Dietary habit is just one, albeit very important, pillar of losing weight and building muscle. Some may argue it’s actually less important than consistent quality sleep as the actual building and repair of muscle is primarily done during the deep sleep (R.E.M) rapid eye movement state.
You may be hitting the gym hard, and eating a balanced diet, but considering the importance of a 7-8hour minimum sleep night will greatly improve your weight loss goals and ability to gain muscle strength.
In this article, we’ll be simplifying the process of preparing a meal by examining ‘meal-prep’ days in conjunction with the ability to throw something together on the fly..
Meaning, you’re scrambling for something to make, and considering hitting one of those fast food chains.
Let’s talk about avoiding that with preparation, and creativity!
Table of Contents
What you need to know about eating healthy to lose weight
It’s fair to say many people in our information driven culture are familiar with macro-nutrients such as protein, carbs and fats. In fact there’s several very popular movements in regards to no-sugar, no or low-carb, and the Ketogenic (“Keto”) diet which is rising in popularity.
It’s fair to say with all of this information, one can get quite confused and wonder what the hell to make for dinner? It has been an evolution for me as well over the past 6 years where my diet has gone from strict Intermittent Fasting (daily) with very high protein consumption and little regard for carbs/sugar, to now a more Keto-adaptive diet.
Basically I fast every other day for at least 16 hours, and sometimes up to 18 hours, which means remaining in a state of state of ketosis – metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply is derived from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides energy (from food consumed).
This approach yields loads of muscle building benefits which we won’t be discussing on this article, but I encourage intermittent fasting with the following dinner recipes for muscle strength.
What it takes to lose weight
You need to be consistent. It may sound cliche, but it’s 100% true.
Your body doesn’t adapt well to inconsistencies in terms of its ability to lose weight, and gain muscle strength.
To truly be effective in your efforts, consistency in diet is preparation of meals is key. When you have your meals already planned, either the day of, day before, or week before, you’re setting up for success.
What I have found to be the most effective is three approaches to meal preparation:
1. Preparing large quantities of protein 5 days in advance
Be it meat, or ensuring I have the adequate peas, beans, or vegetables on hand. This approach requires choosing a ‘meal prep day’ and setting aside 1-2 hours to prepare meals for the proceeding 5 days.
My wife and I often prepare meals on Sundays, as it leaves us Mon-Friday worry-free of what we will be eating.
2. Preparing smaller quantities of protein 3 days in advance
Same rule applies, but I have also found this approach to be convenient.
Why prepare protein in advance? Because its a staple of your daily nutrient requirement. Muscle growth and development is predicated on several factors including the absorption of Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) – an amino acid with aliphatic side-chains with a branch (a central carbon atom bound to three or more carbon atoms).
The body needs proteins to survive and thrive, and of course to lose weight along with build muscle – let’s make sure it’s ready for ya!
I sense you’re picking up a trend here of meal preparation.. and you’re correct! How do you think bodybuilders, celebrities/movie stars, and all these fitness people stay in shape?
One of the key factors is consistency – in diet, and activity levels. You consistently move your body, eat right, and you’ll lose weight – simple as that!
3. Hydration is also a key factor
I need not go into detail on this as you can check out my other article on the importance of water and weight loss:
Buy your fruits and vegetables 2 days in advance, or 3 if the particular type of ingredient permits (without going bad).
Now here’s a true life hack – You don’t need to spend extra on buying pre-prepared (chopped) vegetables, salads, and more.. Download a coupon app such as Flipp , or start looking at the local grocery store flyers and when you see those ingredients go on sale
Buy them 2-3 days in advance, and save yourself money AND time in preparing your carbohydrates and proteins.
Pro tip #2, you can also push your grocery shopping times to when the local grocery store has dropped their perishable product pricing typically by 20-60%. Checkout this grocery haul youtube video I created demonstrating this exact approach to buying groceries:
How muscle and strength is gained
Working out and exercise is clearly going to yield muscle and strength gains, however back to my point of consistency – this will be a huge factor.
You should be moving your body at least 3 days of the week intensely, meaning increasing your heart rate and building up a sweat, and moving with low-intensity for the remaining 4 days.
Now you’re probably thinking wait, 3 + 4 = 7.. common now, I need to exercise 7 days a week? Well, yes and no.
Yes you do need to have low impact cardio movement such as walking at a brisk pace, or hiking/trekking, or even basic body weight squats or Hindu squats.
When you move your body, you are activating all sorts of neurotransmitters in the brain, and chemicals dispersed throughout the body as well.
With even a couple 10-15min brisk pace walk each ‘off-day’ from training (20-30min of total walking each day), you will notice significant improvements in circulation, breathing, weight loss, muscle development, and overall happiness and well being.
Your brain functions better when you move! When your brain functions better, you make better decisions, and allocate energetic resources properly.
Healthy recipes for weight loss and muscle strength
Now let’s get into the 17 delicious recipes for weight loss, building muscle and healthy living! Keep in mind you may want to skip breakfast on those intermittent fasting days – or just push that breakfast eating time according to your eating window.
1. The Breakfast Bowl
I’ve had some back and forth social media engagements with a fairly popular dietitian for the UFC – Mike Dolce. He turned me on to this concept back in 2013 through his podcast.
I LOVE this idea because it doesn’t require much preparation at all, and you can throw it together any time of the day – not just breakfast! It provides you with all source of macro nutrients in one bowl.
Visit your local bulk foods store, or grocery store using your fancy new coupon app, and pickup some of these ingredients! Here’s what you need:
- Plain Greek Yogurt or Cottage Cheese
- Nuts; whether sliced almonds, chopped cashews, or hazel nuts should you feel so inclined
Hint of sugar
- Fruit; whether blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, goji berries, mango, or dates – you can add a touch of deliciousness to this dish quite easily
Here’s an example breakfast bowl I showcased in my Instagram:
And here’s breakfast bowl on the go example:
2. The Hearty Bowl
This is really simple and will fill you up for the day while covering your bases in terms of nutrients and energy source
- Nuts; very similar to the Breakfast Bowl, you can add more nutrients as needed
Hint of sugar
- Pinch of Raw Honey; not just delicious, but also packs a whopping amount of immune system boosting benefits.
- Make sure you are using Organic Raw honey for this. Otherwise you can use Organic Cain Sugar for that added kick.
- I also like to use a staple – Bananas and/or Strawberries.
3. The Heavy Hitter
If you’re like me on the non fasting days, you’ll want to really pack in some macro nutrients and energy for the day.
I also consider this as catching up from previous days of fasting – caloric intake to me isn’t just in a 24 hour period, but can span 48-72 hours, and this is actually a non-conventional way of approaching ‘calories in, calories out’.
This breakfast also serves as a lunch and even snack or dinner because you’ll want to make it in bulk.
- Scrambled Eggs – prepare with 10-12 eggs
- Hashbrowns; this is the heavy part where I pack in the carbs and it’s great for recovery
- Chopped Bacon or Ham
There’s many misconceptions about cholesterol, however eating this type of food in conjunction with regular exercise can be beneficial. The general understanding is that there are two types of cholesterol carried by different types of lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are sometimes viewed as “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can build up in your arteries, causing heart disease if you over consume and are inactive.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are referred to as “good” cholesterol.
In my case personally I load up on The Heavy Hitter breakfast around my deadlifting or squat, or any heavy lifting days for a number of reasons.
4. Steak and Eggs
Just as it says.
- T-Bone Steak preferred, but you can use a PrimeRib or Top Sirlion
- 2-3 Over Easy (Sunny Side up) fried Eggs – don’t overcook them!
- Much like the Heavy Hitter, I’d typically have a side of Hashbrown or in some cases no side carbs at all!
The purpose of this dish is to simply have a large 8-18oz steak and place your beautiful fried eggs over top.. then with each cut into the steak you’re letting the egg yolk poor out onto the steak.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! Make sure you cook the Steak medium to Medium rare for the tastiest result.
The afternoon and evening should be ready to go in terms of your meal prepping. Otherwise if you’re scrambling to come up with something we’ll address that below.
5. Mixed Nut Salad
This one is pretty straight forward, but it will give you all the macro nutrient and micro nutrient density required for maintaining energy levels throughout the afternoon.
- Lettuce or Arugula
- Here’s where you’ll pack on the toppings! Personally I like to mix nuts, seed, and grain.
- Example of this would be Pistachios, Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds.
This combination will yield high return in terms of your overall health and longevity.
Sometimes I throw in Dried Cranberries or Dates for a bit of sweetness.
For dressing I’m not too picky, but I certainly don’t overdo it – a light splash to add more flavor is more than enough.
6. Tuna Wrap
So simple, yet so delicious!!
- Lettuce or Romaine
- You’ll want to tailor this Tortilla wrap to your own desire. Personally I like Avocado, Cucumbers, Tomatoes or Cherry Tomatoes
- Pinch of Olive Oil
This wrap is delicious and you can also substitute standard mayo with avocado mayo as a great lower-carb alternative. This wrap is packed with omega-3-rich tuna.
7. Spinach Hummus
This is derived from the chickpea or chick pea – a legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. It’s a high protein, high fibre source of energy that’s easy to digest and great for lunch!
- Personally I enjoy baby Spinach as my leafy green on this dish, along side Red Peppers, Green Peppers, Pinch of Parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Pinch of black pepper
- Consider adding some hemp seeds for extra protein and fibre
8. Lentil and Carrot Soup
This is a hearty and budget friendly Vegetarian dish.
- Start with 1 sliced white onion
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 scrubbed & diced carrots
- about 80-90g red lentils, pinch of chopped parsley
- 1 crumbled vegetable stock cube.
Soup is one of those dishes you can throw everything into, but need to taste as you go to ensure it’s delicious along the way!
9. Tuna & Rice Salad
A neat take on Tuna Salad!
- Spring Water Tuna
- Brown or White Rice
- Chopped Tomatoes
- Red Peppers
- Finely Sliced Onions
- 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Chopped Stone Green Olives
Since this is a salad bowl you can get creative with toppings and always change them around if you get bored.
10. Turkey Cranberry Sandwich
One of my absolute favorites due to its flavor contrast savory and sweet.
- Throw in Mixed Greens, Mature White Cheddar Sliced or Swiss Cheese (my fav)
- Pinch of Cranberry Sauce and even consider a few dried cranberries to really give it a sweet kick.
- Next layer a bit of butter or mayo, but don’t overdo it!
- The bun is entirely up to you, however I really love 9-grain honey oat, or italian herb and cheese, or anything that’s not plain jane white bread.
This one boats simple ingredients that pack a delicious punch!
11. Couscous Salad
Doesn’t feel like a salad, but it is! Keep it vegetarian or add chicken.
- Couscous or Quinua
- Chopped Cucumber
- Mixed Vegetables
- Feta Cheese.
For the couscous:
- use 1 cup whole wheat or plain couscous, and 1/4 teaspoon salt – don’t overdo the salt because that Feta cheese will be salty enough!
Consider adding chopped chicken to this dish for more protein!
12. Veggie & Goat Cheese Sandwich
Yum! Goat Cheese!
- Goat Cheese
- Multi-Grain bread preferred, or a Panini is a delicious option!
- Thinly sliced Eggplan
- Sliced Red and Yellow Bell Peppers
- Thin cut Red Onion
- Thin cut Zucchini
- 1 small chopped Garlic clove
- Mixed Greens
- 1 tbsp extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Add a thin layer of butter to the bread for extra flavor kick.
13. Pesto Pasta
Hearty and delicious!
- Pesto Pasta
- Chopped Tomatoes or Cherry Tomatoes
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- Your preferred pasta
- Pinch of salt and ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese
14. Stuffed Chicken
Chicken can get dry, so we stuff it!
- Stuff chicken with Feta Cheese, and Asparagus, Red Peppers, and a pinch of ground pepper
You’ll need to wrap the chicken breast with string so it holds together. Either Barbecue this one, or Pan fry, but keep a close eye on it to avoid overcooking and drying it out!
15. Steak Dinner
Simple but super effective!
- RibEye Steak, T-Bone Steak, Top Sirloin, Prime Rib or many other options
- Side dishes as roasted Potatoes, Garden or Ceasar Salad, or some Brown Rice
The steak is the star of the show, and where you’re getting a whopping amount of protein and amino acids, that will sustain you quite well.
I personally like to season my steaks at least 24-48hours in advance to allow them to soak-in all of the delicious seasoning.
Consider using Ground black pepper, sea salt, and even a hit of Chili flakes for a kick.
Make sure you add a bit of Extra Virgin Olive oil if planning to leave it to marinate over 24hrs – that will help soak in all the deliciousness.
16. Salmon Dinner
One of the best superfoods around!
- Fresh Atlantic Salmon (not frozen!)
- Keep your side simple and light, such as Garden or Caesar Salad, or Quinoa Salad (as we discussed above).
- The salmon itself requires little effort in terms of seasoning – a pinch of Sea Salt, Pepper, and Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice, and you’re good to go!
Much like the steak dinner, you don’t want the side dishes to outshine the Salmon.
17. Chicken Nachos
Very quick but tasty!
- Nacho chips
- Mexican Salsa (store bought) with Peppers and Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Parmesan Cheese
This is something I throw together in the evenings when hungry because often there’s chicken prepared from earlier meals, and throwing it on top of nachos is extremely quick and easy!
Cook to reach your weight loss goals!
Meal preparation is your friend! Scrambling to prepare food last minute is not fun, and personally I don’t do it.
At minimum, I will prepare meals one day in advance to avoid the risk of not reaching my caloric or macro nutrient requirements.
Also don’t leave yourself with an empty fridge and being forced to consider ordering some fast food which will most likely be filled with gluten, enriched wheat flower, and other ingredients which may taste great in the moment, but will have you paying for it later with weight gain, inflammation, and much more.
I don’t get overly complex when preparing meals because I’m not that ‘into’ cooking. I do it to ready my meals and reach my goals, but I don’t enjoy cooking as a hobby.
If you enjoy cooking, then that’s great! You can get really creative with your dishes and have fun while doing it.
In either case I’m sure if you try some of these recipes you’ll not only start experimenting yourself with ingredients, but you’ll start seeing some serious gains in terms of weight loss, or gaining muscle strength.
Good luck and bon appetit!
Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com