For powerlifter and mom Meg Gallagher, CPT, (otherwise known as @megsquats on social media), protein is a non-negotiable part of her diet as she works toward her fitness goals.

The 34-year-old is intent on maximizing muscle gain, not just for appearance’s sake but also to maintain strength as she ages. “I’ve seen my grandmother struggle with osteoporosis and she’s not someone who strength-trained,” Meg says. “That’s definitely at the top of my mind.”

In order to support the process of hypertrophy (i.e. building muscle), Meg eats about one gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass, which equals 130 grams per day. (While the recommended daily allowance of protein has long been much lower at .36 grams of protein per pound of total body weight, experts are now agreeing that highly active folks are better off with much more than that to support tissue growth.)

 

Of course, one doesn’t consume 130 grams of protein each and every day by simply scarfing protein bars and whey shakes. It requires a purposefully planned diet rich in whole food protein sources, as well as an array of nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and starches.

Women’s Health asked Meg to take us on an imaginary spin through her local grocery store to find out what she buys to meet her #gainsgoals.

Meg Gallagher’s Meal Prep Game Plan

Meg shops once a week for enough groceries to prepare quick breakfasts and lunches, 2-3 home-cooked dinners (she makes four or more servings at a time to eat for lunch and dinner throughout the rest of the week), and snacks.

She starts her trip around the perimeter of the store, where fresh ingredients such as produce and protein heavy-hitters like meat and dairy are stocked. Then she works her way into the aisles to grab frozen and packaged foods that supplement her beef, salmon, and eggs in meals.

As a busy mom, Meg says she doesn’t turn her nose up at boxed food either. “If I need to sneak in some processed foods to reach my goals or for my enjoyment, that’s my business,” she says with a laugh.

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First Stop Is The Produce Aisle

As a general rule, Meg actually doesn’t count the small amount of protein in fruits and vegetables towards her overall goal, so her personal produce choices are more about what will support the star of her plate: the meat. (And, often, her produce comes in the form of bags of frozen vegetables rather than fresh. More on that below.)

But when she does plan a meal around a produce item—like her beloved avocado toast—she adds protein, such as an egg, to amp up her grams. The same thing goes for salad—she’ll buy a 50/50 super greens mix for the base and supplement with slices of grilled steak on top.

When it comes to snacks, endless fruit-and-veggie chopping isn’t exactly feasible with a toddler in tow, so Meg gravitates towards “grab-and-go” items like bananas, baby carrots, and celery that she can munch on throughout the day, with little prep required.

Next Up, The Protein MVP: Meat

Meg is a creature of habit when it comes to her butcher-block buys. She always loads up on ground protein, either beef or chicken, since both are so versatile. She’ll either cook the ground meat with a bag of veggies and rice, or mix it into pasta accompanied by sauce. (She’s currently obsessed with spaghetti bolognese.)

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Her other meat staples are usually chicken or salmon. (Given salmon’s short shelf life, she often stocks up and stores it in her freezer.)

After Meat Selection Comes The Dairy Aisle

“I’m a huge dairy person,” Meg says. “It’s how I hit my protein.”

For milk, Meg opts for an ultra-filtered 2% version from Fairlife. “The price is a little higher, but I think it’s worth it,” she says. “It filters out the lactose and also some carbs and fats that are typically found in milk. It is a higher protein milk for the amount of calories that you’re getting.”

Given her love affair with spaghetti bolognese, Meg also grabs fat-free shredded mozzarella cheese to sprinkle on her pasta. (“Fat-free helps me reach my protein goal without overdoing my fat because I get fat from other sources,” Meg explains.) String cheese is a necessity for snacking, as are yogurt and cottage cheese. Though she leans towards lower fat options for cheese, Meg prefers a higher fat Greek yogurt (5%) for the taste.

She finishes out the dairy section with a carton of eggs. (Meg’s husband eats a lot of them, so she usually buys a pack of 18.)

Once The Fresh Finds Are Gathered, It’s Time For The Interior Aisles

With her cart full of fresh finds from the perimeter of the store, Meg next works her way through the aisles.

“This is where I’m choosing things that are nice alternatives that add a little bit of extra protein or nutrients,” she says.

To that end, she stops by the pasta section to grab either chickpea noodles or Goodles (super-charged macaronis and penne that boast 10 grams of protein). Another carbohydrate option she likes that has some extra dietary heft: Dave’s Killer Bread, which includes 21 whole grains and seeds.

In the canned foods section, she gets jarred tomato sauce as well as black beans if she’s planning to make something like tacos or chili. (Otherwise, she isn’t a big consumer of beans or legumes.) She also grabs olive oil to make salad dressing and avocado oil for searing proteins at a high smoke point.

Next, she’ll swing through the frozen food section to add those easy-to-prep bags of mixed frozen veggies for dinner, in addition to selecting frozen fruits if she’s in the mood for a breakfast smoothie that week.

Lastly, Can’t Leave The Store Without Something Sweet

While Meg does eat plenty of protein bars (her new favorite is Alani Nu’s Rocky Road), Chocolatey Krave cereal is also a go-to when she has the munchies.

“You pour a bowl of cereal and you add milk, so you’re adding protein,” Meg says. “It makes more sense to have cereal in the house for a snack rather than just having Oreos—which I do love—so that it’s the easiest thing that I can reach.” Because, in the end, it’s all about the protein.

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Amy Wilkinson is an entertainment editor who also specializes in health and wellness. When not editing or writing, she can be found teaching Pilates as a comprehensively certified instructor.