Build a Custom Meal Plan in 5 Simple Steps to Crush Your Fitness Goals
Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Losing weight and gaining muscle are the two most common goals people have when they begin paying attention to their nutrition.
Even though these goals are so common they tend to be extremely difficult for people to achieve.
Why is that?
Being that these are such common goals wouldn’t you think we’d have a simple solution to help people achieve this?
Yet, if you Google “how to lose weight” or “how to build muscle” you’ll get an endless amount of answers telling you different ways to do so and the worst part is the answers will contradict one another.
“Eating fat will make you fat!”
“You must eat a ton of fat to lose weight, but don’t eat carbs!”
“Build muscle by eating meat!”
“Eating meat will kill you!”
“Have 6 meals a day to lose weight”
“Only eat once a day to lose weight”
That right there is why so many people have such difficulty in doing something as simple as losing weight or gaining muscle.
There is so much conflicting information and people pushing products that you don’t know what to believe.
Everyone has their “secret method” that claims to have magical powers that melts fat off and builds slabs of muscle with ease.
Let me let you in on the real secret:
THERE IS NO SECRET!
Like I said losing weight and gaining muscle is much more simple than you might think. It is actually just a simple numbers game with calories.
So get ready here it comes.
Want to lose weight? Burn more calories than you’re consuming.
Want to build muscle? Eat more calories than you’re burning.
That’s it. No magic foods to eat, no evil foods to avoid and no special number of meals to eat each day.
Still don’t believe me?
Now I don’t recommend following these diets as they are missing important vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy, but they do prove a point.
When losing or gaining weight it comes down to calorie balance.
Calorie balance is a term used to describe if your dietary intake and activity level are causing you to gain, lose, or maintain your current weight.
Measuring this is simple:
If you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, you’ll lose weight.
If you’re consuming more calories than you’re burning, you’ll gain weight.
If you’re burning the same number of calories that you’re consuming, you’ll maintain your current weight.
You might be wondering “Well if that’s it, why do I see a bunch of text in this post?”
That’s a fair question.
Once you learn the facts of calorie balance, you then have to learn what your individual calorie needs are to gain, lose or maintain weight and that is exactly what I plan to help you with here.
In this post you are going to learn what individual calorie goals you need to have in place to start losing or gaining weight (depending on your goal).
I will also give you some tips on how much protein, fats and carbs you should have to help build your ideal physique and how to tweak things along the way to maximize your results.
So buckle up and get ready to learn the truth on how nutrition can help you build your ideal physique in 5 simple steps.
Step 1: Calculating Your Maintenance Calories
Whether your goal is to gain muscle, or lose fat, the first thing to figure out is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
TDEE is how many calories your body burns each day.
Estimating TDEE allows us to create a baseline of calories you would need to consume in order to maintain your current weight.
There are different factors that affect TDEE; the 2 major ones are daily activity and metabolism.
Daily activity can be affected by how active your job is, the amount of time you dedicate to exercise, if you play any sports and so on.
Basically, how much you move around each day.
Metabolism isn’t something we can accurately predict as it varies quite a bit between each individual.
Figuring out TDEE is an estimation as there are too many variables to get an exact number, but the good news is we can get in the ballpark and adjust from there.
First you simply take your body weight and multiply it by 10. For someone who weighs 200 lb. their calculation is 200 x 10 = 2000.
Multiply that number based on how active you are throughout the day by using the chart below:
Using my previous example of someone who weighs 200 lb., let’s say they have an active job and lift weights 3 times a week.
Their calculation would be: 2000 x 1.7 = 3400.
This means on average their TDEE is about 3400 calories.
If they want to stay 200 lb. with their current activity level they would have to consume 3400 calories worth of food and drink each day.
Great, now that we have that sorted out we can calculate how many calories are needed to either lose fat or gain muscle.
Step 2: Calculating Calories For Weight Gain Or Weight Loss
Knowing how many calories we have to eat in order to stay at our current weight, we can now make the proper adjustments to lose or gain weight.
I recommend a rate of weight loss of 0.5% – 1.0% of body weight a week. This recommendation allows maximal body fat loss and minimal muscle mass loss.
For a 200 lb. individual, this would be 1-2 pounds body weight loss a week.
We can use the amount of calories in one pound of fat to achieve this target weight loss rate. A pound of fat is approximately 3500 calories.
When losing weight we unfortunately can’t just lose fat (I know, it sucks).
We will lose a combination of both fat and muscle.
Using a pound of fat as a guideline isn’t perfect, but it gets us surprisingly close to our target weight loss rate.
With that in mind, if the goal were to lose 1 pound of body weight a week the weekly caloric deficit would need to be 3500 calories.
Let’s say that 200 lb. individual wants to lose 2 pounds a week they would need to be 7000 calories below their TDEE each week.
This would be their weekly caloric deficit.
To figure out the daily caloric deficit we divide those numbers by 7 (the amount of days in a week).
For this individual that would be a daily caloric deficit of 1000 calories.
Using the TDEE of 3400 calories that means this person would have to consume 2400 calories each day to lose 2 pounds a week.
When losing weight be within +/- 50 calories of your calorie goal each day.
Gaining weight with the purpose of building muscle follows the same principle, but the rate of building muscle is much slower than losing fat.
For that reason the recommendation of weight gain to maximize muscle gain and minimize fat gain is 0.5% - 1.5% of body weight a month.
Your rate of weight gain will depend on how much experience you have of proper weight training.
If you are a beginner you can gain muscle at a higher rate (closer to the 1.5%) than someone who is more advanced (closer to 0.5%).
This may be a slower rate of weight gain than you may have heard recommended, but I want to emphasize that muscle can only synthesize so fast and if you gain weight at a higher rate than this you will gain a proportionately higher rate of body fat.
Using the amount of calories in a pound of fat still works well to calculate weight gain.
At the recommended rate of weight gain a 200 lb. individual’s goal would be to gain 1 – 3 pounds a month or 0.25 - 0.75 pounds a week.
Now, let’s say our 200 lb. individual has been training for a few years and is looking to gain 0.5 pounds a week our calculation would be 3500 x 0.5 = 1750.
This individual would need to be in a surplus of 1750 calories a week or 250 calories a day (1750 / 7) to gain 0.5 pounds a week.
Again using our TDEE calories of 3400 this individual would need to eat 3650 calories (3400+250) to gain 0.5 pounds a week.
When gaining weight be within +/- 100 calories of your calorie goal each day.
Step 3: Figuring Out Your Macros
Calories are what determine whether you lose or gain weight, but macronutrients help determine your body composition.
Sure you can lose or gain weight by just focusing on calories, but if you want to build quality muscle and an impressive physique you need to make sure your macronutrients are in check as well.
There are 3 macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. Let’s breakdown the recommendations for each one.
Protein is the macronutrient that requires the most attention as it plays the biggest role in gaining and maintaining muscle mass.
Luckily setting up your protein goal is fairly easy.
If you are looking to build muscle you want to get 0.8g – 1g of protein per pound of body weight.
If you are looking to lose fat and maintain muscle your goal is 1g – 1.2 g per pound of body weight.
These ranges depend on the individual and how much muscle mass they currently have.
The more muscle mass you carry around the higher your protein requirements become.
Carbohydrates & Fat
There is a bit more flexibility when it comes to carbohydrates (carbs) and fat as some people do better with higher carbs and others do better with higher fats.
One thing I want to emphasize is that both carbs and fat are important to have in your diet and I do not recommend either of these be completely removed.
That being said here are some recommendations to start with.
When losing weight: 15% – 25% of your calories can come from fat and the remainder from carbs.
Fat is an important macronutrient involved with many functions in your body, so it is important to get at least this amount.
The reason we are leaving the rest of your calories for carbs is because carbs are your body's primary resource for energy, which you will want plenty of if you plan to be active and lift weights.
When gaining weight: 20% - 30% of your calories should come from fat with the remainder again coming from carbs.
When you’re gaining weight you have more calories to play with so you don’t need to dedicate quite as much of your total intake to carbs.
Let’s once again use our 200 lb. individual as an example to see the entire picture.
Macros when losing weight on 2900 calories:
1.2g of protein per pound of body weight = 240 grams of protein or 960 calories (4 calories per gram of protein)
20% of calories from fat = 2900 x 20% = 580 calories.
580 / 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 64 grams of fat
Remainder of calories are carbs = 2900 – 960 – 580 = 1360 calories.
1360 / 4 (4 calories per gram of carbs) = 340 grams of carbs.
Which would give you this macronutrient breakdown:
Macros when gaining weight on 3650 calories:
0.8g of protein per pound of body weight = 160 grams of protein or 640 calories (4 calories per gram of protein)
30% of calories from fat = 3650 x 30% = 1095 calories.
1095 / 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 122 grams of fat
Remainder of calories in carbs = 3650 – 640 – 1095 = 1915 calories.
1915 / 4 (4 calories per gram of carb) = 479 grams of carbs.
So the macronutrient breakdown would look like this:
Step 4: Tracking Your Weight
Tracking weight is an important tool to see if your calorie goal is causing your weight to move in the direction you want, or if adjustments are needed.
You may have heard some people say the scale shouldn’t be used to track the success of your nutrition plan and you should only use a mirror or a pair of jeans you want to fit into to track success.
Well, I disagree.
What I would say is that you should not OBSESS over what the scale says and keep everything into perspective.
Yes, there are other ways to track progress, but the scale shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of villain it is just another tool to help you track progress.
Creating Consistent Conditions
Your body weight is by no means static.
Body weight is in constant flux throughout the day and because of this you want to try and create the most consistent conditions possible in order to get a reliable measurement.
Doing this is relatively simple: Weigh yourself first thing in the morning, after using the washroom, before eating or drinking and in the nude.
See it can’t be that hard if I fit it all in one sentence. Following these guidelines will create the most consistent conditions as possible.
The other important factor to keep consistent is the actual scale.
When weighing yourself use the same scale every time and in the same location if possible.
Different scales will give different measurements and placing your scale on different surfaces can also change what the scale says.
So, if possible keep these two variables the same.
Measure Weekly Averages
Another important piece that many people miss when weighing themselves is doing so by a weekly average.
Most people only weigh themselves once a week. As I mentioned, your weight is in constant flux and only weighing yourself once a week isn’t taking this into consideration.
Your weight can easily go up and down a few pounds each day depending on things like, how much water you’re currently holding onto, the last time you went to the washroom, the last time you ate, or how big your last meal was.
A more accurate way to determine your weight is by averaging it out over the week.
Which means you would weigh yourself everyday and average it out over seven days.
Here is an example to better explain:
You weigh yourself on a Saturday and your weight is 198.7 lb.
You don’t weigh yourself again until the following Saturday and your weight is now 200.6 lb.
This would have you thinking that you gained nearly 2 pounds in the span of a week.
Let’s look to see if you weighed yourself each day for those two weeks:
Sunday Weight: 199.5 lb.
Monday Weight: 200.1 lb.
Tuesday Weight:198.5 lb.
Wednesday Weight: 197.7 lb.
Thursday Weight: 198.0 lb.
Friday Weight: 97.2 lb.
Saturday Weight: 198.7 lb.
Weekly Average: 198.5 lb.
Sunday Weight: 198.7 lb.
Monday Weight: 197.5 lb.
Tuesday Weight: 198.5 lb.
Wednesday Weight: 199.0 lb.
Thursday Weight: 198.1 lb.
Friday Weight: 199.3 lb.
Saturday Weight: 200.6 lb.
Weekly Average: 198.8 lb.
By weighing yourself daily you remove the daily fluctuations and as you can see you actually only gained 0.3 lb. in a week.
This is why a weekly average is a much more accurate way of measuring and why I recommend it over weighing yourself once a week.
Step 5: Adjustments To Optimize Results
Now that you have the tools to create the proper body weight adjustments and the tools to properly track your weight, the next item to sort out is when to make adjustments.
It is important not to make adjustments too quickly as you need a minimum amount of tracking to have a good idea if adjustments are in fact needed.
If you have been consistent with your training and calorie target, wait at least 3 weeks before making any adjustments.
Your first weekly average can be ignored, as there is many variables that can initially cause weight change that are not related to fat loss.
Look at this as your body’s adjustment period. For the 2 following weeks you want to find out what the average change in weight was.
For example, if you lost 0.4 lb. one week then 0.6 lb. the next week, your average weight loss over those 2 weeks was 0.5 lb.
In case you’d like to see the math that would be: (0.4 + 0.6) / 2 = 0.5 lb.
Once you have your average weight change figured out, you will use one of the formulas below:
When gaining weight: (target rate of gain - average rate of change) x 500 = daily calorie adjustment
When losing weight: (average rate of change - target rate of loss) x 500 = daily calorie adjustment
In case you were wondering where the 500 came from, that is the number of calories to gain a pound of body weight a week (3500 calories) divided by 7.
This might look a bit confusing at first so here are a few examples to help explain:
I lost a 1.2 lb. average over the past two weeks, but my goal is to lose 2 lb. a week. What do I do? :O
Stay calm I got you! Using the weight loss formula above you would do this simple calculation:
(1.2 - 2) x 500 = -400
All you got to do is remove 400 calories from your daily calorie goal and you’re all set!
I’m losing weight too fast! I don’t want to lose all my muscle GAINZ! I lost a 1.7 lb. average over the past two weeks and I’m only supposed to lose 1 lb. Please save my muscle!
No need to worry friend! Same thing applies here:
(1.7 - 1) x 500 = 350
Just add 350 calories to your daily goal and your GAINZ will be protected!
I’m supposed to gain 0.5 lb. a week, but I’ve only averaged a 0.1 lb. weight gain over the past two week. How am I supposed to get swole?
No worries at all! Since you’re trying to put on weight we’ll use the weight gaining formula:
(0.5 - 0.1) x 500 = 200
Just add 200 calories a day and Swolesville will be just around the corner!
OMG! I’m gaining weight too fast! I’ve gained a 1.3 lb. average in two weeks and I’m only supposed to be gaining 0.5 lb. a week. I’m turning into the Pillsbury Dough Boy!
Chill man! First, the Pillsbury Dough Boy is lovable so nothing wrong with that.
Second, you just have to make a small adjustment and we’ll have you at your ideal weight gain. Here you go:
(0.5 - 1.3) x 500 = -400
See! All you have to do is remove 400 calories from your daily goal.
That’s only about 2 Pillsbury Cookies a day!
As you can see by my very exciting examples, some small adjustments are all you need to get on track.
Once these adjustments are made it should be smooth sailing going forward.
However, if you do notice the scale starting to move in the wrong direction, just look back at the past two weeks averaged out to double check.
If it is off target, use the same formula and adjust.
You might be wondering, what if I gain weight after calculating a weight loss calorie goal, or what if I lose weight after figuring out a weight gain calorie goal?
That is a great question!
This is pretty uncommon, but can happen.
If you ever do run into this issue all you need to do is make your average rate of change a negative number.
Again, let me give examples to help:
WTF Bobby! According to my weight loss calculation I should be losing 1 lb. a week on my current calorie goal, but I gained 0.4 lb. on average over the past two weeks!
Alright, I know you’re upset, but no need to be.
Like I said the calorie goal is just an estimation and in this case it was a bit more off. I’ll fix that for you.
I’m going to use the weight loss formula and mark your weight change as a negative number since you gained weight.
(-0.4 - 1) x 500 = -700
See no reason to be upset! Just remove 700 calories from your daily goal and all will be good.
With my weight gain calculation I am supposed to gain 0.6 lb. a week, but I ended up losing 0.3 lb. I’m not worried because I know you’ll fix it and these freak out examples have been way overdone at this point.
Agreed. Here is the calculation using the weight gain formula and because you lost weight your rate of change is a negative number:
(0.6 - (-0.3)) x 500 = 450
Just add 450 calories to your daily goal and you’re set.
Quite a few examples there, but you should be covered to handle all scenarios after calculating your daily calorie goal.
Once you have made the adjustments calculate your macros with your new calorie target using the same calculations as before.
Everything laid out in this post is going to give the tools you need to use nutrition to help build your ideal physique.
I also wanted to provide you with a few quick tips to keep things running smooth.
Use a food logging app to track calorie intake
Tracking your calorie intake can be a tedious process if done by hand.
Lucky for you there are now many handy apps that make this much more simple.
I personally use an app called MyFitnessPal that makes tracking food intake so much quicker and easier.
You can put in your own calorie and macronutrient goal that you figured out here and track everything on the app.
Weigh food at home with a digital food scale
Another important factor when logging food intake is knowing your food portion sizes. A digital food scale takes the guesswork out of it.
Most foods will give you the portion size by weight in the nutritional facts so having a food scale at home to weigh your food makes things much easier.
Use a digital body weight scale as it is going to be the most accurate.
When measuring your body weight use a digital scale.
This is going to give you a clear and accurate weight.
Digital scales will generally display your weight to the nearest decimal point, which is especially helpful when gaining weight at a nice slow pace.
Do not go below your basal metabolic rate when cutting calories
Your basal metabolic rate or BMR is the amount of calories your body burns to keep your body functionally properly.
So basically the amount of calories you need to stay healthy and live.
If you start to go below this amount of calories you can start to run into health issues, so I definitely don’t recommend it.
I’m going to save you some math, use this BMR calculator by CLICKING HERE.
Importance of micronutrients
This post is all about calculating calorie goals and like I mentioned this is the biggest factor when changing your physique.
However, micronutrients are still very important.
These are all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy and fight off disease, so please do not neglect them.
To help ensure you are getting more micronutrients in your diets, be sure to have at least a serving of vegetables with your main meals, eat some fruit everyday and get most of your food from single ingredient sources.
Single ingredient sources means fresh unprocessed food and when you look at the nutritional facts of these foods there will only be one ingredient.
For example, oatmeal ingredients: rolled oats.
Please don’t neglect this when building your physique. It’s not only important to have a body that looks good; you also want a body that works well.
Calculate your TDEE
Use your TDEE to calculate your target calorie goal
Set up your macronutrient goals
Track your body weight
Adjust when necessary
You now have all the tools to build your ideal physique through your nutrition.
Remember, you have total control of your body weight and the power to change it with ease.
I hope this post cleared up many things for you in regards to nutrition.
If you have any questions shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org I’m happy to help.
Looking for a custom fitness plan? CLICK HERE.
Thanks for reading and until next time.