Start Chopping! 5 Meal-Prepping Tips for Runners

When it comes to your nutrition, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

This might be bold for me to say, but I consider myself a master meal prepper. I’ve been meal prepping on and off for the past seven years. I started in 2009, after finishing grad school when I realized that living on garbage for the past few years had taken a toll on my health. To fix my predicament, I started running and then I stumbled upon fellow Canadian and fitness enthusiast Tosca Reno and her Eat-Clean Diet books. The books appealed to me because they weren’t just about losing weight, but viewed the diet as part of overall fitness. Important for us, her plans emphasized the importance of meal prepping. Being the Type-A that I am, I loved the ideal of planning meals and being ready for the week.

Seven years later, and here I am running far more than ever and meal prep has become essential to balancing my running goals with the demands of daily life. Over the years I’ve refined my prep, and offer these five tips to meal prepping like a champ.

1. Designate a time for meal prep 

Whether it’s Sunday or Monday, or whatever day of the week that works for you, have a time set aside for meal prep. For me, it’s Sunday evening before I make dinner. I’m already messing up the kitchen for dinner, so it all gets done then. Meal prep normally takes an hour to an hour and a half. Some might think this is a lot of time to dedicate to meal prep, but think of this as time in the bank for later in the week. Good nutrition makes for good running, so view this time as part of your training. To get in the zone and make the time enjoyable, I often play music or listen to podcasts while I’m preppin’.

2. Know your plan

Before I get into the kitchen, I do a bit of groundwork in planning the week. I stopped thinking of my food in terms of three squares years ago. Instead, I plan Meal 2 (lunch), Meal 3 (snack) and portions of Meals 4-5 (dinner + evening snack). My Meal 1 (breakfast) is made from scratch each day, but some may find it helpful to prep that one too.

I love buying in bulk!

Meal prepping has minimized my trips to the grocery store, as I generally know what I am going to eat for the week and do one grocery haul on the weekend. Meal prepping has also helped trim our grocery and eating out budget. If there are things that I eat every week, I either buy in bulk or stock up when they are on sale or I have a coupon. (No, I am not an extreme couponer and do not have a sweet potato stock pile!)

If you use a food diary, you can plan out your meals or “macros” beforehand and adjust for your goals. For example, I’ve recently been upping my fat intake, so I’ve been planning meals to include more avocado, olive oil, cheese, and coconut butter (!).

3. Invest in proper containers

After going through stacks of yogurt containers, I can say that it helps to have proper tupperware for your meals. Meal prep is easier when you are able to lay out containers that are suitable to the portion of the food you are storing in them. For example, small containers for nuts or a few pieces of dark chocolate, and big containers for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad.

Many people have access to a fridge during the day, so a cooler isn’t necessary for everyone. However, if you are on the go all day, invest in a good insulated bag or cooler.

4. Make as much as you can for the week and know how to store it

I normally prepare salads for lunch with some sort of carb, like sweet potato or quinoa, and protein, like hard boiled eggs or salmon. In the winter, I may make a crock pot of ground turkey, sweet potatoes, and spices. I portion out five servings for either lunch or dinner and place Monday-Wednesday’s in the fridge and Thursday-Friday’s in the freezer.

img_7796In my experience, foods that don’t do well in the freezer include: spinach, salad, apples, and eggs. I normally leave these things out of my tupperware until a day or two before. For example, I will cook a bunch of sweet potato or chicken for my lunch throughout the week. I will prepare Monday-Wednesday on Sunday, and Thursday-Friday on Wednesday. At that time, I will add the spinach, apple, carrots, olive oil, nuts, kitchen sink to my tupperware.

5. Perfection is not the goal 

I encourage you to see meal prep as a helpful tool and not a strict regime. Especially when you are starting out, take a couple weeks to determine if you need to add in more snacks or carbs to your lunch. I also keep protein bars handy, recognizing that I won’t have the time or motivation to make homemade snacks every week.

I am often looking for meal prep inspiration and secretly love scrolling through instagram for ideas. Some fun places to look include: #mealprep #mealprepsunday and Pinterest.

Bon appétit!

Do you make a habit of meal prepping? What are your best meal prep tips? 

I'm a Canadian runner with a knack for training in frigid temperatures and completing 20 milers on the treadmill. I'm currently training for a spring marathon, with the goal of Boston Qualifying. Outside of running, I work in public policy and can often be found cross-stitching or being talked out of adopting another cat.

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  1. #2 is the killer for me. It’s not doing the work of the prep, it’s having the plan – deciding in advance what I’m going to eat and figuring out whether I need to buy 1, 2, or 3.7 sweet potatoes to get it done. Gah!
    It’s not the labor, it’s the thinking. Thinking is what I do all week, conjuring something out of nothing. Somebody just give me a nice, well-defined, mindless task! Please!

    (and, really, this shouldn’t be so hard for me – I happily eat the same thing every day …)

    1. I totally agree. Which leads to me also eating basically the same thing every day, at least for lunch and snacks! I try to mix it up a bit for dinner, but the regular go-tos are just so much easier.

  2. I only prep lunches but try to do it consistently on Sundays. I like to roast a bunch of veggies, fresh or frozen, including brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes … or whatever else I come across. I also make a batch of quinoa. Then I pull out my collection of Sistema containers — they have three divided sections and divvy everything out. I don’t like to eat the exact same thing every day, so I vary the combinations of things. One day might be half a sweet potato and cottage cheese; then quinoa and roasted veg, then a salad and roasted sweet potato (+ roasted chickpeas, YUM). Once I have a “main” dish, I fill the other sections with fruit and dairy — usually grapes, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc. plus some sort of yogurt or cottage cheese.

    The easiest way to pull this off — LIZ! — is to buy a big bag of frozen vegetables that you can roast. A bulk bag of California blend will do you good, and you can also find cubed butternut squash now, too. I would say grab one or two sweet potatoes, because they’ll last forever anyway.

    1. Thank you! It’s starting to sound do-able. And I like the idea of frozen roastable veggies (especially since I don’t have to use them immediately and can stock up).

      The containers sound great – just dole stuff out – like Lunchables for grown ups. Perfectly acceptable, right? Even for the self-employed with a home office? 🙂

      1. Oh heck yeah!!! Trader joes has these amazing giant bags of green beans that I drizzle with olive oil, s&p and garlic and roast until they’re crispy. So good! And their frozen brussel sprouts! I roast them until they’re crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside. So easy and so yum!

  3. I sometimes do well with meal prep and sometimes I fail hard! When I’m prepping I am also trying to prep dinners as well as lunches, but the tricky part is my kiddos won’t generally eat the same things my husband and I do, so it’s like triple prep. Prep for husband, prep for myself, and then prep for the kids. And then inevitably somebody will eat the wrong things or some other mishap where we end up with either way too much food or not enough. Haha. I just need a better plan before I go into the kitchen. I think part of my problem is I just start grabbing proteins and veggies and not think through the portions I need. Traveling a lot this Summer made it hard too because Sunday is usually the day I have time to prep. I am feeling re-motivated to prep better starting… NOW.

  4. I prep suiff for lunch on Sundays. I always make a batch of quinoa (or lately I’ve been loving Trader Joe’s quick cooking farro), and also roast some veggies and chick peas. Then for lunch I make what I call garbage bowl salads – a few handfulls of spinach, the grain, chick peas, and whatever veggies I have around – the roasted and raw. I never get sick of it and it makes packing my lunch so much easier!

  5. I just eat the same things every day for lunch and breakfast and I would love to do this more, but … ARGH! I need an extra week in my weeks! But I do believe that when I finally do get on top of it and start doing this for me and my family that I’ll ultimately save time and money and we’ll eat better.