How to Build a Basic Meal Plan (in 8 somewhat simple steps)

Many of you may be wanting to develop a more structured eating plan, but perhaps for whatever reason, are not ready to hire someone else to do it. If that’s the case, follow these 8 steps to put together your own plan!

Step 1-
Determine your goal. Is your goal for muscle gain? Is your goal for fat loss? Is your goal for maintenance/healthy nutrition? Whatever it may be, your nutrition plan needs to start with a goal in mind.

Step 2-
Determine a calorie level appropriate for your goal. There are a lot of websites that will calculate an estimated BMR (basal metabolic rate) to which you can adjust based on your activity level and goal (most of the website tools can do this as well). If you don’t want to use one of those tools, the simplest way to begin is to multiply your body weight by a factor of 10-15.
Typically, I would start with calories of ~12x body weight for fat loss and ~ 15 x body weights for muscle gain. These numbers can then be adjusted based on your progress.
For example, for a 150lb female looking for fat loss, I would start at about 1800 calories per day (150lbs x 12). This is not an exact science, and as mentioned, you can make adjustments as you go along.
**If you are much heavier than your target weight (50+ pounds), you may need to use a weight closer to your target weight for these calculations

Step 3-
Make a list of healthy foods you enjoy, group them into categories based on their main macronutrient composition.
For example, I like chicken, turkey, steak, sweet potato, rice, oatmeal, peanut butter and avocados. So I would list:
Proteins: Chicken, turkey, etc.
Carbs: sweet potato, brown rice, etc.
Fats: avocado, peanut butter, etc.
Now many of these foods will, of course, contain more than one macronutrient, but most foods can be categorized by the macronutrient they are mainly composed of.

Step 4-
Determine how many meals you would like to eat per day (that’s an easy step, no further explanation needed).

Step 5-
Determine the proportion of calories you would like to come from each macronutrient group. I feel the best place to start is around 1g of protein per pound of body weight (*again, use a weight closer to your target weight if you are 50+ lbs overweight).
Multiple the protein grams by 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) to get the calories you will be consuming from protein. This will roughly give you 25-35% of your calories from protein. The rest will come from carbohydrates and fats. Typically fats can comprise ~25-35% of your total calories. And then carbs would make up the rest.

OK, so that was a little confusing, but take a look at the example here and it should help to clarify:
150 lb female looking for fat loss.
Total calories = 12x bodyweight (150lbs)= 1800 kcals
Total protein= 1x body weight = 150 grams
150grams of protein x 4 calories per gram= 600 calories from protein
1800 total calories x .25 (25%) = 450 calories from fats
450 calories divided by 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 50 grams per day
1800 total calories – 600 calories from protein – 450 calories from fat = 750 calories left (these will then come from carbohydrates)
750 calories from carbs divided by 4 (4 calories per gram of carbohydrate) = 188g carb
So, our meal plan for a 150 lb female looking for fat loss would have
~1800 calories, 150g Protein, 188g Carbs, 50g Fat
I promise you, if you just work through the numbers, its not as complicated as it looks!

Step 6-
Distribute the calories/macros amongst your meals. Try to evenly distribute protein amongst each meal (i.e. each meal should have an equivalent amount of protein). Typically, I like to include my carbs in breakfast, lunch and post-workout meals, but in theory, you could evenly spread them throughout all of your meals or even eat them in just the pre and post workout meals if you prefer. Similarly, fats can be divided into your non-carb meals, or evenly spaced throughout the day- however you prefer.

Step 7-
Start plugging foods from your list into the meal plan. Again, there are many websites available to give nutrition facts for most foods. Although this may seem tedious at first, if you eat similar things most days, it would not be too difficult to get a handle on the composition of those foods. I typically like to allow 1-3 options per meal—for example- 3.5oz of chicken or 1 scoop whey protein or 6 egg whites all have roughly the same amount of protein. You can use the same concept with carbs and fats.

Step 8
Monitor your progress and adjust accordingly. Whatever your goal is, you should give yourself a solid 2-4 weeks on any given meal plan and keep measure of your progress. Avoid adjusting things too soon just because, for example, you didn’t lose 2 lbs. the first week. Allow your body to settle in to the new meal plan and then make adjustments as needed. Usually this will lead to results with just a few small tweaks instead of a complete overhaul.

As you’re progressing, you can begin to manipulate both calorie levels and macronutrient levels depending on your goals. You can also make adjustments based on if/what you are training on any particular day.

As a side note- this is not an IIFYM plan, as I do not believe all calories are created equal, and thus I would encourage your food list to consist mostly of quality, nutritious, single (or very few) ingredient foods.

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