From Workout to Take-Out: Gyms Offer Healthy Meals

Posted on: 12/01/2014


This article originally appeared:

For exercisers short on time, services are stocking gym fridges with ready-to-go, preservative-free meals.

After workouts at CrossFit New England in Natick, Mass., members can leave with ready-to-eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners from Paleo Power Meals. The Saugus, Mass., company is one of a growing number of services selling fresh, whole-food-based packaged meals through gyms and by mail. TONY LUONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


Rachel Bachman

Sept. 23, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET

Sean Potter gets his pork chops where he does his push-ups.

Mr. Potter, a member of the CrossFit New England gym in Natick, Mass., is part of a growing group of exercisers picking up prepared food where they work out. His favorite service, Paleo Power Meals, delivers freshly made breakfasts, lunches and dinners twice weekly to a refrigerator at CrossFit New England. When not on the road for work, Mr. Potter buys several meals a week, such as the “all-natural” Berkshire pork chop with red and green peppers, balsamic glaze and mashed cauliflower. Other members order ahead, and leave workouts lugging bags bulging with entrees.

Mr. Potter, who is married and has three children, explains why he started relying on the gym for healthy meals, particularly lunches. “No. 1, spending time with my family is more important than cooking meals for the week,” the 40-year-old software salesman says. “No. 2, spending time at the gym is more important than going out to lunch.”

Fitness centers such as CrossFit New England stress a holistic approach to health, from hoisting forks to lugging kettlebells. PHOTOS: TONY LUONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL(2)

For years, companies have delivered stocks of enticing meals to customers’ homes. The services are finding a new market in time-strapped people seeking healthy, preservative-free servings, often packed in a single plastic container. To minimize delivery costs, many companies drop the meals off in a place that customers frequent: the gym.

Healthy packaged meals are popping up everywhere from Tone House, a Manhattan studio where a sports-conditioning class costs $40, to Energy Fitness in Paducah, Ky., where the meals are popular with food-loving millennials as well as budget-conscious seniors who live alone, says Sharon Hales, the gym’s general manager.

About 25% of Energy Fitness’s members buy Megafit Meals, prepared in nearby Benton, Ky., which the gym displays in a cooler. Offering healthy meals helps members stick to weight-loss and fitness goals, Ms. Hales says.

“If they leave our club and they go through a drive-thru and eat unhealthy food, they’re just spinning their wheels,” she says.

A typical lunch or dinner from these services costs between $8 and $14 if picked up at a gym. (Delivery can add $30 or more for multiple-meal orders going long distances on dry ice or in insulated packages.) Fans point out that the meals don’t cost much more than grass-fed beef or organic vegetables at a grocery store—and spare them the shopping, food prep and clean-up.

These meals often have labels detailing how much protein, carbohydrates and fat they contain—along with calories and ingredients. Some meals are vegan or vegetarian, or comply with low-carb plans such as the Paleo diet or Whole 30, in which people exclude sugar, grains, dairy and other foods for 30 days.

A fridge at CrossFit New England holds packaged Paleo Power Meals, which members pick up after workouts. Some order numerous meals ahead, while others buy and eat as they go. PHOTOS: TONY LUONG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL(4)

Life Time, a 127-location health-club chain based in Chanhassen, Minn., is revamping and relaunching its Meals to Go service. What used to be a few basic items—chicken enchiladas and wraps—is expanding to about 30 options including steak chimichurri with roasted vegetables and tuna togarashi.

The club’s members are “trying to avoid carbs and sugar and are really seeking out protein and fresh vegetables,” says Jason Vieth, senior vice president of LifeCafe, Life Time’s fast-casual restaurant.

It’s good that more people are focused on eating unprocessed foods, says Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, a weight-management center in Ottawa. But for the average person, he says, packaged-meal services can subvert an important part of long-term overall health: preparing healthy meals and sharing them with friends or family.

“I think it’s a mistake for us to fall into that narrative that it’s hugely difficult and takes tremendous effort, because it really doesn’t,” Dr. Freedhoff says.

Many fitness-industry leaders acknowledge that eating choices play a larger role in weight loss than exercise. The U.S. Army is planning to bring healthy foods into fitness centers, including sandwiches, salads and box breakfasts.

“In some cases our dining facilities are a distance away from a fitness center, so sometimes soldiers have to choose between working out and eating breakfast,” says Tim Higdon, Healthy Army Communities program manager. “This allows them to accomplish both.”

The changes could arrive in some fitness centers as soon as next spring, he says.

Life Time health clubs’ revamped Meals to Go program includes meals like Chicken Harissa, left. Farm to Fit in Portland, Ore., drops off customers' meals at Anytime Fitness in Lake Oswego, Ore., and other local gyms, right.PHOTOS: LIFECAFE; FARM TO FIT

Bonnie Lefrak, chief executive of the Fitness Asylum, a studio with three Massachusetts locations, has tried half-a-dozen prepared-healthy-meal services and says they help her have something nourishing on hand amid a hectic schedule.

“I know if I get hungry, then I’m eating off my kids’ plates. I call those ‘momnivores,’” Ms. Lefrak says. She recently started offering meals from New York-based Kettlebell Kitchen at her location in Hudson, Mass.

Ms. Lefrak says she asks members at kickoff events: How many of you like to cook? “Not a lot of hands are going up,” she says.

Nationwide research underscores that notion, and the challenge for meal-kit services that arrive with ingredients and a recipe. Baltimore-based Terra’s Kitchen mostly delivers meal kits but CEO Mike McDevitt says prepared foods make up 16% of sales, a share that’s rising quickly.

“There are these two markets,” the Fitness Asylum’s Ms. Lefrak says, “and the one with the already cooked food is going to win.”

Write to Rachel Bachman at

Appeared in the September 25, 2017, print edition as 'GYMS GO From workout to take-out.'