How to Meal Prep for Success: Tips and Tricks For Every Fitness Goal
Regardless of your physical goal, the research is clear and undisputed: Both exercise and diet are fundamental for fast results and long-term maintenance.
Yet, it's often your nutrition and diet that lies between you and your goals, slowing down or even sabotaging your efforts in the gym. But there's one secret that bodybuilders, athletes, and dietitians all use to achieve success. If you want to save time in the kitchen, take the guesswork out of your diet, and stay on track, strategic workout meal prep is for you.
The Importance and Benefits of Meal Prep
Hectic weekday mornings. Tired afternoons and evenings. Chaotic weekends. Life gets busy, and who hasn't left the gym or rushed off to work only to realize they didn't have any healthy meals or snacks prepared?
"I'll stop for some fast food just this once," you might tell yourself. "It's okay if I skip my meal after the gym just for today," you may say. Yet life's pace never slows down, and these little cheat meals, skewed macronutrients, or tempting snacks or desserts can quickly become a bigger pattern.
Your "total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of healthy eating," warns the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explaining that no amount of so-called superfoods, fad diets, or fitness supplements can compensate for your overarching nutrition.
And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the benefits of meal prep:
- Meal prep saves you time and money thanks to advance shopping and preparation.
- Home meal prep is linked with an overarching healthier diet.
- Meal prep has been shown to lead to better diet adherence and nutrition, which researchers say supports better weight management, energy, and strength.
- Meal prep reduces the temptation of unhealthy snacks, fast food, or cheat meals.
You don't need to be a Michelin-star chef or a nutritionist to create a smart meal prep plan. Anyone — from casual weekend warriors to those gunning for a bodybuilding competition — can begin meal prepping today.
How to Build a Meal Prep Plan For Your Workout Routine
1. Pick a Grocery Shopping and Meal Prep Day
Set aside one or two specific days (many people opt for the weekends) where you'll devote your time to meal planning, going to the grocery store, and cooking. The magic of meal prep is you create your menu, do your shopping, and cook up a big batch of food all in one go. Then, you get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor all week — no planning, kitchen cleanup, or grocery shopping required.
2. Start Small
Many athletes and gym-goers meal prep all of their week's meals, but biting off more than you can chew can overwhelm you and cause you to give up on meal prepping. Focus on a small, manageable goal, such as weeknight dinners or office lunches, and expand your meal prep schedule as you grow more confident with the idea.
3. Plan Your Menu
A meal prep menu typically takes a few different approaches:
- Make one giant version of a recipe that you can split up into multiple meals (e.g., a giant pot of chili that you can stretch for a week or freeze and use over the course of several months).
- Make individual daily meals in advance that you can reheat during the week, which is ideal for dinnertimes (e.g., a tray of baked chicken, a pot of stew, and a casserole).
- Make an assortment of ready-to-eat ingredients that you can mix and match each day (e.g., quinoa, rice, chicken breasts, and veggies—all of which can be cooked and combined in different ways).
If your general goal is general wellness and healthy weight management, don't overthink it. The healthiest meal plans always include the following:
- One high-quality protein
- One or two vegetables or legumes
- One carb or starch
- Limited to no added sugars, excess salts, or refined grains
- Search by ingredient types
- Search by meal category (e.g., lunch, dinner, appetizers, etc.)
- Search by calories and macronutrients
- Export a list of required ingredients for an instant grocery list
If you have a specialized fitness goal, consider the following:
- Familiarize yourself with your macronutrient needs based on your weight loss, athletic, or strength goals.
- Calculate your daily caloric needs using calculators from trusted sources like the American Council on Exercise.
- For bulking meal prep: Increase your protein and carbs/starches in each recipe, and pack your day's meals into five or six to-go containers (more on food storage below) to help you hit your higher-than-average caloric intake needs.
- For cutting meal prep: Emphasize lean proteins and fats with a slight daily caloric deficit (try these cutting-friendly low-calorie meals).
4. Structure Your Meal Prep Day
It's all about efficiency and scheduling:
- Review the recipe or recipes you've collected for the week.
- Prep all your ingredients, whether it's marinating your protein or chopping your vegetables.
- Multitask: Start with the meal that takes the longest to cook, then start your next recipe while that initial meal is cooking.
- Create your portions: Use a food scale or the serving guide in each recipe to dish out each recipe into individual meals.
- Store: Pack away your food into compartmentalized, leak-proof containers. Make sure the containers are safe to use in the freezer, microwave, and dishwasher to avoid any issues.
Tips and Tricks for Workout Meal Prep Success
Whatever your meal plan, power-up your meal prep gameplan:
- Find recipes that use similar ingredients. For instance, baking a big pan of chicken thighs could give you all the chicken you might need for chicken tacos, chicken enchiladas, chicken sandwiches, and chicken salad.
- Think "cook once, eat twice" and double each recipe for twice the food with minimal extra effort.
- Reuse recipes that you enjoy, and as you build your meal prep menu, you can save money by watching for sales or coupons on your most commonly used ingredients.
- Embrace the convenience of kitchen appliances, such as a slow cooker or a rice cooker, to make cooking even more effortless.
- Don't be afraid of "semi-homemade" meals made with convenience foods—for instance, pre-cut veggies or pre-measured spice mixes.
- Break up your meal prep if you're very busy—for example, prep and portion your produce when you get home from the store. The next day, marinate your protein. Then, on day three, cook and combine.
And while meal prep can help you better adhere to your diet and nutritional needs, there will always be days when life throws you an unexpected curveball. Protein shakes, meal replacement bars, and fitness supplements can help fill your dietary gaps. Browse Tiger Fitness' best-selling collection of health and wellness supplements today for all the healthy snacks, meal replacement ideas, and supplements you need!