Meal Planning

Meal Planning

Meal Planning for Building Muscle or Losing Body Fat

Here's a reply to an often-asked question:

I'm a big fan of baselining anything and everything. After all, how can you judge progress if you don't know where you started? In that light then, I'd suggest you record what you eat over a 7 day period. I won't tell you to go so far as to weigh and measure everything, but certainly make an attempt at being fairly accurate. The reason I use 7 days and not just one is because people's weight and calorie intake naturally vary day-by-day.

The idea in this 7-day period is to maintain your weight so that we can know your “maintenance caloric intake.” If you gain or lose a pound, don't worry much, but if your weight changes by 3 pounds or more, then we'll have to start over.

It's easiest to eat pre-packaged foods during this time period because those food sources already have the calories, protein, carbs, and fat grams already determined for you. There's a great book called Nutrition Almanac that has all sorts of data about thousands of different food sources. Check out your local bookstore or Amazon.

Keeping a log is fairly simple. I suggest Excel or some other garden-variety spreadsheet; however, writing it down on paper works, too.

The things I would track are portion size, calories, protein, carbs, and fat. At the very least, get the cals. Create a spreadsheet or a piece of paper with calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and portion size as columns, the things you eat per meal as rows.

Log everything each day. At the end of the day, add it all up. At the end of the week, take the average of each day. If you maintained a steady weight, you now know your maintenance caloric intake.

As for your wife and your different objectives, I'd take a roughly similar approach. To change your weight (in gaining weight you want to increase mass while maintaining or losing fat, ideally; in losing weight, you want to drop fat while maintaining or adding muscle), vary your daily maintenance caloric intake by an average of 500 calories.

For example, if your maintenance caloric intake is 2500, and you're goal is to gain muscle, then up your caloric intake to 3000 on average.

Here's the twist: Over the course of a 7 day span, your caloric intake ought to be 3000. BUT, vary this amount. Your caloric intake might look like this:



Every fourth day, go back to “normal.” The body is terribly resistant to change and if you just up your calories from 2500 to 3000, you probably won't gain an ounce! So, don't let it adapt by changing your levels every day.

Now, this isn't as hard as it sounds. Because I assume you eat different things every day, you'll never eat exactly the same amount of calories each day.

How do you add calories? There are a few ways:

  • Increase portion sizes slightly
  • Add a meal or snack
  • Add a protein or weight gain drink pre- and post- workout

How do you drop calories?

  • Mainly, decrease your portion size
  • Cut out fatty food
  • Eliminate juice and bread and “add-ons” like butter, dressing, and condiments

Your caloric intake for losing weight looks similar to gaining weight, only back off the calories by an average of 500 per day, but remember to vary that number so that it is an average.

Building muscle and/or cutting fat is mostly a math problem. You either need to create a caloric surplus (gain muscle) or deficit (lose fat).

Exercise plays a vitally important role here, too. If you want some help there, let me know. The short story is that your training can be mostly the same, whether you're attempting to build muscle or lose fat.

Remember intervals, circuit training, and high intensity. Long aerobic sessions are out (think jogging for miles on end).

If you want some really good meal plans that address specific body composition needs, let me know via the Contact Form. Be extremely specific about your objectives.

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Bill Davis

Bill Davis has been an avid weight trainer since the age of 12. He started out as a skinny teenager and finally made his training breakthrough in his late 20s when he discovered how to pack on lean muscle in short order.

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