By Jeremy Elder
Protein consumption is one of the most important nutritional considerations in the context of training and eating to get bigger and stronger. Unfortunately, it’s also the macro-nutrient target most people struggle to consistently achieve. As a rule of thumb, most strength athletes should try to consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight every day. This can be challenging due to protein’s effect on satiety (it can be quite filling), and the preponderance of cheap, easy to prepare, and tasty snacks that are heavy on carbs and fat.
In a perfect world we would all meal prep and this would be far less of an issue. But in our imperfect world, where we are often tired and crunched for time, it’s helpful to develop strategies that make it easier to succeed than fail. Below I’ll describe a strategy I find useful for hitting my daily protein targets. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful too!
I draw from this menu any time I need to eat but am short on time, motivation, or imagination. Once you’ve picked out your protein dish you can simply add a carb and/or fat source to round out your meal. Here are a few examples of dishes:
When it’s time to eat I’ll prepare one or two of these dishes (e.g. scrambled eggs with a side of Greek yoghurt), and round it off with another easy protein source, like a cup of milk (8 grams), or a protein shake (24 – 56 grams). At the end of the day it’s not as optimal as weighing, measuring and meal planning; but it does ensure I can consistently reach my daily protein target, even when life gets busy.
Guest Column - Amanda Soares
Hopefully by now youʼve gotten your hands on:
A big-ass Instant Pot
A Costco membership
An 8x8 baking dish or at least a good brownie pan
because without them, this installment is going to be reeeeeeeally boring for you. (Youʼve been warned!)
Today weʼre going to talk CHICKEN PREP.
AND! Because youʼve been so patient waiting for episode #2, Iʼm going to let you in on the secret of my delicious and nutritious CAULIFLOWER-BEEF STUFFED PEPPERS.
You can thank me later.
First up: CHICKEN! Donʼt blink or youʼre really going to miss this.
Itʼs going to take you THREE MINUTES or less to get it together, and then youʼre going to eat like a BOSS
All. Week. Long. Yes, itʼs that easy.
Yes it will keep that long.
Yes itʼll be moist and perfect and amazing.
Itʼs amazing because it is VERSATILE.
An often overlooked part of food prep is VERSATILITY.
The more things you can make with one component, the less sick of it youʼll get, basically.
For prepped chicken, you can eat it straight out of the storage container for a quick delicious protein snack. You can shred and throw in salads, put on a sandwich, or in a lettuce wrap, add to a stir-fry, put some curry or bbq or jerk sauce on it, shred it into a taco or burrito, add it to rice and beans.
Cold, hot, microwave it…. Have fun with it.
This is why chicken is one of my go-to meal prep staples week after week. Hereʼs how you knock it out:
STEP 1— GET THYSELF TO COSTCO and get yourself a giant pack of organic chicken breasts.
Like 5 or 6 pounds of boneless skinless raw breasts.
STEP 2— GET OUT YOUR GIANT INSTANT POT. Put 3 cups of water in it.
STEP 3— SEASON THE COOKING WATER by adding 2TBS of salt and 2TBS black pepper to the water. STIR IT UP.
(******BEEFBEAR LEVEL + TIP: this is the step later on…. When youʼre getting fancy in the future, you can play with the cooking water and add things like lemons, garlic, ginger, or whatever spices you like to party with and get a different FLAVOR PROFILE. Because once you realize how ridiculously fucking easy this is to do youʼre totally going to come back and play with this recipe A TON.)
STEP 4— put all that chicken in the instant pot water you just made. Layer it in and fill that pot. Donʼt be a dumbass and go past the “MAX FILL LINE” on the Instant Pot, nobody will be able to help you. If thereʼs not at least A LITTLE water on the top layer of chicken at this point, top it off. You DO NOT have to submerge the chicken. Just make sure thereʼs at least some water up at the top to hang out and poach it.
STEP 5— Close the Instant Pot, close the vent to SEALING, hit MANUAL at high pressure for 30 MINUTES and walk away because youʼre golden and you nailed it.
Whether you come back 40 minutes or 3 hours later…. Your masterpiece of cooking magic will be intact.
When you return, let the pressure out if there is any left, open that lid, and BEHOLD your delicious falling-apart chicken.
Remove carefully with tongs or a big spoon into containers or a giant ziploc bag. You may have to use a straining spoon to get the last juicy bits out because you just made chicken so delicious it is FALLING APART. Go you!
(********BEEFBEAR LEVEL + TIP: strain out that cooking liquid and put it in jars because itʼs gonna be tasty-ass chicken stock full of flavor. Make your rice with it, make your beans with it, sautéed veggies in it, or add veggies and more water to taste and make yourself some delicious SOUP.)
NOW THAT YOUʼRE CHICKEN GAME IS ON POINT….. LETʼS PARTY WITH PEPPERS!!!
While you were at Costco, I know you ALSO picked up some: diced tomatoes (2 cans)
a sleeve of 6 bell peppers (you need 5 of them. Use #6 for a snack, you saucy savage.)
a 2lb bag of organic riced cauliflower (weʼre using 1lb) some big-ass (1.33lb) packages of organic ground beef,
right? RIGHT! Letʼs do this!
Youʼre gonna have lunch ALL WEEK NOW. Just you wait.
Guest Column - Amanda Soares
So you wanna eat properly, but meal prep "takes too long," is "is too much work," or "is too expensive.
Here’s where I call bullshit on you, ladies and gents. Stop deceiving yourselves.
We all need to eat, multiple times a day. So we’re going to pay now, or pay later.
And I mean for all of it. From what you put in your facehole, to how long it took you to get there. Time and energy is going to get spent.
So, let’s get efficient, and work smarter not harder, to get better results.
Meals for an entire week take around 2-3 hours to create.
YES FOR THE WEEK.
And then you don’t have to think about it again.
YOU HAVE YOUR WHOLE WEEK BACK.
Think on that for a second. Think about all the time and energy it takes, MULTIPLE TIMES A DAY, to hunt and peck, gather and annoy yourself with repetitive prep work, figuring out what to make… breaking down in desperation and hanger (YES HANGER IS A REAL EMOTION), and eating crap, meal bars, or something way expensive... and on and on and on.
Wouldn’t you rather have it all there ready to go? Dishes got knocked out in one shot? Ready for the whole week to just eat as-needed, or quickly heat up?
It can be this way. And it feels so good when you’re done.
I promise, promise, PROMISE you that you can find your rhythm and knock this out.
“But Amanda…… I hate to cook! I don’t know how to cook!”
To which I say: “If you like to eat, you can like to cook.” And let’s be real: if you’re reading this you hate eating like shit too. So, let’s just get over ourselves and party.
This guest blog is going to help you get there.
Eating healthy does not have to be time consuming and expensive
The importance of preparing and cooking your own food cannot be understated. Allowing food companies, supermarkets, and restaurants to dictate the quality and preparation of your food can have real consequences for your nutrition. While many would agree with this sentiment, how many times have you heard or even given the excuse that eating healthy food is too costly or time consuming? That quality ingredients are too expensive and that cooking every night is a chore. The truth is that with some preplanning, some easy to learn skills, and some advanced preparation you can eat nutritious food morning, afternoon, night, all week, year-round.
Food costs are at an all time high with food consuming a greater proportion of everyone’s budget than ever before. It is only natural to attempt to reduce food costs and at first glance less nutritious food appears to win out. Pre-prepared, boxed, and canned foods certainly have higher number of calories per dollar then raw supplies in a store. However, people who consume quality meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains naturally reduce their overall caloric intake related to the satiety that these foods provide in comparison to their pre-prepared, sugar added, salt laden, pretend food. And let’s be honest, most people could use to be consuming less but better calories. Less calories less dollars.
In 2013 greater than 50% of meals were eaten outside the home, often at a significantly increased cost in comparison to a home prepared meal. How many times have you yourself, gone out for a meal simply because you did not have food readily available in the home? Can you imagine how much money could be saved just by reducing meals outside the home by 50%? For the average American in 2017 that would equate to $116 per month. More meals in-home, less dollars required.
Finally, there is the incalculable cost of health savings. With chronic disease increasing at a rapid rate, many of which are directly and indirectly related to poor nutrition, maintaining good health is extremely important to your overall financial picture. The 99-cent frozen pre-prepared dinner contains significant and dangerous hidden costs. Better health, less dollars on healthcare. Eating healthy does not have to be expensive!
So even if the overall costs are roughly equivalent, how are you supposed to dedicate time every day, multiple times a day, to cooking nutritious food. No one has time for that, right? I certainly do not. So, let’s make a simple adjustment. Let’s prepare several meals ahead of time and refrigerate them for later consumption. Let’s prepare all of the meals for an entire week in one or two cooking sessions. Depending on your skill as a cook and your food selections, an entire week of meals can be cooked in two to three hours. You certainly spend as much time traveling to, within, and from restaurants as that. Everyone has two to three hours to dedicate each week to healthy food.
Refrigerated meals can be safely kept for four days and for months if frozen. There are many options available for what to prepare: soup, chili, steak, chicken, roasts, rice, sautéed vegetables, casseroles, pastas, hard-boiled eggs, and salads. You are only limited by what you can store. When you are ready to eat, the meal simply needs to be pulled from the refrigerator and reheated. For many people it is an adjustment eating the same meal several times in a week but truly good food never really gets old.
By buying food in bulk and preparing food in advance for the week, you can eat nutritious food every single day of the year, with equal to or less time commitment and money than you are currently spending. I have attached an example shopping list with recipes for you to give it try! Happy eating.
Adapting the template for the individual
In part three we utilized the fundamental principles of nutrition to create a meal plan for a hypothetical female athlete. In part four, the final installment of the series, we will discuss how to adjust the meal plan for the individual.
Before any adjustments are made we must first ask is the athlete progressing optimally? If the answer is yes, then why consider making an adjustment at all? Only if the athlete is not progressing optimally should an adjustment be considered.
I want to caution that the scale is simply a measurement of weight gain and weight loss and cannot always be used to assess whether the athlete is progressing optimally or not. The goal in our past example is fat loss. What if our athlete is losing fat without scale changes, as evidenced by the mirror, bodyfat, and physical measurements? It’s a consideration to continue to adjust the calories but perhaps the goal is already being met? What if an athlete wants to bulk up for powerlifting and the scale is not moving? That could be acceptable if her lean mass and performance are increasing at optimal rates. In some cases the scale does ultimately determine success and failure such as in weight class sports. Make sure the athlete is progressing optimally towards the actual goals and not simply the metrics.
If the athlete is not progressing optimally it will typically be related to two categories: compliance, and the meal plan itself.
Compliance is of the utmost importance in nutrition coaching. The meal plan can be perfect but if it is only followed 50% of the time then success is unlikely and the coach will not have the necessary data to adjust. Issues with compliance are related to understanding, measurement error, and dedication.
It is important that the athlete understand what is expected of them by the coach regarding the meal plan. The meal plan should be simple and easy to read. The coach should take time to answer questions and explain commonly misunderstood items. For example: it’s not uncommon for my nutrition clients to miss the “anytime” section of my meal template. In that case the athlete could be missing hundreds of calories. During check in the coach should not assume the athlete completed the meal plan exactly as written and should ask the athlete to describe what they consumed. Make your materials as easy to understand as possible. Teach, answer questions, and ask for return demonstration of material. If you are the athlete ask lots of questions, especially is something seems unclear. Compliance is impossible without understanding.
Measurement error occurs when the athlete is either not taking the time to measure food or is doing it with improper tools. Eyeballing a cup of rice can quickly turn from 1 cup to 1.5 cups to 2 cups as the person becomes hungry. The caloric difference between 1 cup and 2 cups of rice is significant by itself but imagine the error compounded over multiple items throughout a week. It becomes impossible to make 100-200 calories adjustments when the athletes actual daily calories fluctuate 500+/- due to measurement error. The athlete should have an accurate food scale, measurement devices, and should measure everything to assure accuracy.
Dedication is the most challenging to address and the most common issue of compliance. The three most common issues I have faced regarding dedication are: food preference, eating outside the home, and the emotional and physical challenge of eating below or above maintenance.
The easiest to address is food preference. If I prescribe rice and chicken and the client absolutely hates rice and chicken then they are very unlikely to follow the plan. If it’s the sixth week of rice and chicken and the client is really bored of rice and chicken, then they are very unlikely to follow the plan. It’s my job to know what other arrangements of foods have similar macronutrients and be able to substitute. It also makes since to provide the client with substitutions they can make themselves. Dislike rice but love quinoa? Easy swap. Dislike chicken but enjoy beef, I am sure we can decrease the fat macros from somewhere else in the program. It’s possible to even accommodate special requests. If a client “needs” ice cream; for compliance, it makes the most since to program it in and accommodate the macros, rather than face an unexpected 500 calorie bolus. In the end calories and macros matter most anyway. Food selection should be variable and easily adjusted.
Creating a meal plan for a hypothetical athlete
Nutrition is relatively simple when distilled into the basic components of caloric balance, macronutrients, meal frequency, food composition, and supplementation. Protein synthesis, although a complicated process, can be maximized using relatively simple principles as discussed in part two. In part three we shall discuss how to pull all of the principles together to create a full meal plan for a hypothetical athlete.
Our athlete for this example is 5’9” 200 lb female recreational ball sport athlete. She is 35 years old and would ideally be 15 pounds lighter for her position. She trains hard 4 days per week, including resistance exercise. During her days off she takes a 30-60 minute brisk walk for active recovery.
The initial step is estimating her daily caloric expenditure for days of activity and relative inactivity. The number simply needs to create a ballpark, absolute accuracy is impossible. For this purpose my preferred equation is Harris-Benedict.
Male: (66+(6.23 x weight in pounds)+(12.7 x height in inches)-(6.8 x age in years)) x *Activity Level Coefficient
Female: (655+(4.35 x weight in pounds)+(4.7 x height in inches)-(4.7 x age in years)) x *Activity Level Coefficient
*Activity Level Coefficient
Sedentary : 1.2
Lightly active : 1.375
Moderately active : 1.55
Very Active : 1.725
Strenuous activity : 1.9
Muscle Protein Synthesis
In part one we distilled nutrition into the basic components of caloric balance, macronutrients, meal frequency, food composition, and supplementation. In part two we discuss the basics of protein synthesis with recommendations for maximizing performance.
Protein, made up of amino acids, is a significant proportion of cells, muscles, and tissue, as well as carrying out several important bodily functions. For performance we are most interested in proteins ability to create and restore contractile tissue. Protein is in a constant state of balance within the body both being broken down (MPB), and being synthesized (MPS). When MPS exceeds MPB muscle is built (Bohe, 2001).
For MPS to exceed MPB three requirements must be met:
1. The amount of protein of the correct amounts of amino acids must exceed a stimulus threshold (Pasiakos, 2012).
2. Total caloric intake must exceed caloric expenditure or else the balance is tipped towards MPB. (Lowery, Antonio, 2012).
3. The stimulus threshold must be achieved outside of a refractory period that follows previous protein consumption.
A summary of important nutritional parameters
It is time to turn our attention to the controversial topic of nutrition. My goal is to simplify the plethora of incorrect information that exists and distill it into a few concerns and guidelines. In part one I will summarize the very few important parameters of nutrition. In part two we will discuss protein synthesis. In part three we will create a nutrition plan for a hypothetical athlete. Finally in part four we will discuss methods of adapting the plan for a specific athlete.
When it comes to athletic development, only a small number of nutritional parameters have importance. The two most important parameters are overall caloric balance and macronutrient composition. Of secondary importance are meal timing, food quality, and supplementation.
Caloric balance is the most important of all parameters to be addressed. When in a caloric deficit, weight loss will occur. When in a caloric surplus, weight gain will occur. Do not overcomplicate this, this is rule. Diet is the largest factor in calorie balance. Basal metabolic rate, or the amount of energy the body burns at rest, is the second most important. Caloric expenditure due to activity is third. Diet is adjusted based on food choices and portion sizes. Basal metabolic rate is improved and retained through metabolically active muscle tissue. Expending additional calories is usually achieved through resistance training, steady state cardio sessions, and high intensity interval training.
Differing levels of macronutrients influence protein synthesis, hormonal levels, satiety, food reward, insulin responsiveness and more. Macronutrients are a measure of the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in a given diet.
* Essential for protein synthesis (muscle building), and maintenance of muscle tissue.
* Provide satiety (fullness)
* Optimally consumed evenly throughout the day
* A direct and easily usable source of energy
* Provide a significant food reward
* Best consumed around and during periods of activity
* A long acting source of energy
* Provide satiety. Often considered highly palatable (easy to eat)
* Optimally consumed away from periods of activity