Everyone knows that diet and exercise go hand in hand. While exercise sees its fads, the basics of fitness are essentially the same as they were generations ago. However, in the middle of the twentieth century, food manufacturers capitalized on the convenience of preserved foods, advertising them as helpful alternatives for busy mothers and families. Today’s media sources are saturated with reminders that fresh foods are the way to go, but saying is easier than doing. Now, add in your fitness goals, and cooking clean seems an even higher mountain to climb. Meal prepping may be something you’ve heard famous bodybuilders and Instagram dieticians talk about, but it’s actually a great way to stay on top of your fitness goals and make day-to-day living go more smoothly.
Getting the Timing Right
There are lots of diets, plans, and ideas on how to eat to support your weight loss journey and help you reach your fitness goals. From intermittent fasting to 5 light meals a day, there are so many strategies for what, when, why, and how you should eat. However, getting the right amount of nutrients before and after your workout is important for your body to be able to repair itself and build muscle. As a rule, you want to eat a light, carbohydrate-rich snack 1 to 3 hours before your workout. Don’t eat right before because your body will be focused on supporting your exercise, instead of digestion, and this can lead to cramps and nausea. Having a snack ready ahead of time will help you develop and stick to your routine. Ensure that you’re getting the right nutrients at the right time since this will increase the rate of carbohydrate burning during the workout, boost metabolism, and aid in the digestion of post-workout meals.
Meal prepping isn’t just about the convenience of a prepared meal when dinner time rolls around; it’s about making balanced choices. While meal prepping does involve an initial investment of time, energy, and resources, it will quickly pay off, and you will see it in your workout and post-workout. Think about when your body needs certain nutrients; for example, stock up on carbs to fuel your body for your workout. Post-workout, protein and carbs will help your body to regenerate and heal. Also, consider what foods are more nutritionally beneficial than other similar items; for example, spinach and kale are higher in vitamins than romaine lettuce. Berries are higher in antioxidants than other fruits and are good for heart health. Beef and turkey are both stacked with protein, vitamins, and minerals, but beef tends to be higher in saturated fat. Stock up on items that you know are healthy, nutritionally diverse, and dense, and work easily into meal prep and storage.
Support Healthy Choices
We’ve all had those moments of stomach grumbling hunger where any regard for nutritional content goes out the door. Now imagine you’ve burned through a whole ton of calories and your body is craving a bite of a juicy hamburger. If dinner isn’t ready and waiting for you, how much more tempted are you to pull through the golden arches’ driveway? Satiating hunger after a good workout is an important part of building muscle and feeding nutrients back into your body. If you don’t want to undermine the hard work you just did with the wrong foods, meal prepping for the week gives you the opportunity to think and plan ahead, so that it isn’t left up to your empty stomach to ensure that dinner is full of the healthy proteins and carbs that your body needs to repair and refuel. If you know you crave a juicy burger after your workouts, you can make your own burgers, opt for cleaner proteins, and avoid takeout foods that tend to be high in sodium, full of preservatives, and prepared using trans fats.
When you’re hungry and your next meal is in front of you, the last thing on your mind is usually portion control. However, overeating can quickly derail your fitness goals, and in turn, impact your overall health. Learning how to portion your food is about being mindful about your consumption, and this is a big part of meal prep. However, unlike being faced with the decision after a busy, stressful day at work, when you’ve meal prepped this mental work is all done. You can enjoy dinner without the added shame and confusion of trying to balance the two faces of self-care – indulgence vs. moderation. Meal prep pros suggest researching and buying the right tools, including appropriately sized storage containers. Store each portion in its own container, along with its accompaniments. There are also lots of helpful resources to help you figure out how to portion correctly.
Exercise is known to be a great stress-reducer, but in the midst of your busy schedule just fitting the time in on top of all other responsibilities can feel more like an added burden. It’s not the workout itself that is stress-inducing, but rather the time it takes that could be directed toward other things on the list. Yet, exercise is a key element of your fitness journey so finding ways to support yourself will help you to develop new routines and alleviate the stress. Meal prep ahead of time not only significantly reduces the work of pre and post-workout meals, but also means more mental space and energy can be directed to the most important or immediate items on your to-do list. Whether you have the kids’ school drop-offs and soccer practice or are preparing for the big board meeting at the end of the week, meal prep can give you that extra 20 minutes a day for a jog or some yoga, which are excellent for curbing stress.
Today, we’re caught between the accessibility of pre-prepared foods and balancing the knowledge of the benefits of fresh, clean foods against time. It’s no wonder that people feel overwhelmed when trying to achieve a healthy diet alongside their exercise routines. Meal prepping is really the best way to keep your fitness plan on track and supported with nutritionally appropriate foods.