Your fitness and health goals can be nothing more than distant hopes and dreams without the right diet. If done sporadically, meal prep can feel like a chore…but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t let life’s many commitments prevent you from achieving your goals! Read below to learn more about how you can optimize your meal prep today.
1. Know Your Goals (Numbers)
Want to pack on some lean muscle? How about dropping a few pounds or controlling your blood pressure? All meal plans are not created equal; to choose the best one for you, know your goals and what to track.
Calorie counting is no fun, but having a general idea of what you are consuming is probably a good idea; there may be a snack or beverage that is killing your gains. Your best bet is to stick to single-ingredient foods as they are nutrient dense and filling.
Not a fan of calorie counting? Try tracking clothing size or other measurements, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.
For aesthetic goals, I recommend tracking clothing size. Think back to the sizes you wore when you felt most comfortable with your body, and works towards them. Weekly photos and monthly bust/waist/hip measurements can serve as check points along the way.
Your BMI is an estimate of body fat. It is not as accurate as more invasive measures, however, since your build is not factored into the equation. For example, a 5’9” collegiate running back may have a BMI of 32.5, which is considered obese. Nonetheless, it can give you a rough estimate of your target weight range.
For health related goals, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar can be monitored before and after meals or activity. Seek the opinion of a medical professional if you think any of these numbers are abnormal.
Weight is the most tracked number, but the one I recommend tracking the least…unless you are a weight-class athlete. It fluctuates daily and does not give the entire picture. Two individuals with the same height and weight can have completely different builds…one athletic and trim, the other overweight. An occasional weigh-in is fine, but be sure to monitor some of the aforementioned metrics more often.
2. Know Your Schedule
Once you’ve set your goals and have completed your tracking checklist, iron out your schedule. Meal prep takes time; be sure to plan for it on a day where time is abundant.
Ideally, meal prep should be accomplished before the start of the work week. Weekends typically allow for more time to devote…Sunday is ideal since the clock on most prepared food runs out in 4 to 5 days.
If you don’t have a considerable chunk of time, break it up. Conversely, opt for quick-prep meals or those that require little attention; the crockpot is your friend.
3. Know Your Grocery List
Monday through Friday can be pretty routine…your meal plan should be too. Learn what foods work best for you. Think: Are they easy to find? Are they easy to prepare? Have I been consistently reaching my goals? Once you’ve identified what works, stick to the program.
4. Keep It Simple
Make it easy on yourself. Practices like buying pre-cut fruits, frozen vegetables, or canned beans can save you lots of time. Fresh is always ideal, but you can strategically buy to avoid pitfalls.
Beware: canned foods are typically high in sodium, which can lead to water retention, weight gain, and elevated blood pressure. However, most grocers carry low or no salt added options.
Also, check out the food labels to ensure single-ingredient foods are just that. Canned or jarred foods can be pumped full of preservatives and artificial flavors…be on the look-out for those that aren’t.
Lastly, choose your packaging wisely. Mason jar salads are easy to transport. Pair these with a pack of paper plates at work to limit clean-up. Tupperware is another popular choice. Multi-compartment bento boxes can keep food separate, help control portions, and stack for easy transport and storage.
Even if you are one of the fortunate people that enjoy their “9-to-5”, the weekend is still eagerly greeted. Similarly, although eating clean can be flavorful, your cheat meal is like the weekend.
Again, trial by error can help you determine what work’s best. Can you go off your plan all weekend and still achieve gains? Or is a cheat day or meal optimal?
Be sure to include a cheat weekly as another checkpoint to look forward to, or just the opportunity to decompress or reward the week’s hard work.
To Sum It Up
- As always, start with a quantifiable goal. With one in mind, determine how to track progress.
- Plan your schedule. Write it down or save it in your phone’s calendar. Ensure meal prep is just another part of the routine. Get it done on the day you have the most time to burn.
- Have a go-to grocery list that is easy to obtain and easy to prepare. Determine which foods work best for you.
- Keep it simple. Running out of groceries or time can lead to a relapse. Keep the pantry stocked with easy to prepare items when you’re in a bind. Stay ahead of the game with smart packing.
- Cheat…it’s your meal plans weekend.
Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S.
ABOUT DR. DUGARTE
Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S. is a Cleveland, Ohio native who has enjoyed success in sports, as well as academics. He accepted a full athletic scholarship to attend Kent State University and graduated, Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. At Kent, Dr. Dugarte was a member of the Golden Flash Football Team and earned Academic All-American Honors as a defensive lineman.
He is currently the Research Fellow for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Dugarte has 8 years’ experience as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Keywords: meal prep; eat clean; bento; cheat meal; goals; gains; BMI; weight;