I started competing back in 1992… not working out, actually COMPETING in NPC shows. This was years before meal prep services, 6 pack bags, organic food, Stevia. Protein Powder mixed like oil and water, you couldn’t walk into a restaurant and order a plain chicken breast and plain rice… people looked at you like you were crazy. Everything at McDonalds was deep fried, there was no such thing as Qdoba or Chipolte, and Subway was about the healthiest option for a quick emergency meal. We actually called “meal prep” COOKING back then
Over the years I’ve been exposed to a ton of pro and amateur athletes. I’ve been around those that come to Alaska for a weekend and pack every single meal, freeze them and have them fedex-ed to their hotel. I have had people bring an entire suitcase of cookware, foreman Grill, rice maker, hot plate and set up a full on kitchen in their hotel room. On the flip side, I have also been around top level pro’s that show up with literally nothing and ask to go to the closest 24 hour diner, order 4 or 5 cheeseburgers and take them to their hotel room (while eating two of them in the car).
All that being said, everyone has their own method for meal prep. Everyone is different, and different things work for different people. Just because a “pro” does it, does not mean it will automatically work for you. Here are a few basic “tricks” I recommend to staying ahead on your meals
– Always have one “emergency” meal at hand for when things go haywire. I keep a box of protein shakes in the back of my car just in case I need something quickly. Even when driving for dinner you never know when you may blow a tire, your car may not start, or you might get into a huge traffic jam. This is a common trap most people fall into on a regular basis. Simple planning can keep you from missing a meal and stay on track.
– If you next meal is scheduled for 5:35pm, have your meal scheduled for 8:30pm on hand and ready to go (in your car or in your gym bag). When you go to work, take one extra meal with you. If you need three meals for your work day, take four. Keep a protein shake on hand inside a shaker cup in your desk drawer. Keeping an extra meal on hand won’t take up any extra space, and it will save you if you have to put in extra hours.
– Know your local restaurants. With Facebook, google, yelp… it’s very easy to find restaurants that cater to athletes in your area. You can get a grilled chicken breast, grilled steak and salad almost anywhere. All Chinese restaurants have rice, and you can get a plain baked potato at Wendy’s or Denny’s. Trader Joes is also an excellent place to pick up diet food that is pre-packaged and ready to eat.
– Now this is my own personal rule, but it’s going to really frustrate the obsessive/compulsive among us: I do not believe in making food for the entire week. I’m not sure how many people think about it ahead of time, but if you make a weeks’ worth of food on Sunday, then by the time next Sunday rolls around you are eating week old chicken. There is nothing more disgusting than trying to eat a piece of dried out chicken that’s been sitting in a refrigerator for 6 days. I personally know of 4 or 5 athletes that decide, “OK so I’m going to compete in 3 months, so I’m going to make every single meal, number them and freeze them”. I personally enjoy cooking and I make all my meals for the day either the night before or day of. Sometimes I’ll grill a few days’ worth of chicken, but I try to keep it less than three days in the refrigerator. Anything over about 3 days your food starts to dry out, loose flavor and you can actually develop bacteria on it. This doesn’t mean you can’t make something and throw it in your freezer for later, but be smart what you do with your main meals.
– Don’t be afraid to learn the basics of cooking. Salt, Pepper, Johnny’s seasoning, soy sauce are great for almost any meal when you are dieting. A little used seasoning is Ranch Dressing flavoring… add this to rice or chicken and it changes the flavor entirely. Steaming fish (plain or in lemon or lime) gets rid of most of that “fishy” flavor, and Balsamic Reduction (found in the specialty lane of almost any grocery store, it’s the same sweet drizzle they use on some sushi rolls) can be drizzled on top of white fish to also reduce foul taste. Baking your chicken breasts at 350-400′ for 6-8 minutes before grilling or pan frying will keep the center moist and juicy without drying out the outside.
Hopefully these tips will help some of the dieters out there… feel free to add your own tips below!