by Rob Wise
Fall weather is here and with colder weather usually comes less physical activity and delicious holiday foods which we enjoy on a more frequent basis. Meal planning is crucial for staying on track and if you want to see success in your weight loss, weight gain or muscle building journey. One of the struggles I encounter when dialing in my nutrition is staying on track and hitting my macros. Macros is an abbreviation for macronutrients which are your proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. We are not getting into deep science here, but I think this is a good first place to start as these 3 things are incredibly important to a meal planning program. I am also not going to dive into crazy diets or extremes here (sorry no recipes!).
We start by goal setting. How much weight do you want to lose, versus needing to lose (or weight gain for some people)? It’s important to understand setting realistic goals too. 30 pounds in 30 days is setting yourself up for failure. Realistic weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week, so if you need to lose 30 pounds expect it to take 15-30 weeks! One of the hardest things about weight loss is how long it can take. Keep track daily or weekly (ideally weekly as fluctuations in water or time in day you are measuring may affect the number on the scale). Don’t rush weight loss because the science will support that the slower the pace the more success, you’ll have in keeping the weight off, and the less stress it puts on your body. Take before and after pictures. The scale doesn’t always tell the full story, and unless you know exactly where you tape measured, it may not have been on the correct part of the body when you remeasure. I have also found when you set milestones within your goals, such as in 3 months you’ve lost xx amount of weight, go celebrate by eating your favorite meal, or maybe enjoy a non-food related reward for achieving success! Once you have your goals set, next is determining your food requirements.
Protein, which contains amino acids and are the building blocks of muscle tissue has 4 calories per gram and is slower to digest in the body which could lend towards the sensation of feeling fuller. Carbohydrates provides us a readily source of fuel for performance and may have a positive or negative impact on blood sugar but contains 4 calories per gram as well. Fats are an important energy source for the body but could also be a source in which energy is stored. Fats are typically listed as polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated. Fat carries 9 calories per gram so consuming 10 grams of fat will lead to 90 calories consumed versus protein/carbs at 10 grams is 40 calories. So needless to say, it will be easy to spill over on your daily calories with a high fat diet!
So, how many calories do I need? Well, that depends on many factors but for simplicity we are going to use calculations from your total daily energy expenditure. This is a estimation of how many calories you burn per day when physical activity is taken into account. I stress the importance of estimation as it is not an exact science, and some tweaking of calories may need to be conducted. A good calculator to get you started (among many) is at https://tdeecalculator.net/ . You’ll enter your gender, age, weight, height, body fat (if known) and activity level into the calculator and it will tell you your estimated caloric needs to maintain, gain or lose weight. As this is not perfect, my recommendation with any calculator is to start with recommended caloric deficit (if trying to lose weight) and after a week if you don’t notice a difference than go ahead and reduce by 250 calories weekly until you notice weight loss occurring. It’s important that extremes are not taken when trying to gain or lose weight. With crash dieting, you’ll almost guaranteed to hit a plateau, get the dieting blues, and gain weight back (if not more weight than when you started!). These calculators can be very close, so this is the first stop in meal planning!
From there you’ll have a few options especially if you do not have time to make food or prep food for the week. MyFitnessPal is a popular app amongst dieters that allows record keeping making sure you are hitting your macronutrient breakdown, although other apps exist which may be free or cost a nominal fee but do wonders versus keeping a journal which may require extensive work to keep records. Some calculators will also give suggestions on how many carbs, protein and fats to consume but here is some helpful advice. I will also say this now, buy a good food scale, as it will help in measuring out food and portions much easier! The most trusted advice on macronutrient breakdown is 45-65% of your daily calories come from carbs (whole grains and vegetables, non-processed), 20-35% from fats (healthy fats such as nuts, olive oils, avocados, etc.) and 10-35% from protein (high quality lean meats such as chicken, fish and beef). Let’s create an example!
Let’s say I am a 30-year-old female, 5 foot 5 inches, 190 pounds with a sedentary lifestyle/job, bodyfat unknown. If I use the calculator from the site, I mentioned above the breakdown is:
Maintenance calories: 1,899 per day or 13,295 per week.
In order to lose 1 pound per week, I need to create a 500-calorie deficit (this website is amazing breaking down all the info!). Using a 30/35/35 (moderate carb breakdown).
Protein: 105 grams
Fat: 54 grams
Carbohydrates: 122 grams
This individual will spend up to two weeks following this plan and if weight loss is not seen, they should start to lower 250 calories per day OR increase activity level, the latter being the preferred.
Once we know how many calories per day, the fun part is getting the food, and the recipes together. I strongly encourage variety in your meal planning. I LOVE to break out my glass storage containers and make my food 1-2 weeks in advance (or non-frozen 5 days in advance). Glass of course because if you are microwaving the meals, you do not want to get chemicals from plastic in your food. Meal prepping in advance will help prevent those cravings when you had a stressful day and there is no food ready. Meal prep does require a day to get the food together, but the reward with not having to think about what you are eating or not having to make a meal after that long day will be significant. You won’t be likely to run through the fast-food line which could throw off your macros for the day/week. I don’t mind eating the same thing for a week in a row, as I know how many calories, I get plus it makes shopping easier. If you don’t want to spend the time making your food in advance, having an idea of WHAT you want to eat for the day in advance is important. This is where the MyFitnessPal can come in handy as you’ll be able to scan food bags or any food item with a barcode. There are endless recipes that are great for advanced meal planning or just cooking on the go. Look for recipes that list out the macronutrients so you can record against what your requirements are for that day.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be confusing; it just requires a bit of research on your end to see when you should hit your goals, what calories are needed to help you reach those goals, and some research to find the foods that will help you stay on track with meal planning. The worst thing you can do when it comes to your meal planning is not being prepared. Get ahead of the holiday weight gain and start meal prepping and setting your goals today!