Meal Prep for Weight Gain: Tools, Recipes, & Tips from the Pros

    
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD

Have you been struggling to gain mass and stick to your calorie goals? Meal prep is one of the best ways to organize your diet, hold yourself accountable and deliver on consistency - helping you achieve ultimate results, faster. But if you’re new to this style of eating, it can feel like a huge undertaking. To help you get the most out of your muscle building diet, here’s your step-by-step guide to meal prep for weight gain, along with tips from the pros, simple recipes, and planning tools.

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How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle

Weight gain is typically achieved by eating a surplus of calories - also commonly referred to as a bulking diet. Although, the types of food you choose, your workout routine, and your lifestyle can determine whether or not the weight you put on is muscle or fat. Typically, muscle growth is the focus of weight gain diets, so we are going to primarily focus on this as the primary goal for your weight gain meal prep.

It is, however, important to note that gaining muscle often also means some fat gain - and the amount to which this occurs can vary from one person to the next. However, with the right mindset and approach, you can tip the odds of muscle gain more in your favor and minimize potential fat gain. 

Here are two key steps to take before you get started on any type of bulk diet. 

  1. Learn how muscle growth works
  2. Figure out how many calories you need to gain weight

Once, you've mastered the basics of this type of diet, you can then begin to plan your ultimate meal prep strategy around the best foods and recipes to meet your unique nutrition and fitness needs. 

The Best Muscle Building Diet

The best diet for you is going to be one made up of foods you enjoy eating and that allow you to hit your daily calorie and macro goals. Additionally, opting for more nutritious options over empty calories can support muscle growth in a few different ways.

Macros for Building Muscle

The easiest way to balance your nutrition and calories in one shot is by learning how to count your daily macros. 

Macros or macronutrients are where all of your calories come from, and each type impacts muscle growth differently. The three types of macros in your diet include: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. 

Protein is the most essential macro for gaining lean mass since it is the building block for all of your muscle tissue. Thus, a high protein diet is often necessary to promote muscle growth and increase your lean mass. 

Second to protein, carbohydrates have some benefits for fueling your workouts and supporting muscle recovery. The storage form of carbohydrates (glycogen) is stored in your muscles for quick access to energy. Additionally, carbohydrates elicit an insulin response that supports weight gain. Thus, eating plenty of carbs is encouraged to support your weightlifting workouts and higher calorie needs.

Lastly, fat is a source of long-lasting energy and an easy way to add calories to your plate without too much volume. This is because fat provides twice as many calories per gram as the other two macros. However, eating too much fat can lead to increased fat storage in a calorie surplus. Thus, it is recommended to keep your fat intake moderate and get more of your calories from carbs and protein.

Learn how to count macros for weight gain.

Best Foods for Muscle Gain

In addition to a macro balanced diet, including more quality food choices has some benefits. Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables provide key nutrients for daily function, recovery, and overall health. Healthy fats are less likely to be stored as body fat and provide heart health benefits. Lean proteins allow you to load up on quality amino acids and nutrients without high amounts of saturated fat. Moreover, some research suggests that a clean bulk - focusing on more healthy, whole foods, may help minimize potential fat gain (1).

Here are the best foods for muscle gain.

How to Meal Prep for Muscle Gain

Now that you’ve determined your calorie and macro goals, as well as the top foods to add to your meal prep routine, you can start curating your ultimate meal plan for muscle gain.

Meal prep is really just the art of planning and prepping some or all of your meals in advance. You should begin by picking which day of the week you want to cook and for what meals A lot of people find that Sundays or Mondays work well for cooking days, or you can split it up and cook more than one day a week. Then use the following steps and tips to build your weekly meal prep.

Before you start, determine how many days per week you want to cook/prep food and for what specific meals. 

Step 1: Meal Timing and Menu Planning

Understanding what foods to eat and when can be a major determinant of your success in gaining lean mass. Meal timing is important for muscle because of the following:

  • Eating more frequently can help you get more calories in throughout the day (2).
  • Spreading out your protein intake may help you absorb more of the protein you eat (3).
  • Pre and post workout meals can help you get more out of your workouts and recovery (4).

To ensure you get the most out your prep, it can be helpful to establish a weekly menu upfront. You can tailor this to each day's workout and set times for each meal throughout the day. 

  1. Start with recipes so that you know the macros for your meals upfront and can build a menu based on your nutrition needs. (see below for over 40 meal prep recipes you can use). 
  2. Then grab a weekly calendar and write out all of your meals for each day and time throughout the day. You can also note the type of training for that day, as well as what time you workout. 
  3. Make a note of all the ingredients needed for your week’s recipes to build out your shopping list.
  4. Don't forget to include snacks, beverages, and desserts! You can even schedule a planned cheat meal. 

Here is a meal planning template you can use to map out your eating menu for each week.

Pre and Post Workout Meals

Lifting days will require more carbs and calories than rest days - this can easily be accomplished using small snacks or added meals around your training window. 

Aim to get a meal in a few hours before each workout - this should include a balanced healthy meal with plenty of carbs and a good amount of protein. If you are working out first thing in the morning or want to add a small snack before the gym, consider quicker acting carbs and simple sugars to fuel your lifting session but not wreck your digestive system, such as a sports drink, chocolate milk, or small muffin.

For post-workout, you’ll want to load up on quick carbs and protein and keep the fat moderately low to allow for faster absorption. Think white rice and chicken, protein shakes, chocolate milk, or cottage cheese and fruit.

Step 2: Cooking

Meal prep requires some level of cooking, and there isn’t any way around this (unless you opt for a meal prep delivery company to cook all your food). Here are some tips for getting the most out of your time in the kitchen:

  • Be realistic with yourself when it comes to your culinary skills and choose recipes you feel comfortable executing. Remember you are going to spend a good chunk of time cooking most of your food for the week.
  • Use batch cooking to cut down on time in the kitchen and get more portions out of it. This includes large one-pot dishes like chili, lasagna, pilafs, and other recipes that can be made in bulk and split up throughout the week. 
  • Cook similar foods at once and change up the flavors with different seasonings and sauces. Such as adding all of your proteins and veggies to one sheet pan, coating with your different seasonings, and cooking together. 
  • Reuse simple sides like mashed sweet potatoes, rice, and salad for more than one meal.

Step 3: Reheating

Part of prepping in advance also means making recipes that work well for leftovers and reheating. Some dishes work great for this, while others don’t hold up. Additionally, here are a few other things to consider before you get cooking:

  • Make sure you choose meal prep containers that works for your unique needs - including portion sizing, microwave or oven friendliness, and how easily they are to travel with and clean. 
  • You’ll also want to think through what options you have for reheating or if reheating is even an option. Where will you be eating your prepped food and what equipment is available?
  • Do you need to travel with your food, and if so how will you keep it cold and fresh? 

Moreover, reheating food is somewhat of an art. There are a few things you can try to make leftovers taste less “leftover” and more inspired. Try some of the following ideas to up your meal prep game:

  • Warm food in the oven or on a stove-top whenever possible to keep your proteins from drying out and your veggies nice and crisp.  
  • After you’ve warmed it up and are ready to eat, use a finishing salt to open up the flavors 
  • Use fresh herbs or citrus to sprinkle on top after reheating. 
  • Pack all sauces and garnishes on the side.

Step 4: Food Portioning and Tracking Intake

It is also good practice to track your daily intake using a food tracking app. This way, you get an accurate calculation for how many macros and calories you are consuming each day and on average, each week. It is also helpful to account for any unexpected foods that creep into your diet - which is almost guaranteed to happen! 

Moreover, using precise food portions is a great way to ensure you are tracking your intake accurately. Consider getting a food scale to weigh out your protein portions, or use measuring cups and spoons when cooking to account for the calories in every ingredient.

41 Muscle Gain Meal Prep Recipes

Here are some easy and macro-balanced recipes to add to your weekly meal prep. Each recipe is high protein, made with simple ingredients, and won’t have you sweating it out in the kitchen for hours. Try some of these dishes or use them as inspiration for your own creations.

10 Breakfast Meal Prep Recipes

  1. Egg White Frittata
  2. Meal Prep Breakfast Burritos
  3. Salmon Toast
  4. Salmon Eggs Benedict
  5. High Protein French Toast
  6. Protein Chicken and Waffles
  7. Peanut Butter Chocolate Oatmeal Bowl
  8. Egg And Pesto Sandwich
  9. Breakfast Casserole
  10. Protein Yogurt Parfait

10 Lunch Meal Prep Recipes

  1. Grilled Pesto Chicken Sandwich
  2. Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers
  3. Thai Shrimp Noodle Bowl
  4. Flat Iron Steak Fajita Bowl
  5. Spicy Tuna Sushi Bowl
  6. Asian Turkey Lettuce Wraps
  7. Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken
  8. Steak Kabobs
  9. New England Style Shrimp Rolls
  10. Salmon Grain Bowl

10 Dinner Meal Prep Recipes

  1. Tamarind-Chipotle Steak Nachos
  2. Salmon Stir-fried Noodles
  3. Creamy Ahi Tuna Pasta
  4. Steak Gyros
  5. Butternut Squash and Chicken Pad Thai
  6. Honey Sriracha Turkey Meatballs
  7. Coconut Crusted Fish Tacos
  8. Healthy Bolognese
  9. Lean Pulled Pork
  10. Salmon Chowder

6 High Protein Snack Recipes

  1. Strawberry Watermelon Protein Shake
  2. Avocado Egg Salad 
  3. Curried Chicken Salad
  4. The Best Avocado Ahi Tuna Salad
  5. Shrimp Stuffed Avocado
  6. BBQ Chicken Sweet Potato Toast

Get even more high protein snack ideas that don't require cooking.

5 High Protein Dessert Recipes

  1. Protein New York Style Cheesecake
  2. Apple Pie Quinoa Bowl
  3. Black Bean Brownies
  4. Chocolate Protein Lava Cake
  5. Pumpkin Chia Pudding

Meal Plan for Muscle Gain

Perfect your bulking meal prep with this free meal prep toolkit for muscle building. A comprehensive guide with custom macro calculations, food lists, meal planning templates and tips from the pros. 

GET MY TOOLKIT

Want to take your meal prep to the next level and make sticking to your bulking diet even easier? Grab some pre-made proteins, grains, and veggies from our a la carte line and cut your cooking time in half - all you need to do is portion it out and season as you desire. Plus, all ingredients still work with most recipes you find online. Or check out our ready-to-eat meal plans, planned and prepped by expert chefs and nutritionists to help you reach your fitness goals.

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