Meal plans are vital when you’re trying to bring structure to your weight loss journey. Although it's not the only method that will bring you results, it's one of the most effective. Following a plan that is designed to help you reach your long-term goals, prepping your meals in advance, and staying mindful of your eating habits is a surefire way to lose weight. But where can you start?
Determine your calorie intake
You can only begin to create a meal plan after you’ve determined the number of calories you should eat each day. This is done by calculating your basal metabolic rate, as explained in the linked article. You then have to break down the total calorie need into macronutrient need: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Let's use a 25-year-old woman Lucy as a case study. She weighs 65 kg, is 165 centimeters tall, and she works out 3 days a week. Lucy wants to tone her body and lose body fat, so we calculated that she can eat 1,750 calories as the starting point of her fat loss journey. Lucy can eat 130 grams of protein, 60 grams of fats, and 170 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Once you have established the appropriate ratios for each macronutrient, you’ll have the foundation on which to build your meal plan.
Break down your daily regimen
Step 2 is to decide how you want to break down your daily regimen. Of course, we know that every person has a different schedule.
The typical schedule of a person who works full time:
- 8:00 - Wake up. I suggest we all start the day with a glass of water.
- 8:30 - The first meal of the day (breakfast).
- 11:00 - The second meal of the day (a snack).
- 13:00 - The third meal of the day (lunch).
- 16:30 - The fourth meal of the day (a snack). For some people, this might also be a pre workout snack if they work out right after work.
- 18:00 - Exercising.
- 20:00 - The fifth meal of the day (dinner).
- 21:00 - Some clients also have a late night snack, which is around 21:00.
- 23:00 - Bedtime.
According to this schedule, we now know exactly how many meals per day you are going to eat and when exactly you plan to eat them; suddenly, it’s much easier to plan your meals and prepare some of them ahead of time.
Strategically plan out your meals
For step three, you must strategically plan out your meals. For this step, I would suggest you work with a professional wellness coach or a dietitian. They will give you insight on how exactly to plan your meals so that you can meet your goals.
Let's plan Lucy's meals:
- For breakfast, Lucy should have around 350 calories. Those calories should contain protein, fats, and carbs.
- At 11:00, she has a snack. We'll keep that snack at around 250 calories, and it includes a protein and a carb.
- At 1 pm, she has lunch, which is the main meal of the day. She consumes 400 calories and enjoys a very balanced meal with protein, fats, and carbs.
- At 4:30 pm, she has her pre workout meal, which consists mostly of protein and contains around 200 calories.
- After her workout, she has dinner and consumes 350 calories that should be comprised of only proteins and fats. She should not eat any complex carbohydrates before bed (only fibrous vegetables) if she wishes to help herself achieve her fat loss goals.
- As a late night snack, she can have some protein, or a combination of protein and fat, adding up to 200 calories.
Once we have a strategic plan, we can start to break it down. How exactly are we going to fit food into the allocated numbers of calories? Of course, there are many apps online that can help you to calculate your macros. For many people, this can get a little bit complicated, which is why I would advise working with your coach; they can advise you on which types of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats to choose.
Allocate your macronutrients
No matter what foods you choose, you should have a basic understanding of how to allocate your macros throughout the day.
In Lucy’s case, we agreed that she should have 130 grams of protein each day. According to our strategic plan, she should have protein in every meal, so she should divide 130 grams into six meals, which rounds out to around 21 grams of protein per meal.
Now, what foods comprise 21 grams of protein?
- Three whole eggs
- 100 grams of chicken breast
- One serving of a protein powder
- 100 grams of salmon
All of these options would give her roughly 21 grams of protein.
What about fats? Lucy can have 60 grams of fat each day, so she needs to divide that amount into three meals of the day, meaning that she should get about 20 grams of fat per meal (or, if she eats four meals per day, 15 grams of fat).
What contains that amount of fat?
- In addition to 21 grams of protein, three whole eggs contain 15 grams of fat.
- Two tablespoons of peanut butter have around 20 grams of fat.
- Half an avocado gives you roughly 15 to 20 grams of fat.
- Two tablespoons of olive oil contain around 20 grams of fat.
After you figure out your protein and fats, it's time to add carbohydrates to your plate. We agreed that Lucy needs to have 170 grams of carbs for the day, divided across three meals (56 grams of carbs per meal).
The following list provides a few ideas for Lucy’s carb consumption:
- Sixty grams of oats provide 40 grams of carbs
- Fifty grams of rice has 36 grams of carbs
- Seventy grams of buckwheat provide 51 grams of carbs
- One banana would give you 27 grams of carbohydrates.
Create a shopping list
Plan next week's recipes, keeping in mind these guidelines. Aim for variety, focus on simplicity, and make sure you choose meals that will excite you. Plan what types of protein, carbs, or fats you will have next week.
After you know the ingredients you want to try next week, go ahead and make your shopping list. If you follow these guidelines, you will stay disciplined with your eating habits.
Once you have the ingredients in your fridge, you are less likely to fail to prepare your meals. Also, with a shopping list on hand, you are more likely to stick to your weekly budget, too.
Prepare your meals
Last but not least—you must plan how you are going to prepare your meals ahead of time.
It highly depends on your daily schedule: some people can cook every single day, others can cook only once every three days. Take me, for example. I make fresh breakfast every day, but I prepare my lunches three days ahead of time. Also, I make dinner from scratch every night.
You have to structure your meal preparation plan according to your lifestyle to make it work for you. The most important thing is to not fail to plan; if you are unable to map out your choices, it will be very, very difficult to stick to a meal plan.
All it takes is a little bit of time invested when it comes to planning your meals:
- Map out a strategic plan.
- Start by learning your baseline calorie need.
- Break down these calories into proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Structure your meal composition according to your daily schedule.
- Create a grocery shopping list.
- Prepare your meals and start reaching your goals.
Is creating a meal plan sound easy to you? Join Kilo Fit Academy, get certified and help others reach their fitness goals!