Meal planning may seem somewhat pedestrian and obvious, but it is one area that most of us can not only improve on with our current system, but also save a large amount of time and hassle down the road if we take a proactive approach to it.
A bodybuilder’s diet is complex, detailed and is intended to be steadfast against the changes and surprises thrown at us by life. It requires constant attention and focus and is often the number one reason many aspiring bodybuilders never make it past a few months of strict training. When you endeavor to deprive yourself of foods that taste good and replace them with bland and boring utilitarian foods, you will no doubt struggle with cheating on your diet; you may feel guilt over situational food choices (i.e. restaurant menu choices etc), and ultimately sticking to your diet could be one of the most difficult aspects of bodybuilding to overcome.
If this is in fact the case, why not simplify your meal planning; make it something you need to think about less and less, allowing you to focus on more important things?
You already know the elements of an effective bodybuilding diet, you understand portion and frequency and you’ve determined precisely how much protein should be in each meal. Now…simplify, simplify, simplify.
Do some simple arithmetic and in general terms identify the number of meals you should be eating in one week. This week should include weekends and training off days (you don’t stop eating on off days) and should ignore anticipated dinners out or meals prepared by someone else (family dinner etc). The number you come up with should be somewhere between 42 and 56; six to eight meals per day for seven days; this gives you an idea of the amount of groceries and supplies you’re going to need.
Next, write out some lists; you should already have a fully understood and written diet plan in place. Writing out your plan will help to not only ensure you haven’t missed anything, but will also help to familiarize your brain with the coming restrictions and habits; a written diet plan will also make it much easier to plan grocery day, identify problems and figure out where to make adjustments to your eating habits as your physique and routine change in the future.
While examining your diet plan, with each day broken up into its allotted meals, identify the quantities of the various ingredients involved. Listing the number of chicken breasts, cans of tuna, fruit items, the number of protein shakes, and the amount of rice or pasta in each meal; adding up each item to make a total for the week. Next, break down this total in to an ingredient list; make a rough estimation of the amount of cooking ingredients needed for each dish or item. If your main source of complex carbohydrates is rice, estimate how much you will need per week and indentify the amount in a typical container from the supermarket.
It’s easy to see where this is going; once you have populated your ingredient or shopping list, take it with you to the grocery store! Oh the numbers of people who stray from a diet plan, because they forgot their list at home and couldn’t remember what ingredients they needed. In any event, while making the rounds with your new list, be sure to record the price of each item, to better help you streamline and edit the list according to your budget.
So now that you’ve got a kitchen full of ingredients and a freezer full of chicken, what’s next?
Before we get into food preparation, there are some logistical issues that deserve attention. The prospect of eating like a professional bodybuilder can present some challenges, not the least of which is food storage, both before and after cooking. Most of us aren’t able to cart around a refrigerator all day, and the vast majorities of us hold full time jobs and have lives outside of the gym; because of this, Tupperware is our friend. Invest in good quality, medium to large size Tupperware containers, preferably several identical bins for precooked and ready to serve meals to be stored and transported in, and eaten out of; this will simplify some of those logistical issues, reduce the amount of dishes to clean and make portable meals much easier to handle.
Before going to all this trouble, be sure you can accommodate your meal containers in your working situation. No one would recommend eating a chicken and rice lunch that has sat unrefrigerated in open sun for half a day, while it may not pose any kind of health risk (if prepared properly), at the very least it will be less than tasty. If necessary, invest in a medium to large cooler or cooler bag and/or make arrangements to leave meals in a refrigerator at the office, (though try to be courteous to others at your workplace, don’t fill the entire fridge with your food, leaving no room for anyone else!)
The most time consuming and potentially disruptive part of meal planning is the actual preparation and cooking of the food. To our great dismay, most of us don’t have access to gourmet chef’s and professional kitchens to do our bidding as demanded, if you do, feel free to skip ahead a few paragraphs. For the rest of us, we’re faced with the prospect of a mountain of dirty cookware, food and ingredients spread out all over the kitchen and a whole lot of food to be dealt with.
The most efficient cooking schedule would be to cook / prepare and store your daily meals each night, getting everything ready for the next day before bed, though some may argue. It would be possible to prepare your meals for the entire week on the weekend or off day, though you would then be faced with the problem of storing meals for the entire week. Either way the process would be the same.
Begin by preparing and cooking your meats, as often they will require more cooking time than the other elements of your meals. Organize your kitchen work space so that you can quickly find and deal with each ingredient, remembering to wash all surfaces that your raw chicken comes into contact with (including your hands), to avoid salmonella contamination. Take the time at this stage to slice, dish out and completely serve each meal into your Tupperware containers to simplify the process later, so that all you’ll need to do is open and eat. It’s a good idea to mark a meal number and date on your containers with a piece of masking tape and a marker, it might also be wise to mark your name on the container, to avoid anyone else eating your scrumptious meal by accident.
Missing meals in your plan is not the end of the world, it will have an effect on your energy level and protein intake, though negligible, but the psychological affect can be a problem. If you have organized your diet and meal plan to be unaccommodating toward real life, you are setting yourself up to fail. Even the most strict and steadfast bodybuilder does not live in a vacuum, life still happens around and to them, and failing to account for this will quickly become a problem.
Quite often, missing a meal or replacing a meal with something less than conducive to your plan, can leave you feeling guilty and if unavoidable on a regular basis, can become an excuse to forget the plan altogether. Be aware from the very beginning that there will be missed meals, there will be times when you stray from the diet and there will be situations that require restraint; try to avoid using the word “cheat”, as that type of language will bear excuses on it’s back. If you remain realistic about your dedication to a bodybuilding lifestyle, you will be better armed to deal with distractions, changes and temptations.
Planning your meals, from purchase to consumption, is the most effective way to simplify your daily routine, and routine is the key to a successful bodybuilding career (whether professional or casual). Get yourself into some good habits and you will continue to succeed; and planning will help you to not only avoid those bad habits, but will allow you to indentify and fix the ones you miss.