Meal Plans

Ultimate Starter's Guide: The Meal Plan

Everything you need to know about starting a diet regimen to achieve your fitness goals in the new year.


What foods should I eat?

The answer to this shouldn’t surprise you: healthy food! And food that’s as close to its natural state as possible. You need to begin thinking of food in terms of the macronutrients it provides, and try to separate the foods you get those nutrients from so they’re easier to keep track of (more on this below). Your protein needs should be met by chicken breasts; whole eggs (and egg whites, for pure protein); lean cuts of beef; fish; turkey; and protein powder. Your carbohydrates can come from potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice (white or brown), oats, fruits, and vegetables. As for fat, most of it will come as a by-product of your protein foods, but you can also derive fat from avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and a small amount of oil such as coconut or olive. 

How much should I eat?

Get ready to start keeping track of calories and macronutrients. You don’t need to be meticulous, but you do need to be consistent. If your goal is to gain muscle size and maximize strength, consume 14–18 calories per pound of your body weight. For fat loss, go with 10–12 calories per pound. Yes, these are ranges and not exact numbers—you’ll need to experiment a bit and find the number that’s right for you. Start on the lower end of the spectrum for muscle gain and the higher end for fat loss, so that changes can be made gradually, and adjust if you aren’t gaining or losing weight after two weeks.

When bulking up or slimming down, your protein and fat intake should be very similar. Eat 1–1.5 grams of protein per pound of your body weight and 0.4 gram of fat per pound. Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on body weight due to their impact on insulin, a hormone that alternately causes muscle or fat gain depending on the timing and composition of your meals. For this reason, the amount of carbs you eat will vary greatly depending on your goal.

To gain size, you should consume two grams of carbs per pound of your body weight. Be prepared to gain some fat along with the muscle, as more carbs mean higher insulin levels and more potential for fat storage. To lose fat, consume one gram of carbs per pound.

So what does it all mean? If you’re a 180-pound guy who wants to put on muscle, you might start your mass-gain diet by eating approximately 2,700 calories per day. This would consist of 180 grams of protein, 360 grams of carbs, and 70 grams of fat. If the same guy wants to trim fat, he would eat 180 grams of carbs instead of 360 to start with.