I am sick and tired of the fitness and diet industry. There are so many people out there, who sell unhealthy and unproven crap to their clients. There is no one-size-fits-all diet! Everybody is different and needs different nutritional advice!
We made an online course for you, which gives you everything your really have to know about how to build a meal plan by yourself or for a client. With this course you'll learn the fundamentals of nutrition in just 1.5 hours.
However, we made it our mission to fight those scams and lies. So I wrote up this blog post, which explains the most basic details in short form - for free!
Meal plans should be fitted to you and your individuals needs. My meal plan might work for me, but it might not work for you. You have other dietary habits or intolerances as I have.
But to give you an idea of how a meal plan might actually look, I added something for you.
At the end of this blog post waits a free weight loss meal plan example for you, which was created by our diet app Slickcoach.
Step 1: What is your goal?
What do you want to achieve? Do you want to build more lean muscle mass, lose some excess body fat or simply live a healthier lifestyle?
It's very important to have a goal in mind, not only to stick to your diet, but also for calculating your caloric intake and macronutrients, which are the most important variables for success.
Step 2: Calculate your caloric intake
If you want to lose fat (not weight!), you need to eat less calories than you burn. If you want to gain muscle mass, you need to consume more calories than you burn, while also triggering muscle growth through hard workouts.
Your goal is just to stay healthy and maintain your weight? Then you need to eat the amount of calories you burn. But maybe swap some "unhealthy" foods for healthy alternatives. It is as simple as that!
We wrote an article about caloric intake a few weeks ago. This article also contains a very accurate calorie calculator. Check it out, we use it both for ourselves and our clients.
Step 3: Plan your macronutrients
As mentioned earlier, it doesn't matter which diet you choose for yourself. So just choose whatever you feel comfortable with - paleo, vegan, vegetarian, keto, high carb. It really doesn't matter. You won't lose weight just because you're following a vegan or paleo diet. If you've a negative energy balance, meaning caloric deficit, then you'll lose body fat and the other way around. Caloric surplus without hard workouts leads to fat gain, regardless of the diet regime used.
Some people think they can't get fat while being on keto, paleo or a vegan diet. Nonsense!
However, if you want to reach your goal much easier and faster, there are some simple macronutrient adjustments you have to follow. How you fill those macros doesn't matter for fat loss.
For fat loss
It's no longer a myth, that a high protein diet will lead to better and faster results when it comes to fat loss, even if calories are the same. By eating higher amounts of protein, your overall deficit becomes bigger due to the thermic effect of protein. 20%-30% of the calories you consume from protein are needed to digest the food. Contrary to fat, which has nearly no thermic effect.
Furthermore, a diet high in protein will also prevent you from losing muscle mass. Which in turn means you'll burn more calories by retaining more muscle mass. Because the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn, even while you sleep. Fat or water weight does not increase energy expenditure.
So for example: Given they do the exact same things throughout the day, a 80kg lean, athletic male will burn as many, if not more calories on a daily basis, than a 100kg overweight male. That's why muscular men north of 90kg have to eat twice as much as a normal person, just to not shrink. That's how important muscle mass it.
Aim for roughly 2g per kg/1g per lbs of body weight per day. Plus, make sure to decrease your caloric intake gradually throughout your weight loss journey. Start with a deficit of 20% (as calculated by the widget above). If you stop losing weight, go down another 100-200 kcal.
The remaining calories should come from fat and carbs, depending on the diet regime you want to follow.
For building lean muscle mass
If you lift heavy, which you have to do, since you want to gain muscle, your body is mostly fuelled by carbohydrates. Remember that muscles grow while you rest, no in the gym. And they only grow if you trained them hard enough. Otherwise your body thinks he already has enough muscle mass, since the workout wasn't hard and won't grow more.
Being on a low-carb diet will generally make you perform worse in the gym (of course, some individuals might work better on a low carb diet). In fact, carbs are often under-utilised when it comes to gaining muscle. Carbs will give you the energy needed to fuel your intense workout sessions to build muscle. Especially if you train more than 2-3 times per week.
Plus, carbs also fill up your glycogen stores, which are needed during a workout. If your glycogen levels are very low or empty (for example if you are on a ketogenic diet), your body starts to use fat as fuel. Which is nice for fat loss, but bad for your training, since fat is not optimal for explosive energy. And if you can't train hard enough, because you lack energy, you won't grow new muscle mass, as explained above.
Long story short: More carbs means more energy and more strength. As always, all carbs are not created equal. Opt for mostly complex, unprocessed carbs. Make sure to add some in your post workout meal to spike insulin, which is necessary for muscle growth.
Macro nutrient-wise, the same as above applies, but you should aim for 0.5g/kg body weight of fat and the remaining calories from carbs.
For healthier lifestyle
Nutrients are the compounds found in food, that help to sustain the body's physiological processes. Therefore, it's crucial for a healthy lifestyle to get the balance right. Depending on which type of diet you follow, your macronutrient ratios vary.
Eating plant based might lead to a higher carbohydrate intake and a decreased protein intake. Which is totally fine.
However, the AMDR (acceptable macronutrient distribution ratio) for the typical macro ratio is:
- Carbohydrates: 45%-64% of your daily intake (make sure the carbs come mostly from complex carbs and fiber)
- Dietary fat: 20%-35% of your daily intake (opt for healthy fats, so no trans fats!)
- Protein: 10%-35% of your daily intake (if you're older or train several times per week your protein need might go up to 1.4–2g per kg/ 0.7-1g per pound of body weight)
Always keep in mind, that these percentages are made for the average sedentary person, who often eats a bit less than someone who exercises regularly and these ratios are only to prevent deficiencies. Most people eat way too little protein, so make sure to hit that!
Make sure to adjust your intake, if you work out hard and regularly, especially if you're someone with a higher than average amount of muscle mass. How to adjust your macros is described in each blog post for the respective macro nutrients.
Step 4: How many meals per day?
Please, don't get fooled by those "smaller meals every 3 hours to stoke the metabolic fire".
Let's look at this weight loss study. In this 8-week long study people were split into 2 dietary groups. One half ate 3 meals per day, the other half 3 meals plus 3 snacks per day. Both were in a caloric deficit. After 8 weeks, researchers found no significant difference in their average weight loss, fat loss or muscle loss.
Increasing meal frequency can make dieting more enjoyable for some people, but it doesn't help you you with burning more energy, thus to lose more fat.
You see, it's totally up to you, how often and when you want to eat. Doesn't matter if one ultra large meal, 3 large meals or 16 super tiny meals. In the end, all that matters is a caloric surplus (if you want to gain muscle mass), caloric deficit (if you want to lose body fat) or caloric maintenance (if you want to stay healthy and maintain your weight).
I personally choose my meal frequency depended on how I'm feeling that day. If I'm feeling hungrier I eat more frequent. If I feel quite satiated I eat 3 bigger meals.
Step 5: What is your food budget
You don't have to spend a fortune on a diet. Setting some budget limits upfront can help you manage you grocery shopping. Start with making a list of what you need to buy.
If you want to eat better for less - who doesn't? - think seasonal products and sales, or farmers markets.
Step 6: Create a weekly meal plan
Now that you're familiar with all the important variables, it's time to create your personal meal plan.
Best case scenario for a busy week ahead looks something like this: You plan out your meals, do the grocery shopping and do the meal prep on Sunday evenings.
Start with finding a few new healthy dishes to prepar. You don't have to buy tons of cookbooks, just use the internet. Nope, you don't have to reinvent the wheel here. There are thousands of healthy and simple meals out there. Keep it simple.
Plus, most cookbooks promote unhealthy-ish meals, the use of way too much olive oil, bad macro nutrient ratios and too many calories.
And given the macro nutrient ratios we discussed, you should see: you don't have to eat salad all day to lose fat! In fact, that's pretty bad idea, due to reasons explained in this article.
Which foods you should choose
First, eat the foods you actually like. There are so many myths out there regarding foods you can't or can eat during a diet. All that matters is how much you eat, when it comes to fat loss or muscle gain, not what.
Simply stick to your daily caloric and macronutrient target and you will reach your goal.
Combining foods rich in protein, such as lean meats, with fiber, such as vegetables, legumes or whole grains, at every meal and snack will keep you longer satiated.
Really delicious is fat-free yogurt, some oats and an apple, or a hard boiled egg on a whole grain roll with some salmon. You will also feel more satisfied eating wholesome foods than munching on chocolate bars, soda crackers or trans-fats loaded sugary bakery stuff.
While it's irrelevant for fat loss, it's super relevant for adherence. Don't make it harder for yourself by trying to fit oreos into your meal plan. You'll feel a whole lot hungrier compared to vegetables, legumes and meat.
Furthermore, choose foods which are high in volume and nutrient-dense, but low in calories to fill you up. Here are some nice options:
- Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, chard, collars
- Brussel sprouts
- (Sweet) potatoes
- Berries (super low calorie!)
- Chicken, turkey breast
- Salmon, cod, shrimps, tuna , tilapia
- Rice (brown or white, doesn't matter)
- Lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas
- Low-fat yogurt
Also choose sauces, oils, ready-meals and dips wisely if at all, because they can contain lots of hidden calories.
Basically, eating too much high-calorie junk food, which is naturally quite low in volume, will not make you happy. Trust me, I tried it. They are less filling and won't provide you with many micronutrients, meaning vitamins and minerals. And if you lack micros, your body will crave more food, because it senses a lack of micros to keep all the necessary processed running. And another burger will not help with that (news flash: pretty low in vitamins and minerals ;))
Rule of thumb: Always go fresh, best is to use whole foods and make a delicious dish out of them. Keep it simple! Get 80% from unprocessed, nutrient dense foods, and 20% from whatever the hell you like to eat (I love to fit in a snickers bar or some ice cream every now and then).
Do you really need supplements?
Supplements are optional and not mandatory, unless you have a good reason to use them, like a deficiency. Always aim to get all your vitamins and minerals through your diet. If that doesn't work, consider supplementation, but research properly before buying crap.
Generally, most people will benefit from a strong vitamin D3 supplements (5.000 IU/day) and Omega-3, unless you consume fatty fish or Omega-3-enhanced eggs. Protein powder is not even remotely necessary.
Step 7: Weight everything on a kitchen scale!
If you're not tracking accurately and consistently, you're wasting your time. Regulating the portion sizes of your food is a simple, yet crucial tool, which can help you reach your goals.
Weighing food before you cook/eat it, is a convenient method of controlling portion sizes and it's very easy to do, since a kitchen scale is basic kitchen equipment.
Here's how to do it properly:
Buy a kitchen scale, if you don't already have one at home. Opt for a digital one. They are more accurate and faster to read.
Turn on the power of the scale. Place an empty plate or bowl on the scale and press the tare button, so that the display reads zero again. Now simply weigh out the desired portion sizes before you cook/process your food! Always measure your food raw!
Weight everything you want to consume! Really everything! Sauces, oil, milk, butter. Don't fool yourself!
A lot of our clients figured they don't have to measure that single tablespoon of oil for lunch and dinner. Or that small banana snack. Well - 2 regular tablespoons of oil plus a medium banana combined is roughly 280-300kcal. For most people that's a huge chunk of their entire caloric deficit. Do that every day and over the course of one week - for a regular person - you're looking at a weekly deficit of 3.500kcal versus 1.400kcal. You just fooled yourself into dieting more than twice as long to reach your goal. Oops.
Free meal plan sample
This is a free meal plan sample created by our Slickcoach App. Let's just assume that Jane Doe is a 29 year old woman, very active and lifts weights several times per week in the gym (she likes to train fasted).
Are you interested in your own personalised meal plan, but too lazy to do it yourself? No problem at all! Simply sign up for our newsletter and be the first to use the next generation diet and health planner and become the best version of yourself!
Can't wait? Looking for a custom, manual meal plan now? Buy one of our custom meal plans. Once purchased, we'll contact you in order to discuss your fitness and health goals, as well as dietary preferences. Our team of experienced meal planers will then create a customised and effective meal plan - just for you! All based on science, no bullshit!
Getting shredded, losing body fat, changing to a healthier lifestyle, weight loss, gaining muscle - doesn't matter how you want to call it. In the end it all comes down to one thing we want: less fat, better definition, feeling good in our skin.
Sadly, most of the meal plans out there are generic, restrictive and ... well quite frankly bullshit.
I hope I could show you a way, to make your own goal driven, productive and certainly not crappy custom meal plan, which is built around your lifestyle and preferences.
Now that you can create your own meal plan, all you have to do is stay consistent and on track with your journey!
And if you're too lazy or need the help and mental support of a nutrition coach, just give us a shout and we will create one for you.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section!