By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD
Nutrition is often the missing link that can close the gap between effort in training and desired performance on the day that counts the most. Start planning for success today with our meal-prep tips.
I’m going to level with you: There is no magical, effortless solution to planning and prepping meals. And if you’re reading this, it’s likely because you care about results, not the easy path. Unless you have a personal chef, fueling for high performance requires a good amount of planning, time, and plain using your noggin. Every. Single. Day. Preparing best quality fuel also takes work, which is why so many throw in the towel and resort to convenience, packaged foods chock full of not-so-healthy ingredients.
But this isn’t meant to discourage you. It can be done. And it’s not as complicated as you might think. This racing season, challenge yourself to really do it right. Eat whole foods with minimal chemicals and additives so you feel stronger and have sustained energy. The quality of your fuel will directly affect your fitness and the ability to get to the finish line faster.
There are lots of strategies around meal planning, but it comes down to what works for you, your family and your schedule. I’ve included some tips below to help you get started:
Pick a Day for the Week’s Meal Prep
This strategy works for many athletes. It gained popularity in recent years and includes doing all of the week’s grocery shopping, meal prep, and meal assembly on a designated day of the week (usually Sunday). You can then pull meals out of the fridge throughout the week, and save yourself time on the busy weekdays.
- Spend less time in the kitchen during the week.
- Have more time for training and active recovery.
- Have the satisfaction of home-prepared meals that are conveniently packaged and ready to go.
- Stay in control and know exactly what goes into your body.
- Meals/food items can spoil or go to waste due to changes in plans (aka life getting in the way).
- Time-consuming: This prep/assembly can take the better part of a day, depending on the types of meals being assembled.
Use a Meal/Ingredients Delivery Company
No, this isn’t cheating. You work hard and train hard all week, and it can be challenging to come up with creative (and healthy) meal ideas seven nights a week. You’ve probably seen the ads for meal kit delivery services or other companies popping up with similar offerings. There is a variety of options to choose from, including number of meals per week, serving size of meals, prepared entrée or the raw ingredients, gluten free or paleo, conventional or organic ingredients, and price point. The choices are endless. We tried one of the services recently and received dinners for 3 nights of the week. Even Dietitians appreciate someone else taking the reins and providing the recipe ideas from time to time.
- Convenience: Ingredients and/or prepared meals are delivered to your door.
- Quality: The entrees are all thought out with very little room for error.
- The food is simply delicious!
- Cost: These programs can be pricey, especially ones that include local or organic, farm to table high quality ingredients.
- Time to Prepare Meals: You still have to factor this in for the plans that include raw ingredients and a recipe.
Take Advantage of Healthy Convenience Foods
There are some health conscious time-savers out there when it comes to dinner prep. Rotisserie chickens are a great example, a lean source of protein, ready to go and extremely versatile. But check that label and make sure you’re only getting chicken, salt, and pepper. Sometimes stores try to sneak junky filler ingredients in, like preservatives. Another great example is washed and cut produce. Already cubed butternut squash? Genius! I’ll never buy the whole squash again. Simple time saving solutions like these will free up time in your schedule.
Use a Weekly Meal Planning Template
Think of it as a weekly menu or meal schedule which you can easily create yourself. A lot like a training plan, it forces you to think through the week and at the minimum plan out your seven dinners. It also helps to have a list of your favorite foods and recipes broken down by category (breakfast, lunch, dinner, or pre and post workout meals). Then you can rotate through these items when you’re not feeling creative or motivated enough to try out a new recipe. It’s easy to forget favorite foods when they aren’t all kept in the same place for reference.
There is no magical solution to meal planning. Just like preparing for an event, you’ve got to put in the work to walk away victorious. But make it simple by using some of the tips above as well as recruiting suggestions from other athletes and your own quick research. You can do this! Contact a Sports Dietitian if you need further help.
Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, CSSD is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including 3 Ironman races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific fueling plans for her clients as well as sweat sodium concentration testing. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at www.fueltothefinish.com.