How to Make a Meal Plan

Knowing how to make a meal plan is as important as being aware of how to make a workout plan. Especially if you want to reach your fitness goals in the most efficient way possible without hiring a fitness coach.

In fact, a proper meal plan might play a bigger role when you want to lose fat without losing muscle. On the other hand, optimal training may be slightly more important than nutrition if your goal is to build lean muscle.

Either way, both diet and training plan personalized to you are crucial in order to achieve great results. The downside is that it can cost you a hefty amount if you opt to seek guidance from professionals.

Therefore, this article explains how to make a meal plan based on macros on your own. It includes a step-by-step guide as well as some actionable tips that will help you become better at meal prepping.

Step 1: Calculate Maintenance Calories

The first step when making your meal plan is to know how much you should be eating every day to stay exactly the same. In other words, you have to calculate your maintenance calories.

To do that you can use one of many TDEE calculators. You could also use a fairly simple formula like the one below:

Bodyweight (lb) X 15 (if you use your body weight in pounds)
Bodyweight (kg) X 15 X 2.2 (if you use your body weight in kilograms)

Here’s an example of how it would look:

180 X 15 = 2700
180 X 15 X 2.2 = 2700

The result you will get is an estimate of your maintenance calories. This means that you would want to test if it is actually right. To do that I would recommend eating that amount of food for a couple of weeks, as well as monitoring your body weight. An app like MyFitnessPal or a calorie counter spreadsheet could help to keep track of your daily calorie intake.

If you observe that you start losing weight – you are eating below your maintenance level or TDEE. Weight gain means that you are eating above your TDEE level. If you maintain your body weight, then you eat around your maintenance calorie level.

Identify Calorie Expenditure

Step 2: Align the Calories to Your Goal

Then you want to tailor that maintenance calorie level to your personal fitness goal. When creating a cutting diet plan for fat loss, decrease the maintenance calorie level by 20-25%. This will make you lose fat at an advised rate of about 0.5-1 kg per week or 1-2 lb per week.

Nevertheless, if your goal is to build muscle without putting on excess body fat then you want to consume 75-125 kcal more than your TDEE level. An appropriate calorie surplus on a lean bulk diet depends on your training experience level and initial body composition.

Caloric surplus when lean bulking depending on training experience

Therefore, someone who is new to weight lifting and is not afraid of putting some body fat along the way, the number could be higher. For example, a calorie surplus of about 200-400 kcal.

Lastly, to maintain your current body weight, you would have to eat at your maintenance level.

Step 3: Set up Your Macros

Since this article explains how to make a meal plan based on macros, the next step is setting up protein, carbs and fats.

Recommended Reading: How to Calculate Macros for Cutting

How Much Protein in a Day?

It’s recommended to consume about 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. For example, an individual who weighs 82 kilograms or 180 pounds should consume around 180 grams of protein a day. Then you can multiply that number by 4 to see how many calories that amount of protein will be worth since 1 gram of protein has 4 calories.

Here is an example:

Bodyweight – 180 lb or 82 kg
180 X 1 = 180 (grams of protein)
82 X 2.2 = 180 (grams of protein)
180 X 4 = 720 (kcal from protein)

How Many Fats in a Day?

Research indicated that an optimal amount of fats for most individuals is somewhere between 15-30% of the daily calorie intake. So, take the number of your total calorie intake aligned with your goal and multiple it by 15-30%. You will get a number of calories for fats. After which, if you divide that number by 9. This will show how many grams of fats that is since 1 gram of fats has 9 calories.

For example, it could look like this:

Calories for losing fat – 2000 kcal
The chosen proportion of fats – 20%
2000 X 20% = 400 (kcal from fats)
400 / 9 = 45 (grams of fat)

How Many Carbs in a Day?

When you know how much protein and fats you should be eating, you can fill up the available calories with carbohydrates or “carbs”. Simply deduct the sum of calories from protein and fats. That’s how many calories you have left for carbohydrates. To find a number of grams, divide that number of calories by 4 since 1 gram of carbs has 4 calories.

An example is the following:

720 + 400 = 1120 (kcal from protein and fats)
2000 – 1120 = 880 (kcal from carbs)
880 / 4 = 220 (grams of carbs)

Step 4: Choose Your Meal Plan Approach

When you have figured out all the numbers for your meal plan, you can choose an approach you would want to follow when deciding what to eat. There are two very popular methods – flexible dieting and meal planning.

Flexible dieting approach allows you to whatever meals you want as long as they fit your caloric, macronutrient targets and some other guidelines. Such an approach allows you to be flexible with your meal choices and perhaps fit in some less healthy foods from time to time.

However, it requires you to have a good understanding of calories, macronutrients, or track your food with one of the calorie-tracking apps daily.

On the other hand, meal prepping method doesn’t require you to track your food intake at all times. When following this approach you would prep most of your meals on a set day for the upcoming days.

Nevertheless, it still means that your daily meal plan must fit your caloric and macronutrient goals. So, you would calculate calories and macronutrients for your meals before you start meal prepping. Then you would portion your meals properly for the days ahead.

Recommended Reading: Free Macro Meal Plan Template [Google Sheets]

Step 5: Create a Food Shopping List

To have success with meal planning you want to create a food shopping list before you go shopping for groceries. When creating a food list it’s best to categorize the foods by proteins, carbs, fruits & veggies, and healthy fats.

Food Shopping List Template

To get some inspiration for which foods to look for, check out my healthy food source list.

In addition, when grocery shopping you want to keep in mind some other guidelines regardless of your meal plan approach:

  • 80/20 rule – unprocessed foods 80% of the time, less healthy foods 20% of the time
  • 2-3 servings of fruits
  • 2-3 servings of veggies

By eating 2-3 serving of fruits and 2-3 servings of vegetables you can be sure that you consume enough fiber.

If you follow all the suggestions above you can be certain that your meal plan is healthy and well-balanced.

If you are wondering about how to structure your shopping list, feel free to get my free grocery list template in Google Sheets.

Step 6: Learn How to Meal Prep

You should also seek to become better at meal prepping, especially, if you aim to make a meal plan for a week. However, if flexible dieting is the method you picked, you could still benefit from it. Even if you don’t necessarily meal prep for multiple days ahead.

Here are some of the best meal prep tips:

1. Stock up Your Pantry

If you keep a well-stocked pantry you won’t need to buy those essentials in every grocery haul and you will improve the efficiency of meal prepping.

2. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk can reduce your spending significantly. Therefore, stock up on some of the pantry essentials and long-lasting products when you see that next great deal.

3. Batch Cook

If you plan to consume the same type of foods throughout the week, it’s smart to batch cook those foods. Simply, cook larger quantities of foods, and store them for later use. It will reduce the time you spent throughout the week on cooking greatly.

4. Plan to Use the Leftovers

By utilizing the leftovers you can also save some time. Try making enough food to have some leftovers and try it for yourself. For instance, the leftovers of various type of meats and poultry can be used for many different meals.

5. Make Use of the Freezer

You can use the freezer to store large batches of cooked foods or raw foods for the later use. Such an approach can reduce the total spending on groceries, as well as the time you spend cooking meals.

Step 7: Adjust Your Meal Plan When Needed

At last, you should also be aware of the necessary steps to take when your progress has stalled.

Fat Loss Plateau

When you have noticed that your fat loss rate has stalled and you don’t see any change on your body weight scale for 2 consecutive weeks. It might indicate that you plateaued.

To make the needle move once again, you need to be in a larger calorie deficit. You can achieve it by either increasing your daily activity level, by lowering your daily calorie intake or do a mix of both.

To increase the activity level, you could simply add an extra cardio session a week, or just walk more during the day. When it comes to decreasing the total number of calories it’s best to take away calories mostly from carbohydrates.

You could decrease the number of carbs by 25-40 grams at once, and see how your body reacts. You could also decrease the total amount of fats slightly but it should never be lower than 15% of your daily calorie intake. However, you don’t want to put yourself in a larger deficit by taking away calories from protein.

By following the recommendations above, you should be able to break through the fat loss plateau.

Weight Gain Plateau

On the other hand, if your rate of weight gain has stalled completely, and you want to keep getting heavier you simply have to eat more food. The best way of increasing your daily calorie intake would be by adding more carbohydrates since carbs are easier to consume. Try adding 25-40 grams of carbs at once and see if you start gaining weight again.

If the above-mentioned recommendation does not help, and you can’t seem to eat more carbs then you might have to utilize some other tricks. For example, you could try eating more calories by adding high calorie-dense foods into your diet.

For example, high calorie-dense foods like:

  • Nuts
  • Nut butter
  • Healthy oils
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Dried fruits
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Pasta
  • Cereal, muesli, granola

In addition, you could eat some less healthy foods time-to-time, since those foods are typically more calorie-dense than most of the healthy foods.

These strategies should make you the needle move again.

Key Takeaways of Making a Meal Plan

To make your own meal plan the necessary steps you should take are the following.

Calculate Maintenance Calories

Find out what are your maintenance calories, in other words, how much calories are you burning daily. You can find the number by using one of many TDEE calculators online, after which testing if the number actually represents your TDEE level.

Align the Calories to Your Goal

Then you want to tailor the number of maintenance calories towards your specific goal – losing fat, building muscle, etc. This is done by deducting or adding calories to your maintenance calorie level.

Set up Your Macros

The next step is to figure out the amount of protein, carbs and fats you will be consuming given the available calories.

Choose Your Meal Plan Approach

You should also choose which meal plan approach suits you best – flexible dieting or a structured meal planning method.

Create a Food Shopping List

It’s also important to have a food shopping list every time you go shopping for groceries. When making a food shopping list, it’s best to divide it by food categories like proteins, grains, fruits & veggies, healthy fats.

Learn How to Meal Prep

No matter what method you chose, flexible dieting or meal planning, you should be aware of how to meal prep. Such a skill can make your dieting journey more enjoyable and efficient. So, seek to become better at it.

Adjust Your Meal Plan When Needed

Finally, you should be knowledgeable of the steps to take whenever your progress stalls. That is when you stop seeing further weight loss when trying to lose fat or weight gain when putting on muscle.

And that is it, I hope that the article helped you learn how to make a meal plan to lose weight or to gain weight.

Contact me if you have questions about any fitness topic or need help to make a meal plan!

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