For the first few years of living on my own, I remember observing the way others cooked & grocery shopped in an effort to find my own groove. Many of my friends were talented meal planners and enjoyed the full planning process. For me, I just couldn’t fathom spending so much time planning out the food I would eat when I already had my staple grocery items I could rely on. Figuring out the best ways to meal plan was too overwhelming.
Do You Relate?
Fast forward a few years, and my husband and I are consistent meal planners. It’s actually become something that makes our life easier (and more delicious)! Here are a few reasons meal planning can be beneficial to you as an athlete and some tips to get started.
Why Meal Plan?
As an endurance athlete, you are well aware of the impact your nutrition has on how you feel in your workouts and races. Choosing the wrong pre-workout meal can leave your stomach feeling upside down. Eating too little food will make you feel depleted, extra fatigued, and unable to reach your performance goals. Even just a little foresight and planning can make all the difference in avoiding these kinds of issues.
Most of us wear many hats during the day – spouse, parent, friend, employee, volunteer, athlete, etc. Finding the time to plan and cook nutritious meals every night while taking care of all your responsibilities may seem impossible at times. Finding a meal planning strategy that works for you – perhaps cooking large meals only 2-3 times a week and using up the leftovers on the remaining days – can significantly reduce the stress and time required to produce nutritious meals.
Other Benefits Of A Meal Plan
Other benefits such as less food waste, cheaper grocery budgets, and improved variety in your meal nutrition are additional reasons to consider adding some level of meal planning to your regular routine.
A Few Tips For The Best Ways To Meal Plan
Use a meal planning app! My personal favorite is Mealime. Using this app makes meal planning possible and efficient for me by providing a large bank of recipes, automating a grocery list from my chosen recipes, and also providing a feature that sends that automated grocery list directly to local grocery store apps for pick-up. Other popular apps to try include: Paprika, Big Oven, and MealBoard.
Consider making fewer meals per week at higher volumes to allow for leftovers & reduced time spent in the kitchen.
Allow for flexibility. Avoid being rigid about only having certain meals on certain days. That’s a sure way to burn out of your new habit! Aim to choose a variety of meals for your menu that will satisfy your cravings on any given day.
Choose or create meals that include a color, a carb, and a protein. Colors (fruits and vegetables) provide important micronutrients and fiber to help keep you feeling full and satisfied. Carbohydrates are the foundation of fuel you need to support your regular body functions and athletic endeavors. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle maintenance and growth. (Fat is also an essential nutrient to maintain hormone health for athletes. Simply focusing on including at least a color, carb, and protein at each meal should ensure adequate fat intake as well).
Don’t overcomplicate the cooking process. If all you realistically have time for in the morning is to throw a few packets of oatmeal in the microwave and grab a banana, that’s ok! Plan for it. Even a simple quesadilla with beans, cheese, spinach, and tomatoes can provide the balance of nutrients you need as an athlete.
Avoid using meal planning as a means to restrict food intake. Be cognizant of the size container you are using as well as the food you are putting in it. For example, choosing low calorie/low carbohydrate meals to make. If you pack food for future meals, make sure to bring plenty of food. You want to satisfy your level of hunger at the given meal.
Buy quality food storage containers. The containers should easily store food in the fridge or freezer and be reheated in the microwave without trouble.
Still feeling overwhelmed but want to be more intentional about your meal choices? Just choose 1 or 2 of these tips to implement at a time. Remember that beneficial meal planning is meant to make your life easier, not harder!