Raise your hand if you love spending time in the kitchen – looking, looking – yeah ok, didn’t think so. It’s not my favorite place to spend time, but as a bodybuilder it’s not a place you can avoid and be successful so we’ve got to make the most of it.
For me, that means spending as little time in there while still doing absolutely every single thing I have to get done. And sometimes it comes from a place of necessity – while my schedule now offers some flexibility as far as timing goes, it wasn’t always that way and I still like to practice efficiency as best I can to stay sharp.
At the same time, I need my meals to taste amazing and make me look forward to the next one. So finding a way to make something tasty while spending as little time as doing it as possible? Tricky! But you’re in the right spot if you want to learn some of my secrets.
#1 – Mass prep is your friend
If you aren’t mass-prepping your protein sources, you’re setting yourself up for failure as a bodybuilder. I know, I know – nothing tastes as good this way – I get it! But with a little extra planning and creativity, you can make it good enough and then when you DO have time, great – cook up something fresh then, but assume that usually that’s going to be a “once in awhile” kind of thing.
One key component is knowing how much of something to prep in advance so that A) it will last more than a day, and B) you’ll be able to use it all before it goes bad in the fridge. If you batch up 3lbs of frozen chicken (48oz), figure it usually cooks down to about 80-85% of that weight (38-40 ounces cooked) and you can get an idea of how many days that will last you based on the portion sizes you use, then you can prepare more/less at once based on when you know it will be convenient.
[bctt tweet=”Pro tip: most mass-prepped proteins suffer in quality/tastiness due to dryness. So when reheating, sprinkle some water on there first and cover it in the microwave to trap the moisture in. #mealprep #nutrition #bodybuilding” username=””]
Note that the leaner a protein source is, the higher that percentage is. Ground turkey that’s 99% lean will usually cook down to about 95% of its raw weight – pretty close to a 1:1 ratio.
#2 – Don’t shy away from packaged options
Especially as backup options, things like packaged pre-cooked chicken breast strips or Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice are awesome go-to items if you find yourself short on a serving of something you need or in a rush and unable to prep things the way you typically would. Or if you drop a chicken breast on the floor or in the sink when transferring it to tupperware. Not that I’m speaking from experience there or anything.
You’ll typically pay a bit more for the convenience of getting something that’s pre-cooked, already sliced, or otherwise more convenient – but it’s a fair trade-off especially if you find yourself in a pinch or up against a time crunch!
#3 – Multi-task
Especially when doing your mass prep, as this is usually a task that does NOT require your constant attention. Take advantage of that and do something else – get your carbs ready, assemble meals in containers for the next couple days, chop up some veggies, or just clean up the damn kitchen and put some dishes away!
You could sit there and baby that ground turkey or micromanage that baking chicken, but it’ll be fine – set a timer so you remember to come back to it but otherwise get some other stuff done! While I’m nursing a pot of 4lbs of ground turkey that’s browning on the stove, I’ll sometimes fire off client feedback on videos they’ve sent for review, give the kitchen counters a thorough cleaning, prepare my first 1 or 2 meals for the next day, take inventory on what’s running low and add it to my Evernote shopping list on my phone – the list goes on and on.
I’m not usually a fan of multi-tasking, as studies show the more you do it the more at least one (or both) of those tasks suffer in quality. But protein prep really just requires you to be present and not do much, so I make an exception here!
#4 – Prepare your morning the night before
Mornings are usually when we are the most pressed for time, especially those of us who want to enjoy a proper, cooked, whole-food breakfast.
My staple is a combination of eggs and egg whites alongside a bowl of cream of rice. So I crack the eggs and measure out the egg whites and put them in a small mixing bowl in the fridge, and measure out the dry ingredients for my cream of rice and leave it on the counter.
[bctt tweet=”Even though these days I don’t usually wake up in a big rush, I love preparing my morning meal in advance the night before just to start off the day with less busy work to have to deal with. #bodybuilding #nutrition #mealprep” username=””]
If I suspect I’m really going to be in a hurry, I’ll take it a step further – get out the pan I’ll use for the eggs along with the no-stick cooking spray, get out the plate I’ll dish it on to and pull silverware out of the drawer, while also making sure I’ve got enough water in the tea kettle to boil for the cream of rice. Then when I wake up, I literally flip on the tea kettle and the burner, spray down the pan and pour the egg mix into it, and it’s off to the races from there. It requires almost no thought and I can still be mostly asleep by the time that first meal is ready to eat.
#5 – Don’t prep plain!
In other words – SEASON WHAT YOU PREP, and do it well! I am a self-proclaimed flavor slut – I prefer all of my foods to have big, bold flavors. If you eat bland, boring-ass chicken and rice, it’s just evidence that you clearly hate yourself and it’s also going to make you hate bodybuilding if you keep doing that. I know people tend to adopt the thinking that “if I’m suffering more, clearly it’s making me a better bodybuilder” but that does not apply here. Use some flavor!
Some of my favorite combinations:
- Ground turkey with taco seasoning and extra smoked paprika and red pepper flakes
- Ground chicken, cooked up sausage style with fennel seeds (lots), garlic powder, red pepper flakes, basil and oregano
- Chicken breast with garlic powder and Frank’s Red Hot sauce *or* soy sauce
#6 – Plan, plan, and plan some more
This starts with your schedule – when can you prep and when will you? I am NOT about spending an entire Sunday afternoon putting together all your meals and stacking them neatly in the fridge or on the counter like an insane person. I prep, throw things in big-ass containers, and then dish them out one meal (since I work from home) or one day (if you leave the house) at a time. You’ll spend 5-10 minutes nightly packing things up for the next day, but you’ll also reclaim your Sunday afternoon and a bunch of fridge space in the process. But know WHEN you’ll mass prep so you know how much you need to batch up.
[bctt tweet=”Figure that most batch-cooked proteins will NOT last 7 days, so trying to prep everything on Sunday is a bad strategy as you won’t make it the full week – I try to plan for 4-5 days at a time and have had great success with that over the years. #nutrition #mealprep #contestprep” username=””]
Next, shopping: if you’re following a set meal plan, this is easy – you know what you need and how much for a week. If you’re following a macro-based plan, look at your numbers, look at your plan (or plans) from the previous week, and spend 10-15 minutes looking up new recipes/combinations and deciding on any changes you want to implement for the week ahead. Again, figure out how much of what you’ll need.
Next, we make our list – I admit I’m a little crazy in this regard. I treat the grocery store like a video game speed level – how quickly can I get in and out? So my list is organized based on my usual path through the store. No doubling back, and therefore I don’t have to spend time crossing things off my list as I go. If I’ve passed that aisle, I know I’ve got what I need. And for the record, yes – my wife hates going shopping with me.
Bring it on home
Clearly, meal prep is an essential part of bodybuilding. Unless you are independently wealthy and LOVE cooking, we just can’t spend the time necessary to cook up fresh meals every day from a practical perspective. But using these tips you can make your meal prep time more efficient AND make tastier food at the same time – which makes everything more sustainable, which means better long-term results!