There are tremendous health benefits to following a plant-based diet however, it can be challenging for some to meet their protein recommendations for building lean body mass or body recomposition.
While plant-based foods are more than capable of meeting all your nutrient needs, including protein, it takes a little planning and prep to make sure you hit all of these targets. Enter meal prep.
What's the Point of Meal Prepping
Meal prepping provides several advantages to those who have specific health and fitness goals they are trying to achieve. Below are some of the benefits of meal prepping that extend far past just meeting your protein targets.
Control Over Calories
Prepping your meals ahead of time allows you to practice portion control with ease. Portioning out meals into appropriate serving sizes prior to eating can allow for more control over caloric intake and avoid overeating simply because food is available.
Control Over Macros
Portioning out meals can reduce excessive calorie consumption and keep you in line with your macros. This is particularly important in those working on body recomposition.
Prioritizing certain macronutrients such as protein, while reducing others, such as carbs, is a lot easier when your meals are already in line with your goals. Meal prepping is an easy strategy to do this.
Control of Ingredient Quality
When you make meals ahead of time to enjoy throughout the week, you know exactly where your food came from and what’s in it. Instead of choosing a pre-made meal with questionable ingredients, you have the ability to prioritize high-quality foods and recipes so there is no guessing what’s in your lunch.
Time and Money Saver
Although meal prepping may seem like a hassle, it’s actually a great way to get extra time back, both mentally and physically. Once you have your meals planned and prepared for the week, you don't have to worry about what you’re going to be eating or waste your time and hard-earned cash to dine out or pick up something quick.
Not to mention, you already know your meals are in line with your goals so there’s no need to fret about food choices. This leaves more mental energy to expend on more important things.
Meal prepping is versatile and can be adjusted based on items that are on sale or in season, allowing you to save money and improve the quality of your meals in one go.
How Many Days Should I Prep For?
How many days you prep your meals for will depend on your schedule and preferences. These will also affect your food choices and storage options.
For example, if you wish to prep several meals ahead of time to last you for the month, you can batch-cook freezer meals that can be stored for up to 6 months in the freezer and be enjoyed at any time. This works well for soups, stews, crock pot meals, and casseroles.
However, if you wish to prep fresh foods, they must be enjoyed within 3-5 days depending on the items you plan to use. These foods will be stored in the refrigerator and enjoyed daily until they are gone.
There’s no right or wrong way to prep or a certain amount of days you should prep for but rather it should work with your schedule. Meal prepping only works if it makes your life easier.
Meal Prepping for a Fit Lean Body
If you’re trying to get lean, your meal prep needs to be intentional.
Preparing meals ahead of time can be a wonderful tool for overall health but if you have specific goals to achieve, it’s important to consider those in your meal prep plan. Below are some tips for meal prepping to help you achieve your health and fitness goals.
Figure Out Your Ideal Calorie Deficit Range
To successfully achieve body recomposition, meaning you are looking to lose fat and build muscle, you must prioritize a calorie deficit. However, this number is not a one-size-fits-all. Everyone has different calorie needs based on a variety of factors that are specific to the individual.
To determine your ideal calorie range, consider using a TDEE calculator, such as this one. This will provide you with a calorie range based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. From there, you want to create a calorie deficit between 200-400 calories.
How Many Daily Meals Are You Preparing?
Now that you have a calorie range, you want to determine the meals you need to prep. Keep in mind that you don't have to prep every single meal.
Maybe you do fine with your dinner meals with the family but struggle for breakfast and lunch or maybe breakfast is easy but for dinner, you struggle with portions.
Consider your challenge areas and figure out what meals would best benefit you to prep ahead and which ones may be unnecessary.
How Much Protein?
Protein plays a vital role in building lean body mass and must be prioritized for successful body recomposition.
Like calories, our protein needs will vary by individual.
According to research, those looking to increase lean body mass should aim for 1.4-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (.64-1g per pound) per day along with regular resistance training exercises [1, 2].
What are the Best Plant-Based Protein Sources?
Given that a plant-based diet is missing some of the highest sources of protein, animal products, this macronutrient must be emphasized during every meal and snack from plant-based sources.
While many of these contain smaller proportions of protein compared to animal products, consuming a variety of these foods can help you meet higher protein needs with ease.
The best plant-based sources of protein include tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and nutritional yeast.
Best Vegetable Options
Vegetables provide a cornucopia of health benefits due to their high vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content however, vegetables aren’t typically a good source of protein.
Beans, legumes, and lentils are the best sources of protein that fall within the vegetable family, specifically soybeans (edamame) and split peas.
What About Starchy Carbs or Fruits?
Like most vegetables, fruits do not provide a significant source of protein however, some starchy carbs can add a decent source to your meals.
For example, one cup of cooked quinoa has about 8 grams of protein. Combine that with another starchy carb such as a cup of black beans, which contains 15 grams of protein and you have a solid base of protein for your meal [3, 4].
Make Your Meal Taste Good
If you are new to eating plant-based, meal-prepping, or both, the most important thing to consider is taste.
Despite the many health benefits of consuming a plant-based diet and meal-prepping for your fitness goals, it’s not going to be successful if you're trying to choke down bland food every day.
In this case, use seasonings, sauces, and marinades to your advantage. Below are some potential ideas for ways to boost flavor in your meal prep meals as well as any meal.
- Use nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor
- Use fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, and thyme
- Try citrus marinades or dressing
- Create creamy dressings and sauces from tahini or peanut butter
- Use infused olive oils
- Add soy sauce or miso paste to add umami to your dish
- Try simple seasonings that add big flavor, such as salt and lime or garlic and onion
Body recomposition is tough and it may seem even tougher if you are trying to follow a plant-based diet but it’s actually a lot easier than you may think if you plan and prep ahead of time.
Regardless of your health and fitness goals, planning and prepping can be an easy way to stay on track and take the stress out of figuring out what to eat every day, especially if you have dietary limitations or preferences to stick to.