Meal Prep for Athletes: a 6-Step Guide 

Graphic showing an athlete meal prepping

So many athletes make meal prep way too complicated. Today we are covering the benefits of meal prepping for athletes and my 6-step guide so that you can meal prep for your week without spending hours in the kitchen on your precious weekends! 

Benefits of meal prepping:

  • Makes nutrition less stressful during the work week
  • Increases your likelihood to reach for nutrient-dense foods 
  • Can help you better align your nutrition with your training
  • Can combat decision fatigue at the end of a workday
  • Decreases food waste
  • The better your nutrition, the better you’ll feel, the better your energy will be and the better you’ll perform in the gym and out on the road running!

Avoid these top meal prep mistakes:

  • Making it way too complicated: too many new recipes, meals are too complex and have too many ingredients
  • Not being practical with how much time you have/want to dedicate to meal prepping
  • Making it boring: eating the same meal or snack too many times, choosing meals you don’t truly enjoy 
  • Trying to make everything from scratch
  • Neglecting pre-prepared meal ingredients like microwave rice, frozen shrimp, frozen veggies, canned tuna, etc

My 6-Step Guide: 

Before you dive into meal prepping, you must first meal plan and grocery shop! This makes prepping so much easier. Follow my 6-step guide so you can set yourself up for a successful week of fueling and nourishing your body. 

Step 1: Athlete’s Meals and Snacks 

I recommend that athletes eat 3 meals/day. In addition to meals, snacks can be a helpful way to meet your daily nutrition needs as an athlete.

For meals, use my Runner’s Plate Framework as a guide:

An infographic showing the 3 Runner's Plates to help athletes meal plan and align their plate with their training

For snacks, use my Runner’s Snack Framework as a guide:

An infographic showing examples of athlete snacks

Be sure to check out my post The Ultimate Guide to an Athlete Breakfast where we cover what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat for breakfast along with some breakfast ideas.

Step 2: Check Your Work, Life and Training Schedules

Look at what you have going on during the upcoming week to see what meals need to be quick and/or prepped ahead of time and if you need to adjust your meals based on your training for the week. 

Here are some example scenarios: 

  • If you have a short time-frame between when you get home from work and your kid’s sports practice, you may need to have a quick dinner ready
  • If you see that you have an intense speed workout mid-week and a double digit long run on the weekend, those meals leading up to your workouts will need to have more carbs and you’ll want to include that in your meal planning
  • If your workouts are usually 1-hour in the mornings and you need to have grab and go breakfast options available to take to work with you, you’ll want to prep ahead of time
  • If you have early morning workouts scheduled and need a small carb snack like graham crackers to eat quickly beforehand, you’ll want to make sure those get on your grocery list

Step 3: Meal Plan

First, brainstorm some meal and snack ideas. 

My 3 favorite places to get meal ideas, inspo and recipes: 

Next, create your meal plan.

Here are 2 meal planning options: 

  1. Do this loosely and create a flexible meal plan

For example, write out 3-4 dinners you’re going to have during the upcoming week then in the morning of each day decide what you’re in the mood for and what sounds good to you (then take ingredients out to defrost if you need to).

Plan for leftovers for a quick, easy meal. For example, if it’s you and your partner, make 4 portions of your dinner and repeat that same dinner the next night or eat leftovers for lunch the next day.

  1. Create a more structured meal plan and follow it to a T 

For example: plan out Monday meals, Tuesday meals, etc. then eat everything you planned at each meal, each day. I find that this works well for many of my health care clients who are doctors and nurses and have long 12-hour hospital shifts.

There is no right or wrong way to meal plan. Find a way that works the best for you. Sometimes it may require a bit of trial and error and that’s ok!  

Step 4: Write Out Your Grocery List

You can do this in the notes on your phone or the old-fashioned way with paper and pencil! I like to categorize my list by where I can find items in the store like my produce, proteins, grains, etc. 

Step 5: Go Grocery Shopping 

You can shop on the same day as when you meal plan or on a separate day. Do what works the best for you for that particular week! 

Step 6: Meal Prep

You can do this on the same day that you meal plan and shop or you can do it on a different day. 

3 options to try for meal prepping:

  1. Meal prep everything. Make all of your meals and snacks for the week 
  2. Batch prep. Prep all of your proteins, veggies, grains, etc. for the week. Then simply put the cooked ingredients together and reheat right before eating!
  3. Ask yourself, “what will save me lots of time and energy during the week based on the meals and snacks that I planned?” For example, roast a tray of veggies, make individual portions of overnight oats or simply wash and cut produce 
A graphic showing an example of an athlete lunch or dinner

These kitchen tools may make meal prepping faster and easier:

  • An airfryer can be an easy way to batch prep your proteins and veggies
  • A veggie chopper can save you lots of chopping time
  • A food processor can help you easily make dressings and oat peanut butter energy balls
  • A crockpot can be a simple way to make a big batch of stew or chili 

Don’t forget about meal prep services like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron and Factor75.

You can make this step very complex or simple. Again, find what works the best for you and what will make meals and snacks easier to put together during the week so you can fuel well all week long! 

Pantry Essentials

Picture this: you planned to go out with a friend for dinner after work but she cancels on you at the last minute. Now you need to eat at home. When you get home, you open the fridge and realize you don’t have much on hand…

This is where pantry essentials come into play. What can you keep on hand in your pantry, fridge and freezer that will help you put together a healthy, balanced meal when you’re in a pinch? 

My list of go-to meals using pantry essentials:

  • Rotisserie chicken, frozen veggies, microwave rice
  • Stir fry with shelled edamame, frozen veggies, microwave rice, ginger, coconut aminos, minced garlic
  • Salad kit, smoked salmon, precooked quinoa, apple
  • Premade overnight oats: Mush and a Chobani Complete yogurt drink
  • Premade egg bites, bagel with cream cheese, piece of fruit

Takeaways 

Meal prepping doesn’t have to be a complicated, lengthy process and you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen. Use this 6-step guide and some of these tips to help you prep for your week and fuel your body well as an athlete, even on your busiest days! 

Interested in further guidance on meal prep for runners? Check out our Practical Steps for Meal Planning, Shopping and Prepping Masterclass

If you’re looking for individualized support through nutrition coaching, apply or contact me and we’ll chat.

Hi, I’m Emily!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, RRCA Run Coach & NASM Certified Personal Trainer. I am passionate about helping runners dial in their fueling, training and mindset so they can feel good, go the distance and smash their goals.