yogurt

handful frozen berries

dollop of honey

Whizz the lot up and serve!

Awesome Granola

I’ve been making this everyday for about 6 months now, and it is still a massive hit with me, my husband, and our two year old boy (the girls, 4 and 7, are stuck on Rice Krispies). I’ve passed the recipe on to countless friends and relatives who are equally smitten.

It’s so easy to make……..5 minutes to mix the ingredients together, and 30 minutes in the oven. It smells AMAZING when it starts to brown in the oven (a sign that it is ready if you forget to time it, like I always do)

Dietitian bit – why it’s good for you:

  • high fibre carbohydrate from oats – chunky oats are filling and full of soluble fibre, energy
  • protein – from the milk, seeds and and a little bit from the oats, muscle maintenance & building
  • fruit – raisins, chocca block with antioxidants and fibre
  • healthy fats – vegetable oil and seeds, help to keep you full up, good fats are essential, but in moderation. If you are watching your weight, then please keep the portions of granola small (about 1/3 to 1/2 a mugful).

And here’s something I’ll tell you for free, from my MSc research on antioxidants in oats: toasting oats produces something called the Maillard Reaction which increases the ‘antioxidant capacity’ (antioxidants are good for you). During the summer of 2001 I spent unhealthy lengths of time in a lab at the University of Ulster with a lot of oats, an oven, a blender and a large expensive machine to come up with that gem!

Granola Recipe:

300g oats (or about 6 handfuls) – I mix 200g chunky with 100g finer oats

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (you can use melted coconut oil, but it doesn’t produce the same ‘crunch’)


Just out of the oven

3 tablespoons honey

1-2 handfuls pumpkin/sunflower seeds

handful raisins or sultanas

generous sprinkle of cinnamon (about a 2 teaspoons)


chunky oats


finer oats

Method: mix the oil and honey together in a bowl. Add the oats, cinnamon and seeds, stir throughly ensuring the oats are coated. Spread on to baking sheet and put in the oven at 150c for 30 minutes. Half way through cooking time (after 15 minutes), add the raisins/sultanas. Remove from oven and allow to cool.


Oats: 10 ways to add oomph!

Oats are a staple in this house with 4 out of five of us having them for breakfast, and daily batches of Seriously Healthy Flapjacks and Oaty Biscuits.

What’s so good about oats?

Oats are very filling, high in soluble fibre, provide slow release energy, keep the blood sugar levels steady for concentration at school/work, calcium and protein from the milk, and fibre and antioxidants from the raisins/berries/banana. And for those of us getting on a bit, oats contain ‘beta glucan’ which is clinically proven to be one of the great cholesterol lowering foods. If you want a low Glycaemic Index oat, go for the chunky ones, as the finely ground ‘instant’ oats e.g. Oats So Simple are actually digested quite quickly, giving you less of the longer term sustained energy release.

Jazzing it up!


Please sir can I’ve some more? Yak, no thanks!!

Porridge can be a bit, well, dull and have a bit of a ‘gruel’ image. My clients sometimes pull a yuck face if I suggest oats for breakfast. But keep an open mind and try something new! There are a million and one ways to jazz up your breakfast oats to make them tasty and delicious…..

It’s an alchemy of three parts:

  1. the oats: There is a wide variety of oat chunkiness. Finely ground e.g. Ready Brek for ultra IDShot_90x90-1smooth, to jumbo and chewy like Flahavins. Slow cook them in a saucepan on the stove, zapp in the microwave in 90 seconds, or just add a smidge of hot water to the chunkies (how I like it).
  2. Water or milk? The debate is on among porridge devotees on the perfect ratio of milk to water. Each to their own………I’m a water only fan, my husband is 50:50 milk to water, youngest daughter Evie likes the oats cooked in water only, with cold milk added (?!) You don’t have to stick to cow’s milk, try almond, rice, oat, soy, or Koko for a change. All of these have added calcium and vitamin D, so you’re not missing out on these essential vitamins!
  3. The Fun Part: jazz your bowl up with a menagerie of ingredients which can be combined to provide endless possibilities! Peanut or cashew nut butter, raisins, coconut, cinnamon, banana puree, honey, maple syrup, grated apple, toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, berries, yogurt. The list is endless……….

10 ways to add OOOMPH to oats:

  1. Power Smoothie – blend a handful of oats, 200ml milk, dollop of yogurt*, frozen berries and honey



  2. Puree banana – roughly mash a ripe banana, put in a cup with enough water to almost cover the banana, microwave for 90 seconds, and voila, a lovely smooth puree to add to you porridge. The more ripe the banana the smoother and sweeter!
  3. Berries – fresh berries can be expensive, so I use supermarket frozen basics range (£1.20for a bag that lasts about a week). Quickly defrost a cup full in the microwave and add to chunky oats with a big dollop of Total yogurt.
  4. Summer Oats – this is soooo good and a refreshing alternative to hot oats. Prepare the night before so that all the lovely flavours develop and are soaked up by the oats. Good for taking to work if you’ve no time first thing in the morning to eat breakfast.
  5. add a dollop of high protein yogurt* to bump up the protein, keeping you full up for longer, and to make it really creamy!
  6. Homemade Flapjacks – eat them as the are, or one of my clients takes two to work, Photo on 01-02-2014 at 07.15 #4crumbles them in a cup with hot milk for a warming breakfast at her desk.
  7. smooth (Ready Brek) – for the non-chunky lovers out there, Ready Brek can be good as it is made from oats, and has the added benefit of vitamins and mineral e.g. lots of iron
  8. Vary the milk – there is such a wide variety these days…..almond, rice, Koko. All have added calcium and vitamin D, so you’re not losing out!
  9. Honey/maple syrup/agave nectar – there’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of sweetness, especially if it means kids gobbling up a bowl of oats.
  10. Dollop of peanut butter – adding good fats and protein, add a tablespoon before cooking so that it melts and you can stir it through.
Homemade muesli

Summer Oats

Benefits of greek yogurt! – double the protein of other yogurts (10g/100g) e.g. Total, Danone, Liberte (not greek ‘style’)