How To Meal Prep Like a Professional
Have you ever heard of someone going to the gym and having a ‘cheat’ workout? Of course not. But you hear about cheat meals all the time. Why?
Because eating well is the hardest part of becoming fit. Your work in the gym won’t mean anything if you don’t back it up with good, clean eating habits. A proper balance of carbs to fuel your body, protein to build your muscles, and fat to satiate your hunger will turbocharge your efforts at the gym.
So why is it so hard to do? Why are you constantly tempted to cheat? One of the biggest excuses is that it’s so hard to prepare good meals all the time. It’s so much easier to eat at McDonalds or grab a snack from the vending machine. This is why meal planning is the number one way to keep your diet clean and your goals within reach.
But how do you do it? How do you plan out a week’s worth of food when you aren’t even sure what dinner tonight will look like yet. Let’s discuss how to master this essential skill for your fitness, your health, and your stomach.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
Why You Should Meal Plan
Meal planning, or meal prep as it’s more commonly called, is the simple way to keep your diet on track. Some people like to make their meals as they go. Meal prep allows you to make a bunch of meals in advance, store them in the fridge or freezer, and simply grab them and go when it’s time to eat. You take all the guesswork and frustration involving with planning your meals as you eat. You don’t have to make any complicated decisions and your meal is stored for you when you get hungry.
One of the biggest obstacles to eating well is hunger. When your body tells you it’s time to eat, you tend to look for the most convenient and quick way to solve that need. “Feed me now”, your body is saying. Often, that means turning to a packet of crisps or bowl of ice cream. By prepping your meals, you give yourself the option to stay on track and still get a convenient and quick top-up when you need it most.
You aren't going to over-eat if your portions are already set. You get to design meals that work for you, and portion them out precisely to avoid over (or under) eating.
Meal plans are a great tool when you need to be strict about your eating habits. If you are following a certain diet like the Paleo or Keto diet, you need to be strict with what you can and cannot have at meal times. If you plan ahead, you avoid the temptation to just add a few extra calories to your plate when you’re getting hungry.
A common reason for not sticking to a diet plan is time. You don’t have enough time to make the meals when you need them. By the time you get home from work, or finish your workout, you certainly don't feel like standing in front of the oven for 30-45 minutes while you wait for the rice to cook and chicken to finish.
However, when you meal prep, you take out all that time by doing your cooking at once. You get to make your meals in advance, grab something from the freezer, and heat it up when you are ready.
Prepping your meals ahead of time, saves time You can simply check the calendar, get out the scheduled meal, and never again ask the question “What’s for dinner?”.
It’s so much easier to shop in bulk and save money when you buy several meals at once. You can enjoy the benefit of making home-cooked meals, which are far cheaper than eating out, and saving on the shopping by buying bulk items instead. A few unplanned trips to the shop here and there can blow out your food budget by as much as 30%. Do one shop and get it all done at once to lighten the load on your wallet.
How to Meal-Prep
The basic premise of meal-prepping is easy. Buy in bulk, cook in bulk, and then store in bulk. . It’s about setting yourself up for success by routinely eating well and consistently keeping in line with your fitness goals.
The good news is that it’s not that hard. The first rule is simple. When you have time to cook, cook multiple meals. If that means that you set aside a couple hours on Sunday to make the upcoming week’s worth of meals, that’s what you do.
It’s not any harder to pan-fry 3 chicken breasts compared to one. Or cook five cups of rice instead of one. Spending some up front time prepping and cooking larger portions will reduce the time required to cook throughout the week with very minimal extra effort required from you.
How many meals will you prep? Do you struggle to figure out a dinner plan every night and find it’s easier to stop for fish and chips on the way home? Plan your dinners in advance. If you’re always getting takeaway for lunch, cook an extra serving at dinner so you can save it for lunch the following day. Determine the meals you need to prep to keep you on track with your diet.
Get a bit of everything in your meal. Plan out your carbs, your protein, and your fat and portion them evenly in each container. Cook your veggies and portion them out. Then add your protein like your salmon or chicken breast. Finally, top with spices. Not sauces. Spices will season the food better and aren’t loaded with hidden calories like sauces.
Create different menus for the week. As an example, make beans, rice, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, chicken and beef. You can make a different meal every day by simply choosing one carb, one or two veggies, and one protein. Beans. beef, and broccoli one night. Chicken, rice, and carrots the next night. Mix it up so you don’t get bored and tempted to order that pizza.
The Resources to Help
If you’re new to the meal-prepping world, you’re in luck. There’s an entire community of people just like you who have hacked their meal prep to make it easier on themselves when they feel like giving up on their diet. You can use some of the excellent resources on the web to expand your prepping horizons.
Meal Planning Apps
We already covered some of the best fitness apps out there, including some excellent meal-planning examples.
We love EatThisMuch, an app that tells you exactly what to eat. You can schedule your month with the right meals, or you can let the app decide for you. You simply input your specific goals and information, and it tells you what to eat. You get a shopping list and a guide to prepping the meals that will serve your fitness goals.
Another great one is FoodPlanner, an app that helps you keep track of your pantry, your shopping list, and offer suggestions on recipes you might like to try.
Meal Planning Sites
There is a great community of like-minded meal-preppers on Reddit’s SundayMealPrep forum. You can find posts with recipes, inspiration, and step-by-step photos of other meal-preppers’ meal plans. It’s full of inspiration and the incentive to get on the meal prepping game.Try new cuisines like Indian and Mexican to discover how different foods can be prepped in advance.
Meal Prep Haven is another site that has recipes and guides to a world of different options.
Here’s a handy guide to some of the tips our readers say have given them the edge when prepping their own meals.
Start Planning - Decide now what you will eat, and you can save your willpower for more important tasks during the week. Make as many decisions as you can such as what meals you will prep, how many meals you will make, and what flavours you will use to season your food. Remember to use spices, not sauces.
Shop after the gym - Your motivation is at an all-time high after working out, so your intentions are good.
Don’t shop on an empty stomach - This should be rule one no matter what. You’ll make inherently better food decisions if your stomach isn’t trying to put food into your shopping basket as well.
Cook in large batches - Cook more rice than you need. Toss an extra few potatoes onto your baking try when you throw it in the oven. Cook an extra chicken breast one night if you’re cooking chicken. Get into the habit of making than one meal’s worth of food at a time, and you’ll find it easier to switch into meal-prep mode.
Use a scale - Measure out your portions so you’re not binging food at one lunch and barely scraping by for the next lunch. Cooking in large batches is all about portioning and planning your food. Get the right macronutrients into each container.
GIve yourself fun meals. Nobody want to eat the same thing day in and day out. Make your meals in advance, but make a couple extra meals with fun ingredients like some spiralized zucchini noodles, or even a couple pieces of pizza. It won’t kill you, and you have something to look forward to during the week.
Meal Prep Takeaways
80-90% of your success in fitness will depend on your diet. Harsh, but it’s true. So, spend a good amount of time tracking, planning, and prepping your food to give yourself the best chance of reaching your goals.
It’s convenient, cheap, and not that time consuming. You’ll be hooked, and you’ll never again find yourself standing in front of an open fridge, wondering how to throw a meal together with a half-bottle of mustard and some pumpkin.