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Create A Customized Meal Plan in 5 Simple Steps

meal plan

Whether you are preparing for a half marathon, wedding, vacation, or just want to eat healthier, you will likely make changes to your eating habits to reach your new health and nutrition goals. The best way to change your eating habits is to understand what changes you need to make to reach your goals and to stay consistent with your changes. When you have a meal plan, you have something tangible to hold you accountable and outline what foods to eat when- so, it’s harder to get off track or miss a meal. Meal plans can be a great tool to kick start weight changes, training, or to simply start planning ahead so you’re not wasting money eating out.

The steps below will teach you how to calculate your calorie needs to effectively reach your heath and nutrition goals. Here is how to create a customized meal plan in 5 simple steps…

5 Steps For A Customized Meal Plan


1. Calculate your BMR

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the measure of how many calories, or amount of energy expended, your body burns at rest. This rate accounts for your sex, weight, height, and age to estimate how many calories you burn- because you burn calories and use energy no matter what. Essentially, you can think of this number as how many calories you could eat if you laid in bed all day without gaining or losing any weight. Note: Don’t try this though!!

Calculate your RMR

Males (kcal/day) = 9.99 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 4.92 x age (years) + 5

Females (kcal/day)= 9.99 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 4.92 x age (years) – 161

Or click this link for an RMR calculator

2. Calculate your TDEE

Now that you have estimated how many calories your body burns at rest (BMR), apply your activity factor (AF), or the exercise amount and intensity per week. First, determine your level of activity (see chart below), and then multiply your activity factor by your BMR to estimate how many calories you burn with your daily activities. This is known as your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
To determine your TDEE, multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor:
  • If you are sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
  • If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
  • If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x1.55
  • If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training):BMR x 1.9
 Reference: BMI Calculator


3. Adjust your TDEE based on your goals

Now, you have an estimate of how many calories you burn with exercise on a daily basis. Therefore, this number reflects how many calories you need to eat everyday to maintain your current body weight. If you want to maintain, then this number is your calorie goal, so skip to Step 4. If you have a goal to lose or gain weight, adjust this number by subtracting or adding to it using the chart below:
For weight loss:
  • ½ pound per week loss: Subtract 250 calories from TDEE
  • 1 pound per week loss: Subtract 500 calories from TDEE
  • 1 ½ pound per week loss: Subtract 750 calories from TDEE
  • 2 pound per week loss: Subtract 1,000 calories from TDEE
For weight gain:
  • ½ pound per week gain: Add 250 calories from TDEE
  • 1 pound per week gain: Add 500 calories from TDEE
  • 1 ½ pound per week gain: Add 750 calories from TDEE
  • 2 pound per week gain: Add 1,000 calories from TDEE

4. Adjust your macronutrients based on your goal

The Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs) express the acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) for adults as a percentage of calories as: 10-35% protein, 20-35% fat, and 45-65% carbohydrate. Based on your goals, adjust these ranges up or down. However, make sure to stay in these ranges to prevent any nutritional deficiencies.
  • Carbohydrate (45-65%): Lower end of range for weight loss, moderate for maintenance, higher for weight gain or increased exercise
  • Fat (20-35%): Lower end of range for weight loss, higher for weight gain or increased exercise
  • Protein (10-35%): Higher end of range for weight-loss

5. Create a meal plan to reflect your calorie and macronutrient goals

Awesome work! You have estimated your BMR, AF, TDEE, calorie goals, and macronutrient goals! However, right now these numbers have no true meaning without knowing what foods you need to eat to reach those numbers. To do this, use a Food Logging Application (such as MyFitnessPal or USDA’s SuperTracker) to input foods to reach these numbers. This part can be tricky, so be ready to adjust portion sizes, swap foods, and consider meal timing (eating at least every 3-4 hours).
Foods to add in your meal plan:
  • Carbohydrate: Complex carbohydrates, high fiber, and low sugar foods (Ex: oatmeal,brown rice, whole-wheat bread, fruits, vegetables)
  • Fat: Healthy fats (Ex: nuts, seeds, olive oil, salmon, low or non-fat dairy products)
  • Protein: Lean proteins (Ex: chicken breast, fish, lean beef, beans, tofu)
Foods to avoid or limit in your meal plan:
  • Carbohydrate: Simple carbohydrates and high sugar foods (Ex: processed foods, whitebreads, candy)
  • Fat: Unhealthy fats (Ex: saturated fats from whole dairy products, butter, fried foods)
  • Protein: High saturated fat and high cholesterol proteins (Ex: fatty cuts of red meat, eggyolks, dark meat with skin)
Congratulations! You followed the 5 simple steps to creating a customized meal plan and now you have a meal plan that will lead you towards your health and nutrition goals! You should be proud of yourself and be ready to get after your new goals! Or, maybe you just skimmed through this article and didn’t finish each step, but that’s okay! If that’s you, I dare you estimate how many calories you think you BURN and EAT each day, then follow the first 3 steps to calculate your energy needs. Try this experiment and see if your estimate is close or far off.
For those embarking on a journey with their new customized meal plan, here are a couple extra tips and tricks for maximizing the effectiveness of your meal plan. To begin, weigh yourself on day one of starting the meal plan and weight yourself at the same day and time each week. If you notice you have gained/lost less or more weight than planned, then adjust your calories accordingly. For example, if you planned to lose 1 pound per week and you did not loss any weight, adjust your calories by that same amount (ex: subtract 500 more calories from your existing plan). There are small adjustments that may need to be made to completely customize this meal plan to make it yours. Otherwise, enjoy your meal plan and good luck achieving your goals!

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