Conquer the kitchen, your nutrition, and your goals in the gym with meal prepping. Here is your ultimate guide how to meal prep.
For many athletes and casual gym-goers the struggle is not making it to the gym every day to work out. The workout routine is dialed in.
The real battle is actually in the fridge and the cupboards of the kitchen. Daily we struggle with making better food choices, fighting the invisible urges, engaging in a seemingly endless number of dietary battles that leave us feeling defeated and drained of willpower.
In other words…the worst.
Enter meal prepping, one of the most powerful things you can do in order to conquer your eating habits. In fact, when it comes to meal prepping, it is all upside.*
Here are just some of the benefits of meal prepping:
- Healthy meals become the convenient choice. How many times have you succumbed to a less-than-optimal meal choice because of sheer convenience? I can’t count how many times I have stumbled in the door after a rugged workout, been unimpressed with what was chilling in the fridge, and picked up the phone for delivery of pizza, or in a better but much more expensive choice, sushi. When you have meals stacked and ready in the fridge, and all it requires is nuking it for :45 seconds, well, the choice to eat healthy is barely a choice at all.
- Cash-money savings. Buying bulk once a week beats shopping 2-3 per week. When you have a meal ready and waiting for you at home you don’t need to fight the temptation to go out for a meal, or call in some delivery, or zip over to the grocery store for snacks and a quick meal. For those who say that eating properly is too expensive I call bulls***.
- It will save you time. Cooking 14-21 meals at once will save you quite literally hours over the course of your week. Besides the willpower you are conserving for other things (“Should I watch Netflix or work on my next blog post?”), you are going to save a metric butt-ton of time not having to hem-and-haw over meals and cook an extra 2-3 times per day. With all that extra time you can fantasize about an extra workout.
- Meal prep makes good food the only choice. It’s funny how we tempt fate with ourselves by having crap food in the house. Because we all know what happens next–at some point we succumb to those urges and then end up ragging on ourselves for not having more willpower to overcome those urges. The reality is that we eat what we see (true story, science says so). With prepped meals the need to have other stuff around the house drops quickly, making good food the main choice.
*Don’t fear the “boringness” of meal prepping.
One of the mental hurdles people have with meal prepping is the notion that you will be shackled to a set of similar meals over the course of the week. The thought of having to eat the same thing over and over again discourages people from trying it, which is too bad.
And it’s also misplaced.
The reality is that if you sat down and tracked your meals for a week or so you would notice that you are already eating basically the same foods and meals over and over again.
How to Meal Prep Like a Champ
If this is your first rodeo with meal prepping, you are in for a world of change! You will be astounded at how long you missed out on this nutrition strategy and wonder why you waited so long to give it a rip.
Two things that noobs should keep in mind:
- Simplicity rules. The first few weeks of meal prepping strive to keep things as simple as possible. Complexity is the enemy of action, and the more cookbooks you have to open, the more trips you have to make to the grocery store, and the more types of meals you need to juggle.
- Treat it as a first draft. Things will inevitably hiccup your first go around at trying to cook enough meals for one full week. You will cook too much. Too little. Not like one or more of the meals you make. Learn from these mistakes and apply them. As you get a better understanding of what meals you like most the process will get easier. The system you use will only get more efficient the more times you do it, so don’t abandon it after one week because it didn’t go as smoothly as expected.
Below is a picture of a recent round of meal prepping that my girlfriend did in less than two hours.
That is 21 meals, all stacked, packed, and ready to go. Besides her shakes and a breakfast of oatmeal and frozen berries her meals were completely taken care of for the week.
1. Target the meals you struggle with the most.
For me, my late night (aka dinner) meals have always been a struggle.
It’s the end of the day, I’m tired, and the accumulated fatigue from training and work make it super easy to justify some comfort food. Breakfast, on the other hand, has never been a problem in my house. It’s my favorite meal of the day, and I have never struggled with cravings or junk-food upon waking up.
As a result, when I started my own meal prepping, it was dinner that was primarily in the cross-hairs. Conveniently, the late night meals are also the ones that were draining my wallet, giving me a nice 1-2 punch on both my nutrition intake and my bank account.
2. Plan your meals ahead of time.
This step should be performed with a dietitian.
Sitting down with a qualified expert and having them design a complete meal plan based on what you like to eat will significantly impact how well you stick to the program. (Nobody wants or should have to eat food they hate, no matter how good it is for them.)
While this step isn’t terribly cheap (my meal plan and initial consultation was several hundred dollars), you truly do get what you pay for, and the returns in health and performance will quickly dwarf the cost.
Having a dietitian help you with your diet plan adds a layer of accountability to your nutrition, which has been shown to be a determining factor in whether or not people stick to their food goals.
3. Build your shopping list.
With your list of meals in your pocket build a shopping list of everything you are going to need to get your Iron Chef on. Being able to hit the grocery store just once a week is absolutely awesome (my local grocery store is always jacked with long-ass line-ups).
Tear through the grocery store with your list and cart, check off the things you need and get your butt into the kitchen.
4. Cook it all at once.
How long it takes to cook your meals depends on the facilities you are using, and how well you have it planned out.
Sweet potatoes take an hour to cook, rice about half an hour, and cold salads can all be quickly portioned into your meal prep containers of choice. With the amount of time it takes for some items to cook it simply makes sense to cook a week’s worth at once.
5. Or don’t!
There is no hard rule about having to cook all of your meals at once. If you are more comfortable cooking a few days worth of meals at once, then so be it. Especially if you are just starting out and the thought of cooking 20+ meals at once sounds intimidating. In fact, meal prepping for a couple days at a time might be just the thing to help convince you of the power of it and get you comfortable with the process.
6. Multitask like a boss.
If you are cooking one thing at a time (chicken, and then sweet potatoes, and then the salmon, etc..) the whole convenience thing starts to ring hollow. While going down a list one at a time feels orderly, it takes too much time.
Make use of the full amenities available to you in the kitchen. The oven requires little oversight, so while you are baking stuff have something going on the stove, while also cutting up and portioning vegetables.
Your multi-tasking skills will improve as you get used to the process.
Meal Prepping Like a Boss — FAQs
What are some good meal prepping books and plans?
There are tons of excellent meal prepping books out there, for every kind of diet, activity level, and goals.
One of my favorite “done for you” meal prep and physical activity planners is Beyond Body, which uses a four-part online questionnaire to build a meal plan and workout schedule based on your specific lifestyle, dietary preferences, and physical capabilities.
- 12 Nutrition Tips for College Athletes. We tapped a group of NCAA division I sports nutritionists and dietitians for their favorite tips for fueling athletes.
- Why Athletes Shouldn’t Skip Breakfast. It’s still the most important meal of the day. Here’s what happens when you miss out on this critical meal.