Meal Prep 101 – The Ultimate Guide to Meal Preparation

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So you don’t plan your meals huh? Oh, and you want to get both big and lean? And you don’t count calories…so, you just wing it? I just hope you’re right next time you “think” you ate enough and you’re pretty sure you’ve reached your daily protein requirement.

Now, for all of you serious lifters who dream big and want to achieve big, listen up.

Fitness comes down to four major elements: Nutrition, Training, Rest and Genetics

It’s not a myth that you are what you eat, and it’s most certainly not acceptable for you to not count your calories and macros. Having a planned and calculated nutrition regime will ensure you reach your daily caloric needs, while eliminating the risks of overeating on fats or carbs. Too many people lack the patience and desire to learn and implement calorie calculation and meal prep, fearing it as if it were cardio itself.

Well fear not because it’s all pretty simple stuff and meal prep can be fun…sometimes…for some people…maybe, plus it will massively boost your gym progress. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll have more time to devote to your hobbies, friends and family, while always reaching your goals.

So let’s get to it.

How to Set Up Your Calories

First thing’s first, you need to determine the optimal calorie intake for your goals and then divide the total calorie amount into proteins, fats and carbs. There is a number of ways you can determine your calorie requirements, and the easiest way is an online calorie calculator. It will give you a rough estimate, and then you can take it from there.

If your goal is to lose weight, start by subtracting 500cal from the given maintenance calories and either increase or decrease by 100 calories depending on the results.  On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, and you’re not a hard-gainer, you will up the maintenance calories by 500cal and slowly increase or decrease the amount based on the results i.e. if you’re not gaining plus 100cal but, if you’re gaining too much fat deduct 100.

And lastly, for all of you hard-gainers out there, don’t despair, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hard-gainers can be classified into two categories: those who need to eat way more, and the non-responders. Luckily for you, non-responders are very rare, and chances are that you fit into the first category, which coincidentally is very easy to manage.

The premise is simple – you have to eat more!

Oh, you think that’s easy? Well that means you’re not eating enough! As a hard gainer trying to put on mass can make you feel like you’re going to puke each and every day from the amount of food you’re ingesting. I’m not talking about upping the calorie intake by 500; I’m talking upping the calories by 1000-1500. Does it sound easy now? Yeah.

Lucky for you, the human body is amazing at adapting to certain conditions, and just like your body would adapt if you were to deprive it of sleep (up to a point), it will adapt to the amount of food you’re eating. Additionally, you should be happy that you’re a hard gainer, because that means you can eat as much as you want. Go ahead, dig in. And then eat the crumbs, too.

How to Track Your Macros

We’ll keep this one simple so that you don’t fall off the nutrition wagon at any point.

Get 1-2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight, this is more than enough

Carbs and Fat
Depending on the diet your following the amount of carbs and fat may change. High carb (low fat) diets have more carbs and high fat (low carb) diets consist of more fats.

Depending on your metabolic rate and your genetics, you will manage these three variables accordingly. The best way to find out what works best for you is to use the “trial and error” method. Set up your protein intake, and then try to maximize healthy fats, while keeping a steady carb percentage. If within a month you come to the conclusion that the amount of carbs you are eating is making you gain fat, then cut the carbs and up the fats or try reducing your total daily calorie intake.

Never forget the importance of a balanced diet, as eating only proteins will not make you reach your goals, especially if you happen to be a hard-gainer – you need all micronutrients to make a difference.

Lastly, invest in a food scale, and let the meal prepping begin!

How to Meal Prep Like a True Pro

Now that we’ve got the prerequisites out of the way, let’s get down to the meal prep itself. Typically, you will devote one day of the week when you’re free, like a Sunday, for cooking and packing the majority if not all of the meals for the upcoming week.

Depending on your calorie requirements, you’ll need:

Okay, so you’ve got your equipment, it’s time to get down to the cooking itself. Depending on your protein sources you can prepare the meat in a few different ways. Chicken is baked in the oven, and beef is best cooked slowly for 2-3 hours in a pot, in order to get that tender taste.

Step one: The Meat

Baking the chicken is fairly easy; you preheat the oven to 175°C, and while it’s heating up, you place the chicken onto the aluminum foil, season it up with your favorite spices, add salt and pop it in the oven! Be sure to set the timer for 25 minutes.

Now, if you can’t stand chicken anymore, it’s not the end of the world, beef is also good. If not better. Contrary to chicken, beef requires some love and attention, and if you don’t want to be eating meaty rocks for the next 4-5 days, you will have to simmer the meat for a couple of hours.

First, place the beef into as many pans you need and grill each side until it reaches a nice brown color. Spread some salt and seasoning on each side, and then cover the meat with warm water, and just let it simmer. You will have to add water regularly to cover up the meat. If done this way, you will feel like you’re eating pieces of heaven.

Right then, onward!

 Step Two: The Veggies

Okay, so the easiest way to prepare your veggies is just to buy steam-fresh vegetables and add them to every container. But, if you like cooking vegetables so that they have a unique flavor, there are two way of doing it – boiled or steam cooked.

If you’re going to boil them, note that some of the nutrients are going to get lost in the process, but nonetheless, here’s how it’s done:

  1. You dump the veggies into the pot
  2. You cover the veggies with water
  3. You put the pot on medium heat
  4. You’ll know they’re done when they become soft (leave a bit of crunch for taste)

On the other hand, a healthier option lets the vegetables keep their nutrients with steaming. In case you don’t have a steamer pot, you can use the following technique:

  1. Fill up half of a large pot with water
  2. Dump the veggies in a smaller pot and place it on top of the larger one
  3. Put all of it on medium heat and witness the glory
  4. The steam from the water will slowly cook the vegetables

You can also use a large metal colander by putting the vegetables in and placing it on the large pot – this will shorten the entire process significantly.

So the meat is baking, the veggies are steaming, it’s time to prepare your main carb source.

Step Three: The Carbs

Don’t fear carbs, carbs are your friends, provided that you don’t respond to carb intake by bloating up, and if you do, ditch all starchy carbs and focus on healthy fats. But let’s follow the assumption that you’re a hard-gainer and you need plenty of calories. You have several choices of starchy carbs and depending on your caloric needs, you will choose the right source.

Rice has been the go-to carb choice for many athletes over the years, not so much because it’s the best carb source, but because that’s what the pros and the media told them to do. And so rice became the go-to carb source for almost any athlete on the planet, the end to all diet wars. You can always opt for rice, and if you do, there are plenty of ways to prepare it. Here is the easiest one:

  1. Three cups of water per cup of rice
  2. Put it on medium-high heat
  3. Take it off the stove when the water is gone but before the rice is dry
  4. Mix in your favorite seasonings so that you don’t throw yourself off the roof
  5. You can also cook the rice in chicken or beef soup for added flavor

Now, sweet potatoes are also a bodybuilder’s go-to carb source, promoted by many fitness experts around the world, they are nutritious to a point, and they taste good. Here is how you make them:

  1. Cut them up into even pieces and place them on the aluminum foil
  2. Spray the foil with non-stick spray or your favorite oil
  3. Put it on the second rack, below the chicken
  4. Set the timer for 30 minutes or check if it’s done when you feel like it

Finally, we have barley. Barley is a wholegrain that does not get the respect and attention it deserves in the health & fitness community. In addition to its numerous health benefits that other carb sources don’t have, it has three times the amount of carbs in rice and four times more than potatoes. And it’s also calorie-denser, which means you eat less of it and get more calories in.

The only problem is it tastes like a donkey’s arse, and if you’ve never had the “pleasure” of finding out what that feels like, well, you will with barley. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ways of cooking this “wonder food” that make it taste amazing!

If you opt for barley, here’s how you make it yummy:

  1. Pour two liters of water into the pot and bring it to a boil
  2. Put two or more chicken or beef soups into the water and stir
  3. You can put two full mugs (yes mugs) of barley into the mixture straight away
  4. Bring the temperature down to medium and let it cook
  5. Frequently stir and add water
  6. The barley is done when the is little water left, after which you will take it off the stove and let it soak the rest in
  7. It will take 30-45 minutes

Step Four: Prepping the Meals

Now that the meat is ready, go ahead and leave it out in the open for a while to cool. You can lay out your food containers with the food scale locked and loaded. Start by measuring the veggies and distributing them into the containers and then proceed to do the same with your main carb source.

Once the meat has cooled off a bit, do the same thing but not before making sure that it’s properly cooked – you do not want to be eating undercooked meat. Additionally, you can add other favorite protein sources to your meals like cheeses, boiled eggs and fish, as well as all types of meat. Mix and vary your proteins so you don’t go mad and be sure to add your favorite spices and toppings.

Only add toppings, oils, garlic and onions immediately before you eat, because if you mix these in when you’re prepping, the food will go bad within a day or two. Keep it raw until you want to eat it. Next, depending on how many meals you made, you want to put some of them in the fridge and some in the freezer.

If you have more than 4-5 days’ worth of meals, make sure to put days 5 and above in the freezer, just to make sure they don’t go bad.

In the morning before you go work take the meals for the day out the fridge and into your meal prep bag, remembering to also pack the ice packs. The bag is basically a portable fridge so will keep the meals fresh for you.

And there you go, you’ve successfully completed your first meal prep! Congratulations, you’ve saved yourself plenty of precious time, money and effort, but most importantly, you’ve made a calculated step towards achieving your goals quickly and efficiently.

Prep on!


About Author

Nikola has a bachelor's degree in management, branding, marketing and copywriting. He is a master with words and a warrior with the iron, the dumbbell kind. A lifelong fitness enthusiast, bodybuilder and competitive power lifter, he enjoys nothing more than teaching good form and lifting technique.

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