Forward planning is one of the key skills of successful nutrition. Experience has shown me that those athletes who dedicate some time towards planning and preparing food usually make the most progress towards their goals, particularly if that goal is weight loss. In this post I discuss why meal planning is important and some tips to get started with meal prep.
Whether you’re a professional or recreational athlete, planning ahead with your nutrition is a key skill you need to learn if you are to maximise performance. Like your upcoming training schedule you should have an idea of how your nutrition plan will look for the week and by planning ahead, you are taking control of your nutrition instead of allowing impulse to drive your food choices. An important factor is to focus on consistent day-to-day nutrition, rather than just pre and post-workout for example.
If you’re a motorsport or action sport athlete, the chances are you spend a lot of time on the road travelling to training or competition venues. It’s here where planning ahead can really impact on your results, as the chances are you’re eating most of your meals away from home. Relying on what’s available at service stations will ultimately make achieving your goals harder because ‘optimal’ foods are not always at hand.
Experience has taught me that those athletes who dedicate time to their meal preparation and planning see the best results. Those who rely on what they can pick up from service stations or supermarkets (e.g. pre-packed meals), tend to struggle to achieve weight-loss / body composition goals compared to those athletes who think ahead. I think the reasons for this are that those who plan ahead tend to have a better understanding of food, perhaps a result from taking an interest in their nutrition to begin with, but also the foods at service stations tend to be high-calorie and low in nutrients. It’s also very easy when you’re in a shop to pick up a few extra foods because they catch your eye. An extra snack-bar and smoothie drink can easily add 500 calories to your daily intake despite appearing ‘healthy’.
Meal prepping doesn’t have to be the daunting task it may seem, if you stick to a few basic principles you’ll soon find it comes pretty easily.
- Start with your protein – choose a protein source such as chicken, beef, turkey etc. Season with a sachet mix or even just salt and pepper.
- Choose your veg – add salad of your choice. If you’re not keen on salad (tomatoes, lettuce etc) then spinach, Swiss chard and rocket are good alternatives.
- Choose your carbohydrate – rice is a good go-to option here as you can cook it in bulk. But pasta or a wrap are other good options.
Using different seasoning mixes, carbohydrate sources and vegetables helps keep things interesting. Some athletes like to keep 1-2 meals the same each day to get started as this keeps things simple. As your cooking skills improve, you’ll be able to mix up the foods more regularly.
Ok, some tips to get started with meal planning:
Commit – Take time out to sit down and look at your week ahead, a rest day is a good time for this. Note down which days you are away from home and make arrangements for meals on these days.
Put aside time each week to prepare food – some people like to prepare for a few days at once, I prefer to spend some time each morning cook food for that day. If you have frequent early starts, preparing a few days at a time is probably better.
Buy some food containers – in a range of sizes. Smaller ones are good for snack portions like nuts, nut butters or humous. Larger ones for lunches.
Make life easy – Create a list of 2-3 breakfasts and lunches which you are happy to rotate throughout the week. If you’re not home for dinner, plan ahead by adding an extra meal or choose a restaurant with healthy options.
Get help – make use of anybody in your support network (family, partner, part of your team etc) who could help prepare some meals for you, shop for food etc
Cook in batches – make use of seasoning sachets/ mixes/ bags for meats (chicken, steak etc) to keep things interesting and rotate your veg and carbohydrate options.
Meal Prep companies – employ a company to prepare and deliver all of your meals for you. This option is more expensive compared to buying your own ingredients, but it saves you time and some companies even build your plan to specific macro targets.
To summarise, meal planning and preparation can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before. But with a small amount of time it soon becomes easy and a part of your ritual. If you would like some more advice regarding meal prep please drop me an email – Stephen