On the Athlete’s Plate: Top 15 Meal Prep Tips for the Time Crunched Athlete

By Emma Andrews on August 20, 2015 , categorized in Endurance, Strength + Conditioning

Meal Prep Tips

If you’re always on the go like me, convenience is king. Yet I don’t want to sacrifice nutrition to fit it all in. I love food, so I don’t dread meal prep, but I have found a few tips that have helped me save time (and in many cases, money), as I train for ambitious goals (like recently completing two marathons in a week!). No matter what you’re training for, there’s bound to be a tip or two below that could save you precious time each week.

For Every Athlete

1. Measure up.

Measure out 1 cup servings of frozen fruit for your smoothies each week, and add to a reusable plastic bag with frozen greens such as spinach, or wheat grass cubes (find these in the freezer section of your natural grocer). There’s a reason juice and smoothie bars do this too – it saves time! Simply add your protein powder, and 1 cup liquid of your choice to the blender when you’re ready. Easy post-workout fuel made even simpler.

2. Get scrappy.

Save leftovers, no matter how small a portion (even when you may not think it’s “worth it”), so once a week you can easily make a super quick tapas-style meal out of multiple smaller portions. I use tapas plates often as meals while I work, so I can graze in between emails. It also means I don’t let too many hours go by without eating, so I am still energized for evening workouts.

3. Full steam ahead.

Batch cook your veggies, steaming them until about 60% done, and then rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain, and freeze in meal size portions (in a freezer bag or glass container). This allows you to buy more seasonal and/or organic vegetables when on sale, and have the cleanest, most nutrient dense options on hand. Toss them into stir-fry or add to whole grains (near the end of cooking, along with your spices). If you choose to simply steam them to thaw and eat, they’ll be ready in only a minute or two, versus 5 to 10 from raw.

4. Bulk Up. Your bars!

When you’re an on-the-go athlete, chances are you’re eating a bar at least every other day for convenient nutrition. Check out the Vega eStore, and your other favorite brands, where you’ll often find better deals than in-store, or you can sign up for email alerts for when there are promotions.

5. Focus on your pregame.

To cut down on the cooking time for grains and legumes, pre-soak them during the day (while you are at work and training), and they’ll cook much faster for your evening meal. Save yourself 10 to 20 minutes which you can use for foam rolling, or laundry (gym clothes rejoice!). Pop a few portions of pre-cooked grains into baggies to store in the freezer for future meals too.

6. Compartmentalize it.

Use a shaker bottle with attached compartments for pills/powders (like this one). It makes your post-workout recovery convenient, and you never have to compromise on your nutrition, or struggle to track down a decent meal post-workout (which may not be readily available depending on where you train).

For the Endurance Athlete

7. Cook in your sleep.

For endurance athletes who often stack two workouts in a day and are gone for multiple meals, one pot or slow cooker meals (like stew, chilli, curry etc) can be a good option. Here’s the trick though, prepare them before bed, and set your slow cooker on a timer overnight. In the morning you can pack up a hearty lunch and/or dinner to take on the road with you. As most of the clean-up can be done the night before you also aren’t left with a pile of dishes in the morning. Winning! Try this slow cooker jambalaya.

8. Overnight express.

Swap overnight, or soaked oats for your stovetop variety, and catch a couple extra minutes of Zzzzs on the weekend before your long run. Due to the soaking, you’ll also digest this type of oats faster, meaning a better net energy gain. Find our favoriteovernight oats recipe here.

9. Get shredded.

Pulse hearty veggies (like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cabbage) in the food processor to make a rice-like texture. Sautée lightly for a few minutes, or use raw as the base for a stir-fry or curry. Ready in only a few minutes compared to 20 to 30 minutes for rice or other grains. This can be a healthy way to reduce your reliance on starchy carbohydrates if you are aiming to lean out, and reach your racing weight.

For the Strength Athlete

10. Protein packed.

Protein pancakesmake a great breakfast or brunch, and are always worth making a double batch as they transport well in a reusable bag (make them smaller, like a coaster size), and you’ll be snacking strong through the whole week. Fun tip: make a savory version with added herbs (such as oregano and dill), and you could use protein pancakes in place of a burger bun, or sandwich bread.

11. Don’t skip a beet.

Beets are incredible for athletes, especially for building power (find out why here). They’re also very messy to cook – and often avoided for this reason. Skip the hassle, and ask at your grocer for pre-cooked and ready-to-eat (marinated) Love Beets,or shred a whole raw beet in the food processor for an easy, hearty garnish of color and nutrients to shake up your salad routine. While you’re at it, shred some carrots too, and you’ll cover off more of the rainbow (of nutrients) at once.

For the “Foodie Jock”

12. Be a seasoned pro.

Premix spice blends into baggies to season your proteins (like tofu, beans and whole grains) in a pinch. Save time without having to look up recipes, or take inventory of your spice cabinet first, or standing uninspired in front of the fridge. Simply grab a bag, and toss cubed tofu in with a bit of broth or olive oil to help mix it around evenly. Or add the spice mix to whole grains and broth cooking on the stovetop, toss in nuts & seeds at the finish. Check out this spice and flavor infographic for inspiration.

13. Get personal.

Collect and catalog inspiration that’s accessible anywhere and mobile-friendly using Pinterest. You can do your meal planning on transit, or in line at the bank! I browse Pinterest boards (likeVega’s Vegan Recipe Board), and each week I pick out one or two recipes from the inspiration boards to make. It’s my mobile-friendly grocery list I can refer to in store.

14. Hot soak.

(Your cashews). Many a good plant-based dressing, pudding or sauce recipe use cashews for the base. If you’re avoiding making a meal (like this one), at home because of the soaking time for cashews (3 to 6 hours), soak your raw cashews in hot water versus room temperature water and cut the soak time down to just 20 minutes.

15. Limp-No-More!

Prep a quick (under 10minutes), savory, nutrient dense meal, and don’t waste any veggies going limp in the fridge with this easy un-recipe.

  • Quick Recipe: Use 2 to3 cups raw, rinsed, and roughly diced veggies (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, carrots). Add to a high-powered blender with one can of full fat coconut milk and a few tsp’s of spices (ginger, garlic, cayenne etc). Pulse in the blender, adding a bit of vegetable broth or water until it’s your desired consistency. You can serve as a cold gazpacho (even faster!), or lightly heat on the stove until warm. Add 1/2 to 1 cup lentils per person (rinse and drain lentils first if using canned).
  • Note: The limpness is due to a loss of water, so as long as the veggies still have their color, they are good to eat. Don’t waste time going to buy more groceries!

How do you save time in the kitchen playground? Share your favorite time saving tips for athletes below!

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Emma Andrews

Emma Andrews is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, certified in Plant-based Cooking. An endurance runner and cross-training addict, Emma believes the kitchen is your playground. She loves exploring new and innovative ingredients, recipes and food trends almost as much as she loves beating a personal best in trail and road races all around North America. Her motto? “Live a life that’s anything but average!” Learn more about her work as a public speaker and wellness educator at emmamazing.com or join her on social @emmamazing_life

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