How to Prep Your Meals Like a Pro Triathlete
With some smart strategizing, you can make seven healthy dinners a week without missing a single workout
After you finish my 100-mile bike ride you'll eat a salad with grilled chicken and quinoa, you told yourself.
But here you are standing in the kitchen, still in Lycra, polishing off that Costco-sized bag of tortilla chips. So much for a salad.
The good news is this: even professional athletes struggle with the post-ride eat-the-first-thing-I-see thing. “At the end of a hard workout it’s like, ugh, I don’t have the energy to make a salad. So I find that I have my best eating weeks when I make big batches of things ahead of time,” says Rebeccah Wassner, a professional Ironman-distance triathlete. Wassner, along with her twin—fellow pro triathlete Laurel Wassner—and food writer Melissa Lasher are the food prep gurus behind athletefood.com, a recipe blog stuffed with energy-rich dinner ideas and easy meal planning advice.
Athletefood.com is among a growing cannon of recipe and food sites dedicated to helping harried weekend warriors put more than heat-and-eat burritos on the table. Unlike your typical food blogs, these repositories don’t care if a dish photographs like a Pinterest pin-up model, or if it’s going to go viral on social. “For a recipe to work we have to be able to make it fast or ahead of time, make it fit, and make it taste really good,” says Lasher, who is a graduate of Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco and also interned at Tartine Bakery. If the trio can’t nail those three criteria, the dish won’t ever see the light of day.
But you can have the best recipes at your fingertips and still find yourself holding a packet of frozen-solid chicken and fighting off a serious case of runger at 10 p.m. “Planning really is key, it makes life so much easier,” says Susan Harrell, a professionally trained personal chef who runs the site EnduranceZone.com. The more you can shop, chop and cook before the frenzy of the workweek begins, the more time you’re going to have for training.
Here are some pro tips from the pros—both athletes and chefs—on how to minimize your kitchen time while maximize your meal output.
Stop Loathing Leftovers
“Americans are really nervous about leftovers,” says Liza Barker, a cooking instructor, nutrition and health coach and author of the forthcoming book FL!P Your Kitchen. But leftovers are essential for getting through an entire week without cooking every single night. “Something like 40 percent of the food Americans buy is wasted,” says Barker, and that’s a shame, since it not only contributes to greenhouse gas emission, but it’s also a total money suck.
If eating the same thing night after night bothers you, Barker suggests you start freezing half of everything you make. The trick here is to label religiously—with both what’s in the container and the date it was prepared. Also, stock your freezer the way a grocery store stocks its shelves: with the newest items in the back. This eliminates the chances of pulling out a hunk of mystery meat that may or may not be from before Y2K.
Never Cook Just One Meal
If you’re going to go through the work of slicing, dicing and roasting, you might as well get a few meals out of it, says Barker. “My family of four can finish a roast chicken in one meal, which doesn’t leave much in the way of leftovers, so I roast two chickens.” It makes sense—you’ll be tied up for the hour it takes the birds to roast, so why not get several day’s worth of protein out of it? Keep your seasoning on the second chicken simple, so that you can easily work it into tacos, soup, curry—you get the idea.
Meat isn’t the only thing to do this with, either. For example, Barker always cooks extra rice or quinoa. If she doesn’t use it as a side dish within a few days, she turns it into fried rice or adds milk and makes it into hot rice cereal for breakfast.
Pencil In Your Shopping Time
As a professional triathlete and mom of two little kids, Rebecca Wassner’s time is mostly spoken for. “I look at my workouts and figure out when I’m going to have time to shop and when I’m going to have time to cook,” she says. Then, she blocks off that time and refuses to schedule anything else in those hours.
You also need one comprehensive list of all your ingredients for the week. Being one egg short of a soufflé is the easiest way to end up calling peanut butter from the jar dinner. Harrell suggests using an app like Meal Planner Pro or Plan To Eat. These apps will import recipes from sites around the web and pull all the ingredients you need into one tidy list.
Have An “Oh Sh*t” Standby
For Harrell, this is egg tacos. “I love tacos and I always have eggs and an onion [and a few tortillas] on hand,” she says. If she’s got a lot of veggies but no real plan she throws them all into a wok, “never underestimate the power of a veggie stir fry,” she says, adding that it can work with pretty much any flavoring and any protein.
While it’s good to have something you can always rely on, it’s also important not to fall into a recipe rut. Every few weeks Baker cooks something new and fun, even if it’s time-consuming and will use every dish in the kitchen. “But I still am cooking for more than one meal,” she says of these experiments—meaning she’ll double the recipe or cook something extra that she can use at a later date.
Understand Your Timelines
Proteins that you’ve cooked will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. So too will cooked veggies. Raw veggies are trickier. Harrell says that if you prep your salads over the weekend, you’ll get three days max before the carrots, green onions and cucumber go just a bit limp. However, “you can still throw them into a stir fry or soup,” she suggests.
Make Adding in Veggies Easy
For Rebecca Wassner, the easiest way to make sure she meets her daily requirement of greens is to always keep a mixed veggie “succotash” in the fridge. Usually she spends one day each week throwing together a combo of fresh and frozen peas, carrots, peppers—whatever she has on hand really. “Then I can just grab some during the week. I’ll mix pesto in with it some days,” she says, adding that other days she’ll throw some in with a bowl of curry or use it atop a salad.