If you read the first part of this feature "Muscle, Part One: Practical Eating for Lean: The Grocery Store", Magazine 12, issue 2), you learned some valuable techniques for taking your nutritional program from being planned on paper to sitting in your fridge. In this segment, we are going to cover the in-the-kitchen preparation phase.
Before we get into how to most efficiently go about your bulk cooking, let’s discuss the benefits of organizing your food prep into once or twice weekly food prep marathons. Each of us needs to decide how to best utilize our resources – primary among these is time, money and determination.
To begin, let’s look at a few different scenarios. Imagine that you are a person of exceptional wealth. You have inherited a considerable fortune that allows you a life of leisure. If you are in this rare group you would have adequate time to pursue your bodybuilding dreams. You could afford to hire the top personal trainers and nutritionists to design your programs. You could have a complete gym on location with butlers loading and unloading plates for you. Your food would be prepared fresh by your personal chef. A masseuse would no doubt be on hand to enhance your post-training recuperation. You would seem to have every advantage so you would assume your success would be a forgone conclusion. The last key component – determination, could however prove to derail your progress. It is just not possible to build a strong, lean, shapely physique without getting under the bar and pushing until it hurts. For someone that has lived a life of leisure, the drive to punish themselves in the gym is probably just not there.
Now if you’re an average person you will never have a personal chef, and will probably not be able to afford the ongoing guidance of a personal trainer. You have to work a 40-hour job as well as your family and social commitments. You make decent money, but not enough to afford to have a chef prepare your meals for you (especially when you need to eat five or six meals a day). While you might not have the seven-figure checking account of the first group, you do have the drive to do what it takes and are you’re willing to spend what time and money you have available to realize your bodybuilding goals. If this is your situation, the strategies in this article are tailor made for you.
Utilization of Key Resources
40 Hour Work Week Commitment
Lastly, say that you are a full-time student or family man and you find that money is the commodity that is in short supply. This seems to be a majority of young bodybuilders. Fortunately, even if you don’t have extensive amounts of cash flow, you can succeed in bodybuilding by applying far more determination into things, as well as putting in more time. This may take the form of getting a second weekend job to pay for food, supplements and gym fees. It will also require that you prepare your meals yourself, which can be a very time-consuming task. This article will show you some techniques to make your food prep both more time AND cost effective.
Benefits of Bulk Food Preparation
When was the last time you ate a meal you really felt badly about? We’re not talking about the time you went out with friends to celebrate a birthday and left the table stuffed. Living a bodybuilding lifestyle shouldn’t be about constant restriction and never enjoying life. Training hard and eating well 95% of the time makes it possible to allow yourself that occasional planned-for treat.
The meals that are REALLY bad – and which can derail your physique efforts – are the ones when you had a rough day and are just too tired, worn-out or unmotivated to make a proper meal. After all, you haven’t done the dishes, the meat needs to be defrosted, it will be at least a half-hour before it’s cooked and ready to be eaten, and you are exhausted. A detour through the drive-through or popping into the store to grab a pint of ice cream only takes a few minutes and don’t you deserve a treat after the day you’ve had? Unfortunately, those types of days have a tendency to pile up easily. If you came home and had a choice of healthy, pre-made bodybuilding meals that you could just pop into the microwave for a few minutes waiting for you in the freezer, you are much more likely not to stray from good nutrition. The real treat will be walking around having reached your goals and having the physique you have always wanted. This is the top benefit of bulk food prep – it keeps you on track to your objective of a lean, muscular body.
Many people are surprised once they start to consistently bulk prepare their bodybuilding meals that there is a remarkable monetary savings over just prepping your meals the night before. Most foods are pro-rated in cost, which means buying ten one pound containers of chicken is much more expensive than buying a single ten-pound bag. I recommend that you shop around your area for outlets such as Sam’s Club, Costco, GFS and the Wholesale Club. These groups offer excellent prices and are particularly suited for those that eat in quantity, often providing items by the case or just in special wholesale sizes.
Another great benefit to bulk food prep is that you can precisely control your portion sizes. You can even use a scale to determine proper quantities of protein, carbs and fat. Rather than feeling like you need to clean your plate, even if you’re full, you will begin with a pre-measured portion. This will help you break from the super-sizing mentality that we have been conditioned into through the advertising media.
The first step (as always) is to decide your course of action. When it comes to bulk food prep, you must follow these steps:
1.Determine Your Nutritional Program. This begins, of course, with deciding upon your nutritional goals. After this is completed, you need to decide your daily food intake. My article EZ Diet or any of the pre contest articles in The No Nonsense Magazine show you how to make a simple diet template. There are also dozens of articles on the Beverly website that illustrate what these diets look like.
2.Plan Your Meals. How often will you be scheduling your food prep sessions? Twice a week? Once a week? Once every two weeks? It all depends on your food requirements, how much freezer space you have available and what fits best into your schedule. I suggest you Xerox a page from a calendar to plan out your weekly diet. Choosing foods to be a part of your diet isn’t difficult and variety isn’t a problem if you put in some initial effort.
3.Create Your Shopping List. This is where Part One of this series (The Grocery Shopping Guide) comes into play. Definitely take the time to list all of your ingredients. You don’t want to come home and realize that you got enough chicken to grill and dice into omelets and over salads, but not enough for your other chicken recipes. Then inventory your supplies. Check the cupboards and refrigerator to ensure that you have all the spices, oils and other ingredients required to make your food. Your bulk cooking session will take awhile. Don’t make it harder by having to run out for the one missing ingredient.
4.Shop for Foods. Go into the store with a plan (AND your list). Filling your pantry with sale non-perishable items and buying some things at discounted bulk rates from wholesale outlets will cover some of this.
One technique that health experts are recommending for members of the general population is to shop the U. This means that most of your foods should come from the outer perimeter of the store – fruits and veggies, lean meats, eggs and other base foods. (Of course, you need to skip the bakery section.) Limit the amount of things in boxes that you eat and stock up on items closer to their natural unprocessed state.
5. Food Prep and Cooking. These last two sections are areas in which I plan to go into detail.
Listed below are some of my current favorite meals
Five or six months from now I will have replaced a few of these with something new. These consist of protein and carb mixtures that can be portioned out into food storage containers and heated up for a quick and nutritious all-in-one meal.
Here is a list for someone wanting at least two pre-made meals a day for two weeks, along with the number of servings:
Lean Meat Chili[3 meals] Best when prepared in a slow-cooker, this is a meal I never get tired of. Spicy foods are great for stimulating the metabolism. Lean meat, beans, diced onions, tomatoes, peppers and cayenne pepper make this a healthy, low-carb, nutrient-packed meal. In a large skillet brown a pound of 90% or leaner ground beef or turkey, or try ground chicken breast for a change of pace. Sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper. While browning meat, add a can of diced tomatoes (with green chili’s if you like a little extra heat), a half cup of frozen diced onions, a can of black beans or kidney beans and a packet of your favorite chili seasoning to the slow-cooker. Add browned meat and simmer for 2-4 hours. This will give you about 3 full meals. For more meals, double the recipe. For a lower carb version, reduce the amount of beans added.
Chicken and Rice[6 meals] Cooking on a grill gives food great flavor, cooks quickly and makes for easy clean up. Skinless chicken breast (pre-marinated or plain) in bulk sized bags is available at any major grocery store. I like using the chicken tenderloins, as each piece is about an ounce so I don’t have to drag out my scale. Another great thing about cooking on the grill is you can load it up with a bag of chicken at a time and have enough meat for about 6 meals. While grilling, make a couple of boxes of fast cook brown or long grain rice. Uncle Ben’s has some great rice choices that take only 5 minutes to cook. Toss grilled chicken in a bowl with a half cup to a cup of rice and you’ll have a protein packed, low glycemic carb meal. Throw in a cup of broccoli (steamed in the microwave) to add some extra fiber and help you feel full longer.
Turkey with Rice and Beans[5 meals]
This meal is easy, tastes great and is really filling. Brown 2 pounds of 93% lean turkey in a large skillet. You can even do this while making your chili since you already have the skillet out and warmed up. Multi tasking with your cooking cuts down on food prep time later in the week. While the meat is browning, microwave 1-2 bags of Ready Rice. Open and drain 1-2 cans of black beans. Portion out your turkey, rice and beans into plastic food storage containers. For more carbs, add more rice and beans; for fewer carbs add less. For more fiber and added filler, toss a half can of green beans in each dish.
Grilled Kabobs(Steak, Lamb or Chicken)[6 meals] These taste great cooked either in the oven or on the grill. Marinate overnight in your favorite low carb marinade for moist, flavorful meat. In addition to a great way to get your protein, ka-bobs also can include whatever fruit or veggies you choose (onions, peppers, tomatoes, pineapple or redskin potatoes). To turn ka-bobs into an all-in-one meal, I load up a couple of skewers with lean meat cubes, cut up peppers and onions, cherry tomatoes and a couple small red skinned potatoes. If using the grill, soak skewers for about an hour before grilling so they don’t burn. If you don’t like red skinned potatoes, microwave a bag of Ready Rice and throw grilled meat and veggies over rice. Cooking 12 loaded ka-bobs will make about 6 meals for the week. If your diet calls for more carbs, add more potatoes or make 2 bags of rice.
Steak and Sweet Potato[3 meals] It’s hard to beat this bodybuilding favorite. Either on the grill, broiled or baked in the oven or cooked in a skillet, a lean steak is a great dinner choice a few times a week. The leanest cuts of steak are round steak, top sirloin, flank and tenderloin (with the outer fat trimmed off). Sweet potatoes are great baked in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour and a half or until they’re really soft inside. Spray with Pam and lightly salt the skins for added flavor. Wrapping each potato in tin foil will prevent the skins from burning while reaching the desired consistency inside. The last 10-15 minutes of baking the potatoes add a full bunch of asparagus (cutting off the hard white ends) to a large cookie sheet, sprinkle with salt and balsamic vinegar and bake until slightly brown. This amino packed, slow digesting and rich antioxidant meal can easily be made a head of time and tastes great reheated. Cook steaks just under your desired temperature so when reheated they are just perfect.
Tilapia and Red Skin Potatoes[5 meals] I often hear people say that they like to order fish in a restaurant, but are afraid to cook it at home. This no fail recipe takes only minutes to cook, and is a nice break from beef or chicken. Most large groceries have bulk boxes or bags of pre-portioned, individually wrapped, frozen tilapia available. Simply take out about 10 filets and either thaw in the fridge the night before or thaw in a bowl of warm water in less than 5 minutes. Preheat your broiler to high and bring a large saucepan full of water to a boil for the potatoes. Add about 10 red skin potatoes to boiling water and cook for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. On a foil lined baking sheet, place tilapia filets evenly. Mix 1 can drained diced tomatoes, a little garlic salt and 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a bowl. Spoon tomato mixture over filets and broil for 6-8 minutes. Serve over cooked spinach or beside a green salad for a high protein, low carb, super low fat and nutritious meal.
Again, these meals are great tasting, easy to prepare, can be portioned out into plastic food containers and reheat very well. For more variety, I’ll throw in something else in place of one of these favorites, working them back in when, and if, I find myself craving them. When I need something new, I go to one of the many recipe websites (such as allrecipes.com) and modify their recipes; eliminating carbs and simple sugars and increasing the protein content. I’ve had very good luck winging it in this way. The website calorielab.com is also very useful for checking macronutrient content of various ingredients.
To make things easier, I recommend that you do some of the prep work the night before. Marinate and/or brown the meat and chop necessary ingredients the night before, if possible. Also wash and put away all the dishes so you begin with a clean and uncluttered work area. Or, as I often do, have one cook day on the weekend and one cook night during the week. Make up as much food as possible on these two days to be sure your food is totally prepared. As we all know being prepared is half the battle to following a diet with success.
Deborah Taylor-Hough, author of Frozen Assets recommends that you first sort your meals according to main protein. That way the chicken that you are cooking for omelets can also be cooked with the chicken you plan to use for chicken chili or chicken and rice.
Since meat will be the primary ingredient in most of our dishes, we want to make sure that we limit saturated fats as much as possible. With chicken, turkey and steak it’s a matter of trimming away as much fat as possible. Afterwards, I recommend that you blot away as much of the remaining fat with paper towels.
With ground beef you need to first choose the leanest beef possible (90% fat free or above). Organic beef will also contain less saturated fat due to the natural whole-grain diets and lack of fattening hormones fed to the cattle. Blotting away fat will make a dramatic difference here. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, blotting crumbled ground beef will reduce fat levels in the average serving by four or more grams. Following this up by rinsing the beef in a strainer or colander reduces fat levels by an additional four or five grams. Obviously, this is well worth the effort.
6. Food Storage.
Even those with limited freezer space would be surprised to learn how much they can store. Even with only a fridge-top freezer, I am able to store thirty-forty meals, depending on how they are packaged. Originally, I used Tupperware-style containers but have found that freezer bags (available in both gallon and quart sizes), take up much less space than plastic containers.
two or three extra ice cube holders (not trays for freezing them, but the square bins in which you dump cubes). This will allow you to file bags of food, keeping things organized and avoiding an avalanche of edibles every time you open the door. You should also list the type of food on the bag with a
sharpie marker. Once frozen it can sometimes be hard to tell one item from the
next. I also advise you to make a list of frozen meals in freezer. Mark them
off as you use them.
Leave an inch on top of any liquid foods since they will expand when frozen. Another trick is to lay out bags of items on a pan or baking dish and placing it in the freezer so that you get flat bags of food, rather than lumpy hard to stack blobs.
If you have a large capacity freezer then you’ve got it made. Once you have a grasp of your food consumption patterns, you can go into large-scale production and keep a steady stock of a half-dozen of your muscle-building favorites.
One last tip has to do with herbs. Fresh herbs always taste best, but you can freeze a single serving of fresh herbs in an ice cube tray, with whatever base you might use it in (i.e. mixed with chicken bouillon). Place these cubes into a marked freezer bag and one can be easily dropped into a dish for flavoring.
The following items should be a part of your kitchen arsenal. If you do not currently own the complete list, try to gradually acquire them as they will make your time spent in the kitchen go by quickly and efficiently:
1. Food processor. This one is a real time saver when it comes to slicing and dicing your vegetables. Best of all, I find that since I purchased my food processor, I eat much more fresh veggies which has improved my nutrition and health.
2. Food scale. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one, but a food scale will allow you to confidently control your portion size and the macronutrient composition of your meals.
3. Two or three large cast iron skillets. The prep will go by much faster if you can cook multiple items at the same time and don’t need to wash out a pan before you can start a second entrëe.
4. At least two large pots (with lids). Same reason as above.
5. Crockpot. Crockpots seem as if they may have been invented for bodybuilders. There are many healthy meals that you can create by just adding the ingredients, letting it slow cook throughout the day.
6. Rice and vegetable steamer. These are available for only $25-35 and make preparing whole-grains a snap.
7. Cutting board (and a variety of knives). Look for something that can easily be washed off since you will need it multiple times.
8. Measuring cups.
9. Vacuum sealer (optional). These can be pricey, but if you plan to go into major production (making more than two weeks worth of a food option at once), these items are worthwhile.
I like to cook one or two dozen hard-boiled eggs each week. I dice these into salads or toss a couple of them into a sandwich bag for a protein snack to go. I also like to have other snacks on hand and ready to go
such as bags of almonds/cashews, fruit or steak and cheese slices. Needless to say, having a pre-measured Beverly protein shake in a shaker cup (where I only need to grab and ice cold bottled water to blend it in for an on the road snack) is a constant. I also like to have an Ultra Size pudding waiting in the fridge; either a classic chocolate or I will blend in some frozen strawberries and top with fresh berries. It gives me something to look forward to after work.
When you feel the need to treat yourself with something different, try halving a tomato or pepper, scooping out the inner contents (diced tomato can be made into salsa, added to a salad or chili or used in a variety of other recipes) and stuffing them with ground beef or turkey or a tuna or chicken salad. Cover with grated cheese and seasonings and bake in the oven.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas on how you can quickly and easily improve your food preparation process. You will notice if you look at the athlete profiles in the No Nonsense Magazine (or the reprints on the Beverly website) that many of the Beverly athletes cook their food in batches once or twice weekly. By following some of these guidelines, you can more efficiently make use of your three primary resources (time, money and determination) to build a physique that may one day be profiled on these pages.