So, we’ve all seen the photos on Instagram. Rows of perfectly lined up Tupperware filled with portioned protein, carbs and fats – I mean food of course, although the macronutrient breakdown is plain for even the non-bodybuilder eye to see. And matching Tupperware, none of this “last week’s Chinese take away box” juxtaposed alongside something swiped from the kids’ school lunchbox. I’m guilty of it myself. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing it all lined up to cool on the kitchen counter, or stacked neatly in the fridge.
However, achieving such levels of meal prep greatness can be highly stressful, and time consuming. Moreover, prepping five whole days worth of grub is a lovely idea, but is entirely unrealistic unless you have the appetite and/or calorie needs of a gnat. Whilst gaining weight I was eating just shy of 5000 calories a day, which turned my tiny kitchen into a continuous production line involving chunks of sweet potatoes and mounds of rice. Even during contest prep, when calories decrease and carbs can become a distant memory, the average bodybuilder tends to live by the “six meals a day rule”, thereby requiring more plastic boxes and fridge space than the average person.
With this in mind, I thought I would share my top ten tips for making meal prep that bit easier. These principles can be adopted whether you live a similar lifestyle as myself – generally working 9am – 5pm and eating six meals a day – or if your life allows more flexibility in terms of meal frequency or type.
1. Prep Whilst Doing Other Things. One of the first things I do in the morning (after coffee, of course) is put the oven on. In the hour or so that it takes me to get ready and eat breakfast I have simultaneously cooked some chicken breasts or a side of salmon. I let it cool whilst I am out at work, meaning that when I return in the evening my protein for the next day or two just needs portioning out before being thrown straight in the fridge.
2. Prep More than You Need. Not so much that you end up throwing half of it in the bin, but where possible always prep more food than you actually need. Cook enough chicken to last a few days, likewise rice, potatoes and veg. Trust in the ability of your fridge and/or freezer to keep them fresh. There is so much scare mongering out there about what might happen to you if you reheat a portion of rice, but just be sensible. Likewise, a tub of Greek Yoghurt that is two days past its Use By Date probably won’t kill you.
3. Don’t Prep Everything. Don’t Eat Everything from Tupperware. Unless you want to of course! However, I enjoy eating my breakfast from a bowl and my evening meal from a plate. It is also nice to have a hot meal if, like me, you tend to eat your other meals cold and from Tupperware throughout the day. When prepping for a competition and eating somewhat repetitive meals, these seemingly small perks can make a real difference to your eating experience. Meanwhile, use these opportunities to switch up your choice of protein or vegetables so that it doesn’t feel like you are eating the same meals day in day out.
4. Get Dry Ingredients Ready in Advance. If you are one of the fortunate people who have a spare hour or two at the weekend to meal prep, one of the best uses of this time is to get what I call “dry ingredients” – oats, rice, nuts, protein powders – ready for the week. By portioning out my oats and throwing in some protein powder in advance all I have to do of a day is add milk and (off season) toppings. Likewise, if your post-workout shake is more complicated than “one scoop of protein powder endorsed by a minor fitness celeb”, it can save a lot of time to get your shakers out and get these weighed out for the week.
5. Get Supplements Ready in Advance. An obvious one, but if you pop more than a couple of pills a day it’s worth getting them ready the day before. Alternatively, borrow your Nan’s handy pill divider and get them ready for the days ahead. It will save you valuable time in the week and means you are more likely to actually take them.
6. Invest in Gadgets and Tupperware. Ok, I’m not ashamed to admit that I love my Six Pack Bag more than any Michael Kors handbag… It’s a lifesaver for when I am out of the house all day. Don’t fall for cheap alternatives. If you are using it every day I would recommend spending money on a sturdy bag with decent Tupperware boxes, ice packs and space for supplements and shakers. If you make a lot of your own protein shakes and bars I also think it’s worth spending money on a good blender or food processor. Meanwhile save your pennies by buying food in bulk, especially meat and fish if you eat a lot of it.
7. Don’t be a Food Snob. So many food blogs that I have read demonise the microwave. But lets be frank, the choice of whether to sauté in raw coconut oil or whack something in the microwave to nuke says nothing about your morality. If buying frozen fruit and vegetables and microwaving them is convenient for you – and some frozen foods simply taste better in my opinion – go for it. Even if you prefer to have fresh ingredients, it’s still handy to have some frozen alternatives on standby for those nights when the prospect of turning out just to buy a bag of spinach is too much to contemplate. Speaking of spinach, this is a great vegetable to buy frozen and throw into smoothies for added greens and an icecream like texture.
8. Have Contingency Plans. Sometimes life just throws you a low baller, such as when your oven gives up the ghost when you are six weeks out (true story). In this scenario you have two choices – scream, shout, cry and speed dial Dominos Pizza. Or, scream, shout, cry (because it is perfectly ok to react this way to “first world problems”) and raid your emergency food stash. I keep the following items in the cupboard to help me stick to my meal plan as best as possible without an oven or fridge freezer – long life almond milk, long life egg whites, oat cakes, rice cakes, microwave rice packets, microwave quinoa packets, tinned tuna, salmon and mackerel, protein bars, nuts, nut butter.
9.Make Meal Prep Fun. Put music on and dance around the kitchen. Listen to a podcast and learn about something new – perhaps something entirely unrelated to food or your fitness life. Involve your family members. Practice mindfulness whilst prepping – focus on your senses as you handle the food and as you tidy up. My colleagues at work say that I make the best cups of tea and coffee, to which I always tell them it’s because I make them with love.
10. Ditch Perfectionism. An entire blog post in itself, but an important one to remember. Your food does not need to be perfect in order for your life to be perfect. Sometimes it can look ugly, taste like crap, contain a gram or ten grams too much or too little of something. The stress over minutiae is far more damaging on the body and the mind than the issue itself.
Happy Meal Prepping! Xx