How to create your own meal plan
There’s nothing better than being in control of your diet, customizing it with the foods you like and tailoring it to fit your goals.
It only takes one afternoon
It might all seem exhausting and confusing at first, but all it really takes is one afternoon to create multiple meal plans for an entire week. Then all you need to do is follow them accordingly, eating whatever tickles your fancy on each day. As you adjust your calories and tweak your diet, creating your meal plan will get easier and over time it will become extremely simple.
The advantage of creating your own meal plans is that you’re in control of your own diet and can eat the food you like. You’ll also grow to understand your body better and have full control over how and what you eat. Once you master the basics of creating your own diet, you can achieve the body of your dreams no matter where you are in the world, without relying on anyone telling you what to do.
If you haven’t already estimated your total caloric intake, click here to determine how much you should be eating on a daily basis. If this is complicated for you or you need some extra help, leave a comment or send me an email.
Limit dining out and prepare your meals in advance
When you are on a fat loss or muscle building program, it is essential to limit dining out to no more than twice a week. Quite often restaurants serve large-size portions of food and slather butter and oil over your dishes. This will make it tricky to know if your program is working or not and it will be hard to manipulate your diet and make changes if needed. Commit wholeheartedly for a period of two to three months and then you can enjoy dining out as much as you want when you switch to maintaining your weight. Focus on following your diet to the letter during the week and celebrate by having a cheat meal in a restaurant on the weekend.
Always cook in bulk once a week and freeze your dishes, then measure out portions for your meals accordingly. Lean more about planning ahead here.
Calculate your macronutrients
Now that you’ve estimated your total caloric intake, the next step - whatever your goals - is to follow a starting baseline of 50% carbs, 20% fat and 30% protein based on your total calories as recommended by Tom Venuto in his program Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle. Whether your goal is muscle building or fat loss, always start off with these macros and then adjust according to your results.
To help with your calculations, remember that there are four grams in every calorie of carbs, four grams in every calorie of protein and nine grams in every calorie of fat. To determine your total gram intake, simply divide your calories by the number of grams in each.
Here’s an example: you have estimated your total number of calories to be 1600 for fat loss.
To calculate your carb intake: 1600 x 0.50 (50% of carbs) = 800 calories of carbs. To calculate the grams, divide by four (four calories in each gram) => 800/4= 200 grams..
To calculate your fat intake: 1600 x 0.20 (20% fat) = 320 calories of fats. To calculate the grams, divide by nine (nine calories in each gram) => 320/9= 35.5 grams
To calculate your protein intake: 1600 x 0.30 (30% protein) = 480 calories of protein. To calculate the number of grams, divide by four (four calories in each gram) => 480/4 = 120 grams of protein.
How many meals a day?
Determine how many times a day you would like to eat on a regular basis. When you’re on a fat loss program, it helps to eat up to five times a day, to keep hunger levels under control. Some fitness models eat up to six meals a day, whereas other people prefer a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a snack in between. Given that you’ll be the one creating your own meal, determine which method of eating will best suit your schedule.
The next step is to divide your total calories into meals and customize your meals accordingly. You can have several small, evenly spaced out meals or larger meals with snacks. For example, if you choose to eat five times a day, divide your total calories by five to have evenly spaced out meals, or settle for three larger meals, punctuated by smaller snacks. If you’d rather have breakfast, lunch and dinner with a snack then create three large meals and one lower calorie snack.
Arrange for whatever would suit your schedule best and whatever you’re most likely to stick to. Click here to learn more about which foods you should and shouldn’t eat.
Here’s an example:
You are eating 1600 calories a day.
For five evenly-spaced meals: divide 1600 by 5 = 320 calories at each meal.
For three larger meals and two snacks, try the following: Meal 1 (400 calories), Meal 2 (200 calories), Meal 3 (400 calories), Meal 4 (200 calories), Meal 5 (400 calories).
For four larger meals and one snack, try: Meal 1 (500 calories), Meal 2 (500 calories), Meal 3 (100 calories), Meal 4 (500 calories).
The calories do not have to be evenly spread out, but this is just to give you a basic idea on how you can plan your meals throughout the day
Create meal templates
The final step is to include protein, carbs and fats in your meals. Have a protein, starchy carb (starches) and fibrous (veggies) or simple carb (fruit) at each meal, but don’t have more than one serving of fruit per day. Here are some example meal templates. Have a peak at the nutrition page to decide which foods you would like to include, and how you would like to distribute your meals.
Meal 1: starchy carb, protein, fruit
Meal 2: protein, fat, fibrous carb and starchy carb
Meal 3: protein, fat, fibrous carb and starchy carb
Snacks: protein, simple or fibrous carbs
Here are some more detailed examples:
Breakfast might be: oats, egg white omelet and an apple OR wholegrain toast, nonfat cheese or yoghurt and a banana OR wholegrain cereal - such as Shredded Wheat – a protein smoothie and strawberries OR egg white omelet, potatoes and grapefruit (includes a starchy carb, protein and a portion of fruit)
Another meal might be: brown rice, chicken, salad and olive oil OR fish, vegetables, lentils and avocado OR shrimps, potatoes, asparagus and olives, etc (includes a starchy carb, fibrous carbs, protein and fats)
Snacks: examples include: small servings of protein (chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites), raw veggies, protein shake, a portion of fruit (you can choose to eat this alone rather than including it in other meals), small handful of nuts, etc.
Once you have mapped out a basic outline, adjust your serving sizes to meet your macronutrients. Your macros don’t have to be perfect or total to reach exactly 100% - it’s fine to be within your target range.
Weigh and measure your food to meet your required serving sizes
Once you created a meal template and know your target caloric intake, customize and calculate your portions to meet your goals. This might seem a bit mathematical at first, but it will only be difficult the first time round. Using an Excel spreadsheet will be very helpful with your conversions. Keep in mind, you can create several different menus for each day to add variety to your diet. Don't hesitate to ask if you need any help with your calculations.
Serving sizes and sauces
If you don’t already have a food scale, buy one from your local supermarket or home ware store. Buy a scale to measure weights and make sure to include measuring cups, to measure volume.
Oatmeal and dried cereal are measured dry, whereas rice and pasta are typically measured cooked. Meat should be measured uncooked, as liquids always leak during cooking, making the measurement lighter.
You don’t have to eat your meals plain. You can be as creative and daring as you like when it comes to making fun sauces, or mix and match dishes. Sauces and flavorings you can use freely include: pepper, chili, sweeteners such as Stevia, thyme, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, herbs, dill, paprika, lemon juice, salsa, mustard, olive oil (take calories into consideration), parsley, tarragon, capers, etc.
How to adjust your macronutrients
For fat loss
Aim to lose no more than 0.5 – 1 kg a week (no more than two pounds) for gradual and progressive fat loss. Slow and steady fat loss is the only key to permanent fat loss. If you lose weight too quickly you’ll most likely relapse and gain everything back, as what you’ve burnt is most likely water and muscle, rather than fat.
Measure your fat loss progress
Scales are extremely unreliable - don’t rely on them as your measuring tool for fat loss. Instead, try on the same pair of jeans every week and see how loose they’ve become, and take progress photos every week or two weeks. You can also keep track of your progress by measuring the widest part of the circumference of your chest, waist, back, hips, upper thighs, butt and calves. Over time, if your fat loss is progressive, you’ll start feeling stronger and leaner and have more energy - not to mention the fabulous new muscle definition you’ll discover on a weekly basis.
If you’re seeing fat loss results, keep following a baseline of 50% carbs, 20% fat and 30% protein.
If for any reason your fat loss come to a halt or you feel like you’re not losing any fat to begin with, reduce your carb intake to 45% and increase your protein to 35%. This would make your macros 45% carbs, 35% protein and 20% fat. Make SURE you are exercising, lifting weights and doing a significant amount of cardio each week. It is always better to lose fat by creating a deficit through exercise than by decreasing your calories. Eating more always boosts your metabolism.
If you feel like you’re still stuck in a rut, decrease your total calorie intake by 100 and take your carbs down to 40%, put your protein up to 40% and keep fat at 20%. This would result in you eating 100 calories less in total, with macronutrients of 40% carbs, 40% protein and 20% fat. Individuals who are carb intolerant might find this works best for them. Most people will find that they don’t need to alter their macronutrients further than this and that they can achieve significant fat loss results. If you feel like you’re STILL not losing weight, decrease your total number of calories by a further 100 the next week, but take care not to drop them too low. A final adjustment would be to drop your carbs down to 35%, increase protein up to 45% and keep fat at 20%. You could also experiment by increasing your fat intake to 25% and keeping protein at 40%. Fitness models training for a fitness competition can reduce total carbs down to 30% and some bodybuilders eat up to 50% of their total calories in protein. If you’re really committed and focused, you’ll eventually discover your ideal macronutrients and what works best for your body type.
For muscle gaining programs
Make sure that you should be bulking to begin with. If you already have a significant amount of fat to lose, it pays to follow a fat loss program before focusing on gaining size.
If you’re making significant gains in muscle size, keep following a baseline of 50% carbs, 20% fat and 30% protein.
If you feel like you haven’t gained any size, increase your by calories by 100 each week and maintain the same macros until you start noticing a significant increase. As you start to fill out, increase your protein and decrease your carbs to minimize fat gains. As you increase your protein by 5%, decrease your carbs by 5% and keep fat at a constant total of 20%. For example, if you increase protein to 35%, decrease carbs down to 45% and keep fat at 20%. Only make changes if you feel like you’re not getting any results. Keep going until you hit a total of 45% or 50% of protein. This is quite an abundant intake of protein and you’ll never need to exceed these figures.
If you feel like you’ve gained fat, reduce your total calories by 100 and increase your protein by 5% until you start seeing positive changes. Never exceed more than 45% or 50% of your total calories in protein. Reduce your carbs as you increase your protein and keep fat intake at a constant 20%. For example, if you increase protein by 5%, decrease carbs by 5%. You might end up with a figure of 35% protein, 45% carbs and 20% fat.
Here are some general rules:
If you’re carb intolerant or training to get super lean, always increase protein and fats and decrease your carbs according to results.
Never drop fat intake below 15% or increase it above 30%
Never drop protein intake below 25% or increase it above 50%
Never drop carbs below 25% or increase above 60%
Only tweak your diet if you’re not seeing any results. Remember that changes in your body are meant to be slow and gradual and as long as your body is transforming, don’t change anything. Only adjust according to your progress and make sure to give yourself at least two to three weeks without seeing any changes before deciding that you’re not progressing. Make sure that you’re supporting your diet with regular exercise in the gym.