Jan 19, 2018
Grabbing Lunch
Ingrid Skoog

When the midday meal is followed closely by a team practice, this is the most important time of day to consume quality carbohydrates for fueling. It’s also essential to choose foods that are cleared quickly from the stomach to avoid feelings of sluggishness during activity. Higher-fat foods take longer to digest, so these in particular should be avoided.

One mistake athletes commonly make is having just a large salad for lunch. Salads are filling, made with healthy vegetables, and have a high water content to help with hydration, so they must be a great choice, right? In fact, salads alone are not a smart lunchtime meal before afternoon workouts–most vegetables are not high-density sources of carbohydrates or protein, so while they may fill you up, they don’t provide a “full tank” of fuel for a workout or practice. In addition, high-fat extras like dressing, cheese, and croutons may contribute to sluggishness in practice while also wreaking havoc on weight management goals.

For athletes who want a salad at lunchtime, I recommend pasta salads. This convenient and easy-to-prepare alternative packs more carbohydrates than veggie salads, and it’s a great way to make use of leftover odds and ends of cut up meat, cheese, and vegetables.

In the “Lunch” list below, each meal idea offers a great source of midday fuel. I’ve included a special section for meals less than two hours before a workout, again with the priority of limiting fat intake while still obtaining quality carbohydrates. All these lunches require little prep time and little to no cooking skill, and they’re easy to pack in Tupperware or a lunch bag for eating on the go.


To Eat at Home

• Turkey chili

• Low-fat whole-grain crackers

• Piece of whole fruit

• Low-fat milk

• Tuna in pita bread with low-fat ranch or other dressing

• Low-fat milk

• Baked potato with salsa and low-fat sour cream

• Refried beans

• Low-fat milk or fruit juice

• Bean soup: lentil, black bean, or minestrone

• Low-fat whole-grain crackers

• Low-fat milk or fruit juice

Easy to Pack

• Hummus or bean dip

• Low-fat whole-grain crackers or baked chips

• Carrots and celery or whole fruit

• Yogurt or low-fat milk

• Pasta salad: Pasta with cubes of lean meat (ham, turkey, chicken), low-fat Italian dressing, and/or chopped veggies

• Low-fat milk or fruit juice

• Peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread

• Piece of whole fruit or a fruit salad

• Low-fat milk or juice

• Low-fat fruit yogurt

• Piece of whole fruit

• Bagel or baggie of high-protein cereal

• Low-fat milk or juice

Less than Two Hours Before Afternoon Workout

• 1/2 cup of yogurt with 1/4 cup of whole-grain cereal

• Chicken noodle soup

• Low-fat crackers

• Low-fat milk

• 1/2 PB and J sandwich

• 1/2 banana

• Water or fruit juice

• 1/2 cup of quick-cook oats

• Banana

• Water or fruit juice

Ingrid Skoog, MS, RD, CSSD, is a sports dietitian specializing in performance nutrition for collegiate and elite athletes in Eugene, Ore.

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