Creating a proper meal plan that is suitable for one’s health or fitness goals is definitely the most important aspect of any fitness journey. Our bodies require adequate energy to be able to perform at their best, which can only be achieved from ensuring that we are incorporating the right types of food into our daily diets. If you have a specific fitness goal in mind, or you simply want to practice a healthier lifestyle, the first thing you should focus on is getting your diet on the right track.
While meal planning may seem time consuming in the initial stages of structuring your diet, you will find that it becomes second nature with consistent practice, and actually saves you from the headache of trying to decide what to eat last minute. I’ve found that whenever I don’t plan my meals ahead of time, I’m more tempted to grab the quickest thing on hand, which isn’t always the healthiest option. Not being conscious of your daily diet is where bad eating habits are often developed, which will most likely lead you further away from your fitness/health goals.
I’ve been super intentional with creating healthier eating habits, ever since I began taking my fitness more seriously over the past year, which has definitely been very rewarding (I do have to admit that I sometimes fall off track, but for the most part, I try my best to stick to a meal plan). If you’re looking to take your fitness to the next level with proper dieting, keep reading for my top six meal planning tips, which I’ve found to be very effective throughout my fitness journey.
Find out your Maintenance Calories
As I mentioned in my previous fitness post, proper dieting is not just about the types of food you’re eating, but it also has a lot to do with the quantity of your meals. Learning about calories was the first thing that set me on the right path of my fitness journey. Before being more aware of this, I’d just mindlessly eat what I felt like eating, at no set time of the day. When I started tracking my caloric intake using MyFitnessPal, I realized that I was way below my maintenance calories, even though I really wanted to be above that in order to promote weight gain. So, for anyone who’s just starting out and has no clue where to begin with adjusting their calories, the first thing I’d suggest is finding out your maintenance calories. Everyone requires a different amount, depending on factors such as gender, age, weight, height and regular activity levels. I learned my required maintenance calories from the coaching programs I mentioned in my previous fitness post, but there are numerous online resources available (MyFitnessPal also calculates your maintenance calories, once you provide the required information during sign-up).
Other free resources to calculate your maintenance calories (it’s important to note that calorie calculators are not 100% accurate. I compared my results from these two sites to my professional Dietitian’s, and they were very close):
Learn about Macronutrients
Macronutrients, also called macros, refer to nutrients that are required in relatively large amounts, for bodily growth and function. There are three essential types of macros : Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats (Alcohol is technically also a macronutrient, but it isn’t required for survival, and therefore, it’s normally not grouped with the rest). Each play critical roles in the health and overall performance of our bodies, so it is necessary that they are being appropriately incorporated into our daily diet. Learning about the relationship between macronutrients and calories is a very important step in meal planning, as this will help in determining the quantity of each macro to incorporate into your meals.
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates= 4 calories per gram
- Fats= 9 calories per gram
While both protein and fats can also be utilized for energy, carbohydrates are the primary sources that the body uses, as they are broken down faster and more easily. Protein provides amino acids, which are the building blocks for our bodies. If you are looking to gain muscles, it is especially important that you’re adding enough protein to your diet, so as to stimulate muscle growth. Fats, while hated by many, are also very important in our diets; they act sort of like “back-up” energy sources, and are often utilized when there is a caloric deficit (which is mainly how weight loss occurs). Fats are also important for insulation, and other bodily functions.
Learn more about marconutrients here:
Make a grocery list
Once you’ve learnt about macronutrients, calories, and have figured out your maintenance calories, the next step is getting into the practical part of meal planning- which of course begins with grocery shopping. Have you ever gone to the grocery store with “an idea” of what you wanted to purchase, and came out with a whole bunch of questionable food items? Fast forward to a few days later, and you’re ordering take-out, because you “don’t know what to cook“. Making a simple, yet detailed grocery list will ensure that you’re buying the necessary food items required to create a healthy meal plan, and will also prevent you from either overspending on random items, or missing important items needed for your meals.
While meal prepping does require some extra time in the kitchen, it’s definitely worth it. Meal prepping allows you to have your meals and snacks ready to go throughout the week, helping to avoid missing a meal.
With a busy schedule, this has really helped me to stay on track of my diet. I’ve found that when I neglect prepping my meals (I usually meal prep on Sundays), my eating habits throughout the week can be quite unfavourable.
There are different ways to meal prep. You just have to find which method works best for you.
Two methods that you can try out:
Cooking everything in one go : You could fully prepare all your meals for the week and freeze/refrigerate them.
Prepping & storing ingredients : You could prep all the ingredients you will need for your meals & snacks, such as your vegetables and fruits, and store them in efficient storage container/ Ziploc bags, until you’re ready to make them. I prefer this method, as I like having fresh meals (I usually cook enough for 2-3 days, then I’ll prepare the rest of my meals after).
Track your calories & macros
When prepping your meals, it’s important to ensure that each meal will meet your calorie and macronutrient goals. One way to make tracking this much simpler and accurate, is to weigh the portions of food you will be eating in each meal. You can then enter this amount into a calorie tracker, such as MyFitnessPal, to get the amount of calories and macros each meal/snack adds up to. When I just started tracking my calories, I would weigh almost everything (Exhibit A….the picture below :/ ), which got tedious after a while. Since I now have a good idea of the amount of calories I get from my meals, I rarely use the scale. If you’re just starting out with tracking your calories, I highly suggest weighing the contents of your meals, so as to ensure that you’re being as accurate as possible (probably not as drastic as weighing your fruits, though).
Treat Yo’ Self
Tracking calories and being strict about every single meal you eat can be draining and quite boring. I like to follow the 80/20 rule – this is where about 80% of my meals reflect my fitness/health goals, and 20% is for treating myself….meaning, I eat whatever the heck I want, without feeling guilty or anxious about it.
Whether you’re working on losing or gaining weight, or simply creating a healthier lifestyle, it’s important to remember that everything in life should have a balance. Those three slices of pizza, a pop, or a side of fries on a Friday night will not set you back. A healthy diet is not a destination, it’s a lifetime journey, sprinkled with little treats along the way. As long as you know that the majority of your diet aligns with your health/fitness goals, don’t feel guilty about those occasional treats. You’ve been eating healthy all week…Treat your damn self, Love… You deserve it 😉
Ps. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and I hope you found these tips helpful! Feel free to drop some of your meal planning tips down in the comments. Until next time! xoxo