Why Meal Prep and Do I Need to do it?
Meal prep means cooking in bulk (a big batch of chilli for example) and then splitting this up into equal sized meals that you can eat all week.
Ideally you track all of the ingredients and record the macros/calories so you are able to know where you are in relation to your nutrition and body composition goals as you eat your pre-prepared meals.
You don’t need to meal prep
It can sometimes feel like everyone else is prepping all their meals, so it’s something you should do too. If everyone else is doing it, it must be the best approach, right?
Not necessarily. It can be the best approach, but multiple factors need to be considered, including:
- Your time
- Your access to cooking equipment and ingredients
- Monetary cost of meal prep vs the cost of buying meals out
- Your skill at cooking and willingness to get better
- Variety of things you can cook
- Alternative meals that are available, whether they have accurate nutritional information available and their cost and convenience
Once you have weighed all that up, you can decide whether it’s worth your time to meal prep.
If you have food conveniently available to you that:
- You can track the macros of fairly accurately
- Tastes good
- Comes at a cost that is comparable to the time cost and monetary saving of meal prepping
Then you should probably eat that.
Here’s why I (usually) prepare my meals in advance:
When grabbing lunch at work, the options are often limited if you care about the calorie and macronutrient numbers. It can be hard to find something that is high in protein (hitting about 1g per pound of bodyweight per day is my goal) without it being ridiculously expensive or high in calories (hello Subway).
Food you buy out doesn’t usually come with any nutritional information at all, so you have to guess at the macronutrients/calories, or if it does – it’s questionable how accurate it is. All meals are not all made the same, and is the person preparing it really weighing out the servings?
Preparing my own meals, on the other hand, means I get lots of protein at a low price, the meal itself is much cheaper than I can buy out, is more filling, and I know exactly what the calories and macronutrients are.
I batch cooked a chilli con carne, made with 7% fat turkey mince. There is a lower fat option but the extra price doesn’t justify the greater percentage of protein for me.
I used 1kg of mince and made 4 meals containing the following macros:
This gives you a total of 424 calories (4 kcal per gram of protein and carbs, 9 per gram of fat)
This all cost me about £1.50 per meal to make and didn’t take any longer than cooking 1 meal would have done.
I am not going to find a meal out in London with 58g protein and 424 calories that I can heat in the microwave for anywhere close to £1.50! Nor will it taste this good!
At the moment I’m focused on losing fat and getting as lean as possible, hence why calories are so low. If I was bulking, I’d add a 42p pack of microwave rice for another 400 calories.
So that’s why I food prep. Saves time, helps to hit macro/calorie goals easily. Saves money. Tastes good. Much better on all those fronts than the alternatives. If you can hit your goals easily, tastily and cheaply (or money doesn’t matter) without prep then don’t do it!
This has nothing to do with meal timing!
I do NOT meal prep so I can eat 6 identical meals spaced out evenly throughout the day! (meal timing isn’t really that important)
You see some people eating by the clock, and it’s the same small meal every 2 or 3 hours.
Unfortunately they think they need to do this otherwise something less than optimal will happen to their metabolism. Or that this is the best strategy for muscle growth.
There is absolutely no benefit to doing this. Just focus on the total calories consumed throughout the day (whatever fits your goal for bulking, cutting or maintaining) and making sure you hit the sufficient amount of protein too.
There is some benefit to trying to split up your protein intake into at least 3 (or more) roughly even servings spaced fairly evenly apart. However, don’t stress too much about this. Its really a fine tuning tweak you can make to get slightly more optimal results. If you’re getting a good serving of protein in the morning, afternoon and evening instead of hitting it all in one half of the day then you’re good.