Meal prep isn’t just for dieting. Meal prep for weight gain is just as effective and important.
If you’re struggling to gain weight as an ectomorph or hardgainer, getting ahead of your diet and taking the initiative with meal prep can be a game-changer. These are easy changes that can change your diet, budget, and schedule for the better!
Let’s look at what you need, what meal prep is for, and some of the most important ways you can put it together to give yourself a head-start on your weight gain goals…
Ectomorph Struggles: Can Meal Prep Help You Gain Weight?
One of the hard parts of being an ectomorph or hard-gainer is the challenge of eating enough to gain weight. This is even harder if you’re not consistent with your meals and end up skipping out on important calories or eating too little for a meal.
Meal prep is a great way to address these kinds of problems as you set out your food before the fact. It offers you a chance to take control of your food without worrying about the short-term difficulties of cooking or having the right ingredients to make your food.
Ectomorphs who food prep are taking one more possible struggle out of the many you’re facing. It’s a chance to make food simpler and put together calculated, deliberate meals that fit with the calories and macronutrients that you’re using to gain weight.
Value of Meal Prep: How to Meal Prep for Weight Gain
Taking Guesswork Out: A Deliberate Weight-Gain Diet.
Meal prep means you’re not going to get it wrong – your meals are planned out and fit into your diet before the fact. It’s a simple way of controlling the way you eat by pre-committing to a better choice.
It’s effective because it makes the best choice the route of least resistance. You default to these prepared meals instead of going for unhealthy or expensive alternatives.
Easy and Convenient: Making Better Habits Easier.
There’s something great about the convenience of knowing your food is already sorted. You can either break it out and eat it or throw it in a microwave to reheat – and then eat.
This takes out all the challenges of cooking and preparing healthy foods which typically take longer than their pre-prepared or processed counterparts.
This makes it easier to make the right choice and eat more since you’re not spending all your time hunting down ingredients or preparing them.
Recommended: Here are some great Weight Gain Breakfast Ideas.
Sticking with your Meal Prep and Beating Temptation
This is the ultimate benefit: you’re not going to be caught short when you’re busy, you’re not going to choose that lunch sandwich with no real nutritional value, and you’re not going to simply skip out on lunch.
Having your food prepped doesn’t only take out the guesswork, but also the general possibility of getting it wrong. Great diets for weight gain happen one choice at a time and every prepared meal you eat is a better choice than the alternative.
As you go along, these add up, and you’re going to find yourself better fueled before and after workouts. It’s a simple act of control that helps make sure your diet is serving your goals and reinforcing good habits.
How Do You Meal Prep Well for Weight Gain?
Calorie Control: Eat More Than You Use
Meal prep needs to serve your daily calorie intake and keep you fueled up. This should be a pre-determined amount of lunch calories, building a high-calorie day of average eating, and helping you get above your maintenance needs.
The point of using calorie-dense foods is to eat plenty and provide your body with energy and protein to grow (1).
Step 1: Protein Sources are Muscle-Fuel
Protein sources are crucially important to supporting muscle growth, the basis of healthy weight gain. They also drive tendon remodeling and bone density.
Meal prep is a chance to control and improve your protein intake and support better health. This is why meal prep should always involve a protein source – all meals require a source of protein, and this is why we recommend starting with a meat, dairy, or plant protein source in every meal.
Step 2: Carb Sources Drive Growth
Carbs are the driving force behind recovery and growth, making up the majority of your dietary calories and being a key signaling factor for mTOR – one of the main pathways behind muscle protein synthesis (2).
They spike insulin levels – along with amino acids – to help shuttle carbs into muscle cells and the liver. These are your energy stores but also improve things like cell hydration and energetics to replenish energy stores and support uptake of energy into these nutrient-sensitive cells.
If you’re under-eating carbs, you’re limiting your muscle growth and weight gain. Meal prep lets you pre-control your carb intake to support better performance, recovery, and growth.
Step 3: Micronutrient Sources for Better Health
Vitamins and minerals are there to support the processes in your body – they’re usually small co-enzymes or catalysts to important health functions. When you’re dieting for weight gain or loss, they are an important consideration for health, wellbeing, and sustainable growth (3).
This is why vegetables, healthy fruits and wholefoods are some of the best foods to meal prep for weight gain, offering up a greater concentration of nutrients per-calorie.
The challenge for weight gain is making sure you’re getting plenty of nutrients and calories!
Make sure each meal prep involves at least one micronutrient source. You can cook one into meals like chili (such as tomatoes, beans, and peppers) and add a simple veg on the side of each meal.
You can be really smart with meal prep veggies and select for function once you’ve cooked your major ingredients.
Step 4: Direct Fat Source
A fat source is the least important factor in your meal prep for weight gain – they’re essential for health but at lower intakes than other nutrients. They’re also least closely tied to muscle gain, functioning only as a high-calorie foods to improve overall calorie intake.
These should be a part of your diet but don’t necessarily need prepping every time. Foods like olives and avocado are great choices, since they’re easily prepped, as well as nuts and seeds as snacks.
High-quality whole protein sources like grass-fed beef and salmon are great ways of improving your fat intake without a direct fat source.
Good whole foods will cover many of these lower-demand fats, especially things like Omega-3 fats.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does meal prep help with weight gain?
Meal prep will help with weight gain – but only if you get it right. That means few things:
- You need to be eating enough on a daily basis including prepped foods
- You need to make sure you eat all your prepared foods
- You need to get the right macronutrients for your plan
Meal prep alone won’t help you gain weight if you’re not eating enough on a daily and weekly basis. It’s one factor and a tool to help you improve your overall food intake – along with other factors like improving appetite, eating frequency, and better food-choices!
What foods should I meal prep?
High-calorie, high-protein, high-carb foods!
These are the keys to gaining weight and we’ve outlined some of the best foods to gain weight. The short version is that you want a high-quality protein source, plenty of carbs, and then some fats to keep healthy.
On top of that, you might want to prep foods that are comfortable with cooling off like chicken, and foods that hold texture after a while in a Tupperware. Keep some foods or sauces on-hand, too, and add them at mealtime so they don’t go soggy (e.g. sauces on rice).
Think chicken and rice, roasted potatoes, sweet potato, ground beef and other meats, tuna, salmon, white-fish, dry cheeses, couscous, beans, veggies, olives, noodles, and avocado.
These are some examples of great foods for meal prep for weight gain, but meal prep is just a challenge of experimenting and finding what suits your diet and taste!
How to meal prep for bulking?
Meal prep for bulking is the same as for cutting, but with more calorie-dense foods. This might mean adjusting portions, but still using the same foods, or adding new ones in.
For example, if you’re prepping ground beef and beans with vegetables, a clean bulk would look for an 80/20 balance, while a cut might go for 50/50.
You can prep any amount – either as double-cooking or batch-cooking – as long as the food will keep and not cause health risks when left to cool (like some forms of sausage).
Establish a few staple carbs and protein sources that work for your purposes and then rotate through sauces, veggies, and other bits. You can create a ton of variety with a few ingredients if you focus on varying the combinations.
How does meal prep help my diet?
Meal prep adds some structure and reliability to your weight gain meals. It also helps you get the right nutrients in on-the-go scenarios where you’re stressed and short on time – like when working through lunch or between engagements.
It also allows you to take out the guesswork, but it also allows you to control the options you have even when nearby shops and food vendors can’t meet your nutritional needs. Not to mention it’s going to save you tons of money along the way.
How do I start meal prep to gain weight?
It’s simple: you buy food storage – like Tupperware – and start prepping! All you need to do to get started is cook a meal with double portions and store one for later.
This is a great place to start your food prep journey as it allows you to start experimenting with your food choices and breaks that first barrier. From there, you can start doing bigger batches and experimenting with different protein and carb sources.
It’s best to organise a few types of carbs, a few protein sources, and a few sauces that you can rotate through to keep it interesting. The challenge of food prep is tedium – and this is an easy way to keep it interesting.
What to meal prep for lunch?
Lunch meal prep is probably the most popular since you’re not likely to have as much time to cook food. Lunches are the one meal of the day that should always be a combination of a carb and protein source since you’re either eating after a workout, or before one – and these both demand starchy carbs and lean proteins.
Classic choices include fish or chicken with rice (or potatoes or sweet potatoes), a chilli or other ground-meat option, or a bean bowl if you have a microwave on-hand. These are simple and effective, fuelling you up for the rest of the day and providing key nutrients.
What meal prep can you freeze?
For healthy meal prep ideas for weight gain, avoid chicken and sausage – those are the most important lessons for freezing meal prep. Reheating these foods – or long periods of cooling – can really present health risks if you’re not careful.
Meanwhile, foods like beef, lamb, and venison take better to freezing. Fish can be frozen but is likely to suffer in terms of quality and texture for it. Most veg can be frozen for prep, as long as you’re willing to accept the risk to quality and texture that come with reheating frozen veg.
Carb sources are almost all going to lose their texture, but rice is probably the only one to worry about when it comes to freezing. You can reheat potatoes and other tubers but are – once again – going to have a less-than-fun time eating them compared to fresh or simply cold carbs.
Is it cheaper to meal prep?
Meal prep can – and should – be cheaper than cooking on the go. Batch cooking lets you save on bigger buys and saves you the mark-ups of freshly prepared food in stores or pre-packaged meals.
If you’re buying a big bag of rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken, fish, and ground meat then you’re likely to save in the long-term. In the short term, you’re going to be spending more, but you’ll recoup those savings over the week ahead.
Meal prep is healthier, cheaper, and faster if you’re smart about it, buy the right foods, and prep when you’re already cooking. Getting it right maximises the amount of resources – cash, time, effort – you save!
Meal Prep Ideas for Weight Gain
Double-cook, Box One
If you’re already cooking, meal prep could be as simple as just making more – either double, triple, or enough to fill up your Tupperware.
These are the easiest habits to slide into when you’re making something you know is already healthy and delicious. Make sure you’re going to get plenty of food now, and you can even let it cool ready for the fridge or freezer while you’re eating.
If you’re eating something that fits your macros and calories now, then it’s going to play a similar role tomorrow or whenever you’re eating it. This is the simplest and most reliable form of food prep for a beginner and takes all the thought out of major meal preparation.
Prep Nutrients, Eat Sauces
If you’re worried about long-prep, then keep it bland. It’s easier to prep bland chicken, fish, and carbs and then add sauces freshly since you’re going to be able to season after the fact and don’t have to worry about losing texture.
These are some of the best ingredients and they take out so many of the uncanny “stale” tastes that you might be concerned about with meal prep.
Vary your Meats and Carbs to Keep it Fun
Meals and variety are easy when you rotate through different options. Chicken and rice isn’t the same meal as chicken and sweet potato. When you vary these two – carb and protein – against each other, you keep it interesting.
This is even stronger if you think up a few simple sauces that fit with your meals that, like the other ingredients, can be varied from meal to meal. 2 carbs, 2 proteins, and 2 sauces alone provides 8 different combinations. With 3 of each, this goes up to 27. It’s easy to find variety with a few little batch-cooks!
Use Fresh Foods When You Can – Prep When You Must
The easiest way to improve your meal prep is to focus on prepping basic elements and then adding fresh or interesting elements after the fact.
If you’ve prepared the majority of the meal and add sauces, toppings, or simply veg after the fact you can maintain some of those fresh tastes. These can be stored separately or bought on the go to maintain the normality of lunches and dinners.
Prep isn’t all or nothing, you can fine-tune the process to meet your needs and the things you have available to you on a daily basis.
Liquids, Smoothies, and Shakes are Easy Wins
Prepping liquids is easy and can help take some of the burden off of your prep. Things like protein shakes are a simple example of prepared nutrition, on the go, with a deeply convenient design.
Shaker cups with separate capsules are a great example and may reduce the amount you need to depend on pre-cooked meats – all with the same easy use and nutritional values that you need.
These can go into a gym bag, in the car, or with a simple meal to round out your dietary needs on-the-go.
On-the-go Plans: Making Food Prep a Lifestyle Change
Remember that the benefits of preparing your meals expand out into research and plans around your lifestyle. For example, knowing where there are good options for your food and drink around your work, gym, and lifestyle are key to staying prepared in a pinch.
These also play a role in your large-scale preparation and should be just as well thought out as your prep. They’re not going to save you money in the same way, but they could save your diet if you forget your meal prep or need to get fuelled up in a moment of crisis!
Meal prep is one of the easiest things you can do that bolts onto your diet and lifestyle habits to save money and time while improving your diet.
You can overhaul the way your diet works with a little forethought and a few extra hours across the whole week – you’re going to be cooking anyway, why not cook enough for future-you, too?
Meal prep for weight gain, when it’s done well, can be a huge time-saver and a massive part of making better choices. It’s easy to make good choices when they’re already waiting for you in the fridge and the alternative is expensive, worse for your health, and you know you made them delicious.
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.