Meal Planning and Prepping
After having been asked by several people for a breakdown of what I have integrated as a part of our lifestyle, I decided to write it all up here so that it is easily referenced when people need it.
Instead of looking at the scale to determine fitness, it is more pertinent to look at our body fat percentages. These do vary based upon our gender.
|Ideal Body Fat Percentages According To The American Council On Exercise|
If you don't have a scale that currently tells you your body fat percentage, Omron makes a relatively inexpensive body fat loss monitor that helps you to keep track of your progress. This is the one that I personally use, and I find it super easy. I just save my numbers in a note document on my phone.
When it comes to eating healthy, there are a lot of theories available. Previously it was thought that as long as your calories out are more than your calories in, then you would lose weight. While on one hand, this is true, it doesn't account for proper body composition. If you are maintaining a calorie deficiency over an extended period of time, but not placing proper stress on your muscles with weight training, then your body will start to utilize your muscles as a form of energy (muscle shrinkage). So, while you may be dropping 5 lbs of weight within one week, 3 lbs may actually be muscle, so you are not having a positive effect on your body fat percentage (ie- "skinny fat").
Instead, it is better to integrate a calorie deficit with weight training, along with the right amount of protein eaten daily at regular intervals, in order to maintain or build muscle while decreasing body fat. A healthy goal of weight decrease should only be .5-2lbs per week. This might seem like not enough to most people, however you need to remember that your weight was not gained in one day, so you will not be able to healthily decrease it overnight.
Looking at meal planning and prepping, you should choose a way of eating that you can continue long term. If you reach your body fat percentage goal, but then go back to ingesting 3,000+ calories a day and quit working out, you will land back where you started and have to repeat the process all over again. What has worked best for me is to begin meal prepping for a week at a time. Sunday, we prep our food, separate it into containers for the week, and then are good to go. Some people find that meal prepping Sunday and Wednesday works better for their schedule.
We also don't meal prep *everything*. Each morning we make our breakfast, then we take our prepped snacks and lunch to go. Dinner time is usually the chicken that we have prepped, but then we still make our veggie and salad for the evening.
When it came to determining what to prep for our meals, we decided that getting .9g of protein for our ideal body weight would be what was best. Anywhere between .7g-.9g of protein will work for most people. This meant that we had to get upwards of 135g of protein per day. On top of this, current research says that your body will only use up to 30g of protein at a time to assist with muscle synthesis. What this meant is having to learn how to eat small meals every 3-4 hours, with 30g of protein incorporated into each of them. It seemed like a lot at first, but now that we are used to it, it is pretty easy, plus I feel more energetic throughout the day.
Shredded chicken, tofu, and seitan are go-tos for us when it comes to low calorie, high protein food sources, however egg whites, tuna, or other types of fish also work great. We just find it easier to prep for a whole week when we use the shredded chicken because we can cook a bunch of chicken breast in a crockpot starting Sunday morning, and by that evening it is ready to separate into tupperware containers.
Overall, while we are in the cutting stages, our daily goal for calories is 1,600. This allows for 500 calories to be naturally burned daily without our bodies trying to eat our muscles alive. On top of that, we work out six days a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are cardio days (we do long distance running), and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday are weight lifting days (we use Strong Lifts 5x5). Our cardio days can burn anywhere from 500-900 calories depending upon our distances. Over the course of a week, we are 3,500 calories in deficit with our meals, which equals one pound, and then we can burn up to 3,500 calories in a week from our workouts (another pound), keeping us right in the 1-2lbs a week ideal loss.
For our weight lifting we use the StrongLifts app which keeps track of the lifts for you (it even tells you what type of plates to add to the bar and has videos to demonstrate how to do each lift), plus it has a countdown timer to tell you how long to rest between sets (AMAZING!). For our food diary, we utilize MyFitnessPal, which also has an easy to use app, plus you can set it up to give you reminders throughout the day to log your food (could life get any easier?!). Our cardio is tracked through our Garmins, however I have used RunKeeper in the past which is another app that is great to GPS track your outdoor exercise.
If you have gotten with me to this point, I'm sure you are saying "Alright, but what does your actual meal plan look like?!" Patience, young grasshopper. It is important to understand the *why* behind the fueling of the body so that you can make slight adjustments should you need to based upon your individual body's nutritional needs. Now that you know more of the why, here is the type of meal planning we have going on right now.
As mentioned, our goal is to eat 1,600 calories per day, in small meals that contain 30g of protein, every 3-4 hours. Here is what an average day looks like for us while we are in our cutting phase:
Breakfast: Protein Shake
We use a non-whey protein since I am lactose intolerant, but you use the protein that works best for you.
Ingredients (per person)
-1 Frozen Banana
-1/2 Cup of Frozen Blackberries or Blueberries
-1 Scoop of Protein Powder
-2 Tablespoons of PB2
-1 Handful of Frozen Spinach
-1/2 Cup of Dark Chocolate Almond Milk
-1/2 Cup of Vanilla Almond Milk (unsweetened)
If the shake is too thick, just add a little water.
- Fruit or Veggies (either 1 piece of fruit, or a serving of veggies. We stick to cherry tomatoes, asparagus, or an orange bell pepper)
- 4 oz of protein (usually the shredded chicken for me, or if I am having a bell pepper I will eat it with hummus instead to get my protein that way)
-4 oz of protein (chicken, fish, seitan, tofu, or egg whites)
-1/2 cup of cooked grains (wild rice, couscous, quinoa, or barley)
-1 cup of veggies (grilled zucchini or grilled yellow squash are my personal favs)
Same as snack #1, I usually have fruit with one, then veggie for the other, unless I am in a super veggie mood, then I double veg it up.
-4 oz of protein
- Salad: 3 cups of mixed spring lettuce, 1 cup of spinach or kale, 5 cherry tomatoes. I premake my own salad dressing, which is 3 diced garlic gloves, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, and pepper. I remix it before putting 2 teaspoons on the salad. Personally, I love balsamic vinegar, so I will usually add extra to mine.
-Side dish. This can either be a cup of dark greens (asparagus is a go to), a cup of spaghetti squash or acorn squash, or half of a sweet potato.
-1 cup of fruit or berries
We do allow ourselves caffeine, usually in the form of a powdered pre-workout or black coffee. Aside from that, hydrate with plenty of water.
How to Adjust with Time
Once you reach your ideal body fat percentage, you should stick with your healthy eating habits to maintain your fitness goals, however you will need to get additional calories to make sure you do not lose too much fat. Fat, within reason, is healthy and essential to our bodies functioning properly.
Ways that we will be upping our calories will be to adjust portion size and add some good grains in with dinner. So, instead of getting 4 oz of protein with meals, we will increase it to 6. Instead of doing half a cup of grains at lunch, it can increase to 3/4-1 cup. Slight adjustments like that will cover the calorie deficit while making sure you maintain all of your hard work.