June 9th, 2017

Why I Don't Need a Meal Plan

byMic Manaras

After the last post about my journey into the world of health and fitness, I received a lot of requests for meal plans. Although I’m thankful for your trust in me, I don’t think you need me for that, I’d rather tell you about how you can use the same principles as me to succeed with your nutrition goals!

So let’s get things rolling, a customized meal plan is essentially a specific combination of calories and nutrient splits made to optimize your fitness and health goals.

The Problem

They work very nicely however you have to rely on someone to make it for you, there’s no flexibility, you usually have to pay for it and there’s no real understanding as to why it works. If you’re like me, I like to understand why I’m doing something, so I’d rather just explain how the simple math behind it works so you can eat flexibly and learn as you go!

The Secret (isn’t really a secret)

Leaning out or bulking up in a healthy way depends on three things: calorie amounts (deficit or surplus), appropriate macro splits (protein, carbs, fats) and adequate micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

(Obviously exercise is very important but I’m assuming you’ve got that under control, this blog is the nutritional side of things)

Before we continue, I strongly recommend downloading myfitnesspal, I swear by it and has made hitting my goals so easy, it’s a free calorie tracking app and will accelerate your progress and knowledge indefinitely, and you can start inputting as you’re reading this. (It’ll ask you a few questions about your stats and goals)

1 – Calories

We all know what calories are, but the three terms I needed to understand were maintenance, deficit and surplus.

Maintenance is the amount of calories which doesn’t increase or decrease my weight. It’s an important number to figure out because it’s the starting point to leaning out or bulking up. (myfitnesspal will do it for you)

Calorie Deficit (Fat Loss)

Essentially, when I want to lose weight I need to be at a calorie deficit. What does that mean? It means eating less calories than I burn. For example if my maintenance is 2,500 calories, I’ll eat 500 less calories per day. (Fun fact: 3,500 calories = 1lb of fat, so 500 calorie deficit over 7 days is 1lb of fat lost per week)

Calorie Surplus (Muscle Gain)

Opposite from the deficit, in order to gain weight, it’s important to eat at a consistent surplus, about 300-500 calories above maintenance per day to ensure your muscles are getting the most out of your workouts.

Before You Continue

In myfitnesspal set your goals and like magic it will give you the suggested daily calorie intake!

2 – Macros

Macros (or macronutrients) are the mix of calorie sources which make up our diet: protein, carbs and fats. I realized hitting my daily calorie goals without taking macros into consideration slowed down my progress tremendously. Once you get acquainted with myfitnesspal you’ll see that as importantly as hitting your calories will be hitting your protein, carb and fat goals.

The next section will be about setting your macros, in myfitnesspal (more->goals->calorie and macronutrient goals) you’ll have the option to select the macro percentages you’re about to see.

Protein: 25-30% (1g protein = 4 calories)

(usually around 0.8g-1g/lb body weight, for example I’m 150lbs, so between 0.8 = 120g protein and 1 = 150g protein daily)

Protein is fundamental for holding on to hard earned muscle when you’re losing fat and obviously for gaining muscle. In my personal opinion, hitting your daily protein is paramount.

Fat: 20-30% (1g fat = 9 calories)

Fats are very important hormonally, for brain function and also helps with absorbing certain vitamins, from what I’ve read I wouldn’t recommend going under 40g/day.

Carbs: 35-55% (1g carbs = 4 calories)

Carbs are the body’s main energy source and very important to function optimally. Usually after protein and fat goals are set, I eat as many carbs as the rest of my daily calories allow for.

Before You Continue

Please make sure you set your macros in myfitnesspal 🙂

3 – Micronutrients

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body needs to perform. I personally don’t track my micros in myfitnesspal but I do make sure a good part of my macros come from nutrient dense sources. Rule of thumb is if it comes from the earth then it’s probably good for me: leafy greens, vegetables, potatoes, rice, berries, beans, meat…

Tracking Calories: Plan of Action

Now that you have a basic understanding of calories and macros/micros and you’ve downloaded myfitnesspal (hopefully 😉 ) it’s time to start inputting.

First 3 days:

For the first 3 days, just commit to tracking absolutely everything you put in your mouth, it might be a little annoying but it’ll give you a good idea how to input food and portions, and it’ll paint a nice picture of where you might be falling short.

2 Week Rule:

After the first 3 days, try as best as you can to follow the recommended calories and macros for 2 weeks. That will give enough time to see how your body’s reacting and whether you seem to be moving in the right direction. For example if your goal is fat loss and you haven’t lost a pound in 2 weeks, then it’s clear the calories need to be adjusted lower. So every two weeks adjust things until you’re settled into a nice rhythm where you’re making progress.

80/20 Rule:

As you start to get comfortable with myfitnesspal, you’ll start to see how easy it is to hit your goals, and you’ll actually be able to make room for some fun foods. As long as around 80% of your calories are nutrient dense whole foods, there’s nothing wrong with a slice of pizza and some candy or ice cream here and there! As long as you’re hitting your macros you’ll continue to see results.

Do I always have to eat at a calorie deficit/surplus?

Once you hit your goal, you’ll be able to work your calories back up or down to maintenance level, or whatever intake you’re most comfortable with.

Do I have to track calories forever?

After you become acquainted with tracking your macros/calories, what inevitably happens is you’ll develop a much more thorough understanding of your nutritional needs and the fundamentals of a balanced diet. So no, you won’t need to rely on the app!

Recommendations:

-If it feels like myfitnesspal set your calories too low, double check and adjust with this Calorie Calculator

-Watch How to Use Myfitnesspal

-Getting a food scale will make your tracking much more accurate

-Fibre is important, I like to go with at least 30g per day

-Exercise at least 3-4 days/week, rest is very important

-Do not go too low or too high on calories to accelerate goals, sustainability is key

-Google and YouTube are your friend, use them to dig deeper

-No need to track water or coffee, only milk and sugar

-Follow Carter Good – Great tips and insight about food

Conclusion

This is the strategy I continue to use to hit goals, measure progress and develop knowledge for food in general. It will require some effort to make this part of your routine, but you’ve gotta want it. Setting achievable goals, rather than aggressive ones; incorporating fun foods while hitting macros, rather than cutting foods, will allow for seamless progress. It won’t feel so much like a diet, more of a lifestyle shift where results are inevitable.

I like to compare tracking calories to accounting, you can have a great business, sell a great product and land big deals, but if you’re accounting department is a mess, you’ll never see the results!

Have fun!

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