Sports Performance Nutrition spotlight Bodybuilding

A Quick & Healthy Guide: 4 Easy Steps to Meal Prep

Andre Adams
Andre Adams
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Meal prep is more than just a trend it's a transformative approach to nourishing our bodies amidst our fast-paced lives.

Embracing the art of planning and preparing meals in advance not only saves time but also ensures a healthier and more mindful approach to eating.

Whether you're a busy professional, a fitness enthusiast, or simply seeking nutritional balance, incorporating meal prep into your routine can be a game-changer, offering a seamless path to wholesome, homemade meals.

With these tips and meal prep ideas, you will yourself by staying on track to make meal prepping more sustainable and effective.

Table of Contents

Want a boost in your meal prep routine? NASM’s Bodybuilding Meal Prep Made Easy is designed to equip you with the tools to get you started with an efficient meal prepping process. Learn how to align consistency and discipline to achieve your goals without sacrificing flavor.

what is meal prep?

Meal prep is preparing meals ahead of time so you can have them on-hand later in the week. Having healthy meals that only need minimal cooking should help you not to reach for expensive or fast, unhealthy meals out of convenience.

Meal prep is also a proactive way of staying on top of your fitness goals. It doesn’t matter if you’re just aiming to manage your bodyweight to look good and feel good, or if you are in bodybuilding competitions, meal prep is a tactic that will keep you on track. Remember, the battle is won in the preparation!

Think about meal prep as predicting the future. You can plan and track the amounts and kinds of food your body will need throughout the week. Hope is not a strategy, and you can’t outwork a bad diet! This is where meal prepping with a meal plan will be most effective so you can control the variables and predict the outcomes.

Additionally, meal prepping has other benefits, including:

  • Cooking meals in bulk and reducing total hours in the kitchen
  • Eating at mealtimes vs. having to wait until after each meal is cooked
  • Saving money
  • Easier weight management
  • Less stress figuring out what to eat
  • Improved overall health

how to meal prep

set goals

Instead of getting overwhelmed by planning, start by figuring out what you want to achieve by meal prepping.

Are you just aiming for quick, easy dinners? Do you want to focus on saving money? Do you want to improve your health with a specific nutrition plan? Are you planning your meals to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain muscle?

Once you have your main goal or goals in mind, you can focus the rest of your planning on that goal.

If your goal is to improve overall nutrition, here are some tips:

  • Spread your macros out over 36 portioned meals per day. Aim for smaller, more frequent meals that will keep you satisfied for longer.
  • Space meals out every 2.55 hours to keep from getting too hungry.
  • Think about how to weigh and portion your foods.

make a plan

With your goal in mind and a planner or app in hand, set up your plan. Start small rather than trying to tackle planning every meal for the next month. Aim for a few days of meal or a week of a specific meal instead.


Here are the steps for successful meal prep planning:


  • Pick which meals you want to prep for. If you find yourself struggling to make breakfast in the morning, that might be a good place to start. Or if you’re a morning person and breakfast is an oatmeal or a protein shake, then aim for lunches or dinners.
  • Choose how many days you want to prep for. It’s usually best to start with 2–3 days at first and then work up to a week and freezing some meals. Don’t worry about perfection just yet, focus on establishing habits and routines.
  • Choose what kind of food you want to include. This is where nutrition goals like weight loss, muscle gain, etc., come in. Use the NASM basal metabolic rate calculator to figure out your daily caloric needs so you can set your macronutrient goals. Find a plan that is sustainable, and you will adhere to it. Some people enjoy repetition with the same meals every day. Others find it more sustainable to have more variety in food choices.
  • Choose the number of servings you want to prep at a time. Figure out how many meals per day you need to eat to hit your macro goals. Then figure out how many times you want to eat a specific meal over the next couple of days.
  • Choose your meal prep methods. Do you want to cook in one big batch you can divide up later or in individually portioned meals? Pre-portioning your meals for the week can save you time, but it takes longer upfront. Large batches might be ideal if you work from home and don’t need the meals to be portable. Try both and see which one best matches your lifestyle!
  • Choose whether you want to pre-cook or just prep the ingredients for later. Pre-cooking and reheating your meals are the most common method of meal prepping. But you could also choose to prep the ingredients for faster cooking if you want the food to be fresher.
  • Set a day of the week to plan out recipes. Pick at least one day per week to plan out your recipes with an app, spreadsheet, or planner. Some common meal prep apps are MyFitness Pal, 1st Phorm My Transphormation app, and Evolution Nutrition among others. If you have a nutrition coach, most of this is already programmed for you and ready to go.
  • Set a day of the week to buy the groceries. Build this into your routine and use apps like Instacart to save you time grocery shopping.
  • Set a day of the week to spend 2-3 hours prepping the meals. If you’re using a meal prep service, you can skip most of this step. You could also consider only using a meal prep service to cook your bulk proteins, and then meal prepping your carbs and vegetables yourself. If you’re cooking at home, use time-saving appliances like air fryers and Instant Pots.
  • Pick up some meal replacement options. If you’re nervous about prepping for every meal, keep some backup protein meal replacement shakes or bars on hand.

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gather recipes

If you’re a person who likes consistency, you might want to stick with some solid basic recipes. If you prefer variety, you can collect lots of different recipes from apps, Pinterest, and Instagram to mix things up.

For people who enjoy cooking, healthy metabolic cookbooks and meal prep apps are a great way to try out new recipes and make them fit your macros. I recommend Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels or Metabolism Diet for Beginners by NASM Master Trainer Megan Johnson McCullough.

buy containers

Storing your prepped meals safely is one of the most important parts of meal prep. You can use individual meal containers, divider containers (to separate protein, carbs, veggies), or even vacuum seals.

When you purchase reusable meal prep containers to store your meals, make sure they are:

  • Leakproof
  • Airtight
  • BPA free
  • Microwaveable
  • Freezable
  • Reusable

buy the food

Always double check the expiration date of foods when you purchase them at the grocery store to ensure food safety, especially when you buy fresh. Shop around for the best price and look for sales or bulk deals! Remember, you can always freeze your uncooked meats for later cooking.

prep, label, and store the meals

Prep. To make your meal prepping as efficient as possible, try cooking with multiple devices at the same time. For example, you can use the air fryer for your vegetables, pressure cooker for your protein, and stovetop or oven for your carbohydrates.

Label your meals with the macros and data to help identify them and make sure you’re not using expired food. If you store your meals in the refrigerator or deep freezer, remember to use FIFO (first in, first out) to keep the meals in order and avoid wasting food.

Always follow food safety guidelines. Don’t let food sit out unrefrigerated for long periods of time. Cook to the minimum recommended internal temperature. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, warm water, or the microwave for immediate cooking.

General good food safety guidelines to remember:

  • Don’t let uncooked food sit out for more than a few minutes.
  • Cook raw meat right away since it can expire within 1-5 days in the refrigerator.
  • Always cook to the minimum recommended internal temperature (i.e., poultry at 165 degrees).
  • Store cooked meals in the refrigerator for 2-5 days at 40° F, and in the freezer for 1-6 months at 0° F.
  • Check your meals (smell, texture, etc.) to ensure they are not expired.
  • Different types of meats and foods have different expiration dates in the freezer.

Best foods to use in food prep

The best types of foods to use for meal prep are the ones that you’re most likely to eat. You could have the perfect plan, but if you absolutely hate the diet, it won’t be sustainable in the long run.

Use foods that digest well, are budget friendly, and align with your nutrition and fitness goals.


Carbohydrates tend to make up 30-60% of prepped meals, depending on you and your goals. Use complex carbs as the foundation of your meals. Some of the most common complex carb sources include:

  • Pasta (whole grain)
  • Grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, bran cereals etc.)
  • Potatoes
  • Oats
  • Whole grain or fortified bread
  • Lentils/beans
  • Barley
  • Carb powders


Protein plays an essential role in supporting skeletal muscle and providing a full source of amino acids to keep your body anabolic. Depending on your goal, you could pick fast or slow digesting proteins. A nutrition coach can help you optimize your total daily protein target and food choices.

Generally, the leaner the protein source, the better for your body and for storage after meal prep. Here are some common options to start with:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Edamame
  • Whey protein or powders

Whole Vegetables

Aim for a target of at least three servings of veggies per day. These foods are packed with phytonutrients and micronutrients, dietary fiber, and a host of other benefits that will aid in digestion, nutrient uptake, and overall wellbeing.

Try to mix in a variety of colorful veggies, with the majority being crunchy and starchy, which tend to be better for storage and reheating during meal prep.

Here are some common meal prep vegetables to get you started:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Kale
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Squash
  • Blanched salad ingredients (lettuce, cabbage, etc.)

Whole Fruits

Aim for 2-3 servings of fruit daily for overall health. Fruits also fall into the carbohydrate category and should be counted towards overall macro targets.

Softer fruits like berries won’t last as long in the refrigerator (typically a few days), so chopped raw or cooked fruits may work better for meal prep. You can also opt for frozen fruits to minimize food waste.

Common meal prep fruit examples include:

  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Mandarins
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Grapes

Nuts, Seeds, and Oils

Other great food choices to keep on hand and supplement your meal prep are nuts, seeds, legumes, and oils. These macro-friendly food choices are nutrient-dense and high in proteins and healthy fats. They also don’t need to be refrigerated and have a long shelf-life.

Common examples include:

  • Tree nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, etc.)
  • Flaxseed
  • Coconut
  • Chai Seeds
  • Oils (Coconut/MCT, chai, extra virgin olive oil, canola, etc.)


To help keep your meals interesting and add some flavor, you may consider adding healthy condiments that align with your nutritional targets. Always be sure to add these into your total macros for each meal.

Store your sauces separately or in a small condiment sized Tupperware so they don’t make your food soggy or limp. This will also make reheating your meals easier with less mess.

Some of my personal favorites that are macro-friendly include brands like G-Hughes Sugar-Free Sauces, Frank’s Red Hot 0 Cal, Flavor God, and Walden Farms toppings.

Tune into the NASM Peak Physique Podcast for in-depth topics on nutrition, training, supplementation and strategies for building your physique!

Foods to Avoid in Meal Prep

For your normal meals, stick with nutrient-dense foods and prioritize your proteins, as these are better for you and also don’t tend to work well for meal prep.

Be sure to avoid too many simple sugars, processed foods, and fatty foods throughout the day including:

  • Processed sugars
  • Sugary soft drinks, sodas, coffees
  • Candy
  • Sugary cereal
  • Ice cream

You should also steer clear of foods excessively high in fats (especially saturated and trans fats) for your health and because they don’t freeze or reheat well.

Some examples might include avoiding:

  • Excessive amounts of high-fat red meats
  • Fast foods
  • Fried foods
  • Pizza
  • Butter/Margarine

And of course, you will want to avoid any foods that cause allergies or trigger inflammation or indigestion.

NASM’s Bodybuilding Meal Prep Made Easy

Want a boost in your meal prep routine? NASM's Bodybuilding Meal Prep Made Easy is designed to equip you with the tools to get you started with an efficient meal prepping process. Learn how to align consistency and discipline to achieve your goals without sacrificing flavor.

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The Author

Andre Adams

Andre Adams

Andre Adams is a professional athlete with the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) pro league, having competed in the 2015 Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic professional physique divisions. He is also a master trainer with National Academy of Sports Medicine® (NASM), physique contest prep coach, and holds several specializations with NASM. Certifications include: NASM CPT, WFS, PES, WLS, GPTS, FNS and MT. Follow him on Instagram and LinkedIn!


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