Meal Prep For the Busy Athlete
Don’t treat nutrition as an afterthought – its role in performance (and health) is just as critical as training and recovery.
When it comes to eating well for health and performance, a bit of forward planning and prep is critical. How one goes about this might vary from individual to individual, or even from household to household. A good plan will allow you to successfully stick to optimal nutrition goals and maximize training and performance goals. And, while it may seem that with training, work, family and other social commitments, we are all getting busier – there are many smart shortcuts that can be taken to ease the burden of meal prep.
WHY MEAL PLAN OR PREP Planning means you are rationally choosing what, and when, you are going to eat to fuel and recover well over a day or week. This is in contrast to waiting until you are hungry and tired, when willpower is low and immediate hunger is the driving force, making it hard to stick to goals. Knowing in advance what you are going to eat also removes the mental energy that can come with deciding what to cook, what ingredients are required and where to shop each and every time.
Meal prep and planning can save you a lot of time and energy, whether you are prepping a stack of meals in one sitting, simply stocking the fridge and cupboard with the basics, or making sure there are always leftovers as a standby. Doing a big shop less frequently saves the time of running to the grocery store every time you need to eat. It also reduces the chances you will turn to convenient, yet less than ideal (and often more expensive) food choices. Also, if you choose to do a big cook, and prepare multiple meals at once, you will save additional time throughout the week – time that can be better spent on recovery, enjoying your family or squeezing in an extra training session.
Shop Often when speaking with athletes, cooking or kitchen skills are not the main barrier when it comes to eating well – organization and shopping are by far the biggest hurdle. Take advantage of buying in bulk and home delivery services.
Stock Keep a stocked pantry and fridge. Ensure staples such as rice, whole grains and oats, legumes, cooking oils, eggs, cheese, fruits and vegetables are always at hand.
Be smart Make use of pre-washed and chopped vegetables and salad mixes, and freeze individual portions of fish or chicken. Make extra servings of dinner, which can be eaten as leftovers. When you have extra time, make use of it. For some people, weekends can be a time where they get a bit of extra time to shop, cook and prepare for the week ahead.
Keep it simple Stick to the basics, while not skimping on nutrition. Some quality carbs, proteins, vegetables and fruits should be the basis of all meals. A few herbs and spices go a long way to keep things interesting.
Cook slow A slow cooker can make meal prep a breeze, plus the slow-cooked dishes usually freeze really well for later on in the week. Put something on to cook and get on with doing other things, like cooking another meal.
Share the load If you live with others, try to share the load – shopping, cooking, washing up – even the smallest family members can contribute to meal time in some way. Divide and conquer.
Experiment and have fun
Try cooking one new dish a week. Meal prep shouldn’t be all chicken, broccoli and brown rice. They should be meals that you (and your family) want to eat.
Take a break Plan on eating out every now and then! Everyone enjoys a break, and eating out can easily fit into any healthy eating plan, especially if it’s scheduled.