Before I give a meal plan guideline, I feel that I must first give some background on where the structure of the plan is being generated. With over a decade of experience working with athletes, bodybuilders, and just regular people, as a dietitian, I have been able to narrow down what really works and what is just a bunch of bologna! Weight lifting “diets” are no different than any other “diets”. Just using the word “diet” insinuates the user is trying to lose weight. So, I’m going to use “meal plan”. Weight lifting meal plans, weight loss meal plans, weight gain meal plans, bodybuilding meal plans, ect., are all basically the same. They all must consist of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Not to mention, all the vitamins and minerals necessary for the body to work properly. The key is choosing quality calories, the proper amount of calories for your specific goals, feeding them to your body timely and consistently, always staying in positive nitrogen balance, and lastly getting proper rest.
Choosing quality calories
For the weight lifter, protein is going to be a key nutrient. High-quality protein is going to speed up the muscle-building process. Some of the best sources of high-quality protein are chicken breast, venison, filet mignon, pork tenderloin, egg whites, whey protein supplement, cod loins, turkey breasts, and even low fat cottage cheese. For the average person trying to lose, gain, or just firm up, these proteins are the best for you to choose as well. When you are trying to optimize the calories you are taking in, you shouldn’t eat any calories that are not the highest quality in their group! To waste calorie intake on empty or non-nutritive sources would defeat the purpose of your time and energy. Some high-quality carbohydrates are whole wheat/grain bread, oatmeal, whole grain-low sugar-high fiber cereals, sweet potatoes, long grain & whole grain rice, or brown rice just to name a few. These are very important to eat for the energy and fiber your body needs to couple with the protein and optimize growth. Without carbohydrates, the body cannot function properly and will not be able to build muscle. Very low, and no-carbohydrate diets are a horrible idea for someone trying to increase strength, build muscle, and firm up. Bottom line, carbs are not the enemy. They are actually a major part of the puzzle! Lastly, fats play numerous vital roles in a weight lifting meal plan. You must consume a certain level of fat for the plan to be effective. Certain fats provide essential fatty acids that aid the body in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, without which would jeopardize the health of cell membranes. High-quality fats would be your monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fats. Examples are olive oil, avocado, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and fish oils (omega 3, 6, and 9’s). That’s really about it for the fats. You don’t need a lot of them, but they are vital for the overall plan to work. Vitamins and minerals are essential for the body to function. A good multivitamin is recommended daily. No matter how many vegetables and fruits you consume, a general multivitamin will cover any you may have left out or maybe don’t care for.
Choosing the proper amount of calories
A healthy, balanced diet consists of (give/take 10%) 20-30% protein, 55-65% carbohydrates, and 15-25% fat. Just remember, everyone is different and you will have to do some experimenting to find your optimal balance of intake. Some may be a little more carb sensitive than others, so staying on the lower percentage for carbs may be right for you. Figuring out the perfect amount of calories you need to consume is going to be very important. There are a number of ways to do this. The simplest is to multiple your body weight by 17. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you would take 150 and multiply it by 17; and you would get 2550. This is a very general, simple way to determine a number for starting your program. It is not 100% accurate. Another very accurate way is figuring your basil metabolic rate. This is much more complicated taking into account body weight, body fat, activity, athleticism, and other factors. So, for the purpose of building a beginning program, I am going to use the simpler of the two formulas.
Feeding Timely and Consistently
I suggest eating 5-6 times a day, spreading out the intake over 2-3 hour intervals. This way the body is constantly getting fed the calories and nutrients it needs to grow and recover. Then take your total daily intake (the number you figured out above) and divide it by the 5-6 (whichever one fits your schedule the best) meals per day you are going to eat, and you will have the number of calories each meal should consist of. Some meals may be lighter than others, but make sure in the end, you are consuming the correct total. By eating relatively the same times every day and consuming consistent quality calorie intake, your body will begin to “remember” this, and fat storage will begin to decline and lean tissue (muscle) will grow. Your body will actually expect this schedule every day! Consistency is an essential part of the plan. To only try this for a week or two will do nothing. The body needs a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks to make any changes or “remember” any type of new schedule. Dedication and perseverance are essential as well. Sometimes by letting family members, co-workers, and friends know what you are doing, it can help your overall success by adding support and encouragement. This part of the plan is the real test!!
Positive Nitrogen Balance
Without getting too complicated, this simply means, you cannot build muscle if you are not getting enough protein (remember, this is the MAIN source of lean tissue building). If your body is consistently fighting to maintain a positive nitrogen balance, it cannot concentrate on building and maintaining new lean muscle mass. You must consume more protein than your body is using to build and recover. A negative nitrogen balance is catabolic and actually means your body is using (breaking down) it’s own tissues to survive. This would be detrimental to your success in any meal plan. So, not to beat a dead horse, but make sure you are ingesting enough protein—it’s simply that important!
Without the proper amount of rest, the body cannot repair damaged tissue, build new tissue, and recalibrate itself for a new day full of energy needs and metabolic activity. Sleep must be scheduled into the meal plan just like the foods you eat. Well, there you have it. For the best weight lifting diet/meal plan (and any other diet for that matter) you must have a high-quality caloric intake, consistency with intake, positive nitrogen balance, and proper rest. And, as an added bonus, here is a sample diet for reference: Calories: 2550/day Protein: 159 g/day (2550 X .25=637, 637/4=159) Carbohydrates: 350 g/day (2550 X .55=1402, 1402/4=350) Fat: 56 g/day (2550 X .20=510, 510/9=56) To figure out grams you must know that protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram. So, when you multiply the total calories by the percentage of protein and carbs you want to consume, you must then divide again by 4 to get the actual intake in grams, as you would see on food labels. Fats have 9 calories per gram, so do the same thing after figuring the number of fat calories, so it is in a form you can compare to food labels and everyday lingo. You cannot possibly figure out how to construct a meal plan without knowing protein, carbs, and fat in the form of grams. Meal 1: 1 cup oatmeal 3:1 egg whites to whole egg 1 serving multivitamin 16 oz glass water Meal 2: 1 scoop powdered meal replacement prepared according to the instructions Meal 3: 1 serving baked chicken breast 1 cup brown/wild rice 1 cup broccoli 16 oz water Meal 4: 1 scoop powdered whey protein prepared according to the instructions Meal 5: 1 serving grilled flank steak 1 medium sweet potato 1 cup asparagus 16 oz water
Meal 6: 1 scoop powdered whey protein prepared according to the instructions Finally, please drink at least a gallon of water a day. Your urine should be clear. This will not only guarantee proper hydration, but it will also help flush out toxins and any fat your body is excreting.
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