Meal planning as an endurance athlete is not always easy, especially when you’re busy and constantly on the go. To help with this I have compiled some of my best meal prep advice into this ultimate guide to athlete meal prep. This includes an introduction to what meal prep is, common meal prep mistakes, and four tangible tips for anyone looking to start a meal planning routine or add to their current one.
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out my full carb loading guide for endurance athletes! It is filled with great information on how to enhance your performance with carb loading.
Meal prep is the act of preparing meals and/or ingredients in advance to use throughout the week. It is a strategy used by many people including athletes, busy moms and families, working professionals, and more. Meal prep is not a one size fits all approach and will look different for everybody.
Some examples of meal prep include:
While meal prepping isn’t essential, it helps many athletes reach their performance nutrition goals. Being an athlete means an increased need for calories, carbs, and protein throughout the day. You are also juggling a busy schedule between training sessions, traveling to races, preparing for race day, and living your life. If you have food options on-hand and ready-to-go, this makes hitting your nutrition goals more accessible!
Here are a few benefits of meal prepping for athletes:
Looking for more performance nutrition advice? Check out my digital downloads for athletes including tips for pre, intra, and post workout.
I will be the first one to let you know that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to meal prep! However, there may be some ways that you can make sure your meal prep fits your needs as a busy athlete.
Here are a few common meal prep mistakes:
As a sports dietitian, this is a question I get asked all of the time. How many meals should I be eating in a day if I’m an athlete? Well the answer is this- it’ll be different for everyone!
There is no magic number of meals that you should be eating to hit your goals. It will differ depending on your training sessions, macronutrient goals, work load, life schedule, and more.
The number of meals per day isn’t as important as making sure you are adequately fueling your body. If can accomplish this with 3 meals a day, then great. If you need 3 meals and 3 snacks, that’s okay too. I typically encourage athletes to do 3 meals with at least 2 snacks in between. This will help you spread out your carbohydrate counts, which can be higher for endurance athletes (especially while carb loading).
Remember that the key to performance nutrition success is having a meal strategy that is sustainable and accessible for you. It shouldn’t be complicated or overwhelming! To learn more about a how to use a flexible eating style as an athlete, check out my post here.
A meal prep hack that I learned a while ago is when you’re already taking the time out of your day to cook a meal, simply double or triple the batch. This is good for a few reasons:
Now I’m not talking about a huge Sunday meal prep where you spend hours in the kitchen making five servings of the same food. A more practical example is making a double batch of food at dinner and then eating it for lunch or post-training the next day.
Some examples of this are,
Buy a rotisserie chicken and use it in different recipes during the week such as wraps, soups, salads, you name it. This will save you extra time on both cooking and prep!
One of the biggest issues I see with meal prep hacks online is that the ingredient lists for recipes are just way too long. Then you’re left with a random sauce or spice after making one recipe (which can also drive up our already expensive grocery bills).
My advice? I typically tell my endurance athletes to choose recipes or meals with overlapping ingredients when making their grocery lists. If you’re making a chicken stir-fry for one night, then choose chicken wraps for lunch the next day.
This will also help you stay focused and feel prepared to go on your grocery shopping trip.
Looking for extra help with your grocery list? Check out my article on Five Foods to Choose From Center Aisles of the Supermarket.
There’s nothing worse than getting back from a long run or bike and having nothing portioned out or prepped to eat.
Pre-portioning and preparing at least your basic ingredients will help you out a ton, even if you aren’t one to do an all-out meal prep session. Easy things to make and pre-portion are:
Using one-pot and sheet pan meals during your meal prep and throughout the week can be a huge help for busy athletes. It cuts down on both clean-up and preparation time since you are making it all in the same pot or pan.
Sheet pan and one-pot meals are made exactly how they sound. Toss all of your ingredients (I recommend at least one carb, protein, and veg source) into the pot or sheet pan and then place on the stove or into the oven. Quick and simple aka- no excuses!
Now it’s your turn.
Level up your performance nutrition by trying out one or two of these meal planning tips for athletes to help keep you well-fueled and performing your best on race day.
If you are looking for additional support with nutrition coaching and meal planning ideas as an athlete, reach out to my team, and let’s chat.
Do you have a favorite meal planning hack? Comment down below!