There are lots of things in your life that you can outsource without compromising their primary benefits. Cooking is not one of those things. It's impossible to attain lasting health and fitness results while you outsource the task of cooking to the restaurants and fast food chains around you. I've worked with many people who were willing to work their ass off in the gym but their unwillingness to embrace cooking ultimately undermined much of their hard work. Your ability to reach health, fitness and body composition goals is absolutely connected to how much accountability and ownership you take in preparing your food.
If you're not really into cooking, you're not alone but my hope is that something on this list will spark a passion for cooking because your health and performance depend on it:
- Get a crock-pot: Gather the ingredients, chop them up, toss them in, push start and check back in a few hours for a mouthwatering meal. Crock-pot cooking is so easy that I guarantee you will be kicking yourself for not having one years ago. Plus, cooking ingredients at low heats for long cooking times is often healthier than exposing foods to high heats that tend to damage healthy nutrients.
- Consider it part of your workout: Nobody feels good about skipping sets and reps at the gym because you know that doing so is only cheating yourself. If you begin to consider cooking and preparing food as another exercise directly linked to your workout/training program, you'll be less likely to skip it.
- Plan for leftovers: When you're first getting into cooking, it can be overwhelming to think about preparing 3 meals per day, day after day! The solution is easy - make enough for leftovers. If one meal prep session yields enough for 2 dinners and a lunch, then you're already ahead of the game and your cooking momentum starts to build.
- Pick recipes base on how tasty they sound: Choosing recipes that sound tasty and delicious is more important than choosing recipes that sound healthy and nutritious. Now you're saying "yeah but TD, I thought the whole point of cooking was to eat more healthy and nutritious food?" Not exactly - cooking is about turning food into something that you look forward to, you enjoy eating, makes you feel full/satisfied and makes you feel good over time. If you aim for those things when you cook, while using quality ingredients and healthy preparation methods, then you will end up with more nourishing food. When you create something that you truly enjoy, you are much more likely to want to do it again and again.
- Have fun with no rules: Learning a new skill can be frustrating if there are tons of rules to follow but cooking is wide open! You can totally create culinary masterpieces by trying things that sound good to you and "coloring outside the lines." A recipe can be a nice place to start as you begin to explore cooking but when you realize that a recipe is just a starting point, the fun begins.
- Let the games begin: Anything becomes more exciting and appealing when you "gamify" it - this includes cooking. We've all had that frustrating moment when dinner time is coming up quickly and you don't have anything on the menu. Rather than surrender to ordering takeout or delivery, there's another solution: challenge yourself to what I call a "pantry and fridge raid." Here's how it works: raid your pantry/fridge for whatever you can come up with and find a way to turn those ingredients into an awesome meal. I'm telling you right now - if you can pull it off, your cooking confidence will go through the roof!
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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and founder of TD Athletes Edge. He is nationally renowned for his evidence-based and scientific approach to fitness, training, nutrition, and recovery for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.
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