The Benefits of Meal Planning
There are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to meal planning. Sometimes it is done quite naively by some ‘influencers’ online. However, it can have a huge benefit for people when they are looking to build a realistic concept of food and nutrition. Having a realistic and successful approach to food is vital if you ever want to lose weight or build muscle successfully.
Let me share with you the importance of meal planning and how it can have a positive impact on your health, fitness and, for most people, your weight.
The Importance of Diet and Nutrition When Building Muscle or Losing Weight
You could workout every single day, you could have an awesome personal trainer, you could attend numerous fitness bootcamps and you could have the best equipped gym but, if you have no control or concept of your nutrition, you will always struggle and be unsuccessful in achieving your weight loss goals or building lean muscle. In terms of building muscle, the 3 main components you need to focus on are:
- Consuming enough calories – To build muscle we need to be in a calorie surplus, as we need the body to be in an anabolic state (adding mass to the body). Building muscle is possible in a calorie deficit, especially if you carry large amounts of body fat, however it is extremely complicated and difficult. With my clients who are looking to build lean muscle we aim for a surplus of 200-500 calories. This means they are eating 200-500 calories more than what they are burning.
- Eating enough protein – To add sufficient muscle to the body and for it to recover effectively from training we need to be eating enough protein. A good starting point for my male clients is 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight and female 0.8g of protein per pound of bodyweight. If my clients are overweight, you can imagine this number will be extremely high but, in general, these clients wouldn’t be focusing on building muscle so losing weight is usually our first objective.
- Effective training programs – We need to put sufficient stress on the muscle to force them to adapt and grow so a successful and structured training program which focuses on hypertrophy (muscle building) will need to be followed
In terms of looking to lose fat, there is only one component you need to focus on:
Calorie deficit – Please don’t let anyone ever tell you differently, because a lot of people will. By being in a calorie deficit, you put the body into a catabolic state (losing mass). Simply put, you need to be burning more calories than what you are consuming. Exercise, weight lifting, keto (no carbs), shake diets, weight watchers and slimming world will only work when you are in a calorie deficit. You want to be aiming to be in a calorie deficit of around 300-500 calories. I typically start my clients off in roughly a 500 deficit. For example, if my client typically burns 2600 calories a day and wants to lose fat, they will be looking to consume around 2100 a day.
So as you can see, food and nutrition is the most important factor in determining if you lose weight or build muscle, so it’s important that we have a successful approach to it. This is why meal planning can be the perfect solution for a lot of people.
What You Need to Do Before You Meal Plan
Before you do a meal plan, you need to decide what you are doing a meal plan for. With over a decade of experience in health and fitness, I can honestly say there is no one size that fits all. Before you decide on a meal plan, you need to have certain things in order so you can create a successful, sustainable and enjoyable plan.
- Establish your goal. Are you looking to lose weight/fat, or build lean muscle? Don’t get caught in the vicious cycle of doing both. Choose one, stick to it for a few months and if you then get the desired results you want to change your goal, then go for it!
- Work out how many calories and how much protein you need to be consuming for your goal. There is no point in meal planning if you have no idea how much your body actually needs!
- Write a list of foods you like and dislike so you can be creative and enjoy the meals you want to eat.
- Find an app to log and create meals plans and recipes so all numbers match. Two apps I recommend are MyfitnessPal and Eat This Much. Both are free platforms that give you everything you need.
How to Create a Meal Plan Properly
Now you know how much you need to be consuming in terms of calories, it’s time to create your own actual meal plans. This may seem quite daunting and complicated for people, but this is the easiest and most enjoyable thing to do when done properly. Let me share with you how I and all my clients do it. Remember, I have already said there is no one rule that fits all, so this is the part where you need to let your love and passion for food take over.
First thing I need you to do is decide how many meals you like to eat a day. Don’t feel any pressure to do a certain set of meals. Choose as many as you want. Once you decide how many you want, divide your daily calorie number by the number of meals you have chosen. For example, if you need to eat 2100 calories a day need 150g of protein and want to eat 3 meals a day, each meal should be 700 calories and contain 50g of protein.
Now you know exactly how many calories and protein you need, go and have fun on the apps I have previously mentioned and create your own meals with your calorie numbers in mind. Yes, eat whatever you want! That’s the whole point of a successful meal plan; try though keep your meal plans fresh, full of goodness, fibre, fruit and veg as much as possible.
An awesome tip to what I do is I buy all my favourite chefs’ books like Gordan Ramsay and Jamie Oliver etc, I choose recipes I love, put their ingredients in the apps, adjust the ingredients to fit into my calories and protein. And just like that, I am eating awesome food in my meal plan that is going to get me my desired results!
Another tip is to have “go to meals”. These meals are already prepped and in the freezer ready if I am ever in a rush, had a long day or the kids have been playing up. It means I can grab it out of the freezer, cook it up in 30 mins and be good to go, still getting all the calories I need.
How Meal Planning Can Help You Get Results
Meal planning gives you the best opportunity to plan and educate yourself on food, and how much your body really needs. People tend to panic and get overwhelmed with food and being healthy, and I find it’s because so many people keep playing the guessing game.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “James, I am eating really healthily but still not getting results”. Eating “healthy” is just not enough. You can still eat too much healthy stuff and put on weight! By taking your time with meal plans, you can empower yourself to know what is going on in your body and that will only ever encourage great results.
In my weight loss boot camps, this is the method I educate and explore with all my clients, and never does it not go down well. In fact, it’s not unusual for clients to get emotional as some have spent decades and a huge majority of their life worrying about food and health, and the fact I give them the power and tools for them to take complete control of their food and nutrition through meal planning is quite euphoric for them.
Always remember with meal planning, there is no “one rule fits all” and it must always be fun!
Overall Benefits of Meal Planning
- Gives you structure with your food which reduces the chances of slipping up
- You can monitor what you are consuming
- Gives you the opportunity to take control of your own health and food and not having to rely on someone else
- Gives you the opportunity to eat the foods you love and enjoy and still get results
- Gives you the opportunity to really educate yourself on calories and protein and what they look like on a plate
- Helps you build a positive relationship with food and cooking
- You get to learn what your body personally needs
- Don’t have to endure the stress of following fads or going on rapid weight loss camps or retreats
- Saves you money in the long term
- You can enjoy losing weight!