When it comes to building bigger muscles and a leaner physique, you should start in the kitchen by prepping your meals. Sports nutritionist Gabrielle Maston shows how.
If you’re trying to achieve a certain physique, your eating plan is as important as your training. If you don’t prepare your meals in advance, you’ll often find yourself eating junk or the wrong foods over and over.
By doing what fitness pros call “meal prep”, you are essentially preparing, cooking and storing most of your coming week’s food menu in one go, to be eaten later at your convenience. It means that every mealtime you have exactly the right food in the right amount for your training goals.
One of Fitness First’s top personal trainers, Kyl Raggio, lives by food prep. He says: “It sets up the whole week. You’ve got your food ready to go. You don’t have to waste time and you don’t have to eat out.”
Use this step-by-step guide to prep your meals like a champion.
STEP 1: Know your macros
You need the right amount of energy (calories) not only for building muscle and getting lean, but for muscle recovery.
For example, a 193cm 32-year-old male weighing 83kg will need a total energy intake of 2,935 calories per day to maintain his weight. If he’s looking to gain weight quickly, he can add anywhere between 500 to 1,000 calories to that figure. He might now aim for 3,935 calories daily as part of a rapid bulking program. From this, protein requirements can range from 0.7 and 0.9 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This gives him 166 grams of protein per day to aim for.
When you know your macros, use a calorie and macro counting app to figure out what the numbers look like as amounts of real food. For example, 150 grams of grilled chicken breast will give you only 34 grams of protein. This means that if you were relying of chicken alone for protein that day you would need 732 grams of actual chicken to reach your protein target.
STEP 2: Think about flavour
Let’s face it, if you’re going to eat, you might as well eat something that tastes good. Explore online recipes that are easy to make and can be created in bulk. Websites often have simple ways to flavour dishes with herbs and spices.
Consider what type of food items freeze well to preserve flavour and texture. These include roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, noodles, rice, quinoa, meat, chicken, fish, broccoli, beans and carrots. Watery vegetables and starches like pumpkin, zucchini, capsicum, salad vegetables, pasta and steamed potato lose visual appeal and texture after being frozen.
- Grilled chicken thigh fillets with lemon or roast potatoes, chicken and garlic and olive oil with steamed broccoli.
- Grilled steak with onion and steamed basmati rice with green beans.
- Omelette with veggies, roasted sweet potato and green peas.
STEP 3: Write a shopping list
Once you have structured a meal plan that’s going to complement your training sessions, it’s time to go shopping. Remember, the amounts that you have allocated to each day have to be multiplied for each day of the week. Keep in mind that you might eat out on weekends, so don’t over-buy and waste food.
When choosing your food containers you have a choice of disposable ones, plastic or glass. Look for those that are the right size for the meals you’ve calculated, and check to make sure they have tight-fitting lids that are leak-proof. There is nothing worse than opening your gym bag to find your food container has leaked, and cheaper throw-away containers tend to do this. Also, if you’re planning on microwaving your meals, make sure you choose microwave-safe dishes.
STEP 4: Start cooking
Cooking in bulk has a lot to do with timing. Start off by making a timeline of how long certain items will take to cook. Foods that are easy to cook, like rice, can be set to boil immediately. Longer-cooking items like potatoes should be chopped and prepped first and thrown straight into the oven. While vegetable items are in the oven, other ingredients like chicken can be cooked on the stove or you can steam vegetables simultaneously. If you can, cooking multiple ingredients at once will save you a lot of time in the kitchen. When you’ve finished cooking, let all your dishes cool before spooning them into their containers and refrigerating or freezing them — especially if using glass.
STEP 5: Weighing in
Let the kitchen scales be your best friend. Start dishing up your most important ingredient first — protein. Put each container on the scales and allocate your serving of protein. At this point, you can choose to chop meat or chicken into bite-sized pieces to make it faster and easier to eat. Do the same for the rest of the meal components.
When Kyl fills his containers with the foods he’s prepared, he sticks to the relevant macros but mixes up ingredients so that not every meal is the same. “It just keeps it interesting. Obviously, it’s going to get boring if you’re eating the same thing all the time.”
STEP 6: Label and freeze
When food is frozen, it’s often difficult to see what’s inside the containers. You may find it useful to label meals by using a marker on the container lid. Others might prefer a surprise.
STEP 7: Defrost and eat
Contrary to popular belief, frozen meals don’t last forever, and can start going off in the freezer after a few months. If you do miss a couple of meals and end up with a freezer full of prepped meals, do an inventory every so often and prep less that week to eat your way through the meals you have frozen.
When you eat your meals, don’t defrost them slowly at room temperature, unless you want to take a chance with food poisoning. Defrost your meals overnight in the fridge, or, if you’re time-strapped, zap your meals in the microwave just before you want to eat.
Remember, if you’re getting bored with your meals after a few weeks, experiment with different food combinations. This is a sure-fire way to accelerate your training goals.