All over the world, people celebrate Sunday by cooking up a mountain of food, separating it into brightly colored containers, and lining them up in their refrigerator like jets on an aircraft carrier. This is called Meal Prep and while it sounds like some kind of OCD fetish fantasy, it is one of the single most effective things you can do to improve your health and physique.
Meals you prepare yourself are healthier, cheaper, and fresher than fast food, and almost guaranteed to be lower in calories and richer in nutrients. The power of meal prep is the control you wield over the calories you consume. The first step to starting your meal prep journey is to figure out how many calories you need a day.
The following Mifflin St. Jeor Equation is a quick-and-dirty way to calculate your daily calorie usage, known as your Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR. It’s typically accurate to within about 10 percent. You will have to tinker with your diet to dial in that last few percentage points.
Men: 10 x weight in kg + 6.25 x height in cm - 5 x age + 5 = RMR
Women: 10 x weight in kg + 6.25 x height in cm - 5 x age - 161 = RMR
From there, multiply the RMR number by where your activity falls on a scale of 1.1 to 1.9. The former reflects an almost completely sedentary lifestyle while 1.9 represents an incredibly intense and high-volume workout regimen. Most people are somewhere in-between. This will determine your Basal Metabolic Rate, or the sum of calories you burn in a day.
Let’s take the example of a 5’11”, 32-years old, 198-pound male. Using the above equation, the RMR of this man would be 1,880 calories. If we give him a moderate does of activity and multiply his total by 1.3, his daily caloric usage is 2,444 calories. He needs to reduce this number in order to create a caloric deficit and begin to lose weight. Cutting the right kind of calories is almost as important as how many calories you cut.
Making Sense of Macros
Now that you have your daily number of calories, it’s time to figure out how to get to that total. All food is made up of the three macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. Your intake of protein and fat will stay stable. So, once you find those numbers, figuring out your carbs will be easy.
• Consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight
• Consume .5 grams per pound of fat
• The remainder is filled in with fibrous and starchy carbs.
You will make your caloric deficit by cutting calories from the starchy carb section, from the fat sources, or a combination of both. This is an individual choice and will demand some experimentation on your part to find what makes you feel the best and helps drop the pounds.
Lean steak (sirloin, filet mignon)
Lean ground beef
*A significant part of your fat calories will come from the butter or oils you use to sauté vegetables, brown ground turkey, or dress salads
Berries (all types)
Beans (black or Pinto)
Rice (white or brown)
Our 198-pound guy who eats 2,444 calories a day will take in 198 grams of protein and 99 grams of fat. That leaves him with about 760 calories (190 grams) of carbs. If he is going to create his caloric deficit by reducing his carbs, he’ll cut his total intake by 15 percent (about 360 calories.) This sum will be taken from the number of daily carbs that are allotted, bringing the new total to 400 carb calories (100 grams) a day.
Depending on how many meals you eat a day, your final number will give you a good idea of the size and make-up of each meal you prepare. Here are a few more tips to get you ready for the first day of the rest of your meal-prepping life.
Scale Up: We’ll admit it: weighing your food seems obsessive and rather depressing. At the same time, underestimating your portion size is the number one cause of weight gain. And, it turns out, people are terrible at estimating portion size and calorie content. A study published in the journal Appetite found that subjects typically underestimated calorie content by 30 to 46 percent. (Spoiler alert: Men are way worse at this than women.) Some people can accurately eyeball their portions but for many of us, a scale can be invaluable.
Use A Food App: There are a million meal-planning apps on the market. Apps like MyFitnessPal can take the guesswork and homework out of figuring out how many grams of fat are in half an avocado (about 12). If you are new to weighing and measuring your food, these apps can provide an invaluable crash course in calories and portion sizes.
But Don’t Use it For Exercise: Do not use your food-tracking app to measure your activity. Many apps conveniently combine the two metrics and then do the math for you, letting you know how many calories you have burned versus how many you have consumed. Unfortunately, this often gives the user the idea that they can eat the difference. With how bad people are at estimating calories and portion size, it makes it too easy to bust your deficit wide open and get into a calorie surplus.
Eating Out Can Be Meal Pep: You’ll have days where you are just too busy to prep, or you get invited to lunch, or maybe you just need to get out of the office and away from your co-worker’s annoying face for an hour. Eating out can still be part of your meal prep as long as you prepare. Keep two to three healthy lunch options in mind; meals that you have vetted for their portion size, macros, and calories.
Invest in Glass: It will cost you a bit more for a set of glass containers to partition your meals into, but we think it’s worth it. Glass is a non-porous, non-leaching material, unlike plastic and paper. The label “Microwave Safe” does not mean that zero chemicals seep into your chicken and broccoli. It actually means that the amount of chemicals that leach your food is below the maximum allowable limit set by the government.2 The FDA has done a very good job of getting endocrine-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) out of the marketplace, but if you feel that “less is more” when it comes to eating industrial chemicals with your food, invest in glass.