Sep 7, 2018
Meal Prep
Ingrid Skoog

To fully understand healthy eating, athletes should be encouraged to learn to cook their own meals. Here are some helpful hints they can keep in mind.

Plan for tomorrow. If you’re cooking or grilling chicken breasts, don’t just make one or two for the upcoming meal. Prepare four or more, cut up the extras into cubes or strips, and put them in pasta sauce, salads, and other dishes. Likewise, one large pan or pot of a rice or pasta dish can be split into plastic containers and enjoyed over several days. Another idea is making a simple burrito filling mix (beans, canned corn, salsa, canned chicken, and cumin) in a sealed bowl. It only takes a minute to wrap a burrito once the filling is pre-made.

Buy in bulk. All the meal suggestions in this article involve low-cost ingredients, but budget-conscious athletes can save even more by getting granola, pasta, rice, and oatmeal from the bulk bins at the grocery store. Bulk is also a great way to try new foods or seasonings because you can buy a small amount. And when you crave a sweet treat like chocolate candy, you can get just enough to hit the spot without having to worry about the rest of the box sitting in the cupboard, tempting you to eat more.

Buy canned and frozen fruits and veggies. Choose canned fruits packed in their own juices, and stock up on frozen fruit in the summer when prices are lowest. Frozen vegetables are great because they do not spoil as fast and can be quickly added to pasta, chili, and rice dishes to boost nutrient and fiber content. Canned veggies have a long shelf life, and you can reduce the sodium content by simply rinsing them before use.

Choose condiments wisely. A healthy salad, sandwich, or burrito isn’t so healthy if it’s smothered in high-fat dressing, mayonnaise, or gourmet sauce. Choose low-fat alternatives instead, or better yet, try pouring on some salsa–it’s delicious on a wide variety of foods and provides an extra dose of veggies.

Watch the fat. Avoid trans fats whenever possible (they’re now clearly marked on all nutrition labels), and use the lower-fat versions of cheese, ground beef, and other fattier foods. Method of preparation can also greatly affect fat content–the same chicken breast is healthier when cooked on a grill than when prepared in a saucepan with butter or oil and breading.

Use a shopping list. If you know in advance what items you need to make the dishes you’ll be preparing, you’ll save money and avoid having excess food lying around. There’s also a psychological effect to having all the ingredients for a simple dish in your kitchen–you may as well stick to your plan and make that dish, since you already paid for everything.

Sports nutrition is all about athletes reaching their potential. Even those who don’t have the time, energy, or skill to prepare complex meals can still fuel themselves optimally to meet their training and body composition goals. With a little guidance, everyone can enjoy the benefits of a little home cooking.

Ingrid Skoog, MS, RD, CSSD, is a sports dietitian specializing in performance nutrition for collegiate and elite athletes in Eugene, Ore.

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