Bodybuilding Meal Prep Made Easy
Including the Best Foods and Supplements
The Ultimate Bodybuilding Meal Prep And Nutrition Guide:
Nutrition planning remains central to all training success, whatever the season. The following article will outline a series of nutritional requirements and meal replacement options that will give you the edge in properly planning for and experiencing greater progress in the coming months.
Meal Prep Fundamentals:
Why Bodybuilders Meal Prep
Competitive bodybuilders, athletes and amateur lifters who are serious about building great looking, high performance physiques can be identified not only by their impressive builds but also by the lunch coolers strapped over their shoulders. It makes little sense putting in all that hard work at the gym only to deprive your body of important nutrient-rich calories when you need them most: to help repair and build muscle. In fact, many bodybuilders are frightened to death of losing hard earned gains just because they failed to top off their nutrient/caloric requirements.
Bodybuilders are trailblazers in meal prepping and, for decades, have been on a quest for protein sources that can be transported with a modicum of effort and consumed whenever the muscles are in need of replenishment. Go dumpster diving behind a typical hardcore gym and you’ll be awash in tuna cans and chicken bones. As well as getting in enough protein from chicken and tuna, smart bodybuilders have also learned the value of carbohydrates and fats in boosting training energy and laying the foundation for health and wellbeing.
The evolution of meal prep has seen several key changes, but many things have remained the same. Here, bodybuilders can be found browsing dollar stores for Tupperware and are still big consumers of chicken, tuna and other high protein staples.
Keep reading to learn how, through a series of specific meal prep goals, you can both maintain the time-tested traditions of nutritionally well-prepared bodybuilders while further evolving your own prep plan to improve your own training success.
Bodybuilding Meal Prep – a Week at a Time
Preparing meals in advance is common among competitive athletes, but bodybuilders will often take it to the extreme, prepping meals for up to seven days in advance (frequently consuming the same meals day in and day out).
Indeed, eating smaller meals more often is a healthy way to allow your body to efficiently process nutrient-rich calories while keeping the metabolism functioning at a high level to blast bodyfat 24/7. Bodybuilders eat often to achieve the desired growth state of constructive muscle anabolism by providing the calories a bigger body demands.
While the concept of bulking up is not as prevalent as it once was, many bodybuilders still believe in consuming excessive calories to gain both muscle and fat with the expectation that by reversing this process (reducing calories and increasing the protein to carb/fat ratio) they can reduce fat while maintaining hard earned muscle when shredding time arrives.
As reasonable as it may seem, this meal prep strategy can be counterproductive in that the extreme dieting and excessive cardio needed to get body fat levels under control come cutting time may only serve to strip the body of valuable muscle tissue and make shaping up a more arduous process than it needs to be.
Let’s now turn to four specific meal prep goals for Fall (complete with an exhaustive list of key foods and supplements) that, when followed to the letter, will allow you to build quality muscle minus the excess fat many offseason lifters allow to accumulate, while also enjoying greater health and more energy.
Specific Meal Prep Goals:
Maximizing Training Intensity
Many of us tend to eat more and train less during the colder months, making Winter somewhat of a training hibernation period where some may regress and have to slog it out in Spring to get (in many cases, only partially) ready for Summer. As winter approaches, do not fall victim to the general complacency that can make shaping up for summer harder than it needs to be. Rather, by keeping training intensity high during the Fall you’ll be well-equipped to achieve your best shape year-round.
While the motivation to train all-out in Winter may pose a problem for many, we’ll be less “compromised” if we can keep the gains coming during the months leading up to our coldest season. Here, we’ll be well served with a good selection of high-energy, nutrient dense foods and supplements replete with a hefty complement of valuable micronutrients and low in preservatives and added sugars and fats.21, 25, 26
Prioritizing Fat Burning/Muscle Building:
Ultimately, the main reason for preparing our meals well ahead of time is so we may have the muscle building nutrients we need to keep the muscles in an ongoing anabolic state that’s beneficial to continuous muscle growth.
This anabolic state (signified by a high degree of muscle protein synthesis and continuous muscle tissue remodelling) also keeps the metabolic machinery functioning at maximum efficiency. This all adds up to steady mass building and gradual fat losses: primary objectives for all hard-training lifters.
Just as there are specific foods and supplements that work best for energizing the body and optimizing training effectiveness, there are certain key nutrients critical to bolstering muscle recovery and growth. And while each of the recommended foods in the plan to follow will increase our mass building potential to some degree (either directly or indirectly), there are two that must be kept at consistently high levels, day in and day out: protein and water.
As such, when meal prepping it pays to be aware that every gram of protein and every ounce of water consumed will ultimately be used to fuel muscle growth. Skimp on either of these and you’ll likely delay the growth process and, into the bargain, compromise metabolic efficiency, which may in turn limit the amount of fat burning we may experience.
What are the staple foods in a bodybuilders diet?
Foods to Include:
- Steel Cut Oats
The healthiest of grains, steel cut oats are subjected to minimal processing, full of health-boosting fiber, and high in energy-sustaining complex carbohydrates.
- Healthy Fats
While all fats (with the exception of trans fats) are in some way beneficial for health and wellbeing, healthy versions should be prioritized over those with fewer health benefits.8 Healthy fats include the omega 3s, MCT oil, olive oil and, to a more limited extent, those found in certain foods (for example, egg yolks and red meat).
- Select Fruits
While often caloric dense and high in natural sugars, fruits are nevertheless packed with valuable micronutrients and fiber and useful as a high-energy nutritious snack when meal prepping for the gym.1
- Sweet Potato
High in complex carbohydrates and fiber, sweet potatoes are also a rich source of iron, calcium, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin C. A great way to keep the muscles full and energized.
- Fresh, Clean Water
An essential nutrient required in amounts that exceed the body’s ability to produce it, water is crucial for all of the body’s numerous biochemical reactions. This includes muscle building and fat loss, both of which would be greatly compromised without sufficient H2O.
Containing the most bioavailable form of readily assimilated protein besides whey isolate, eggs remain a lean body staple and should be prioritized when meal prepping for maximum muscle growth.
One of the leaner animal proteins when consumed skinless, chicken is considered to be among the very best muscle-building sources of non-vegetarian protein. Chicken also contains the stress-reducing nutrients tryptophan and Vitamin B5; thus, its inclusion can make it easier to sustain a regimented eating plan. A mere 100g serving provides 31g of high biological value protein.
A nutritional powerhouse that contains ample protein and calories to enhance recovery and support lean muscle gains. Uniquely, beef also includes high levels of creatine and zinc to boost anaerobic performance, testosterone production, cellular hydration and strength, and is rich in both iron and the B vitamins.20
- Fish (both cold and fresh water types)
Another low-calorie protein source, saltwater fish contains many valuable minerals to support lean muscle growth and performance, while the fattier cold-water variety contains (along with its protein complement) essential fats to maximize brain and heart function, and enhance fat burning.
What supplements are in a bodybuilders diet?
Adding Key Supplements
Always have a Meal Replacement ready. Rather than sitting down to a full meal of meat, vegetables and salad, lifters may now eliminate the associated time and energy of preparing a regular meal by instead blending up and drinking a delicious dessert-like meal replacement that contains all of the vital nutrients found in a nutritionally well-balanced diet, and more.
For pure muscle-building it’s hard to go past a good meal replacement for its numerous growth-enhancing benefits. As a nutrient-dense substitute for the typical protein heavy bodybuilding meal, meal replacements typically deliver a range of whole food proteins (including beef, chicken, egg, fish and almond protein). Best of all, the protein in meal replacements is rapidly assimilated, with much of its highly-active and readily absorbed protein being used to sustain muscle growth.
Include a Whey Isolate. While a meal replacement can be substituted for an entire meal and may feature whole foods and a broader range of nutrients, a good whey isolate product is perfect post-workout to rapidly expedite muscle protein synthesis and lean muscle growth. Packed full of muscle-boosting whey isolates and immunity- and health-enhancing bioactive protein fractions (peptides), top selling whey isolate products have become a necessary part of the muscle growth process for many thousands of serious trainees.5, 7, 15
Add a Casein to your plan. The muscle building process does not end with the final main meal of the day (whether it be a whole foods meal prepared from scratch or a great tasting meal replacement). In fact, it’s right before bed that we must ensure that our muscles our well-nourished through the night with a sustained-release high-quality protein source.
Fortunately, the meal prep process is again made easier with a good casein protein product, which, on average, will provide 25 grams of enzymatically-absorbed slow release micellar casein per serving to provide the muscles with exactly what is needed to ensure that the body remains anabolic (growth enhancing) during sleep.
- Meal Replacements
Meal prep to maximize training output, recovery and overall nutritional status can be difficult at the best of times. While this article will provide you with the tools you need to get your food and supplement schedule on point, one of the best ways to further refine and improve the meal prep process is to include an all-in-one advanced nutrition product (i.e., a reputable meal replacement supplement).
Meal replacements have been around since the 90s and many have been a blessing for hard training athletes, including bodybuilders. Such products free up valuable time so the athlete can get on with other areas of life besides spending countless hours in the kitchen preparing food. A good meal replacement should include many health and physique-enhancing benefits, a broad selection of fruits and vegetables, and be formulated in such a way that each of its nutrients can be optimally digested and assimilated into energizing muscle glycogen to power the toughest workouts.
- Creatine and Carb Products
Specifically designed to improve physical performance and optimize recovery, specific carb products typically contain an advanced blend of high-performing carbs (such as medium-chain maltodextrins) and, often, intensity-sustaining electrolytes to keep the body working at maximum efficiency and capacity at a time when fatigue would normally set in.16
While best known for their advanced muscle protein synthesis boosting properties, premier BCAA formulas also double as an energy source that’s carbohydrate sparing and effective in maintaining a high levels of training intensity when working out.
Athletes and bodybuilders will need to increase their calorie intake by up to 15% during their bulk up phase. A nutrient-rich meal replacement is a convenient substitute an/or additional meal, providing the much-needed calories to build a bigger and stronger body. Many athletes and bodybuilders looking to increase muscle and strength will need to consume enough calories to support their larger body and greater than normal muscle mass. For some athletes who find it difficult to ingest the calories they require, a meal replacement product may be easier to consume and digest.
Whether you are a bodybuilder or just want to improve your physique, increasing bodyweight through greater muscle gains can represent different challenges to different people. For ectomorphs, who tend be tall and slim with very fast metabolisms, macronutrient requirements can be quite different from mesomorphs (with their slower or normal metabolisms and greater muscle mass) and endomorphs (who typically carry more bodyfat and have the slowest metabolisms of all three somatotypes).
Body type combined with activity level is a good place to start when determining your macronutrient requirements. Since both fat and carbohydrates are good sources of energy, an ectomorph who is very active would need a lot of carbs and/or fats to meet their energy requirements. If our ectomorph does not consume sufficient fats or carbohydrates to meet his or her energy needs, then their body may cannibalize protein reserves for energy. Thus, ectomorphs may add an extra meal or take a meal replacement or weight gainer to meet their caloric requirements.
Mesomorphs who are looking to gain muscle while remaining lean with a moderate increase in metabolic rate will be a little more decerning regarding their fat and carbohydrate requirements and, instead, will look to increase their protein and strategically stagger their carbohydrates and fats. On the other hand, endomorphs, who have slower metabolisms and tend to carry more fat, are, much like mesomorphs, more concerned about the source of their calories and will typically eat smaller meals, perhaps replacing one daily meal with a nutrient rich meal replacement.
Determining Calorie and Macro Goals
Taking in enough nutrients to keep the metabolism running high, fat accumulation low and muscle growth on the increase can be a tricky business, an oftentimes complicated science that can take much trial and effort to get just right. But there are several important tools for determining the correct energy balance for one’s individual body composition goals. These include: energy levels, bodyfat percentage, bodyweight, mood, appetite, overall health and wellness, the degree to which clothing is tight- or loose-fitting, and physical assessment (having a neutral person objectively critique one’s physique).
A great place to start however is to determine our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR: or the rate at which the body utilizes calories at rest). Before doing so it’s important to remember that the body typically uses around 60% of caloric intake simply maintaining its various physiological functions at rest (the BMR), with the remainder of our energy intake going toward physical activity (around 30%) and digestion (around 10%).
An easy way to determine BMR is to multiple pounds in bodyweight by 10 calories (for women) and 11 calories (for men). From this calculation, a 180-pound male will have a BMR of approximately 1,980 calories. This means that around 1,980 calories will be needed to sustain this person’s body at rest. Be mindful however that the above calculation does not take into account individual body composition and activity levels (more muscular people will have naturally higher BMRs while active people will require additional calories in line with the degree to which they are active).
Any extra calories above and beyond those needed for normal metabolic processes will be determined by bodyweight, energy output, and training goals (weight loss versus weight gain).
The average male requires between 2,600 and 3000 calories per day to sustain BMR, digestion and physical activity (for women, around 2000 calories per day is a good target). For those seeking to gain weight, an extra 250-500 calories per day can be added to these figures. For weight loss, start with a reduction of 300 calories per day and increase to 500 calories over 5-6 weeks (slow and steady is always best, so incrementally decrease calories until you hit on an approach that works best for you).
Again, adjusting caloric intake for specific body composition goals is not a perfect science as there are simply too many variables to take into account when determining exactly how many calories will be needed to reach a certain body composition target. Begin with sufficient calories for BMR requirements (depending on bodyweight) and increase caloric intake to accommodate activity levels. For example, a hard training male weighing 180 pounds will aim for the upper end of the aforementioned 2600-3000 daily total (or beyond depending on individual body composition goals and metabolic requirements).
Structuring Daily Calories
So, what’s the best way to structure caloric intake for either weight (fat) loss or weight (muscle) gain? Here it’s worth remembering that, regardless of our daily caloric requirements, we’ll need to hit certain targets each day, but these targets may shift depending on our specific energy output on certain days.
For example, on training days many bodybuilders will bump up their carbohydrate intake to ensure more energy to train to full capacity and/or (on training or non-training days) to provide a “metabolic jolt” (with a so-called re-feed meal) to keep the body in fat burning mode. Others may choose to keep calories consistent due to a greater propensity to put on unwanted weight (the archetypal endomorph). In either case, protein requirements (1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day) will be kept consistent.
When it comes to the exact nutritional composition of a bodybuilding meal plan, many subscribe to the ‘if it fits your macros’ (IIFYM) approach, meaning that so long as the foods consumed match one’s desired daily caloric intake, nutritional quality is of secondary importance. This is not the best option, however, as nutritional quality (for health, wellbeing and energy levels) does make a big difference in how well we will progress in our body composition objectives.
For example, instead of sitting down to a big plate of pancakes drizzled with maple syrup (or other such calorie-dense fare), select a carbohydrate source from the numerous, more desirable options featured in this article. This way you’ll be able to consume more carbs over the course of a day (for steady energy and muscle replenishment) rather than using up your carb quota in 1-2 high calorie meals.
Overall, for best results regardless of body type, select from the wide variety of nutrient-dense foods included in this article and have clean carbohydrates comprise 45% of total daily calories, with lean proteins (35%) and healthy fats (20%) rounding out the balance.
Achieving Complete Nutrition
For ongoing lean muscle gains and around the clock fat burning, it’s critical that health and wellbeing be front and centre of your meal prep plan. After all, while a plan heavy on basic muscle-building proteins and energizing carbs and fats will always be an important part of any results-focused nutrition plan, it’s nutritional variety and the broad array of life-enhancing nutrients found in a good selection of vegetables, nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables that’ll place the body the healthy state necessary to ensuring our basic macronutrients may fulfill their respective roles in bolstering muscle growth and performance.
This is why, when prepping for performance, recovery and growth, we must be certain that all of the body’s nutritional demands are met. This is best achieved when we include a broad selection of health-enhancing foods, each with unique benefits which work synergistically to properly maintain the many physiological functions necessary for optimal performance and health.
Foods to Include:
- Select Vegetables
Compared to other foods, vegetables are typically lower in calories and higher in vitamins, minerals, fiber and various other life-enhancing compounds, so much so that a diet cannot be considered healthy without a good selection of the healthiest vegetables.22
Low in sodium and cholesterol and bursting with antioxidants, vegetables should comprise around 25 percent of a good meal prep plan. The healthiest vegetables are considered to be: carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, garlic, brussels sprouts, green peas, asparagus, and red cabbage.3, 6, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 27, 28
- Select Nuts and Seeds
A hefty selection of nuts and seeds cannot be overlooked when putting together a health-focused nutrition plan. Loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, the best nuts and seeds increase caloric intake without encouraging excessive weight gain.11
Several independent prospective studies have concluded that by increasing nut consumption, weight gain can be kept low over relatively long periods of time and the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes can be lowered.11 The best nuts and seeds include: walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Select Green Leafy Vegetables
Green leafy vegetables comprise their own individual category in the star-studded pantheon of health-boosting foods. While usually ‘tossed’ to the side by muscle-hungry lifters, greens are anything but antithetical to lean mass gains.
Made up of a veritable alphabet of valuable vitamins, minerals and key antioxidants, along with an impressive range of unique chemical compounds (including the inflammation-lowering phytonutrients), green leafy vegetables remain the superstars of the produce section and should make up a good 15 percent of our daily caloric intake (as part of our vegetable quota). The best green leafy vegetables include: kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard, arugula and iceberg lettuce.10, 12, 13, 14, 29
A major part of the meal prep process requires shopping around for the best food deals and the freshest produce and buying in bulk so that 2-3 days of meals can be prepared in advance.
Buying food on an “as needed” basis never works. First, whenever we venture out for food there is always a chance that we may find ourselves swayed by the many delectable culinary temptations that are increasingly becoming go-to food options for many less committed fitness lifestylers.
Second, the hassle of multiple weekly shopping expeditions may make the food prep process untenably burdensome. In the end we may quit our efforts or, at best, settle for a less regimented nutritional approach.
Finally, we may find ourselves eating well for a few days, then, upon running out of food, becoming complacent for a day or two before resuming our prep. Thus, we may lose momentum and compromise our gains.
To reduce the likelihood of any of the above happening, be sure to shop no more than twice a week, each time buying just enough food to last for around three days (non-perishable items will last much longer and can be bought in larger quantities).
Before committing to the following plan, a series of key points must first be considered. Understand each and you’ll be better-positioned to buy into the meal prep process and succeed in your quest to build a superior physique.
- Prepping for quality gains cannot be done haphazardly. If you decide to wing it and hope for the best (as most people do), consider the fact that proper meal prepping, as outlined in this article, will enable you to achieve faster and superior results from your training as it puts you firmly in control of what you eat, when you eat it, how much of it you eat, and when you may structure in the occasional “cheat” meal.
- Proper prepping allows us to better monitor our physical progress from week to week to determine more precisely how our bodies respond to certain nutrients, which, if necessary, will allow us to further refine our eating over time.
- Making the time to prepare each of our weekly meals 2-3 days in advance will ensure that our entire week of eating is brought under control. This means we will be less likely to miss a meal, or go “off-schedule” with our eating.
- Proper meal prepping may also help us to better manage the many delicious temptations that may be encountered throughout the day. Thus, better organization around food may reduce the possibility of ‘decision fatigue’, which occurs when busy people have too many options and must decide what is best at a given time. If our meals are packed and ready to go, we’ll stand a better chance of steering clear of the dreaded drive thru.
- Proper meal prep also saves money and time, as we’ll be buying and preparing only what we need. There will be less wasted food as we will be eating only what our body needs and we will no longer be wasting our time agonizing over whether to eat that better-tasting muffin or go with the healthier apple.
The following plan can be used by anyone who wants to improve health, wellbeing and gym results. However, if you prefer, you can design your own nutrition plan by selecting from the above-listed supplements and food items.
If you choose the latter approach, be sure to include a meal replacement for at least one meal per day, to safeguard against nutritional deficiencies and to ensure optimal performance and recovery.
-Base all serving sizes on individual macronutrients requirements, in keeping with the above directives.
Before Fasted Cardio
- One serving of AMINOCORE
- One serving of steel cut oats
- Two whole eggs, three egg whites
- Five walnut halves, or five Brazil nuts
- One serving of VITASTACK
- Salad of green leafy vegetables
- One serving if ISOFLEX
- One apple
- One chicken breast
- One serving of sweet potato
- One small serving of pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds
Afternoon Tea (Pre-Workout Meal)
- One serving of ISOFLEX (blended with chopped pineapple)
- One serving of red meat
- One serving of broccoli
- One serving of Red cabbage
- One serving of potato or sweet potato
- One serving of CASEIN-FX
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