Did you know that typically diet is 80% and working out is 20% of how you achieve your fitness goals? Any successful fitness journey will focus on exercise, food, and even your mental state. Often in today’s society we are conditioned to view food as a reward, the reason our clothes are tight, or a social gathering. However, food is fuel for the body. Changing the way you think about food will be important to your success on your journey, whether for weight loss, muscle gain, fat loss, etc. This post will not address how to eat specifically towards your goals, but rather the importance of food, how being prepared is essential for success, and to bring better awareness of how planning your meals will end up saving you, and your waistline. When you set your fitness goal, you need to determine a few things like how many calories will you be consuming, what are the macro nutrient ratios you will need to consume daily, what is your schedule look like and what times will you be eating, and how to maximize your food to avoid waste.
The first thing that most people do when they decide they want to diet is to come up with a list of foods they think are healthy and that they should be consuming. The problem with this is often you over buy and waste food because you don’t have a plan and you are not sure what you will be actually making with the food you buy and you tend to buy things you hear are good for you but you have no idea if you like them or how to make them, but you buy them anyway. What I recommend is to think about your week ahead:
- Will you be eating at the same time each day? By scheduling your meals at the same time daily ensures you are not skipping meals and you are able to consume the correct amount of fuel daily if you plan ahead.
- Do you have plans to eat out? Eating out often has way more calories than if you make things yourself. There is typically much more sodium and fat as well. Portion control is another factor. Often meals in restaurants serving are actually 2-3 portions.
- Are there social events on your calendar? When in a social setting, food becomes part of the event and you are not focused on eating what you need to. Not to mention often there are lots of tempting treats around and not planning for these events properly can derail your success. One small bite may need to another and then another….
- Are there events that will prevent you from eating? For example if you are a medical professional that performs surgery, you can’t just stop at 12 pm to eat, you will need to take this into consideration when meal planning.
- Do you have access to a stove/refrigerator/microwave/etc.? If you do not have access to these, then you need to be sure what you prepare can be “on the go” without choosing processed foods. Purchase a cooler big enough to keep your meals & some ice packs that will help keep your food fresh. Without a way to heat it up, you may want to consider meals that have either cold protein or perhaps eat salads and vegetables with a protein shake that you can mix when needed.
- Who will be eating the food you prepare? As a mother, often what I prepare is what my family is eating, but they don’t always like certain foods so I need to take that into consideration. Picky eaters or others in your household make it difficult to stay on track if they are eating foods you love while you are eating healthy. Try to get the whole family on board with at least most of what you prepare and have a few other options that you can serve them to substitute the foods they refuse to eat.
Once you have thought about your week ahead, you are ready to decide what your meals will be and then create a grocery list of what you will need to purchase and when. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish go bad much faster since they do not have preservatives, which are a good thing, but unless you decide to freeze some of the meat or enjoy soggy or rotten fruits and vegetables you need to be very specific what you put on your list. I personally look at the local flyers and see what is on sale and then start to build my meals around that, especially pricey items such as meat/fish. Then, I think about how I want to prepare the food. For example, I will buy about 8-10 boneless chicken breasts that I will slice in half lengthwise if they are thick and then season them based on what sides I will be having with it. After cooking I then cut that breast in half, to yield about 3-4 oz. that a portion should be, and I put them individually in sandwich bags. This is because often I have sides, such as a cold quinoa salad or green salad, and it keeps the meat separate from the juices flowing into the salad. I place the meat and side in a dish, seal, and refrigerate. You may freeze items for a few days in order to keep them fresher longer as well.
Another thing I consider when I am meal prepping is the shelf life of the food. Fresh chicken breasts are better earlier on and become dried out at time goes on. Later in the week, I will cut up some of the chicken and sauté it with vegetables and or add healthy sauces to add back in some of the lost moisture. One example of this is I will sauté peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil, and Italian seasonings, and serve it with spaghetti squash or over quinoa. Fruits like berries tend to spoil significantly faster than say apples, so I will use them in the beginning of the week and keep the recipes calling for apples until later in the week if possible. I do the same thing with fresh vegetables as well. You may also opt for frozen vegetables and steam them. If you use canned versions of vegetables or beans instead of fresh, you will want to rinse them thoroughly to remove as much of the preservatives and sodium as possible.
If you do not have access to a refrigerator or a heating source, often people choose sandwiches. If you do, then be cautious of lunch meats as these are loaded with nitrates and bread is not good for you, not really even whole wheat. If you must eat cold cuts, opt for the store baked versions but note that these will spoil much faster since they don’t have all of the nitrates and preservatives in them. Also, if you must have bread, opt for Ezeikel or sprouted grain breads/wraps that can be found in your grocer’s freezer/refrigerated section. This is a much healthier option, but if you must eat regular bread, be sure that the first ingredient is 100% whole wheat, has a minimum of 2-3g of fiber per slice and does not contain high fructose corn syrup.
It is very important that you have all meals planned, not just breakfast, lunch and dinner. You snacks in between meals are usually the ones that do the most damage if you are not careful. Often when choosing a snack you do not use the same portion control mindset and tend to grab things that are easy and readily available if you have not planned ahead. Some good snacks to have on hand are hummus and fresh vegetable sticks, a low fat cheese stick and 12-14 dry roasted almonds, cottage cheese with a little Polaner all fruit or fresh pineapple or a Greek yogurt. If you do not have access to a refrigerator to keep these items, you can use a cooler or you can choose snacks like chia bars, KIND bars, or an apple with some pre-measured nuts, for example Blue Diamond sells 100 calorie packs of dry roasted almonds.
Planning your meals realistically will significantly help ensure you are meeting your caloric needs as well. While you do not necessarily have to count calories, it is important to eat enough to fuel your body and to not eat more than your activity level or you will be gaining weight. If gaining weight/muscle mass is your goal, you need to ensure you are not starving the body and eating enough to support your workouts in order to keep your metabolism revved up and burning fat and calories!