Everything athletes need to know about meal prepping on a plant-based diet, and a 7-day plant-based meal plan.
After a long day of work and training, the last thing you probably want to do is spend an hour in the kitchen cooking a nutritious meal from scratch. But as an athlete, you care about your health and the foods you put into your body.
How can you meet in the middle of wanting healthy and tasty food but not having the time to prepare it on a daily basis? The solution is meal prepping.
Now I know what you’re thinking… Meal prepping is too much work, and you don’t want to eat the same things everyday. But rest assured that it’s worth the effort.
And by following a simple meal plan, you’ll be able to prep your meals and include variety in your diet. Rather than coming home to an empty fridge or ordering unhealthy take-out, meal prepping ensures that you have homemade healthy meals already prepared.
Whether you’re a recreational or elite athlete, there are benefits to planning and prepping your meals.
1. It saves you time.
Some may argue that major con of meal prepping is the time and energy it takes to get it done. That said, once you get the hang of prepping your meals, it will actually save you time. Here’s why…
Preparing homemade healthy meals takes a lot of time, even if you’re only cooking one meal per day. If you cook on a daily basis, you’ll likely spend at least 1 hour in the kitchen each day. Whereas, if you cook everything on one day, you might spend 2-3 hours in the kitchen to have your meals for the week.
If the thought of spending that amount of time in the kitchen at once is overwhelming, think about it as “me time”. Pop in your headphones and listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook and the time will fly!
2. It saves money.
How many times have you struggled to figure out what to make only to give up and order take-out? Meal prepping ensures that you never have to think about what to eat, and you’ll stop frivolously spending on $20+ take-out orders.
3. You’ll always have fuel for a workout.
Fueling for a workout requires thinking ahead. It’s all too common for athletes to have the best intentions, but they don’t have the time to fuel or they don’t have any healthy options on hand. A good meal plan has plenty of pre-workout meals and snacks, so you’ll never be underfueled for a workout.
4. You will have recovery foods readily available.
After a workout, your body needs carbs and protein. The carbs replace glycogen and the protein aids in muscle repair. The sooner you get the recovery meal or snack into your system, the quicker you will start the recovery process and begin gaining muscle.
But most people don’t want to cook right after an intense workout. Having a healthy meal already prepared guarantees that you get the right nutrients into your system for recovery.
5. You’ll never miss out on protein.
How many times have you thought that you need to eat more plant-based protein, but you didn’t feel like cooking tofu or popping open a can of beans. So maybe your meal was more carb heavy than it should be, and you end up hungry again an hour later.
If you prep your meals ahead of time, you can pay attention to building a well-balanced plate that includes carbs, protein and fat. That combination of nutrients keeps you fuller for longer and contributes to muscle growth and brain health.
Tips for plant-based meal prepping
In order to make your meal prep work for you, follow these guidelines:
1. Make a plan
The first step to meal prepping is to start with a plan. Set aside 10 minutes to create a plan for the week. I like to use the notes app on my iPhone to plan out my meals for the week. Or let me do the planning for you—download this 7-day plant-based meal plan.
Ask yourself these questions when coming up with a plan:
- When you’re coming up with a plan, ask yourself these questions:
- What days will I eat at home?
- What days will I eat out?
- How often am I okay eating leftovers?
- Do I want to prep breakfast, lunch and dinner?
- What meals can I make on the fly?
2. Pick simple recipes
I highly recommend prepping very easy recipes, especially if you’re new to meal prepping. Sometimes, I just prep ingredients, like roasted veggies, marinated tofu and whole grains. Then I combine all three into one container and call it a meal.
Spoiler alert– you don’t have to prep every single meal for the week at once. If you’re new to meal prepping, start with 2-3 meals. You can always add in more meals as you feel more comfortable.
To cut down on grocery bills and food waste, choose recipes with similar ingredients. For example, if you’re buying tempeh for these Vegan Burgers, then also add this Tempeh Stir Fry to your list.
Here is a list of other meal prep friendly recipes:
- No-Bake Cherry Cacao Energy Balls
- Tahini Maple Oat Bites
- Cherry Coconut Yogurt Bites
- Farro Salad with Feta, Brussels Sprouts & Grapes
- Spiced Chickpea Veggie Burger
- Green Eggs & Quinoa Muffins
- Lentil Veggie “Meatballs”
- Vegan Couscous with Za’atar Vinaigrette
- Chickpea Salad Sandwich with Dried Cranberries & Apple
- Pumpkin Oat Breakfast Cookies
- Pumpkin Pie Granola
- Blueberry Maple Walnut Trail Mix
- Slow-Cooker Vegan Tacos with California Walnuts
- Easy BBQ Tofu Salad Bowl
3. Use low prep or no-prep ingredients
Work smarter, not harder. If you hate chopping and slicing, buy pre-cut ingredients. Personally, peeling and chopping butternut squash or shredding cabbage are two of my least favorite things ever, so I buy these ingredients already prepped.
One of the best things about plant-based foods is the ease of preparation. Canned beans are inexpensive and can be rinsed and served immediately. Tofu and tempeh can be eaten right out of the container, although they taste much better when marinated and used in a recipe.
Frozen fruits and vegetables can be used in soups and smoothie recipes. And they are frozen at the peak of freshness, sealing in all the nutrients from the fresh produce. The same goes for frozen grains, like quinoa or brown rice. Rather than cook dry grains, you can opt for a bag of the frozen and microwave.
When it’s time to start cooking, multitasking is key. Always start with the steps that require more time, like roasting veggies or cooking grains. If several recipes have the same cooking methods, like roasting in the oven, do both of those steps at the same time. The trick is have several things cooking at once and compile everything in the end.
Make sauces while things are in the oven. Or if something needs refrigeration or freezing, start with that recipe.
5. Get the right containers.
Once everything is prepared, store it in single serving containers. Any airtight Tupperware will do, but I recommend single-serving glass containers for meals, mason jars for drinks and sauces and reusable baggies for odds and ends, like dressings or toppings.
Feel free to also use plastic, as long as it’s microwaveable. If you’re going to freeze something, label it so you don’t forget what’s in the container.
All of these steps may seem like a lot of work, but trust me that you’ll be so happy you put in the hours when you can pull out a fully formed meal from the fridge after a long training session.
Pantry friendly foods
If you’re going to add meal prepping to your repertoire, then take a look at the comprehensive list of pantry staples below. Pick out the ones that speak to your and keep them stocked in your home. Then, make recipes that feature these ingredients.
Having these foods on hand will reduce the amount you need to buy at the supermarket and make it easier to prep your meals.
Grain are a great way to meet your carbohydrate needs when fueling and recovering from your runs. With so much versatility, there are endless ways you can add grains to your plate.
Try making a batch for a sweet or savory breakfast, like steel cut oatmeal. Or add whole grains to salads or soups, or enjoy as a side dish for dinner. Challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone and try a grain you haven’t experimented with before, like any in this list below.
- Oats [Loaded SunButter Oatmeal]
- Quinoa [Southwestern Quinoa Bowl]
- Bulgur wheat [Mediterranean Bulgur Salad]
- Farro [Caprese Farro Salad]
- Brown rice [Coconut Vegetarian Fried Rice]
- Whole wheat pasta
- Chickpea pasta
- Whole grain cereal
- Pancake/waffle mix
- Whole grain bread
- Whole wheat breadcrumbs
- Whole grain crackers
- Brown rice cakes
- Popcorn kernels [Spicy Cocoa Popcorn]
Beans are always a staple in a vegetarian diet. Full of satiating fiber and muscle building protein, you can’t go wrong here. Try buying an assortment of dried and canned.
Rinse canned beans to remove any excess salt. Or for a cheaper (although more labor intensive option), cook up a big batch of dried beans.
If you’re not going to use them all, you can freeze some for later. Once cooked and cooled, place the beans in a freezer safe bag and they should keep up to 6 months.
Pro tip: one can in the store typically has about 2 cups of beans, so place two cups in each individual bag and label it. When a recipe calls for a can of beans, defrost the ones in the freezer in the microwave.
The uses for beans are endless – dips, salads, soups, or the base of a meal paired with grains and veggies. Here are some of my favorite varietals:
- Pinto beans
- Black beans [Butternut Squash Tacos]
- Black-Eyed Peas
- Kidney beans
- Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans [Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas]
- Cannellini/White beans
- Great Northern beans
- Lima beans
- Fava beans
- Navy beans
- Adzuki beans
- Edamame [Vegan Sushi Bowl]
- Lentils [Greek Power Lentil Bowl]
Oils, Vinegars & Condiments
These are the basics you’ll want to keep on hand for flavoring and cooking. Utilize these staples to easily whip up your own dressing or marinade, rather than relying on store-bought versions. I always keep a variety of oils and vinegars in stock for this purpose.
- Olive oil
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Sesame oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Apple cider vinegar
- Rice vinegar
- White wine vinegar
- Low sodium soy sauce or tamari
- Hoisin sauce
- Maple syrup
- Avocado oil mayonnaise
- Sriracha/Hot sauce
Dried Herbs and Spices
Every kitchen should be equipped with a variety of dried herbs and spices for endless flavor combinations. While you may have your go-to favorites, try branching out with something new.
Each herb and spice offers up their own unique set of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so the more variety, the better.
- Chili pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- Curry powder
- Garlic powder
- Cinnamon [Cinnamon Roasted Almonds]
- Cayenne pepper
- Ground ginger
- Smoked paprika
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Vanilla extract
Nuts, Nut Butter, Seeds & Dried Fruit
Between snacking, cooking and baking, these versatile and delicious ingredients have certainly earned their title as pantry must-haves. Keep a variety on hand to throw into recipes and round out meals.
Make your own trail mix to snack on before, after or during your runs.
- Flaxseeds [Tahini Maple Oat Balls]
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Unsweetened coconut flakes
- Dried cranberries
- Dried apricots
Jarred & Canned Staples
This category is a mix of ingredients that can work their way into many recipes and meals. Buy canned fruits and veggies for times when fresh and frozen may not be an option.
I try and keep one of each item listed in the pantry and replenish as needed.
- Roasted red peppers
- Artichoke hearts
- Tomato sauce
- Crushed tomatoes
- Chopped tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Coconut milk
- Canned corn
- Refried beans
- Vegetable/bean-based soups
- Canned spinach
- Canned green beans
- Canned pumpkin
- No sugar added fruit cups
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Low sodium vegetable broth