Who else gets tired and hungry during training? Between training, working, relationships, and all of life’s other demands, it can be difficult to fuel well as busy runners.

Chelsea Plummer, Credit: Capture Me Photography

Thankfully, we’ve connected with food blogger, culinary creative, and runner, Chelsea Plummer. She is the owner and content curator of maesmenu.com (which we highly recommend). Chelsea pulls out stellar recipes and advice for meal prepping and planning for AtoZrunning! Seriously, my friends, you will want to share and save this link (even for the recipes alone). Please enjoy this guest post by Chelsea…. and the granola bars you will most definitely be making after reading this post!

Meal Prepping & Planning Tips for Busy Runners

It can be so hard to eat well when you’re busy, let alone when you’re training for a race or running a lot. 

How is there really enough time in the day to go to work, take care of your family, shower, sleep, run, stretch, strength train, and cook healthy meals?!

But, eating well is a huge part of running and running performance. How are we to run well if we don’t put good fuel in “the tank?” 

Through much experimentation, life experience, and trial and error, I’ve learned some meal prepping and planning strategies that make it possible to enjoy healthy, energizing, and delicious home cooked meals, regardless of how busy our weeks are. Read on for my tips and enjoy less stressful weeks and better fueled runs.

1) Do most of your cooking 1 or 2 days of the week.

Cook large batches of food on a quieter evening or afternoon of the week so you’re set up with food for the rest of the week.

Whether you cook on a Sunday afternoon or a slow Tuesday night, you’ll then have plenty of food meal-prepped to enjoy on busy days later in the week.

Pro-tip: Make the most out of your meals and prevent boredom by serving your leftovers in different ways (see tip #2 for more serving ideas!). 

Great make-ahead meals:

  • Cuban sheet pan chicken 
  • Lentil soup
  • Stir-fry 
  • Bean chili 
  • Taco meat
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas {recipe below!}

Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas

Get all the flavors of your favorite Mexican restaurant with little to no fuss! All you need to do is whisk together the fajita seasoning and toss the chicken and vegetables. The oven does the rest of the work! See my notes below on how to make this recipe vegetarian.

Pro-tips: 

  • To make this vegetarian, omit the chicken and use 3 peppers in the recipe. Mix in 2 cans drained and rinsed pinto beans or black beans in with the peppers and onions 5 minutes before the veggies are done roasting.
  • Easily cut your chicken by using kitchen shears instead of a knife! 
  • To keep this recipe gluten-free, use corn tortillas. 
  • To toast tortillas: bring a skillet to heat over medium heat. Add the tortillas to the skillet one at a time and toast for about 1 ½ minutes per side, or until the tortillas puff and turn golden. 

Serving Size: 12
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin 
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano 
  • ¾ teaspoon salt 
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar 
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • ¾ teaspoon onion powder
  • 2.5 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 lbs boneless & skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1”x2” pieces 
  • 2 sweet peppers (green, yellow, red, or orange), cut into 1/2 “ slices 
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, cut into thin slices 
  • 12, 8” tortillas 
  • ¾ cup. sour cream 
  • 1 cup shredded mexican cheese 
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro 
  • Any of your other favorite fajita toppings 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the spices, brown sugar, and salt. Whisk in the olive oil to create a thick slurry.

Add the chicken and the veggies to the spice slurry and gently stir until the chicken and veggies are evenly covered with the spices. 

Divide the chicken and veggies between two large rimmed cookie sheets and spread out so the meat and vegetables aren’t crowded.

Add the two baking sheets to the oven and roast the fajitas in the oven for 12-13 minutes. Stir the fajitas around on the pans and rotate the pans in the oven. Roast for another 12-13 minutes. 

Remove the fajitas from the oven and serve on toasted tortillas with sour cream, cheese, cilantro, and any of your other favorite fajita toppings. 

Estimated nutrition facts per* 1 fajita with 1 tablespoon sour cream, 1 ½ tablespoon cheese: 

365 calories, 19g fat, 7g saturated fat, 11g unsaturated fat, 477mg sodium, 22g carbs, 2g fiber, 2g sugar, 27g protein 

2) Enjoy your leftovers in a variety of different dishes throughout the week.  

If you love eating the same meal every night, go ahead and enjoy it! But if you like variety or are afraid of getting bored with your leftovers, switch up the way you serve them. 

For example, the chicken fajitas above are delicious served the additional ways: 

  • On a quinoa or rice bowl
  • Tossed with beans 
  • Wrapped up in a burrito with beans 
  • On a salad 
  • In a quesadilla 
  • In an omelet 

Get creative with the ways to enjoy your meal prepped food and you may never get sick of eating the same thing again.

3) Keep your pantry (and freezer!) well stocked of healthy and quick-cooking meal basics that can go with almost any meal. 

When you have a cupboard full of healthy side dishes, dressings, and condiments on hand, it’s that much easier to get a complete and delicious dinner on the table. 

Whether you’re serving your meal prepped leftovers over beans and rice or serving a slow-cooked or grilled main dish alongside whole wheat couscous and a salad, you’ll be able to serve quick, complete, and filling meals so much easier when your pantry is stocked for it. 

Here are some of my favorite pantry and freezer staples I like to keep on hand to make complete meals in a snap: 

  • Grains & carbohydrates: Quinoa, whole wheat couscous, canned beans, pre-cooked rice, quick-cooking farro, lentils, and tortilla shells
  • Vegetables: Frozen vegetables, leafy greens, pre-cut vegetables, baby tomatoes, and baby peppers
  • Salad dressings, condiments and topping: Salsa, hummus, healthy salad dressings, balsamic vinegar, good olive oil, and mustards 

4) Invest in a set of Tupperware or meal prep storage containers.  

A good set of food storage containers makes meal prepping so much easier. Whether you’re storing your large batch of meal prepped food for dinners at home later in the week, or divvying out your food out into individual meals you can grab and go when you’re busy, having good storage containers makes this all so much easier. 

Pro-tip: Buy containers that you can also freeze and microwave for most ease! 

5) Freeze extra leftovers. 

If you’re getting tired of or won’t be able to eat all of your meal-prepped food after you’ve enjoyed them for a few nights, freeze them. For most dishes you can freeze them for up to 2 months, meaning you can enjoy the dish again without having to waste food or cook again.

Just make sure to freeze your food before it goes bad, usually about 4-5 days after you’ve made it. 

Pro-tip: Wondering if you can freeze a certain dish? Most dishes with fresh vegetables don’t freeze well, though most cooked vegetables, grains, or meat dishes freeze just fine. If in doubt, Google to see if you can freeze it.  

6) Utilize your slow cooker. 

Slow cookers are no longer just something your grandma would use to make a roast. They’re a hands-off way to make a delicious dinner that’s ready for you when you walk in the door after work or your run! 

This turkey carnitas recipe is one of my favorite slow cooker recipes. It also makes enough meat to feature again in different meals in the following nights. 

Pro-tip: If you don’t have time to throw the ingredients in the slow cooker the morning of, just do so the night before. Store the ceramic slow cooker bowl covered in the fridge overnight and pop it in the slow cooker before you leave for work in the morning. 

7) Keep healthy snacks on hand. 

Having healthy snacks around makes eating well so much easier. Having snacks on the ready means you can grab one when you get home from work or in from a run and take the edge off your appetite. 

Then, when you’re not as ravenous you can have more patience for putting together a quick meal and make better meal choices. Talk about a win-win! 

Healthy snack ideas: 

Healthy No-Bake Granola Bars

These No Bake Granola Bars are super simple to put together, are super tasty, and are full of whole grains, healthy fats, and plant-based protein. They’re totally adaptable to whatever dried fruits, nuts, and seeds you have on hand or like so feel free to experiment with your favorite combinations!

Pro-tips:

  • To keep these bars gluten-free, make sure to use gluten-free oats 
  • Old fashioned or rolled oats are best for this recipe 
  • These bars are best enjoyed cold right out of the fridge. Otherwise, the honey softens a bit and the bars don’t stick together as well
  • Melt your chocolate on a low (40-50%) heat in short intervals to prevent burning the chocolate. Stir it between the intervals and heat until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

Serving Size: 8
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Chill Time: 1.5-2 hours 

Ingredients: 

  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, or chopped dried apricots 
  • ½ cup peanuts, almonds, or chopped walnuts, or hazelnuts
  • ½ cup old fashioned or rolled oats 
  • ¼ cup honey 
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds 
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal 
  • 1 large pinch salt 
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon 
  • ½ cup chocolate chips 
  • 1 ½ tablespoon peanut butter or almond butter (smooth or chunky) 

Directions:

Line an 8 x 4” loaf pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray or grease with coconut oil. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the seeds, dried fruit, nuts, and oats. Gently stir together with a rubber scraper or spatula. 

Add the honey to a small microwave-safe bowl and heat on 50% heat in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, or until the honey liquifies. Whisk the chia seeds, flaxseed meal, salt, and cinnamon into the honey. 

Pour the honey mixture into the nut and seed mixture and gently stir the two together for 30-45 seconds, or until the honey coats all of the nuts and seeds.

Pour the nuts and seeds into the parchment paper lined loaf pan and press down on the mixture gently but firmly with your rubber scraper or spatula to create a firmly packed and level layer. 

In another small microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate chips and nut butter. Heat in the microwave on 30-40% heat for 1.5-2 minutes, stirring every 40-45 seconds or so, or until the chocolate is melted and glossy. 

Pour the melted chocolate over the granola bar base in the loaf pan. Spread the chocolate out gently to evenly cover the granola. 

Move the loaf pan to the refrigerator and let the bars chill for 1.5-2 hours or until the chocolate has firmed up and the bars stick together. Enjoy the bars cold! 

Notes:  These granola bars last covered in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. They can also be frozen for 1-2 months in a freezer-safe container 

Estimated nutrition facts per serving*: 

300 calories, 11g fat, 3g saturated fat, 7g unsaturated fat, 57mg sodium, 43g carbs, 4g fiber, 31g sugar, 6g protein 

8. Get your grill on. 

I always get excited when it’s dinnertime in the summer because I know dinner will be super quick and easy, thanks to the grill! 

Whether you’re throwing some burgers on or threading veggies on a kabob, grilling usually means dinner will be ready within minutes. Also, the grill is naturally a healthier way to prepare food because it doesn’t require excess fat to cook the food. 

Great dishes for the grill: 

  • Steaks, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, & thin-cut pork chops
  • Burgers 
  • Veggies: sweet peppers, eggplant, corn on the cob, sweet onion, or zucchini 
  • Salmon, Halibut, or other firm fish 
  • Shrimp 

9) Master a few quick recipes you can make with different ingredients.

For those nights you don’t have any food meal prepped or slow cooked and it’s too cold to grill, draw on a few quick recipes that you can make with different featured ingredients. 

For example,quick pasta tosses and stir-fries are two quick go-tos that we like and can make with a variety of ingredients, whether it’s different meats, veggies, or sauces.  

Pro-tip: seem your kitchen stocked with the ingredients you need to make these recipes. For example, rice and stir fry sauce for a stir fry or eggs and pre-chopped veggies for an omelet. 

These tips have helped me to eat better, be less stressed, be better fueled for training — and not to mention, eat tastier food — throughout the week and I hope they help you, too! Try them out for yourself and let me know on Instagram (at the link below) how they go.

Related: Chelsea gave us a food suggestion and recipe in our article Healing Food for the Hungry Runner.

Chelsea Plummer is the food blogger behind Mae’s Menu, a food blog with recipes for runners and other athletes. Chelsea lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and has run 4 marathons, 10+ half-marathons, and is currently training to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In addition to creating all of the original recipes for Mae’s Menu, Chelsea is a hairdresser, dog mom, and obsessive book reader. Follow her on Youtube and on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook at @maesmenu.  

*This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae’s Menu are not nutritionists or dieticians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.

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2 replies
    • admin
      admin says:

      It seems like there is a large spectrum of that kind of thing… for instance, I [Zach] tend to prefer eating the exact same thing nearly every day (breakfast for sure, but if dinner were burritos/tacos every night, I might not complain). Hmm…
      Thanks for sharing, Whitney!

      Reply

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