Prepping Your Plate

I thrive on rituals.

My habit loops are powerful.

Daily, weekly, monthly – My habits ensure I live a healthy, productive life.

Without them, my life would be, and has been, chaotic at best.

It is necessary for me to form eating rituals.  It is necessary for me to create a daily meal plan.

I’m taking preventative measures.  I’m being proactive. I’m being strategic and intentional.

Healthy moments create healthy habits.

Make this easy on yourself. I don’t want you to stress out over this.

Create short-cuts with the food you’re eating. 

Figure out a meal plan, and then prep your meals for the week.  You don’t have to prep everything ahead of time, but you can prep certain things.  Make 2 or 3 protein shakes and keep them in your fridge.

Always have a piece of fruit with you.

Buy things that you can throw on the stove together, and that don’t require a lot of cook time.  Prepare a majority of your protein at one time, so you have some available.

Once you get the routine of your meal plan down, it’s going to take the thought process and stress out of it.  Come up with multiple meal plans that fit your macronutrient profile and cycle through them, so you’re not eating the same thing every day.

The price I pay as I mull over the endless options of what to eat, and where to eat, or what to cook (and do I have the ingredients necessary), are not weighing on my already overtaxed mind.

I just know.

Grocery Store

shopping basket of healthy things

Trust me when I say, this saves me time in the grocery store; I’m in and out in less than 5 minutes.  This also saves me money, as I don’t buy unnecessary food items.  I won’t purchase fruits and vegetables that will ultimately go bad.  I won’t buy junk that I’ll eat in times of desperate hunger and craving.

I buy exactly what I need.  It’s all according to the plan.  My control freak mind is satiated every time every time I walk up to the checkout counter.

Personally, I eat the same thing 5 or 6 days a week.  You don’t have to do it that way; you can plan for variety in your meal planning (I’d recommend it).  Eating the same thing all the time works for me, I realize it may not work for everyone else.  But, I don’t have to worry about food anymore.  Food is in the control column of my life, and that’s a liberating feeling.

Regardless of what meal plan you venture into the isles with, keep these things in mind:

Go with a list.

It keeps you on track and makes sure you don’t buy unnecessary crap.

Don’t go hungry.

That’s when the bag of marshmallow cereal actually looks appetizing.

Avoid the middle isles.

This is where you find the most prepackaged food

There are no magic food items for weight loss.

I want you to get away from the idea that there are “good” foods, and “bad” foods.  There really aren’t any “weight loss” foods, just food items that have high calories, and low calories.  They may be more nutrient dense, or lower in nutrient value.

You do not need to eat “fat-free” food items 

Reduced fat, or “fat-free” food items might have less calories than their counterpart items with the “fat-full” amount.  But many of these items have just as many calories, if not more so.  These “fat-free” or “low-fat” food items may have added sugar, starch or flour thickeners that are meant to improve flavor after the fat has been removed.

 Don’t worry about purchasing “organic” items exclusively.

Inspect any packaged food items before you purchase.  If they contain extra preservatives, additives, sugars, or unhealthy fats/carbs, reconsider buying.

Consider digestion. 

A healthy digestive track is important. Get at least 1 or 2 fruits in your daily dietary pattern (in between meals, and not with meals), as well as at least one green vegetable with your biggest meal.  Eat food items with insoluble and soluble fiber.

Condiments

A healthy, low calorie meal can turn into a calorically dense meal quickly depending on the amount of stuff you drizzle on top of it.

Ketchup, barbeque sauce, honey mustard, buffalo sauce, and many salad dressings are loaded with calories and sugar.

Swap mayonnaise for mustard, guacamole, hummus, or salsa.  You’ll conserve daily calories, and you might even discover that you enjoy the healthy alternative more than what you were previously eating.

Some other condiments that are very low in calories are:  Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, Horseradish Sauce, Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing, Tabasco, Worcestershire Sauce, Wasabi, and Sriracha.

Spice it Up.

Experiment with an array of herbs and spices that will make your food taste delicious.  Spices also have thermogenic effects associated with them, which will help you burn more fat.

Re-feed/Cheat Days

It’s also worth noting that I haven’t taken out the spontaneity of eating altogether, either.  Once or twice a week, I’ll go to a restaurant, or I’ll get some take out.  I’ll eat some “sleazy” food, as I like to call it.  And I enjoy THE HELL OUT OF IT.  No guilt, no shame, no crippling self-hatred.  NOT ONE BIT!  I eat it, and love it.

I appreciate food more than I ever have.

Periodically, during any type of meal plan that requires a caloric deficit, you’re going to need to increase your leptin levels and balance out your hormonal profile. Leptin is a very important and influential hormone that is produced by fat cells.  Along with many other functions, leptin plays a significant role in regulating food intake, hunger and energy expenditure.

Any time you go on a “diet” or meal plan, you will be restricting yourself of foods that you once ate on a regular basis; this will cause your leptin levels to decrease.  This is going to cause you to crave the foods that you once ate.

Keep in mind that this is your body responding to a physiological trigger, and not just a struggle of willpower. You aren’t broken or failing. Your brain is wired to react this way and you will have to retrain it. That takes time.

Something you must take into account if you’re going to start any type of meal plan is that you when leptin levels go down, so will your metabolism. Whenever you are on a calorie restricted diet – even a small caloric deficit – for an extended period of time, your leptin levels will decrease, and your metabolism will slow down in an effort to make due with the food that you’re feeding it.

This is your body compensating when you give it fewer calories than it is used to having.  Unfortunately, this compensation effect can slow fat loss.  So what can you do to raise your leptin levels?

Some people chose to have a “cheat meal” or even a “cheat day” once or twice a week.  This can become an easy way to binge on everything in sight, as a “cheat day” can become a “cheat week” very easily.

Refeed.

Refeeding refers to a strategic increase of calories on certain days while engaging in a meal plan that calls for restricting a conservative decrease of daily calories. This is a specific way to cheat with guidelines so you can not hate life and still make your goals!

The main goal of a refeed is to eliminate the negative effects of dieting for long periods of time.  This is how you will normalize your leptin levels.

It’s important to note that leptin is highly responsive to glucose metabolism.  Because of this, you’re going to want to consume a surplus of carbohydrates that will turn into glucose.

You do not want to consume more protein and/or fat sources.  You will benefit most if the majority of your excess calories are carbohydrates on refeed days. This will normalize your leptin levels and increase your metabolism without the addition of excess body fat.

So how often should you have a refeed day?  How many extra carbs should you eat?

This depends on many factors such as:  how long you’ve been dieting, how big the caloric deficit is, and your body fat percentage. If your body fat percentage is lower, you’re going to have refeed more often.

A refeed day should consist of 20 – 50% more calories than you would normally be eating during your calorie restricted diet.  So when you determine your basal metabolic rate or your “calorie maintenance level” – this is the amount of calories you should be eating on your refeed day.

You should include some of your more desired foods on refeed days, as this will help improve the psychological restraints you experience during the dieting process.  It’s important that you don’t go overboard on junky carbs, and try to get a majority of your food from nutrient dense foods.

Below is what your macronutrient ration should look like on refeed days:

·        Reduce protein to 1g per 1lb bodyweight

·        Decrease your fat intake by 50%

·        Increase your carbohydrate intake by 50 – 100%

As you become leaner, you’re going to want to increase the frequency of refeed days.

Men over 10% body fat:  Refeed every 7 – 10 days

Men under 10% body fat:  Refeed every 3 – 4 days

Women over 12 – 15% body fat:  Refeed every 7 – 10 days

Women under 12 – 15% body fat:  Refeed every 3 – 7 days

You’re going to want to monitor your progress closely while refeeding.  If you notice a decrease in performance, or you feel bloated and fatigued after a refeed day, consider lowering your overall calorie consumption on refeed days.  I would not recommend you implement refeed days until you are under 20% body fat.  If you are already there, limit your refeed days until you get a handle of making regular, healthy eating habits!

Shortcuts and Quick Tips

·        Drink plenty of water each day

·        Surround your workouts with meals – pre workout meal, and post workout meal) that contain a nice amount of protein (20 to 50 grams) and carbohydrates

·        Get the majority of your calories from higher quality, nutrient-dense sources – some junky stuff is fine – but make it a very small part of your overall diet (think 80% “clean” – 20% “not so clean”) – make sure it fits your macros

·        Whey protein powder can be a very convenient and quick source of protein

·        Adopt a healthy lifestyle – “diets” are (for the most part) not a sustainable – ask yourself:  “Can I continue eating this way for 5 years?” – if the answer is no, then the meal plan will not work

·        Limit the processed crap – eat more fruits and vegetables instead

·        Avoid margarine and canola oil – you’re better off using regular butter in moderation – butter contains some of the good fats

·        Use coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil

·        Limit processed meat – If you eat meat, purchase the meat and cook it yourself (grass fed is best)

·        Avoid drinking any calories – try to drink water exclusively – calorie free drinks are okay in moderation, but water is king

·        White rice is fine – it’s not necessary to only eat brown rice

·        Avoid pre-packaged microwavable meals – they are very processed, and because you’re microwaving them, you’re losing some of the nutrient density

·        Avoid candy, chewing gum, and excess sweets – they may contain high fructose corn syrup, and you want to avoid those

·        Limit artificial sweeteners – alters our sweetness sensitivity – honey can be an appropriate substitute in small doses

·        You can eat eggs – you don’t have to exclusively eat the egg white – the yolk contains many essential nutrients like omega 3 fats – eggs have a lot of protein in them as well – hard boiled eggs are a great snack that are easy to prepare

·        Whey protein shakes are convenient when you’re on the go – you can take them with you wherever you go

·        Berries are super foods – tons of antioxidants – great in oats or in protein shakes

·        Avocados are a great source of “good fats” – the fat that your body needs to remain healthy – avocados also contain over a dozen essential minerals – and they’re very filling (be aware of high calorie content)

·        A wide variety of beans are great to incorporate into your diet – they contain a lot of fiber – they contain many vitamins – they also contain a lot of proteins

·        Nut butters such as peanut butter and almond butter contain a lot of fiber and protein – natural peanut butter is optimal – regular peanut butter in moderation

·        Herbal tea, and black tea contain tons of antioxidants

·        Leafy greens are nutrient dense – kale is the most nutrient dense food in existence

·        Sweet potatoes are a great source of healthy carbohydrates that your body will utilize efficiently

·        Eat a variety of lean protein – grass fed is optimal – chicken,  fish, turkey, ground beef, any other type of beef – keep in mind that you can be a vegetarian/vegan and get a sufficient amount of lean protein (avoid consuming excess soy)

·        Limit alcohol consumption (you may want to nix it all together) – many alcoholic beverages are loaded with nutrient free calories – our bodies aren’t designed to store alcohol (unfortunately), and our bodies will work to expel it immediately, this process can get in the way of absorbing nutrients and burning fat

·        Fast food is no longer an option – should be viewed as poison

·        Balance is key – a balanced diet contains plenty of healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates and fiber

·        Prepping meals for the week on the weekends is a good idea – it can help you avoid eating convenient junk when you’re starving

·        Only eat when you’re hungry – stop eating when you are full – avoid eating due to boredom

Once you have implemented these practices, you can focus more on the intensity that you’ll be bringing to your workouts.  

My hope is that these blogs regarding food have helped you see the bigger picture of how your daily eating habits contribute to your overall fitness and health.  Implement some of these practices and mold them as you see fit.  All advice is like a shirt, try it on and make sure it fits well before you keep it.  And if you want to tailor it to make it work for you, contact me!

Balance, and consistency – keep these elements in mind, and you’ll be sure to reach any goal you set!

Creating a Daily Meal Plan

I made the decision to figure out exactly how much food I needed in order to get lean, because I was sick and tired of guessing.

My goal was to get lean.  Lean and mean.

When I calculated my daily calorie number, and my daily macronutrient ratio, I still wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to be putting into my body.  I didn’t know where to start.

What was it going to look like?  How many times a day did I need to eat?  Did it matter when I ate certain foods?  Were there any foods that I absolutely had to incorporate into my meal plan?

In this blog, I’ll be giving some tips on how to create your own custom meal plan – One that you’ll be enjoying for years.  With time, you’ll see how easy it is to change and adapt your meal plan to fit your lifestyle.

Creating a Daily Meal Plan

Once you have determined the amount of calories you will be consuming daily, and you’ve determined your macronutrient ratio, it’s time to start developing a meal plan.

It’s important to remember that it’s okay if you are not following these calorie numbers exactly, but you want to remain close.  Stay close to the numbers, and you will succeed in gaining lean muscle tissue, while minimizing fat gains.

Healthy diet

Don’t be afraid to measure your food.  Buy a food scale, they’re relatively inexpensive.  A lot of people hate the idea of measuring out their food, but once you get in the habit of it, it becomes second nature.  You’ll love the control you feel once you know that you’re not spilling over, and eating too many calories.

There will come a time, when you may not need to measure your food exactly.  I usually suggest that my clients begin measuring their food as an awareness tool more than anything.  It’s important to be aware of how much 4 ounces of rice is, or 6 ounces of sweet potato.  Most Americans aren’t aware of how large their food portions are.  Measuring your food is eye-opening.  It’s a game changer.

Pick foods you love, damn it!  Don’t torture yourself. 

For some, a meal plan means eating the same small meal 7 times a day.  You’ll see people lining up their perfectly portioned Tupperware containers on Instagram with the same thing in every container.

Tilapia, brown rice, and broccoli.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT THE SAME SMALL MEAL 7 TIMES A DAY.

You can change it up!  It’s better if you have a wide variety of macronutrients.  Eat different types of protein, carbohydrates and fats.  There’s no honor in eating the exact same food you hate for an extended period of time.

It’s also important to note that you want to pick foods that you enjoy so that you won’t feel like you’re on a diet.  This is not a diet.  We’re being intentional about the food we’re putting into our bodies, in order to get the most out of it.  We’re being flexible with our food choices, and that’s why it works.

A lot of so-called “trainers” and “fitness gurus” might tell you that you need to eat 7 small meals a day.  They might tell you that 6 of those 7 meals must include grilled tilapia, broccoli, and brown rice.  This is a very archaic approach to losing weight, and if you follow a plan like this… you will be miserable, and you will quit.

Food is meant to be enjoyed!  We want the food we eat to fill us up, give us energy, and fuel our busy lives.  You should be enjoying the food you eat every day.  No exceptions.

The best meal plan is the one that doesn’t feel like one. Be flexible. If you can’t see yourself eating in a similar manner in 5 years, you need a different meal plan.

Tools

There are a few tools you can use to keep track of your food intake.  It’s always a good idea to start tracking the food you eat with a daily food journal.

Write down absolutely everything you eat and drink throughout the day, even if it’s something small.  The act of logging everything you put in your mouth will give you a sense of awareness and clarity to what you’re consuming.

You can determine very quickly what your eating habits look like, and at what times of the day you eat or crave certain foods.  You may come to find that you crave junk at specific times of the day, and just being aware of these times can help you avoid the continuation of unhealthy habits.

myfitnesspal screenshot

A very useful tool in creating a meal plan quickly and easily is the MyFitnessPal App.

This application on your phone gives you the ability to track the food you eat daily.  It’s very easy to use, it has a lot of great features, and it’s free!  It gives you the macronutrient breakdown of the food you’re consuming, so you know exactly how many grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats are in the food you’re eating.

You can scan the bar-code of most items in your local supermarket, and it will pull up the macronutrient profile immediately.  This app also allows you the ability to track your water intake, and your workout times and activities.  You can even set up a profile on the app that will allow you to follow and track your friends eating habits, and they can follow yours as well.  This is a fantastic tool which can aide in the motivation and accountability of healthy eating.

When you are aware of the unhealthy things you’re putting into your body, it will be much more difficult to continue on with unhealthy and sabotaging habits.  You may avoid eating junk simply because you don’t want to log it!

Track the food you eat, and become aware of the nutritional value of the foods you consume.

Sample Meal Plans

Below I have listed a few meal plans that you can use as examples to help you write up your own meal plan:

** Keep in mind; I am not a registered dietitian/nutritionist.  I’m giving very general guidelines and practices that have worked for me, and my clients.  My hope is to give you a few examples to help guide you.

Meal Plan #1:

  • Meal # 1:
  • Instant oatmeal – fat: 2g, carbs: 33g, protein: 4g
  • Medium sized honey crisp apple – fat: 0.2g, carbs: 17.2g, protein: 0.3g
  • Meal # 2:
  • 1 and ½ scoops of natural peanut butter – fat: 12g, carbs: 6g, protein: 5.2g
  • ½ whole grain bagel – fat: 1g, carbs: 26g, protein: 5g
  • Meal # 3 (Protein Shake blended w/ ice and water):
  • Whey protein powder (2 scoops) – fat: 4g, carbs: 16g, protein: 40g
  • ½ banana – fat: 0g, carbs: 15g, protein: 0.5g
  • ½ cup of frozen strawberries: fat: 0g, carbs: 6.5g, protein: 0g
  • Meal # 4:
  • 6 ounces of grilled chicken breast: fat: 3g, carbs: 1.5g, protein: 33g
  • 5 ounces of steamed broccoli: fat: 9g, carbs: 9g, protein 5g
  • 4 ounces of white rice: fat: 3.5g, carbs: 45g, protein: 5g
  • Meal # 5 (Protein Shake blended w/ ice and water):
  • Whey protein powder (2 scoops) – fat: 4g, carbs: 16g, protein: 40g
  • ½ banana – fat: 0g, carbs: 15g, protein: 0.5g
  • ½ cup of strawberries: fat: 0g, carbs: 6.5g, protein: 0g
  • Meal # 6 (Protein Shake blended w/ ice and water):
  • Whey protein Powder (2 scoops): fats: 4g, carbs: 26g, protein: 40g

Macronutrient Breakdown:

  • Fats: 42.7g, carbs: 223.7g, protein: 178.5g
  • Fats: 384.3cal, carbs: 894.8cal, protein: 714cal = 1,993.1 calories consumed

Meal Plan #2:

  • Meal # 1:
  • 5 egg whites – fat: 0.5g, carbs: 1.2g, protein: 20g
  • Instant oatmeal – fat: 2g, carbs: 33g, protein: 4g
  • Meal # 2:
  • Whey protein powder (1 scoop) – fat: 2g, carbs: 8g, protein: 20g
  • Medium sized honey crisp apple – fat: 0.2g, carbs: 17.2g, protein: 0.3g
  • 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter – fat: 8g, carbs: 4g, protein: 3.5g
  • Meal # 3:
  • 7 ounces of grilled chicken – fat: 3.5g, carbs: 1.8g, protein: 38.5g
  • 4 ounces of sweet potato – fat: 0.1g, carbs: 22.8g, protein: 1.8g
  • Meal # 4 (Protein Shake blended w/ ice and water):
  • Whey protein Powder (2 scoops): fats: 4g, carbs: 26g, protein: 40g
  • ½ banana – fat: 0g, carbs: 15g, protein: 0.5g
  • ½ cup of strawberries: fat: 0g, carbs: 6.5g, protein: 0g
  • Meal # 5:
  • 5 ounces of beef (95% lean) – fat: 15.2g, carbs: 0g, protein: 22g
  • 4 ounces of whole wheat pasta – fat: 3g, carbs: 82g, protein: 14g
  • ½ cup of marinara sauce – fat: 1g, carbs: 5g, protein: 1g
  • 4 ounces of broccoli – fat: 7.2g, carbs: 7.2g, protein: 4g
  • Meal # 6 (before bed):
  • Casein protein powder (1 scoop) – fat: 1.5g, carbs: 11g, protein: 25g

 Macronutrient Breakdown:

  • Fats: 48.2g, carbs: 240.7g, protein: 194.6g
  • Fats: 433.8cal, carbs: 962.8cal, protein: 778.4cal = 2,175 calories consumed

Meal Plan #3:

  • Meal # 1:
  • 1 English muffin – fat: 1g, carbs: 25g, protein: 4g
  • 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter – fat: 8g, carbs: 4g, protein: 3.5g
  • 4 egg whites – fat: 0.4g, carbs 1g, protein: 16g
  • 3 tablespoons of salsa – fat: 0g, carbs: 1.5, protein: 0g
  • Meal # 2:
  • 5 ounces of grilled chicken breast – fat: 2.5g, carbs: 1.2g, protein: 27.5g
  • 4 ounces of white rice: fat: 3.5g, carbs: 45g, protein: 5g
  • 5 ounces of steamed broccoli: fat: 9g, carbs: 9g, protein 5g
  • Meal # 3:
  • 5 ounces of beef (95% lean) – fat: 15.2g, carbs: 0g, protein: 22g
  • 5 ounces of fajita peppers (green, red, yellow) – fat: 0.3g, carbs: 8.5g, protein: 1.3g
  • 3 ounces of onions – fat: 0.1g, carbs: 7.7g, protein: 0.9g
  • Meal # 4 (Protein Shake blended w/ ice and water):
  • Whey protein Powder (2 scoops): fats: 4g, carbs: 26g, protein: 40g
  • Meal # 5:
  • 5 ounces of grilled chicken breast – fat: 2.5g, carbs: 1.2g, protein: 27.5g
  • 4 ounces of white rice: fat: 3.5g, carbs: 45g, protein: 5g
  • 5 ounces of steamed broccoli: fat: 9g, carbs: 9g, protein 5g

 Macronutrient Breakdown:

  • Fats: 59g, carbs: 184.1g, protein: 162.7g
  • Fats: 531cal, carbs: 736.4cal, protein: 650.8cal = 1,918.2 calories consumed

Again, It doesn’t really matter when you eat the food items

Based on current research, the concept of “nutrient timing” isn’t particularly important for people trying to look and feel better.

The total amount of protein, fats and carbohydrates you eat, over the course of the day, is more important for body composition and performance than nutrient timing strategies. 

We’ve been told lies regarding this for a very long time:

“Don’t eat carbs after 6 PM.”

“Don’t eat carbs after 4 PM.”

“Don’t eat carbs after (insert any hour in the afternoon here).”

“You only have a half an hour anabolic window after training to get your protein and carbs in!”

The fact of the matter is that your body will absorb and utilize the food in the same way regardless of the time of day that you eat it.  You can eat carbs before bed, as long as it fits your macronutrient ratio.

Remember, carbohydrates are not the reason you will become overweight – the surplus of calories will be.  You need to discover what works best for you.  Do your own research, and do your own experimentation.

Eat the food items that make up your macronutrient ratio on your own terms.  If you don’t like eating breakfast, then don’t eat breakfast.  If you want to eat 5-6 small meals spread out evenly over the course of your day – by all means – do it.

Something to consider: 

There have been studies indicating that people who skip breakfast and eat fewer times throughout the day tend to be heavier than those who eat a healthy breakfast and eat four or five times a day. This may be due to the fact that people who skip meals tend to feel hungrier later in the day, causing them to eat more than they normally would.  It may also be that eating many small meals throughout the day helps certain people curb their appetites.

Stay tuned!  In the next blog I’ll give you some more tips and tricks that will help you create an easy,  sustainable meal plan.  We’re setting ourselves up to win!