Training hard and managing your busy schedule often mean something gets left by the way side. Don't let that something be the quality of your food intake!
Below is a simple, but effective, five-stage approach to healthy meal prep that works for both the ambitious home cook and kitchen novice. It's time to match your nutrition levels with the sacrifice made to get out and train each week...
1. Plan Ahead
Understanding your day...
When it comes to cooking and making good food consistently the biggest hurdle for most people is time. Add to your daily working and family commitments an intense training schedule and the concept of time management is no longer a nice thought but more a necessity to survive.
When it comes to meal prep a solid understanding of your time will be invaluable. Here's how to do it.
Step One: Grab a pen and paper, it's time to really understand how you spend your time during the week. Then breakdown your daily routine into time slots.
What time do you wake up, eat breakfast, set off to work, take a break or have lunch, travel home, go out training, return home from training, sort the kids out, cook dinner?
It's often very hard to see the time slots available to you when you're busy going about your daily routine. But if you're going to make any progress with meal prep I cannot emphasise the importance of this step enough.
Step Two: Donate your time willingly.
Now you have a firm understanding of how you're spending time throughout the day it's time to focus on how much of it you want to dedicate to meal prep.
Note - It doesn't have to mean every day is spent cooking. Choose two or three days and do more in those time slots.
Step Three: Batch cooking is great as it saves both time and money but not all batch cooked meals will suit your daily needs. A very common hurdle we encounter when working with athletes revolves around their working schedule and transport of meals throughout the day. Not everyone will have access to a fridge or microwave.
A good alternative is to use foods that don't require cold storage or heating up.
2. Easy to Store Food
Having just prepped enough food to feed a small army, now it’s time to find a place to store it all!
As simple as it may seem good quality Tupperware is the answer. You'll need a variety of sizes to accommodate your main meals along with snack options along the way too.
Take care to find a brand that offers BPA Free & Phthalate Free plastics as this will be important when heating up your meals.
3. Easy to Prep Foods
How much time it takes to cook a meal is crucial if meal prep success is going to last more than one week.
The time it takes someone to cook a meal can vary greatly, but using simple techniques can make the whole process more efficient.
My favourite piece of kitchen equipment is the slow cooker. To show you just how easy it is here are two simple slow cooker recipes to try out yourself. Not only are these recipes time efficient the slow cooker is also very energy efficient too.
4. Food That Tastes Good
Coming in from a long weekend run or ride should be greeted by a nutritious meal.
However sometimes cooking foods that are supposed to be 'healthy' can leave you with a bland and boring concoction that doesn't really inspire you to keep going when the legs begin to tire.
It's also when you're tired that convenience foods like to find their way into the diet, often crammed full of processed fats, added sugar and salt they do little to aid recovery from all your hard effort.
Creating food that tastes good should be the target of each meal, after all if you're well fed on good food you're more likely to be a happy athlete.
To get you started I've given you my 5 favourite quick and easy energy-boosting recipes.
5. Enjoy the Cooking Process
THE most underrated component of a successful meal prep routine.
Having worked with many people over the years I'm very aware that not everyone enjoys cooking, in fact for some it's nothing more than an inconvenience, a waste of time, time that could be spent out running, biking or swimming.
So here are three ways of enticing yourself into the kitchen and making it part of the house your enjoy spending time in...
1. Set the scene with good music
Apps such as Spotify come into their own here. Create a playlist with music that makes you happy. Sing along if the rest of your family can put up with it...
2. Listen to a podcast or audio book
As we're all so busy these days the art of just sitting and reading a book seems to be slipping from our grasp. I find podcasts and audio books not only keep me switched on but also they're a great way of making your kitchen time more effective.
3. Cook with your partner
Time is precious and with much of our time being spent away from the house with work and training taking priority why not spend more quality time together with your partner cooking? You'll even halve the workload giving you more time to kick back and relax, after all recovery is just as important as the work you're putting in.
There you have it.
A simple but effective way to approach the meal preparation process.
Jon Hodgkinson, personal trainer and nutritionist with Triathlon Coaching UK and founder of Real Food Func. To read more about healthy meal prep head over to the Real Food Func blog to read 'The Complete Guide To Healthy Meal Prep'