A meal plan, often recommended by nutritionists, entails mapping out what you’re going to eat over a certain period. In my years as a San Diego Personal Trainer, I’ve observed the incredible impact that a well-structured diet can have on body composition, muscle development, and even weight loss. I believe it ranks right up there with the other really important factors that affect your fitness progress and overall health as well. I’ve seen clients go from zero to hero on account of a few tweaks to their nutrition plan, illustrating the mind-body connection. Meal prepping is crucial to controlling food, rather than the other way around. It helps you track what nutrients you’re giving your body, thereby ensuring more say over your wellness while saving both time and money. Yet, just 3 in 10 Americans have a weekly meal plan of any kind, meaning there’s a vast opportunity for many to improve their health goals. I’ve put together this personal training meal guide, with complementary nutrition tips, to ensure you’re fueling your body the right way. Let’s get the ball rolling.
Think ahead, but not too far ahead
Most people, following the advice of a nutritionist, write down a meal plan for an entire week. Some even go as far as one month, and others as little as three days, to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss. So which is it? What’s the best meal plan duration or length?
Here’s my take:
- Start small: As a beginner, start with a three-day plan to dip your feet in the water. But ideally, I’d recommend planning meals for the week so you can shop just once at the end of the week.
- Go long if short on time: For the super busy professional, with little time to spare for shopping and meal planning, making a monthly meal plan is ideal
- The convenient way: Simply plan your meals to match the duration between shopping trips
Work with what you have first
What foods do you currently have tucked away in your cupboards over the freezer? Don’t start from scratch. Incorporate these meals into your first week to make room for healthier choices that will contribute to your muscle growth and overall body composition.
A kitchen inventory or list is a great way to keep track of what you have in your pantry, fridge, and shelves. You can readily find a kitchen inventory template online, or create a simple one the old fashion way with pen and paper.
Each week may be different
For most people, some weeks are busier than others. Nutritionists suggest planning easy-to-prepare meals around your high-activity windows. Here are some quick and easy meals recommended by the top gyms in San Diego:
- Spinach Carbonara with a side of easy pea – boosts bone and skin health
- Sesame Noodles and chicken – an excellent low-fat, protein-rich option
- Pumpkin pie Oatmeal – is a great way to start a demanding day
The great news is that these meals aren’t just super healthy. You can be in and out of the kitchen in less than 20 minutes. For on-the-go nutrition, carry fruit snacks alongside the meals you pack for work or school.
Figuring out how to eat
San Diego fitness experts recommend the rule of threes for meal plans, which I’m all for as well because I find that it offers a great balance. Here’s what this strategy is all about:
- Consume 3 snacks and 3 meals daily. Go with the meal-snack-meal formula
- Eat every 3 hours. Our digestive systems get through food in 3 hours, 4 tops. So you want to eat every 3 hours. Achieve this by bridging meals with snacks
- Shoot for 3 food groups per meal: According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the primary food groups include dairy, protein, grains, vegetables, and fruits
Now you want to can create a list of what to eat each day by time, i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner, with provisions for snack ideas between each category specifically designed to support muscle development and weight loss. For every category, include 7 to 10 meal ideas and tick off what meals you’ve had as you work your way through the week.
Figuring out what to eat
If you’ve made it this far, you probably have a template going of what your meal plan will look like, created with your health goals in mind. Now, it’s time to fill in the blanks, and here’s how we’ll go about this. I’ll recommend healthy and tasty menu ideas across those primary categories recognized by the USDA. Then you can be the judge of how you want to combine them to benefit your overall body composition. Remember, you’ll need to cover at least 3 food groups – the more, the merrier – in every meal i.e. breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Let’s talk grains – the most nutritious ones include corn, pasta, potatoes, rice, granola, bagels, corn, cereals, and crackers
- On to Proteins – Think nuts, tempeh, tofu, eggs, dried beans, fish, beef, pork, chicken, and hummus
- What about veggies or fruits? Cauliflowers, grapes, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, apples, and celery are a great places to start
- Fats and oils: I’d also like to add another food category to your meal plan called fats or oils. Here, you want to prioritize nuts, avocado, and other healthy sources of fats
- Dairy – Greek yogurt and cheese are excellent choices in the dairy category. As are kefir and plain milk. If you are lactose intolerant, consider soy milk or coconut milk
Of course, don’t just limit yourself to these possibilities. There are many more healthy food ideas beyond this list. Talk to a personal trainer or consult with a nutritionist near me if you are unsure what food options work best for your physiology and goals.
Keeping yourself accountable
According to a report by Fox News, 5 in 10 Americans ditch their diets, often leading to unwanted weight gain, typically during the holidays. In other words, this means that about 50% of meal planning fails. A meal plan means very little if there’s no way to keep yourself accountable. It’s important that you have mechanisms or systems in place to ensure you stay the course.
As a personal trainer in San Diego, I find these accountability techniques work best:
- Use visual cues: Write out your meal plan on a piece of paper or print it out. Or, get a wall calendar. Visual cues can offer great encouragement to achieve your goals
- Join groups: As with every challenge in life, things get easier when you’re working in a group.
- Rely on a meal planning app: I’ll not recommend any specific apps. But go for one that can help you count your calories, plan meals per day, and set reminders
Making your meal plan work
It’s easy to slouch on your meal plan and sink into unhealthy habits due to the work that comes with it. I find that it helps to lean on the cook-and-freeze approach. Cook in large batches when you have the time, e.g. over the weekends or during your off days. Split your batches into portion-sized containers and store them in the freezer for those lazy nights when you don’t feel like lifting a finger. Also, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You can let a personal fitness trainer at IronOrrFitness take the lead so you don’t have to start at the drawing board.