The keys to a healthy meal plan

The keys to a healthy meal plan

Jul 23, 2016, 7:39:28 PM Sport

      We live in a world that is inundated with diets. This of course is perpetuated by the glitz and glamour spokesmen and women of the modeling and fitness industries that support or endorse these diets, when most of them don’t even follow said diet. There are literally hundreds of popular diets on the market, with many of them simply being more restricted versions of those already existing, all with their eyes on firmly fixated on your pocketbook. Whichever diet you chose to follow and for whatever reason is your business. I am not here to advocate one over another, to place any of them on a pedestal or knock any one off of theirs.  Nor am I here to tell you why carbohydrates or fats are good or bad. There is one simple rule that I believe everyone should follow no matter what diet they are on, and that is to eat as toxin free as possible.

      It is only in recent years that diabetes and heart disease and obesity have really begun to become pandemics, and it is a far cry from coincidence that in recent years our food has become more and more processed and well, not really food. If you eat healthy foods you will have a healthy body, and if you eat toxic foods you will have a toxic body. Simple enough, right? Generally so, however the problem lies in what most people perceive as healthy, in an age of catchy marketing and well placed lies.

      When I think of healthy, non-toxic foods, I am thinking of any food that is not over processed and layered with chemicals and fillers. Essentially, I am describing a whole foods diet; lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, all the things that can be found in nature.
      “Yea that’s basically a paleo or primal diet.”
Yes and no. While I do advocate eating much the same way as these diets suggest, I disagree with the limitation they place on their food selection, specifically when it comes to fruits.

You should NOT be afraid of fruit

      Any diet that advocates the limiting of a food that occurs naturally in nature and is loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, I tend to have a problem with. We are continuously bombarded with bad press about fruits because of their high sugar content. Fruit does in fact have a large amount of sugar in it, but it is in the form of fructose not sucrose, which is your basic table sugar.
      So what exactly does that mean?
It means that it does not cause immediate fluctuations in your blood sugar because fructose is digested much slower than sucrose.
 Not only that, all fruits are extremely high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that all do the body good. This brings me to the first topic in making a healthy meal plan.

Research foods that are the highest in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These foods should make up the bulk of your daily meal plan.

      By devising a meal plan, no matter what your ultimate goal may be (lose, maintain, gain), you have a daily allowance of calories and macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins) that you must adhere to. This is pretty much your diet budget, and you are going to want to get as much bang for your buck as possible. The “bro science” days of eating chicken, broccoli, and white rice 4 times a day are over. Pick an assortment of foods that offer different health benefits to ensure you are getting your daily recommended amount of each vitamin and mineral. The first mistake most often made in formulating a meal plan is the tendency to fill it up with the same crappy foods one would normally eat and simply  limiting the quantity.
      This is where I have my own personal issue with the IIFYM or If It Fits Your Macros dieting approach. While it is a great way to go about eating, I feel that for the average person just getting started it can be fatal to their goals. This is due in large amount to the fact that with very little sound nutritional knowledge, the average person will try to fit as much junk food into their daily macronutrient allowance as possible. You want to eat foods that are not only going to be filling, but are going to aid in your fat loss or maintenance goals. These would be your foods highest in antioxidants, fiber, and protein. These foods will keep you fuller longer, provide fat loss support, and keep your immune system functioning optimally while in a calorie deficit.

Stay away from bread, pasta, and other starchy carbohydrate sources that can cause inflammation in the body.

      Everyone loves carbs, and I am by no means an exception to this rule. But if you are truly serious about dieting and losing body fat, you want to stay away from carbohydrates that cause bloating and inflammation. Stick to rice, sweet potatoes, yams, oatmeal, vegetables, and of course, fruit.
You can eat plenty of these things to meet your daily carbohydrate requirements without having to rely on breads, pastas, and other flour based foods as your carbohydrate sources.

Limit your intake of dairy.

      Dairy can become a heavy staple in a lot of beginner’s meal plans due to its low carbohydrate and high protein qualities. However, dairy is just as much a culprit of inflammation and digestive issues as starchy carbohydrates. Dairy also tends to be much higher in fat, so those on a higher carbohydrate and lower fat diet need to keep a watchful eye. I personally consume very little dairy, as I tend to follow the camp that finds it a bit awkward to consume another specie’s milk. I am not a 400lb growing calf, therefore I do not see any immediate reason to consume a cow’s milk.

Nutrient timing is everything.

      This is a highly overlooked aspect of formulating a meal plan, and one of the most important. Map your foods out around your day, and spread your nutrients out evenly. Here's where your meal plan gets technical.
A general rule of thumb is to consume protein at every meal, carbs in the morning and after your workout, and fats in the evening hours.  So if you are eating 200g of protein a day and you eat 6 meals a day, you should aim to consume around 33g of protein at each of the 6 meals. The first 3 meals of the day (assuming you work out sometime before lunch) should be a protein + carb meal, and your last 3 meals of the day should be protein + fat.
​      Now post workout nutrition is the name of the game, so you want that meal to be your highest carbohydrate meal, comprised of half your daily carbs. So let’s say that along with your 200g of protein a day you are eating 160g of carbohydrates. Your first meal of the day would be 33g protein and 40g carbs, your post workout meal would be 33g protein and 80g carbs, and your third meal of the day would again be 33g protein and 40g carbs. 
      If you were eating a 2,000 calorie a day diet, then after the carbs and protein parameters set above, you are also consuming 62g of fat a day. This means your last 3 meals would break down to 33g of protein and 20g of fat. This way you are ensuring that you get a steady amount of protein throughout the day, consuming all your carbs around the times they will be burned off, and getting your healthy fats in just before bed.

Get your protein from whole food sources.

      Many people have this desire to fill their day with protein shakes or bars instead of sticking to whole food protein sources. There are a few reasons for this, the first being satiety. You want to consume foods that are going to be filling and not leave you completely starving by your next meal. Protein shakes are great immediately after a workout as they are easily digestible, but that advantage is also a flaw. Because these shakes are so easily digested and used up by the body, they are not very filling and can leave you in search of the nearest snack food shortly after consuming them.
Protein bars on the other hand can be very filling, but you have to be careful with these because many contain a lot of hidden sugars and can be high in calories. Whole food protein is the best way to go. Lean meats and fish, beans, legumes, and vegetables such as spinach and kale are all great examples. Not only are these foods naturally high in protein, but they are very filling and do not contain any hidden ingredients.

Drink plenty of water.

      All of your efforts in the gym are doing a great job of breaking up fat deposits and getting them into your system and ready for elimination. If you are not consuming enough water to flush them out, your efforts are going to waste not your fat. If you are training hard and eating right, you should be consuming at least one full gallon of water a day. Not only is this going to aid in your fat loss efforts by flushing your system of waste, but staying hydrated means that you are going to perform optimally, be more awake and alert, and feel fuller longer.

Cheat meals are awesome, but know when and why to have them.

      Cheat meals can be a very effective tool during a diet, as long as you know when and how to properly utilize them. A cheat meal is great psychologically because it breaks up the monotony of a diet and gives your pleasure centers the rush they need. Having a planned cheat meal every so many days also cuts back on the cravings and temptation to break your diet to satisfy them. But cheat meals actually have their place in your fight for fight loss as well. The body is highly advanced at adapting to new things, and it does so very well with your food intake. Even though you are in a calorie deficit and are eating healthy foods, eventually your body will adjust to this new way of eating and your metabolism will level out and thus the fat loss will stall.  Cheat meals help to kick start the metabolism again by flooding the body with excess calories and macronutrients that it is not normally used to having. In shock, the body responds by jump starting the metabolism to get this influx of calories and nutrients digested and processed.
      Now this doesn’t mean to heave a cheat meal every other day, or two or three days in a row. Once a week to every other week will suffice. One mistake many people often make is having their cheat day on their rest day. Yes, your body is in super fat burning mode just from having the cheat meal, but you are also flooding your body with a ton of extra fast digesting carbohydrates and sugars, and for that reason you should have your cheat meal as your post workout meal on either your heaviest lifting day, or the day you train your weakest body part. This way all these extra calories and nutrients are being pushed into the muscles you just trained, which means growth.

Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail.

      This last one is truly just common sense.
Once you have your meal plan in place, make a weekly grocery list and make sure you buy enough of everything to last you until the following week (or the next shopping day). This way you know that at any given time you have all the necessary foods in your house to stay on track. There is no room for laziness in food prepping, you have to be proactive.
Whether you prep all your food and put it into Tupperware for the week or freeze your food until the day of and cook it fresh, make sure it is prepped and ready to go. Likewise, if you know you will be out of the house for a while, take your food with you. Always have at least 2 meals in a cooler with you at all times because you never know, unexpected things happen and you could be out much longer than anticipated.

Diet is 90% of the battle, hopefully these tips will help you win yours.

Published by Michael Quinn

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