Meal prep for athletes is an essential strategy to help athletes meet their sports nutrition performance plan during the season’s hectic schedules.
As an athlete, you’re constantly on the go with a jam-packed schedule. Between training sessions, competitions and school finding time to eat healthy and nutritious meals can be challenging.
That’s where meal prepping comes in as a lifesaver for athletes looking to perform their best.
Proper nutrition is critical for athletes since it provides the fuel and nutrients necessary to optimize physical and mental capabilities while supporting recovery and injury prevention. (1)
With busy schedules that include training sessions, competitions and school, meal prepping can be an effective way to ensure that athletes have healthy meals ready to go whenever they need them.
By planning and preparing meals in advance, you can save time, reduce stress and stay on track with your sports nutrition goals.
From overnight oats and protein smoothies to grilled chicken and roasted salmon, there are plenty of meal prep ideas that athletes can enjoy.
The key is to choose meals that are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber to support optimal performance and recovery.
Why meal prep for athletes
Meal prep for athletes can be a game-changer by saving time, encouraging consistency, providing variety, promoting healthy eating and reducing food waste.
- Saves time: Meal prepping can save you a lot of time during the week. By preparing your meals in advance, you can avoid spending time in the kitchen trying to figure out what to eat and cooking. Instead, you’ll have more time to focus on your training and games.
- Consistency: Meal prepping ensures that you are eating healthy and balanced meals consistently. This can help you reach your goals faster and improve your performance.
- Provides variety: Meal prepping allows you to plan and prepare different meals for each day, providing you with a wider variety of foods and flavors to enjoy. When you eat a variety of anti inflammatory foods you can support your body’s recovery after exercise.
- Promotes healthy eating: Meal prepping encourages you to make healthier food choices and avoid impulse purchases of fast food or unhealthy snacks when you’re hungry and in a rush. Check out our post for healthy snack ideas.
- Reduces food waste: By meal prepping, you can avoid overbuying and throwing away unused food. This not only saves money but is also better for the environment.
How to meal prep for athletes
The best meal prep foods for athletes
Here are some examples of meal prep foods that are particularly beneficial for athletes:
- Grains and pasta: Brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and other whole grains are great sources of complex carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy for workouts and help replenish glycogen stores after exercise.
- Lean proteins: Chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, beans and legumes are all great sources of protein, which is essential for muscle recovery and growth.
- Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and other colorful veggies provide important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support overall health, reduced inflammation and performance. Raw veggies make a quick snack paired with a yummy dip. Roasted veggies are great added to a rice bowl or pasta.
- Fruits: Berries, bananas, apples, and other fruits are great sources of natural sugars, fiber, and antioxidants, making them a healthy snack or addition to a meal. Keep fresh, frozen and dried fruits on hand to toss on foods, blend into smoothie or add to trail mix.
- Healthy fats: Avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil provide healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help to support cardiovascular health and aid in nutrient absorption.
By prepping these types of foods in advance, you can ensure that they have healthy, balanced meals and snacks ready to go when you need them. So you won’t need to rely on processed or fast food options that may be less nutritious.
Mix and match meal ideas
You can create mix and match athlete meals by cooking and storing the grains, proteins and veggies in batches.
Then when you’re ready to eat open the fridge, get a scoop of grains, a serving a protein, a pile of veggies, add your favorite sauce and you’ve got a ready-made meal, with no additional athlete prep time.
- Southwest bowl: Brown rice, black beans, roasted corn, diced tomatoes, avocado, and grilled chicken. Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro.
- Mediterranean bowl: Quinoa, chickpeas, cucumber, tomato, feta cheese, and grilled shrimp. Dress with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.
- Asian-inspired bowl: Soba noodles, edamame, shredded carrots, cucumber, sesame seeds, and grilled salmon. Toss with a ginger and soy sauce dressing.
- Italian-inspired bowl: Whole wheat pasta, roasted vegetables (such as eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers), grilled chicken, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Top with a dollop of pesto or marinara sauce.
- Buddha bowl: Mixed grains (such as brown rice and quinoa), roasted sweet potato, avocado, broccoli, and grilled tofu. Dress with a tahini and lemon dressing.
Meal ideas for anytime
- Turkey meatballs and quinoa: Turkey meatballs are high in protein and can be paired with quinoa for a complete meal. Add some roasted vegetables for extra nutrients.
- Roasted salmon and asparagus: Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and can be paired with asparagus for a low-carb meal. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before roasting.
- Protein and fruit smoothies: Protein and fruit smoothies are a great post-workout meal or a grab and go breakfast. Blend together your favorite protein powder, fruits, and veggies for a quick and easy meal on the go.
- Sheet pan meals: Have your favorite veggies chopped up and ready to cook. Toss them on a sheet pan, add your favorite protein, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for a quick easy meal.
- Grilled chicken breast with roasted sweet potato and steamed broccoli: Grill a chicken breast, roast a sweet potato in the oven, and steam some broccoli on the stovetop. Serve them together for a balanced and nutritious meal.
- Tofu stir-fry with brown rice and stir-fried vegetables: Cut tofu into bite-sized pieces and stir-fry it with a mix of vegetables such as carrots, snap peas, and bell peppers.
- Lean beef stir-fry with brown rice and mixed vegetables: Cut beef into thin strips and stir-fry it with a mix of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and snap peas.
Breakfast meal prep ideas
- Overnight oats: Combine oats, almond milk, chia seeds, and your favorite toppings, such as berries, nuts, or honey, in a jar and let it sit in the fridge overnight for an easy and nutritious breakfast.
- Chia pudding: Mix chia seeds, almond milk, and vanilla extract in a jar and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Top with fresh fruit, nuts, or granola for a delicious and filling breakfast.
- Breakfast burritos: Prep scrambled eggs, turkey bacon or sausage, and veggies like peppers and onions ahead of time and wrap them in a tortilla for a protein-packed breakfast on the go.
- Smoothie packs: Prep individual freezer bags with frozen fruit, spinach or kale, and any other desired ingredients, such as protein powder or nut butter. Simply blend with your favorite liquid in the morning for a quick and easy breakfast.
- Egg muffins: Whisk eggs, veggies, and cheese together and pour into a muffin tin. Bake until set and store in the fridge for a protein-packed breakfast that can be reheated in seconds.
- Bagel or english muffin sandwich: Toast a whole wheat bagel or english muffin. Top it with a scrambled egg, turkey bacon or sausage, and your favorite veggies, such as avocado, tomato, and spinach. Make ahead and freeze, then heat and eat.
Healthy snack prep ideas
- Trail mix: Combine nuts, seeds, and dried fruit for a healthy and filling snack that’s perfect for on-the-go.
- Hummus and veggies: Cut up carrots, celery, cucumber, or bell peppers and pair them with a serving of hummus for a satisfying and nutritious snack.
- Energy bites: Make your own energy bites by mixing together oats, nut butter, honey, and any other desired ingredients, such as dried fruit or chocolate chips.
- Greek yogurt and fruit: Mix plain Greek yogurt with fresh berries, sliced banana, or other fruits for a protein-packed snack that will keep you feeling full.
- Roasted chickpeas: Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, then toss them in olive oil and seasonings before roasting them in the oven. They make a crunchy and satisfying snack that’s high in protein and fiber.
In conclusion, meal prepping is an effective way for athletes to ensure they are fueling their bodies with the right nutrients.
By incorporating meal prep into your routine for your performance nutrition plan, you can focus on training and competition, knowing that you have the nutrition you need to perform at your best.
So, why not give it a try and see how it can make a positive impact on your athletic performance?
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 20 years in public health and nutrition experience. As a performance nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.