Meal Prep

I made a suggestion yesterday on a post about spending time while on the IC concentrating on meal prep, and had what I thought a rather odd response, and it got me thinking about the subject.

A lot of people on her state wanting to lose weight as their motivation to start running, or to become leaner. A few trying to gain mass or struggling to maintain it. The 80% diet 20% exercise maxim gets bandied about a fair bit, and there is occasional discussion of ‘healthy eating’, but how much time do you actually spend on nutrition planning and meal prep? I don’t mean how long does it take you to cook your supper, but how much of your week do you devote to working out your food strategy, calculating your macros, shopping and prepping etc specific to your fitness/training/health/weightloss goals?

We generally understand the importance of having a training plan to achieve our running/fitness goals, be it C25k or a 10k/marathon plan or whatever and generally pretty good at sticking to it, but if that is the 20%, how much time do we put into the 80%?

Do you have a clear picture of your calorie requirements, your protein/carb/fat targets? Are going high carb/low fat or low carb/high fat? How much protein you are getting at eacg meal?

Josh Hillis famously suggests that the most effective way of ramping up your weightloss and/or athletic results is to drop two workout sessions a week and spend the time on food prep and shopping instead. The key to long term success being developing consistent habits

Habit 1- Plan- Plan your meals for the week, either Sunday or Monday. Grid your free meals ahead of time.

Habit 2- Shop- Go shopping for the food on your plan, either on Sunday or Monday.

Habit 3- Cook- Prepare, cook, and portion the food on your plan on Sunday or Monday.

Habit 4- Journal- Keep a daily food journal. Review your food journal weekly, either on Sunday or Monday.

Habit 5- Protein- Make sure you’re getting protein with every meal. Shoot for three-quarters of a gram of protein per pound of target bodyweight, per day.

I generally review where we’re at and what our macros need to be for the coming week on Saturday, and plan meals and do a big shop accordingly. Sundays experiment with any new dishes and find workarounds for things (replacing sugar and grains mainly), and prep my wife’s lunchboxes for work for the first half of the week. I also prep containers of basic goto stuff like quinoa salads and so on that just sit on the fridge and can be added to snacks and quick meals. Hardboil a couple of dozen eggs, bake a bunch of sweet potatoes etc, so these things are readily to hand as and when needed. Then Wednesdays I do much the same again, with a smaller shop for more fresh veg and stuff and the remainder of the week’s lunches. Everything else – breakfasts, evening meals, the kids lunchboxes I just do on the day.

I don’t weigh and measure quantities as I can do this pretty accurately by eye now, and don’t track all the time in MFP, although every 3 months or so I will do a couple of weeks of tracking just to see exactly what the picture looks like. There are always a few things that surprise me.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. It takes more thought that hands-on effort, and if anything it frees up time – particularly as my meals, my wife’s meals and the kids meals are different according to our differing requirements and it is very time consuming trying to do all that on the fly.

In terms of results it works very well. My wife has lost 6kg in weight and a 6% reduction in bodyfat since Christmas. I have put on 4 kg of lean muscle in the same time. The kids get sugarfree Snickers bars and even the dog is healthier. In terms of payoff for time put in vs results out, every hour spent on meal prep definitely outweighs hours spent running or chucking weights around. Probably in that 80/20 ratio.

So, meal prep. That’s why I think it time well spent. And you can still do it while on the IC.

44 Replies

  • Interesting. And food for thought - if you'll excuse the pun. It makes sense, but really seems to be an aspect that is generally neglected. Maybe not by the professionals but certainly by the rest of us. 

  • Run away with me Rig!!!!

    Any man who does that amount of thought, shopping & food prep is a god in my eyes!!! 😆

    Ok onto the serious response.

    I do spend time planning meals but vary in the time spent prepping. I've always had a struggle with my weight (I'm "cuddly") but have found I absolutely need to be in the right mind set to ensure I'm eating the right things & in the right amounts.

    I've just started using MFP & yes it really does give you a bit of a wake up call especially re portion sizes.

    Thanks for posting, a really good & timely post for me. 

  • Immediate thoughts, yes I agree meal planning is crucial (Friday being my big shop day - all local stuff which I prepare and store for the week ahead).  Some excellent tips here that I´ll be incorporating.  But what´s IC and MFP?  

  • IC is the Injury Couch

    MFP is My fitness pal. It's an ap which you can use to track what you are eating and how much exercise you do.

  • thank you.

  • Planning is key. I've lost the habit so some meals, particularly lunches, aren't what they should be so weight loss is inconsistent. 

    Once it's habit, it's no effort. 

  • I've always planned meals so I actually don't have to think about it too much these days. Like you I use My Fitness Pal for a determined period to check I'm on track with the food.

    We eat three square meals a day (no snacking) and really what we look out for is the amount of vegetables there are in each meal, protein (that's what stops me from getting hungry) and the sugar levels. A few years ago my husband had high triglycerides and my son is diabetic so being aware of sugar levels is just part of life.

    Like you Rig I don't need to measure and weigh everything but I do occasionally because I need a reality check once in a while.

    The key for me is the portion sizes. I have a very healthy apetite and since I've been running I get even hungrier.

    Oh and I also try not to eat too much carbohydrate in the form of bread. I don't know why but I put on weight with bread but not with oats or lentils.

    A fascinating topic all round.

  • "I don't know why but I put on weight with bread but not with oats or lentils."

    Lentils and Oats are slow release carbs, Bread is mega fast release

  • I think it's even simpler than that - bread is very high in energy and it is very easy to eat a lot of it!

  • What an interesting and thought provoking post Rignold. My struggle is to put on(ideally) or maintain a healthy weight with healthy options! Most popular books are geared to supporting weight loss rather than weight gain. Any ideas? I know you are a well-read man!

  • Interesting post. I was thinking of starting a thread on nutrition after reading yesterday's Guardian article about sugar. It's more about the politics of nutrition science but very interesting nonetheless:

    We have got a bit better about meal planning but probably approach shopping and cooking more with a "what do we fancy?" head on, rather than any thinking about macros. What is a macro? Portion size also an issue for us as we can both eat like a couple of hungry horses. 

    I'm interested in the paleo v vegan debate. Should we eat like cavemen or medieval peasants?

    We've made some changes for the better this year, though.

    I am, of this morning, 12kg down since January. Woot woot 😌

  • I find these articles exasperating. I am utterly mystified by the "we've been told for years that it is all about low fat when really it was all about sugar" 1) As if people's diets *actually* reflected that and b) as if no-one was talking about sugar as an issue. It does not reflect my professional experience.

  • Saw an interesting piece on the programme about delaying ageing on BBC1 last night saying that following a vegan diet appeared  to decrease morbidity and mortality from age related diseases.  We eat very little meat now as our daughter has become veggie and it is just easier so we are eating  more pulses, beans etc but I don't think I could completely give up dairy, I do like my cheese and yoghurt.  We might start increasing the amount of vegan meals we have though. I find that since I have started running I am becoming much more interested in nutrition, thinking about what food can actually do for my body instead of just whether it tastes nice and how much of it I can cram in my mouth!

  • My son persuaded me to go vegan over Christmas (we already were vegetarian), so when I got back home after the holidays, I went for it.

    The hardest thing to give up was Greek yoghurt, but I got over it and now don't miss it at all.

    I really do prefer eating this way, I ensure I have a wide range of foods and like Rignold, I do spend some time planning my menus.

    Entering a typical day's food into a website like is a very useful way of confirming that my nutrient needs are met and gives me ideas of areas that I may need to tweak.

    My biggest worry when I made the change was whether I would get enough protein and I was amazed at how much protein there is in everything, even fruits and vegetables.  I know I am getting enough because I am managing to gain muscle - visible proof that the diet is OK.

    Enjoy your vegan meals, they can be totally delicious!

  • Thanks that is really encouraging, it will force us to be a bit more inventive with meals too, it is easy to get stuck in a rut.

  • It was an interesting programme. I try to eat veggie a couple of times a week but never tried vegan - perhaps I should give it a try.

  • Blimey Rig, I'm in awe yet again. I don't even know what macros are! I do cook from scratch rather than using any pre-prepared stuff but, apart from that, I just tend to wing it. However, with diabetes and heart disease in the family, perhaps I should be more mindful of what we eat. TBH, I'm not sue I'd know where I'd  start. 

    Very interesting programme on aging and life expectancy on the telly last night. Basically, go vegan, eat a handful of nuts every day, introduce an innulin supplement into your diet to break down visceral fat and take exercise (dance). Sufficiently shocking to convince my determinedly carnivore hubby to go veggie 3 days a week, which is amazing in itself.

    Any advice on books to read/ websites to check out would be gratefully received.

  • Hi, I recently discovered the cook book "Deliciously Ella" by Ella Woodward. She concentrates on a plant based diet which I tweek as I don't need to avoid diary. She basically boxes up pre-prepared foods in much the same way as Rig suggests, which can then be used adhoc to make meals in minutes. She is very "gushing" everything is delicious, tasty, gorgeous etc but as a vegetarian, I love picking up a book that I can eat everything from. She avoids everything processed and even takes into account wheat and nut allergies. Worth a read (Sainsburys were doing this for £10 a few weeks ago).

    I haven't a clue about macros etc, but having a newly veggie teenager about to leave for uni, I wanted her to learn to prepare quick, healthy, cheap meals and this book has got her interested in food for health. Not exactly the scientific nutritional info you requested but a good starting point?

  • Thank you, slowstart, that's really helpful. I doubt I could ever ween hubby off his Sunday roast but a book full of tasty veggie meals and tips on forward planning would be useful. 

  • I plan my diet our diet very carefully.  In my household it's a necessity as I have to go into vitamin and mineral breakdown as well with my other half on the verge pre transplant with kidney failure.  On the whole I use the advice from the dietitian and consultants for both of us and then ask cheeky questions about how I can add the stuff in to compliment my running as potassium is one that I have to keep relatively low for my other half but I need to watch my intake.  I've always been careful with my food but it feels like a different experience when you medically have to do this to rather than being a choice.  I aim for myself to keep my body in such a good condition I hopefully won't have to change my diet due to health problems and have it forced in me in the future that's my overall food health plan.  

  • Really interesting post and replies.  I have always thought meal planning was a good thing but rarely manage to be that organised.  I started running because I wanted to get movement back into my body but since then I have been warned by my GP that I am pre diabetic (sob sob) so its weight loss as well now!  Portion size is my issue, I had got into the habit of eating the same amounts as my 6' + partner, that and loving bread too much.  I think sharing information and ideas would be very helpful and I am going to make a big effort to better plan meals for the week.

  • Yes, I have the same problem! Using a smaller plate helps but I get tempted by snacks in between meals when hubby raids the cupboard!

  • Really interesting, thought-provoking and useful post, thanks Rignold. 

    There is another factor in all this - there can be something meditative, certainly relaxing, about preparing food and feeling you are on top of the week ahead. Plus I can remember as a student reading the seminal Laurel's Kitchen in the early 80s and my feminist hackles rising slightly at her description of the lunches she prepared for her husband to take to work but again, there is something important and  going on there which is about more than nutrition but certainly about health and wellbeing.

    My focus tends to be the 'health of the chickens' as the quotation goes (although I too have a weakness for a stash of hardboiled eggs, no matter how much my family take the mickey, a real retro pleasure...not very good at knowing when to stop eating them though... which is generally a hazard of preparing a lot of food ahead of time for me)

    As for my running partner... well she is an aid to weight loss as she will eat leftovers I'd otherwise 'tidy up'.  Sometimes without being invited, ahem.

    I do envy you your appreciative family. Mine poke about like suspicious cats. 

  • Very interesting - and I agree we should spend much more time and thought on food/eating/shopping/prep. 

    I found the BBC programme last night very interesting - and about time too - especially the evidence for veganism - or if you can't manage it at least reducing animal foods. It's hard to stick to fully in the west if only because eating out is so reduced or at friends houses I don't want to be a pain in the ass, so maybe 90%.

    Most interesting is how it was presented as new evidence - but actually it has all been out there since the 1970s  - and recently a very eminent cardiologist in USA stated - there are two kinds of cardiologists - vegans and those who haven't read the evidence.

    The only thing I would disagree with a bit in Rig's account is that we don't need as much protein as you would think and you don't need meat, eggs or dairy to get enough. 

    Bulls and gorillas are vegan!  


  • They are. But they also sit about all day doing nothing but eating (and bulls have four stomachs). Humans are so successful because we fuel ourselves very efficiently.

  • Hmmm, well as my diet is fairly close to Paleo, and the Paleo/Vegan venn diagram has absolutely no overlap whatsoever, I obviously don't agree with this, and as I am extremely low-carb we aren't on the same page regarding protein either, but I really don't want this thread to digress into a this diet vs that diet debate or 'discussion' on the ethics of meat eating. there are plenty of people who are healthy and successful at all points on that spectrum, and its planning and consistency that gets results. The diet that works is the one you stick to whether your smoothie is raw kale or raw liver.

  • A very thought provoking post. I've been planning my meals for the last eight weeks or so and I found that although it is time consuming (i.e the planning). Planning have allowed me to be more creative, I've been trying new recipes and looking forward to eating different menus each day. When I don't plan meals, I find myself eating the same things, week in week out. Finally, the biggest reward in planning menus, it saves money. 1. I check the cupboards and fridge first before shopping for the ingredients. 2. I control my supermarket shop because my shopping list have become more important than the sale promotions. I hope that I've been able to inspire at least one person to try planning their menus.                                                              

  • Brilliant post H, yes I tend to do this . If I don't plan , it all seems to go to ruin .

     I do most of the planning in my head but need to write it down as I tend to forget things. Mind you, I still forget things when I write them down ! :-) xxx

  • That's very funny. I've never met anyone who forgot things when they wrote them down.

  • Ha ha , now you have ! :-) xxx

  • A really interesting well written post Rignold. 

     I have been a vegetarian for most of my life and have found it is just a healthy eating plan anyway. However I have eaten lots of junk in my time.

    I find now I am aware of what I am eating because it tends to affect how well I run.

    thanks for posting about your views and experiences.

  • A very interesting post. I'm going to start planning and doing meal prep. 

  • Great post Rig , very interesting .

    Yep, I tend to plan my meals for the week and shop accordingly. I always try and make sure I include protein in every meal too.

    I don't tend to snack much these days , if I feel a bit peckish in between meals I have an apple or orange .

  • I start the week with great intentions, plan meals, buy the ingredients, then get home from work and someone has eaten what I need, or I have to go somewhere unexpectedly and don't have time to cook properly, or just don't fancy what I had planned for, or a meal is ready waiting for me (but not what I should be eating). Loads of excuses. 

    Keeping a food diary has helped as I can see exactly where I am going wrong, but why do I let myself be de-railed so easily.  e.g I was doing great until Easter, then ate too much of the wrong stuff and drank too much of the wrong stuff and now keep craving the wrong stuff. Finding it hard to get back on track. I know I feel better when eating healthy so not to do so is just plain stupid.

    This post has come at the right time as I'm ready to get back to basics and sort myself out. Just the gentle kick up the backside we expect from you Rig. Thanks

  • If your Granny (or great Granny if you're young) doesn't recognise what you have on your plate then its probably best avoided!! If its got mud on it, then all the better!!

    I still get confused by the huge array of food types (good fats, bad fats, protein, carbs etc etc) as I eat FOOD and when it comes to trying to calculate the numbers of grams of "X" per portion I tend to revert to the above guidelines.

    (Typed whilst eating nuts and dried fruit) I think that's OK....

  • In terms of the 'what', the basic tenet I go by is my oft repeated Glassman quote:

    "Eat meat, fish and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat."

    I eat lean meat and oily fish as often as possible and green veg as many times as possible in a day. I tend not to eat more than 2 pieces of fruit a day, because of the sugare content. I eat some legumes, for fibre, but not too many because of their relatively poor bio-availability. I don't eat anything with refined sugar in. I don't eat any processed foods - if it comes in a box or a packet , I don't buy it (with the exception of pasta, which I buy for the children as they need carbs and I am too lazy to make it from scratch myself very often, and rice, which they have too, and I occasionally have on cheat days).

    Having said that I do take a variety of supplements for things which I can't get from my diet, which are obviously processed to the nth degree - fish oil, creatine, various amino acids etc - I'm not Vani Hari. It's not the 'natural vs processed' argument that keeps me from buying bread and pizza, its just the crap that its made of. The omnipresence of sugar or HFCS in everything from corn flakes to canelloni means I'd rather make my own. Not that either of those examples are on my menu. lol.

  • Rig Can I move in with you please?

    Seriously I value your regime and it has made me think about how much effort do I make in eating affectively to meet my needs for energy and keeping a healthy weight.

    Im going to plan this weeks meals 'before' I get to supermarket! 

    Thank you for your advise.

  • The simplest solution would be to clone you and each have our own Rignold to move in and do all of that business for us... Simples 😎

  • I also admire it, but not sure I could do it myself full time. We have low/no carb days though and I'm keen to experiment with more, we have virtually cut out processed food (we never ate much of it anyway, but pizza and breakfast cereal have gone, we've quit our croissant habit), I've moreorless given up alcohol, but we still eat plenty of grains and pulses.

  • In the interests of full disclosure, I should state that at this precise moment in time I would give my left arm and  forego all my principles for aplate of hot buttered toast with lime marmalade.

  • This is a really interesting post. I have no idea about calories and what I should be eating etc. I mean, I have an *idea* as in I know what they are and the recommended amount and all but I don't know how to adjust for myself now I am running. I think of myself as a poor cook and find cooking stressful even though I do look up recipes tagged as easy and healthy and I do try to find things I could make with not much bother. I don't want to adopt a diet such as paleo or vegan, but I would like to reduce the amount of, for example, sugar I eat. I don't want to give up pasta and rice and bread, because I love those and I'm not really at a stage where I feel I need to get rid, but I could eat less of those. Just so many bits of information about nutrition and food around at the moment, it gets overwhelming trying to sort out what's useful. 

    It's not excuses, I just don't know where to start. The meal plan idea sounds great, it's finding out what meals to plan!

  • Depends what your goal is: if you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you expend. If you want to gain lean muscle you'd do something different.

    The MyFitnessPal app is excellent. Maybe don't change anything, but track what you eat for a couple of weeks on MFP. It presents the data in all sorts of fascinating ways. Then, if you need to, make small sustainable changes. You don't have to give up pasta, but maybe switch to wholemeal. Or if, say, you use Dolmio pasta sauce, learn how to cook a simple tomato sauce from scratch. Much less sugar and much cheaper. 

    Eat real food and eat food you like.

  • Thanks. I used that app before but not sure I used it correctly (it was before I started running or doing much exercise too). I'll try it again. 

    I don't need to lose any weight, but I would like to be leaner and stronger and fitter (on the inside; while I'm not overweight, I am also not that fit yet either). I have been trying to cut down on sugar and cakes (helps that my sweet tooth has diminished as I've got older) and for example I now eat olives or hummus for a snack instead of biscuits like I used to (I occasionally have a biscuit, but just not as often). I guess I will have to look again at what I eat if I do want to get leaner.

  • Wow! I'm impressed. If you ever feel like you need a challenge and want to meal prep for another family, let me know we would happily take the hit! Lol :) 

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