When you’re busy with games and practices during the week, having some dinner ideas for athletes will help with meal prep and planning.
Therefore, you should have some ideas for quick and easy athlete dinners ideas so that meet you meet your energy and fueling goals. This will ensure that you stay on top of your sports nutrition plan.
In this blog post, we will share our basic meal plan building blocks for athlete dinners.
Then we’ll share some of our favorite delicious and healthy dinner ideas for athletes that you can use as good meals the night before a game, for a pre game meal or for a post game or post practice meal.
Read on for more about healthy athlete dinner meals.
Why are dinners for athletes important?
As an athlete, it’s important to pay attention to what you eat, especially during dinner. Since eating a balanced dinner helps you replenish and refuel your body after a long day of physical activity, make sure to plan ahead.
Eating the right nutrients during dinner aids in repairing and building muscle tissue, replenishing muscle glycogen (energy) stores and prepares you for the next day’s game or workout. (1)
Depending on what time your games or practices happen, you may need to adjust your dinner and eating schedule. You may have an early dinner before a game or practice, or perhaps a late evening dinner after a night game.
Also you may need to eat your dinner in the car!
What is the best athlete meal?
The best athlete meal includes the key building block nutrients for a performance plate such as carbohydrates, protein, color (vegetables and fruits) and healthy fats. As an athlete, your body needs a balance of nutrients to fuel your performance and recovery.
Carbohydrates for athlete dinners
Carbohydrates are essential for athletes since they provide energy to fuel your workouts. Good sources of carbohydrates for dinner include whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, sweet potatoes and whole wheat pasta.
Since these complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, they’ll provide a slow and steady uptake of energy throughout the night.
Include protein as an athlete dinner component
Protein is also critical for athletes as it helps repair and build muscle tissue. Good sources of protein for dinner include lean meats like chicken or turkey, fish like salmon or tuna, eggs and plant-based sources like beans, lentils, tempeh and tofu.
Add color to athlete dinners
Color (fruits and vegetables) are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, polyphenols, antioxidants and fiber that reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, support digestive health and aid in recovery.
Good sources of colorful fruits and vegetables for dinner include leafy greens like spinach and kale, colorful bell peppers, berries and citrus fruits.
Healthy fats to include for athlete dinners
Healthy fats provide energy, support hormone production, lubricate joints and aid in nutrient absorption.
Good sources of healthy fats for dinner include avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon.
What do athletes eat for dinner?
To make athlete dinners easier, it’s good to have some basic meal plans in mind.
At our house, some staples for athlete dinners include rice bowls, burritos or tacos, grilled protein and sides, main meal salads, pasta and sheet pan meals.
You can mix and match flavors if you’ve prepped ahead of time and have lean proteins, grains and veggies cooked and ready to go for dinner. In fact, you don’t even need a recipe.
1. Rice bowls
For rice bowls, start with a base of brown rice, or another grain of choice. Pile high with lean protein, roasted and raw veggies, hardboiled egg, avocado and a drizzle of your favorite sauce.
Then, choose your flavor profile. Will it be Asian food based with teriyaki, ginger and sesame seeds? Or will it be a southwest flair with black beans, salsa and guacamole?
2. Burritos and tacos
Add lean protein, fajita veggies, sliced red cabbage, chopped tomato and onion to make a burrito or taco. For additional proteins or grains, add beans and rice inside your burrito or next to your taco.
You can also add additional toppings such as guacamole for a healthy fat or sour cream and cheese to boost your calcium intake.
3. Grilled proteins and sides
Grill lean protein such as chicken, fish, shrimp or pork loin and veggies for a quick and easy meal that requires no clean up. You may also opt for plant based protein such as tempeh, tofu or a plant based burger.
Check out this recipe for one of our favorite grilled tofu options.
Also, make sure to marinate proteins separately from veggies to ensure food safety.
4. Main meal salads
Salads can be a main meal when you make sure you add high quality lean protein, carbs and healthy fats. Start with a mix of leafy greens such as kale, arugula or spinach. Then add beans, roasted potatoes, veggies, nuts, feta and eggs.
Add a side of bread or a scoop of quinoa or brown rice to bump up your carbohydrates.
You can’t go wrong with a big bowl of whole wheat pasta or gluten free pasta, tossed with your favorite pesto or red sauce with lean ground turkey meatballs or grilled shrimp. Boost the fiber content of your dinner meal by adding roasted veggies.
Sprinkle with parmesan and add a side salad.
6. Sheet pan meals
Another one pan wonder with little prep and clean up. Sheet pan meals are excellent for quick and easy meals. Simply toss cut up veggies with olive oil and salt, lay out on a sheet pan.
Then add your favorite lean protein and pop in the oven to roast for a quick and tasty meal.
25 dinner ideas for athletes
Here are 25 athlete dinner ideas based on performance plate meals that include carbohydrates, protein, colorful fruits and vegetables and healthy fats:
- Grilled chicken breast with brown rice, mixed vegetables and sliced avocado
- Quinoa salad bowl with roasted vegetables, chickpeas and feta cheese
- Grilled salmon with sweet potato fries and roasted asparagus
- Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce, lean ground turkey and sautéed spinach
- Black bean and sweet potato chili with whole grain bread
- Chicken stir-fry with brown rice, mixed veggies and sliced almonds
- Tuna salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes and avocado
- Spicy shrimp with quinoa and mixed vegetables
- Grilled pork chops with roasted root vegetables and green beans
- Baked salmon with quinoa and roasted Brussels sprouts
- Lemon chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and green salad
- Grilled tofu with brown rice, sautéed kale and sliced avocado
- Turkey and vegetable meatballs with whole grain pasta and marinara sauce
- Southwest-style quinoa bowl with black beans, corn, salsa and avocado
- Baked chicken with roasted butternut squash and green salad
- Sautéed shrimp with quinoa and roasted mixed vegetables
- Vegetarian chili with whole grain bread and mixed greens
- Grilled steak with roasted sweet potatoes and roasted cauliflower
- Sheet pan chicken, roasted vegetables and quinoa with tahini sauce
- Seared tuna with roasted vegetables and mixed greens
- Baked sweet potato with black beans, salsa and guacamole
- Lentil and vegetable soup with whole grain bread
- Turkey and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice and sliced almonds
- Quinoa stuffed bell peppers with ground turkey and kale salad
- Grilled shrimp with sweet potato fries and broccoli
These athlete dinner ideas include a balance of carbohydrates, protein, colorful fruits and vegetables and also healthy fats to help fuel your body and optimize your performance and recovery as an athlete.
What should an athlete eat at night
At night an athlete should eat a late evening snack with protein and carbohydrates. This gives your muscles additional energy for repair and recovery in addition to topping off energy stores.
Foods such as low fat greek yogurt and berries, string cheese and crackers or peanut butter and toast are healthy snack options.
If you’re wondering what to eat the night before a game, check out our post.
As part of your athlete nutrition plan be sure to plan and prep for dinner ideas for athletes that will help your body recovery from a hard day of activity.
These healthy athlete meal ideas will provide you a balanced athlete dinner meal with the key nutrients to optimize your performance.
Which meal will you try tonight?
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 20 years in public health and nutrition experience. As a performance nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.