What Should I Eat?
As a personal trainer, I get this question a lot. I have put a lot of thought into whether or not to offer a meal plan outline, and found a lot of different opinions in my research. The biggest personal conflict I had was that it while it would give clients a great starting point, there are far too many factors that affect what your personal meal plan should look like for me to just create a generic plan. Fortunately, there are a lot of basic guidelines anyone can follow.
So instead of offering something I am not entirely comfortable with, I decided to create this guide to explain how I personally make my own meal plan, and how you can discover information about your body in order to create the plan that works best for you. To start off, we will calculate what your typical calorie expenditure is in a day. This will include your body’s resting rate, plus any contributions from your lifestyle and physical activity. Then, we will discuss a bit about macronutrients, and how to portion them correctly to get as much energy and reward from your meal plan as possible.
How Many Calories Should I Be Eating?
The first step in the process is to figure out your caloric expenditure.
The next step in meal planning is figuring out what percentage of those calories should come from which macronutrient. Macros are the building blocks of food and determine their caloric value. I won’t go too into the science behind these in this post, but if you are looking for more information, let me know! For meal planning, you just need to know the basic functions. There are 3 types of macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Protein is your muscle builder. Our bodies break proteins down into amino acids, and use them to build and repair muscle in the body. It is broken down slowly in the stomach, helping us to feel full longer. Protein also has a high thermic effect, which means it is hard for your body to digest, so you actually end up burning calories just by eating it!
Carbohydrates are your major energy source. There are a few types of carbohydrates: complex carbohydrates, sugar, and fiber. Complex carbohydrates are broken down fairly slowly, and help restore your energy reserves in your muscles. Sugar is digested very quickly and will give you almost instant energy, but can also lead to a quick energy crash as well. Fiber is a slowly digested carbohydrate that helps you stay satiated for a longer period of time, and helps improve digestion.
Once you have a caloric goal, you need to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of each macronutrient as well in order to get your body running at its prime. It is important to mention that this is very dependent on how your body works, and to only use this as a guideline. This is just my personal experience combined with what I have learned from my research. I highly recommend doing some self-experimentation, and seeing what helps you feel your best. Follow this plan for 2 weeks, then maybe play with your carb or fat percentages to see how it affects your energy levels.
Start with your protein intake. I recommend about 0.8 – 1.0g of protein for every lb of lean body weight.
Lean Body Weight = [total body weight x (100 – body fat %)]/100
Ex) My lean body weight = [125lbs x (100 – ~20%)]/100 = 100g
So I need between 80 and 100g protein a day
This should ideally be around 25% of your caloric intake for the day, depending on what your goals are.
Next, calculate your fats intake. This should be about 20-35% of your daily caloric intake. Athletes should stay towards the lower end of the range, because you will require a higher carbohydrate intake. Spread your intake of proteins and fats evenly throughout the day, except with your workouts (details in next paragraph).
Carbohydrates should make up the remainder of your daily calories, usually 35-55% of your intake. You have an extra decision here though, which is what type of carbohydrates to have and at what time. Use your own judgement here. Think about what times of the day you will need the most energy, and when you can afford to run off your energy stores. Here are a few tips you can follow:
Breakfast: High protein, some carbs and fats
Pre-Workout: Quick carbohydrates with some protein, low fat
Post-Workout: Both quick and slow carbohydrates with protein, low fat
Dinner: Protein with fibers (ex: veggies)
With this information, you should be able to set up a great meal plan to start working towards your goals. Always keep making minor adjustments to make the plan even better for you. Some bodies run better on high-carb while other people seem to have more stable energy levels on a low-carb high-fat plan. It can also be dependent on what your exercise routine is. As always, I am available if you need any help. Contact me anytime for questions or learn more about my customized meal and fitness plans. Good luck! 🙂