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Whether you are a bodybuilder or are simply trying to get fitter there is going to be one thing, in particular, holding you back from achieving your goals.
Chances are your training is going well, however, due to your diet you are not seeing the muscle gains or fat burning you would hope for.
The problem is that nowadays people are so busy that eating healthy and getting the appropriate nutrients into their bodies is almost impossible, but there is a solution.
If you pre-prepare your meals there will be no excuse not to eat as healthy as possible.
The following guide to bodybuilding meal prep will give you all the tools you need to pre-prepare healthy meals you can eat when busy, without breaking the bank.
- 1 What is “Meal Prep”?
- 2 Why Prep Meals?
- 3 Work Out Your Macros Before You Meal Prep
- 4 Helpful Tools for Meal Prep
- 5 Essential Ingredients for Meal Prep
- 6 What Foods to Avoid When Meal Prepping
- 7 Save Money While Meal Prepping
- 8 How Long Should Meal Prep Take?
- 9 Cooking Methods for Meal Prep
- 10 Storing Your Meal Prep
- 11 Meal Prep Doesn’t Have to be Boring!
- 12 Meal Prep Made Easy
- 13 In Conclusion
What is “Meal Prep”?
Meal prep is basically the preparation of meals ready for consumption throughout the week.
It does not mean that you necessarily have to cook the meal completely, just pre-preparing vegetables for the week ahead can be a form of meal prep.
Why Prep Meals?
The ultimate goal of meal prep is to help you stick to your diet, even when you are busy. Saving you both time and money in the process.
In the past you have probably found that you are too busy to cook a healthy meal from scratch, so have succumbed to temptation and ordered a takeaway.
If your aim is to build muscle, or if you are looking to cut body fat then these trips to the takeaway will ruin your training efforts. By pre-preparing your meals you will have something healthy to eat even when you are busy.
Work Out Your Macros Before You Meal Prep
Before you even start prepping your meals it is important that you work out both your calorie intake and macros.
There are two methods that I would use.
The first would be an extremely simple method, which involves multiplying your weight in pounds by 14. This will show you how many calories you need for maintenance.
A more complicated method, but a more accurate method would be the Mifflin MD St Jeor Formula .
The following formula will help you work out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. You can use this formula to both gain and lose weight:
- Male: 10 x Body Weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (Y) + 5 = REE
- Female: 10 x Body weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (Y) -161 = REE
The formula above works out how many calories you will burn will completely sedentary. Your next step is to decide how active your lifestyle is:
- Sedentary (REE x 1.2)
- Light Activity (REE x 1.375)
- Moderate Activity (REE x 1.55)
- Very Active (REE x 1.725)
If your lifestyle is sedentary then you will need to multiply your REE by 1.2. Those with a very active lifestyle will need to multiply their REE by 1.725.
If you are not gaining weight or losing weight fast enough then you are allowed to modify the numbers to suit your goals.
As for your macro intake, it is recommended that you consume between 2.3 to 3.1 grams of protein for every kilogram you weigh .
Between 15-30% of your total calorie consumption should come from fat, with the remaining calories taken up with carbohydrates.
There is quite a lot of wiggle room here when it comes to your macros. I would recommend that you experiment to see what works best for you.
Helpful Tools for Meal Prep
There are certain tools you should have if you want to prep your meals effectively:
- Good/Sharp knifes
- Food scale
- Storage containers
- Freezer bags
- Meat thermometer (this is optional but helpful)
- Insulated lunch box to keep your food warm/cool
How many of these tools do you currently have? Perhaps it is time to invest if you are serious about meal prep.
Essential Ingredients for Meal Prep
When meal prepping there are certain foods you must have available to you. You could call these your “staple foods” or “go to ingredients” and they are basically foods that are used in most recipes, and that can make whole meals even when you are running low on other ingredients.
Next time you hit the shops make sure you add the following foods to your shopping cart:
- Rice, dried pasta, and quinoa
- Peanut butter
- Cooking oils (Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, etc.)
- Herbs and spices
- Condiments (Mustard, Soy Sauce, Hot Sauces)
- Protein powder
- Freezer Staples: Frozen fruit, frozen vegetables
In addition to those staple foods you should also make sure to add some of the following macros:
Protein for Meal Prep
Chicken, lean meat and eggs are good sources of protein. Plant-proteins like lentils, seeds, beans and nuts are a good alternative for vegetarians and vegans, or for those looking for a lower fat alternative.
Carbohydrates for Meal Prep
You should avoid simple carbohydrates, such as junk foods and those full of additives.
Instead choose complex carbs like oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potato and quinoa. These complex carbs are also a good source of fibre too.
Fats for Meal Prep
You should opt for “good” fats such as vegetable oils like olive canola and soy. Nuts, olives and seeds are all good sources of monounsaturated fat so make sure to add these to your diet.
The most important thing when choosing ingredients for meal prep is to ensure they are quality ingredients.
Rather than buying poor quality foods with little nutritional value, instead opt for locally sourced vegetables and meat. You may find that buying local will be a cheaper option too, which is always a bonus.
What Foods to Avoid When Meal Prepping
There are certain foods that you should try to avoid when meal prepping.
Fresh fish is a tricky one as once stored in the fridge it won't reheat well. If you want to fill up on omega-3s it is probably best to open a can of tuna or salmon.
Pre-prepared pasta dishes with sauce also do not store well as the pasta will absorb the sauce leaving behind dry pasta.
If you want to meal prep pasta with sauce then it is best to leave them separate from one another.
Save Money While Meal Prepping
Meal prep does not need to be expensive, although it probably is a more expensive choice than buying a Happy Meal from McDonald's.
To save money when meal prepping it is important that you pay attention to any deals available in your local supermarket, and to then plan your meals and shopping list around them.
Buying in bulk is a great idea too, buying unbranded oats, for example, is a great money saver as you are typically paying extra for the branding and subsequent packaging.
How Long Should Meal Prep Take?
At the very beginning of this guide, we revealed that one of the main reasons why people choose to meal prep is to save time.
Therefore it makes sense that when you meal prep that it doesn’t take hours to complete.
When you first start this process it may take a few hours to prep an entire week, however, once you get into the habit of it then you can bring the time down to within an hour.
Think of it like this, what would take longer? Cooking a large batch of meals at once, or cooking them separately during the week? I know which I would prefer.
To optimise your time it is recommended that you read any recipes beforehand and make a cooking plan.
You should get the tools you require, and then group the ingredients you need. For example any vegetables you are going to use.
You should complete all of the chopping first, then set those ingredients aside as you go. Next, weigh any raw materials and begin cooking.
If you have anything that needs to be baked then it is advisable to do this first. You can then prepare the other ingredients while it is cooking.
As stated it may take a little while to get used to this process, but after a few goes, you will soon learn how to make better use of your time.
Cooking Methods for Meal Prep
There are a few methods you can use to cook your meals:
Roasting is a great way to cook both your protein sources and vegetables simultaneously, as long as you have access to multiple pans and racks.
It is important that you check that the temperature is ok for all of the foods being cooked.
Adding a variety of different vegetables to a pot, along with a little olive oil and some seasoning is a great way to add some flavour. Cook at 190°C (375°F) until they soften and brown.
Using a crock pot is a great way to cook multiple meals without much effort.
This method will allow you to cook multiple meals in a short amount of time.
Using a non-stick skillet you can cook a protein with a variety of vegetables, once cooked you can simply wipe the skillet down, add more cooking oil and cook the next meal.
When the sun is out, what better way to meal prep than by getting family and friends around for a barbecue.
Grilled chicken, lean burgers and steak are all good choices that you can cook, ready to store for reheating and future consumption.
Storing Your Meal Prep
Once your food is prepared it is now time to think about storage.
You should have already worked out your calorie and macros information using our formula above. If not you must complete this step.
Once you know how many calories you should be consuming per meal and the associated macros you can then start placing the pre-prepared meals into appropriate storage containers suitable for storing in both the fridge and freezer.
There are plenty of options available when it comes to meal prep storage, depending on budget.
However, the most important thing you need to look for is the ability to seal them so that they are airtight. If the air is getting into the food then it will spoil and your hard work will be for nothing.
I would recommend only prepping one week at a time to ensure you consume the food cooked before it spoils. Cooked food should keep for around 3-4 days in the fridge and longer in the freezer of course.
You should make sure any warm food is allowed to cool before placing into the fridge or freezer.
Meal Prep Doesn’t Have to be Boring!
Some bodybuilders may choose to eat the same foods day in and day out, but this is not essential.
While the core ingredients may stay the same you can add variety to them by cooking them differently, or by adding various herbs and spices.
The following can be added to your meals to add interest:
- Balsamic vinegar
- Chilli powder
Personally, I would try to avoid any creamy or sweet sauces as they are likely to be full of added salt and sugar.
Don’t be afraid to experiment when meal prepping. If your meals are too boring then you may struggle to eat them every day.
Meal Prep Made Easy
If you do not want to cook yourself then there are options available.
In the USA there is a company called FlexPro Meals who provide ready prepared meals, while the UK has MuscleFood who have their own meal prep delivery service.
While these services are not as cheap as preparing your own nutritious meals. If you have a budget set aside for your diet then these services are great for those unable or unwilling to do their own meal prep.
Hopefully, this guide to bodybuilding meal prep has answered some of your questions. Now is the time to get started with your own meal prep.
If you have any further questions please feel free to ask them below using the comment form provided.
Don’t forget that your diet is just one aspect you need to ensure you experience those muscle and strength gains, you also need to ensure your training is on point too. Using a proven supplement can also provide numerous benefits.