Finding time for cooking can be complicated for athletes with tight schedules. Fitting the extra time for cooking into a day already busy with training, work, family and life can be a lot of work. Meal prepping can becoming a wonderful ally for triathletes and runners.
Preparing food in advance is a great way of adding quality and variety to your diet. Taking extra time one day a week can lower the stress around mealtime and increase your ability to enjoy nutritious and delicious food while saving time and money.
When it comes to meal prepping, the first image that comes to mind for most people is a fridge full of containers with meals individually packed for the whole week. However, I see some downsides to this method:
Having the same meal every single day can become very monotonous.
The chance is high that towards the end of the week the food will become less appealing, either because it has been sitting there for a while or because you have had enough of it.
If some elements in the container go off quicker than others the whole meal can go to waste.
The method that I like and often recommend is to prepare a few individual items. This allows you to build different meals and snacks around those items. Here are some additional benefits of doing this:
It adds variety to your meals.
They can be stored for longer than a week. Some things can be cooked in bulk and portions frozen for another time.
It is easier to store these elements in ways that will increase their storage life.
With this in mind, here are my top 5 tips for nailing your meal prep as a busy triathlete or runner.
1. Get some gear
You will need to store food so make sure you have adequate containers, and ensure they are freezer friendly.
Silicone freezer bags are great to storing food or taking snacks with you without using disposable plastics such as Ziploc bags.
Having gadgets such a rice cooker or multi-function cooker can be handy too. Rice cookers are relatively affordable and, as someone who used to either overcook or undercook her rice, this gadget has been truly appreciated in my house.
2. The art of batch cooking
If possible, try to cook in batches things that you know can work well in different dishes or formats. For example, one of my favourites is cooking 1 kg of chicken breast at once. I add some seasoning such as salt, pepper or BBQ seasoning before cooking them, then I split them in individual portions and freeze them in silicone bags.
From here I can either a) add them to my lunchbox the night before with some salad and pasta or rice so they are defrosted and ready to eat the next day or b) have them available to add to soups, make as sandwiches, or mix with different type of sauces to add to dishes.
Other things that I love cooking in batches are roasted vegetables, soups, mince meat, dressings and sauces.
3. Clever storage
Probably one of the most frustrating things to prepare in advance are salads. It's often hard to store them in the fridge without them wilting very quickly. Even though they are still unlikely to last the whole week, I have found that chopping different veggies in advance and storing them in individual containers increases the likelihood of them staying nicer for longer.
I still recommend that, whenever possible, you chop your vegetables closer to the time you will eat them so they can be as fresh as possible.
4. Think outside the fridge
There are some pantry essentials with a long storage life that can become the perfect companions to some meals. These are particularly handy when you have 3/4 of a meal ready but you are missing the carbohydrate or protein. I always have these available in my pantry: tinned tuna, tomatoes, beans, corn kernels and chickpeas.
5. Have a plan
Look at the week ahead and plan in advance to ensure you have everything you need. This also includes your time - having big plans and finding out halfway through you don’t have enough time to execute them can become very frustrating.
Lock some time in your schedule when you think it is going to be most convenient for you to spend 1-2 hours in the kitchen.
Make a list of the things you would like to cook and the order you are going to cook them.
Get all ingredients and gear required.
Set good music (recommended)