I’m always told by long course triathletes that they just can’t figure out how to plan their meals while training for and Ironman. You are training at least 15 hours a week, working full time and trying to juggle some sort of social life. It is so tiring! Unfortunately our nutrition takes the first hit. I get it. Sometimes it is just too hard to even make a sandwich at night and that is not going to help us get through the next day. I think if you replace “Meal Planning for an Ironman” with “Ironman Nutrition Plan” it might help you prioritize it better.
First thing you need to realize is that typical meal planning, where you cook something fast each night, is just not going to cut it when it comes to Ironman training. You need to take the time to really plan what you are going to do in the kitchen for those 3 months.
Schedule Your Long Run During the Week
First things first, schedule your long run during the week. Why you ask? Well, you are going to need that day on Sunday or Saturday to get your following week or 2 weeks organized and planned. The majority of age groupers either have their coach schedule a long run on Sunday or they schedule it themselves because they believe that is what you are supposed to do. There doesn’t really seem to be a very good reason for this except for maybe shift workers. Most people can run 2-3 hours after work on a Tuesday or Wednesday. You might still be wondering what does this have to do with my nutrition or meals? Well, it free’s up a Saturday or Sunday for you to be able to put together a meal plan, grocery list, go shopping and cook what you need, (possibly in bulk). Then on the days you don’t have to cook, you can go play with family and friends. It’s a win win all around.
Cook in Bulk
Now that you have cleared the way to have a full day off, (or at least most of the day), the real planning comes into play. Use this day to cook a few recipes or several meals in bulk. This does require a good amount of time in the kitchen for that day, but in turn all you have to do is fire up your oven several nights a week or maybe 2 weeks if you planned according. Make a double recipe of a few things and then freeze in individual portions. Ideas of meals that easily freeze and reheat: Bolognese Sauce, Soups, Vegetarian Baked Ziti, Enchiladas, Chilis, Chicken Strogonoff, Casseroles.
Stock Your Pantry
As simple as this sounds, it’s one of the most important things you can do. Unfortunately most people keep a bare or minimally stocked pantry. I recommend keeping things on hand like canned tomatoes, legumes like beans and lentils, rice, pastas, coconut milk, stocks and other whole grains like barley in your pantry. These ingredients are the base of so many recipes. For a more comprehensive guide to how to stock a pantry, check out The Athlete’s Pantry: Stock up on the Basics
Use your Slow Cooker
Repeat after me: I will use my slow cooker! Seriously people, it might be one of the best kitchen tools you can use. The slow cooker (crock pot) is versatile enough that you can use it any day of the week and even any time of day. Make a double recipe of pot roast on a Sunday and then freeze some individual portions to eat later on in the coming weeks. You might be too tired to make dinner when you first get home at night, but usually there is a burst of energy after showering, eating and putting your feet up for a bit. Throw a bunch of ingredients into the slow cooker before you go to bed. This way your next nights meal is cooking while you sleep.
Eating leftovers throughout the week shouldn’t be looked at boring or monotonous. It’s actually a very healthy option for you. Think about it, you’ve already planned a meal that is healthy and probably beneficial for recovery or fuel for your next swim, bike or run, so why not give it a go for a few more meals? Maybe alternate it with another recipe throughout the week for dinner or pack it for lunch during the week. Not only does eating leftovers save you time in the kitchen, it also saves you money.
Meal planning and cooking while training for an Ironman is challenging, but if you plan ahead, think of it as your nutrition plan and use the tips above, you should be able to conquer the challenge!
Related Article: Breakfast Meal Plan for a Week