You’ve decided it’s time that it’s at least worth a try to meal prep and see if it really can save you time, money and help you meet your fitness goals. That’s great news because the truth is that meal prepping for the gym isn’t just a great way to stay on track with your fitness targets, but it also helps you develop a healthier relationship with food and become more mindful about what you’re putting into your body.
So what’s the key to making sure your eating plan stays on track? Making sure you have plenty of pre-made options on hand that meet your fitness targets.
Here’s the thing that everyone needs to understand – you don’t have to be training for a race or competition to reap the benefits of meal prep! Knowing what goes into your meals will actually go a long way in making sure your hard work from the gym is visible. After all, muscles are made in the gym but seen in the kitchen.
Research has shown that people who cook their own dinner six to seven times a week consume fewer calories overall compared with those who don’t. The reason? Because you have more control over what goes into your food. Let’s take a look at why you need to meal prep as well as the pros and cons, and we’ll explore a few sample prep menus too. Once you’ve read this guide, the only thing left to do will be to head over to our meal prep cooler bag roundup and find the right bag for you!
Why You Need To Meal Prep
Meal prepping might take a little bit of time on the front end, but the results are well worth it on the back end. Having your food ready to eat when hunger strikes helps prevent you from reaching for unhealthy snacks and pre-packaged foods. And since we know that a protein-rich diet is better fuel for your muscles than pre-packaged convenience foods, meal prepping is a simple choice.
Organizing your meals means you’ll have a clear idea of when you’re eating and how much you’re going to consume. Everyone’s caloric needs and macro splits are different, so there’s no blanket statement here about how many times you should be eating or how large your portions should be. We like to follow the very old-school saying, “Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.” That might not stick for everyone – especially if you have to train in the evenings, but it’s generally a decent rule to stick with. No matter what your portion sizes look like or your macro targets, make sure you organize each meal around a quality protein, a complex carb, and a portion of healthy fats.
Meal prepping is all about planning. Before you head to the market for the week, decide what you’re going to eat. If this feels nerve wrecking, no worries – there are tons of apps available to help with your recipe planning efforts. Or you can go old school and select your recipes yourself. No matter how you arrive at what you’re going to eat, the key here is that you go to the food store with a list in hand. There are definitely some things you should keep in your pantry at all times, but we’ll get to that later.
Once you’ve assembled all of your ingredients, the next step is prep! This might take some time, especially if you’re new to the kitchen, but that’s okay. Think of every meal you make as another way to make your gains. After preparing your meals, you need to portion them out. Weigh and measure your food to keep your serving sizes in check. Everyone is going to have a different macro target, so there’s no one size fits all here. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you stay in line with your own goals.
Finally, transfer your meals into food storage containers and stock your fridge. Depending on the size of the storage you have available, you might only have room to prep for a few days at a time. That’s completely fine, so long as you choose well.
For example, if you have tons of time in the morning, you might not need to prepare breakfasts ahead of time. So, your time would be better spent preparing lunches, snacks, and dinners. Or, if you have plenty of free time in the evening, cook your final meal fresh every day and focus on other choices.
One of the most amazing benefits of leal prepping is how customizable it is – not just for your eating style, but also your lifestyle.
The Pros and Cons of Meal Prep
By now, you might be wondering if there are any downsides to meal prepping, what with all of the very obvious advantages. There are some definite cons to batch cooking that you should be aware of.
First of all, if a recipe is gross, you’re stuck with it for several days until you finish the batch. That’s annoying on its own, but when you’ve also dedicated your free time to batch cooking, it can feel even more frustrating.
Shopping lists require a lot of planning, so that’s another thing to keep in mind. Meal prep takes time and takes effort.
Similarly, if your plans change at the last minute, your prepped meals might end up going to waste.
But, giving up a few hours on the weekend to prep your food and plan your week is just about the same as giving up a few hours every day to train in the gym. When you start to look at meal prepping as just another facet of your fitness routine, you’ll find that the time is well spent. Since eating home-cooked food is generally less expensive than eating at restaurants, it’s even more lucrative to explore batch cooking. If you’re ready to take your fitness to the next level and want to really focus on your macro goals, there’s no other way except batch cooking.
Some Meal Ideas
Remember when we mentioned that you should have some pantry items always on hand? Well, part of that is to be able to craft simple meals out of quality ingredients. Items you might consider always keeping on hand include tinned beans, fishes, and vegetables, brown rice, brown rice pasta and other complex carbohydrates, and high-quality oils like avocado or coconut oil.
Here’s a sample prep menu to help you get started.
- Oats with scrambled egg whites and berries. Or scrambled eggs on sprouted-grain bread with a side of fruit (melon or berries).
- Grilled shrimp over salad and balsamic vinegar with avocado. Or grass-fed beef burger in a low- carb wrap with lettuce, tomato, and mustard.
- Salmon fillet with brown or white rice and green and yellow zucchini noodles. Or grilled chicken breast over quinoa with grilled eggplant and asparagus.
- Fresh fruit with cottage cheese (1%, no salt added) and 4 tablespoons of mixed nuts or almonds. Or whey-protein shake blended with ice, PB2, a small banana, and almond milk.
How Many Days Should I Prep For?
That’s completely up to you. This varies depending on how much time you have available each week to prep, the number of food storage containers you have on hand, and how much space you have in your fridge. Most people find prepping for two or three days in advance is generally helpful. Of course, that might change for your personal circumstances.
Keep your meals tasting fresh for longer by letting them cool down completely before putting them in the refrigerator. This helps avoid the condensation that makes food soggy.
Cut down on food waste by purchasing under-ripened veg or frozen veg. Tinned is also a good choice and helps develop a well-stocked pantry.
Some Useful Meal Prep Tools
If you’re going to get serious about meal prepping, there are some useful meal prep tools you should definitely consider purchasing. This list assumes that your kitchen already has basic staple items like measuring spoons, cooking spoons, baking dishes, and a set of mixing bowls.
- Food scale
- Meal prep containers
- Cool bag
- Reusable plastic bags
Preparing what you’re going to eat ahead of time is just another step in your journey toward a healthier body. It helps provide a better estimate of monthly food costs and helps cut down on random buys. It even helps you stay on track to reach your fitness goals sooner. Of course, there’s a learning curve with meal prep, but there’s a learning curve with everything. Embracing batch cooking means that you’re enabling yourself to obtain the results you want.
Think of your meal prep as a super intense HIIT workout where your one goal is to keep going until it’s all complete. Yes, it will be messy, and yes, it will take a while, but it will be so worth it in the end.