Nutrition is the foundation of success in fitness (and if we’re honest, life as well).
No matter if you want to cut, bulk, or crush your transformation challenge, if your nutrition isn’t on point, then you will not succeed.
Now, it’s true the training, sleep, and stress management play important roles in getting results, but it all starts with what you do (and don’t) put in your mouth.
In the quest to get the best results possible, many individuals believe that they have to eat the same bland meal 5 or 6 times per day.
But, the truth is that you can make delicious-tasting meals without wasting countless hours or dollars.
And, we’re going to show you exactly how to do that by sharing 7 cooking secrets every lifter should know.
Let’s get started!
Top 7 Cooking Secrets for Gym Goers
Crock Pot Cooking
For those intimidated by pan-frying, sauteing, and/or baking, the crock pot is the ultimate one-pot meal.
It’s also great for individuals who do not have a lot of time to cook each week.
Once you add all of your ingredients to the pot, set the timer, and go about your day.
In 4-8 hours, you’ll have a healthy, delicious, low-calorie meal, along with enough leftovers to last you the week!
You’ll literally cook an entire week’s worth of lunch or dinner with 5-10 minutes of meal prep.
Start by adding a few pounds of meat (beef, chicken, pork) to the bottom of the slow cooker. Then add in a flavorful liquid (such as chicken or vegetable broth) along with your seasonings.
To that, toss in a bag of frozen veggies along with some starchy carbs (potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.).
Finally, turn the crockpot on, set the timer, and walk away.
You’ll be surprised at how something made so easily can taste so delicious and be healthy!
Use a Rice Cooker
Rice is a healthy carb frequently used by gym rats.
Yet, many people are unsure of the right way to cook it, and just as many have been on the wrong end of a poorly prepared batch of steamed rice -- the kind where the entire bottom layer is crusted to the pot and the top layer is gummy, mushy, and overcooked (yep, we’ve been there before).
Instead of fretting over yet another pot of steamed rice on the stove (or adding it to a crockpot, where it will inevitably get mushy), invest in a rice cooker.
Rice cookers are incredibly affordable (often found as low as $15-20!), and make perfect rice every time -- provided that you follow the directions.
Similar to the slow cooker, all you need to do is add your ingredients (rice) to the pot, turn it on, and then walk away.
You’ll have perfectly cooked rice in ~20 minutes, and if you’re not around, no big deal. Most rice cookers will keep your rice warm for up to two hours after its finished cooking.
If you need another reason to invest in a rice cooker, consider this -- they can also serve as a vegetable steamer, too!
Finally, you can also flavor the liquid in which your rice and veggies cook by adding various herbs and spices to the mixture, or subbing in an equal amount of chicken or veggie stock in place of plain water.
Speaking of herbs and spices…
Use Herbs and Spices
Many a complaint we have heard that healthy food is “bland” or tasteless.
But, the truth is that eating healthy doesn’t have to be bland. If it is, then you need to work on your cooking skills.
The addition of a sprinkling of fresh herbs or a dash of dried spices can elevate an otherwise mundane dish to levels rivaling that of a restaurant dish.
Best of all, herbs and spices add no calories to your meals, but deliver a TON of flavor!
Now, it bears mentioning that you can just toss some herbs into your food at the end of cooking and hope it transforms your food.
It will change your food, but not necessarily for the better.
You see, fresh herbs typically need to be added towards the end of cooking, so as to retain their freshness and brightness. Heartier herbs and dried seasonings, should be added earlier during the cooking process so that the flavors have time to develop and infuse the dish you are preparing.
Add a Splash of Citrus
Continuing along the lines of adding flavor to dishes with very little impact on the total calorie, carb, and fat count of the dish is citrus.
Adding a squeeze of citrus (lemon, lime, orange, etc.) can add a pleasant brightness, sharpness, and freshness to your meal with minimal impact to its calorie count.
As an added bonus, citrus is high in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants like vitamin C which help boost the immune system and protect against sickness.
Some of our favorite ways to use citrus are to drizzle lemon juice on grilled fish, add citrus segments to salads, or as a component of marinades...which brings us to our next tip.
Marinade Your Meat and Veg
If you’re not marinating your meat and veggies, you’re missing out on a low-effort way to considerably enhance the flavor and texture of your meals.
And, when you remove the air from the bag in which you are marinating your food, you significantly reduce the amount of time you have to marinate your food. The reason for this is that removing the air reduces the amount of “dead space” (air) in the bag, thereby increasing surface contact between the meat (or veg) and marinade.
This meal prep “hack” is particularly useful when you’re short on time and have a lot of food to cook.
Now, your local grocery store sells lots of pre-made marinades, but many of these are loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats.
You can create your own healthy marinade by combining vinegar, olive oil, and juice (apple, lemon, orange, pineapple, etc.) along with your favorite herbs and spices.
Grill & Roast Your Veggies
Yet another way to enhance the flavor and texture of your healthy food without adding tons of fat, sugar, and calories is to roast and grill your food.
Steaming and boiling are fine ways to cook food, but it leaves food very, very bland.
Grilling and roasting gives a unique flavor that cannot be replicated.
You just need to make sure your oven/grill is preheated prior to adding your food, otherwise you won’t get the charred, caramelized exterior that makes grilled and roasted food taste so delicious.
Our favorite vegetables to roast/grill are:
- Brussels sprouts
To help accelerate the cooking process, make sure to cut your veggies into bite sized pieces, but not so small that they burn or fall through the grates of the grill.
Up Your Protein Shake Gain
The post workout protein shake is a beloved institution in fitness.
Millions of people mix up a scoop of protein powder immediately after training and drink it down to halt muscle breakdown, kickstart recovery, and support muscle growth.
And, this is a great way to complement your diet and training program.
But, the protein shake can be elevated far beyond solely being mixed into water or milk.
You can turn the common protein shake into a nutritional powerhouse by adding in micronutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables.
This tip is especially useful for individuals who don’t consume enough fresh produce or those who struggle with the taste of these foods.
One of our favorite powerhouse protein shake recipes is:
- 1 cup milk of choice
- 1-2 scoops chocolate protein powder
- 1-2 servings frozen fruit (berries, banana, etc.)
- 1 handful spinach leaves (or 1 serving frozen spinach)
- 1 cup ice
For those looking for a higher-calorie protein smoothie, you can also add in various carb sources (oats, pre-cooked sweet potato, canned pumpkin, etc.) as well as healthy fat sources (peanut butter, seeds, coconut oil, etc.)
Really, the sky is limit when it comes to what goes into your shake.
The size (density) of your shake really depends on how big you want to make it and what your calorie needs are.
Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland, nor does it have to be expensive or time-consuming to prepare.
Use the tips outlined above to up your cooking game and start enjoying delicious, hassle-free meal prep!