In this guide we are going to show you exactly how to meal prep in order to help you lose fat, gain muscle and become the healthiest version of yourself.
This is the same process that has helped over 100 of our nutrition coaching clients reach their health and fitness goals.
We’ll walk you through the entire process step by step with detailed explanations, in addition to providing some simpler methods to get you started.
Let’s dive in!
Chapter 1: Why Goal Setting and understanding your WHY is important in reaching your health & fitness goals
Goals help us believe in ourselves. Setting goals for yourself is a way to fuel your ambition and really go after what you want.
It’s about giving you the inspiration necessary to aim for things that you never thought were possible before.
At Signum, we help our clients set realistic goals and help them develop the action steps necessary to achieving them. This is a huge part of what we do in our nutrition program.
When you really commit to the action steps that we are going to help you set forth in this guide the results will follow.
- Your clothes will start to fit the way you want them to.
- You will have more energy throughout the day.
- Everyday aches and pains will begin to disappear.
- Your hormones will begin to be more balanced.
- You will notice it in your complexion.
- And better yet others will notice as well.
We want our goals to be SMART or:
- Specific – “I want to lose weight” is great, but “I want to lose 20 pounds of fat” is better.
- Measurable – “I want more energy is great.” But “I want to be able to run a 5K” is better. See what I mean? Having “more energy” is something that we notice but can’t quite measure.
- Attainable – Is your goal attainable? Losing 20lbs is doable and our clients have done it. But losing 20 lbs in a week is not realistic or safe.
- Realistic – See above…it’s about setting realistic expectations
- Time Sensitive – Setting a deadline is the best way to achieve a goal because you are working towards something. For example, Jackie had a goal of being wedding ready. She set an important date on her calendar. And guess what?!?! She reached her goal!
Finally and this may be the most important is you need to fully understand your WHY!
During a Free Consultation at Signum we ask everyone of our personal training clients what their goals are. And most have a goal of weight loss, strength gains, or to simply feel better in their skin.
Next we ask them “why?” Why are these goals important to you?
We find that when our goals have more meaning to us and are a deep seated pain point that it leads to a higher success in achieving them.
Wanting to lose 15 pounds is great. But wanting to lose 15 pounds so that you are able to get off your medication, play more golf with your buddies, or just gain more confidence on the job is the why!
So before we get into the meat and potatoes of meal prepping, I would really recommend that you write down a goal and write down YOUR WHY!
Hang it up somewhere so you see it everyday so it is a daily reminder.
You are trying to change your daily behavior and routine. It is hard and it will get hard. You need to be reminded why you are doing this. So please! Don’t skip this step.
Chapter 2: Tools to get started on learning how to meal prep!
Ok so let’s dive into the nitty gritty of meal prepping for weight loss and muscle gain! The following is a list of things you will need to get started. We provide some of our favorites tools and why.
7 items you will need to get started on your nutrition journey!
- My Fitness Pal Account – This can be found by CLICKING HERE. The best part is it is FREE! Not only is it free but you can track your macronutrients (macros for short). In addition it has almost every food in the world in it’s database. You can also create recipes, save recipes, as well as save an entire meal for future use. Later we will show you how to use it. It can be a little daunting at first but once you get the hang of it you are off to the races! Finally we will show you a quick tip on how to create accountability with it.
- Food Scale – These cost anywhere from $9-$20. You can find a bunch on Amazon. This is the one we use (CLICK HERE). Just make sure it has a TARE function, and can measure in grams, ounces and pounds.
- Cups & Measuring Spoons – For $20-$30, order a set of measuring cups and spoons. Here is an option. Just make sure you have both tablespoons and teaspoons!
- 3 Compartment Containers – You will need these for you meal preparation for the week and they are a game changer! We like these because they are cheap. But if you are like me and don’t like microwaving in plastic, these glass ones are awesome. We highly recommend you stick with 3 compartments. It is compatible with the “plate method” we are going to teach you later on.
- Muffin Tins & Baking Cups – You will need these for some awesome recipes like the protein muffins, egg muffins, etc. More on those later. First get a standard metal muffin tin like this. But don’t stop there. We recommend a silicone liners so you aren’t scrubbing dishes forever! We tried THIS ONE and it works ok but clean up was still difficult. THESE work much better because you can just throw them in the dishwasher and clean up is super easy!
- Instapot – Just pony up and purchase it! It is a game changer when it comes to time saving. It combines pressure along with heat to cook food super fast. We cook chicken in under 30 minutes! HERE IS THE ONE we have! It has cut my lunch prep time in half!
- Water Bottle – There are many different ones on the market and you can’t go wrong. We just recommend that you get one that holds at least 20oz and has a straw. A straw allows you to drink more than the traditional pour method. That being said THIS ONE is our favorite right now.
(Man, Amazon should give us a cut for all the referrals we just gave them, unfortunately that isnt the case…)
Chapter 3: What are macronutrients (macros)? Here is why they matter
Ok time for some informational stuff. It is important to know that there are 3 types of macronutrients, and what they do for us as well as dispel some mis-information out there.
Role of Protein
Protein provides our body’s structure, regulates body function, components of enzymes, immune system, health and aids hormone regulation. For most, we recommend protein should comprise about 30% of our diet.
We want to gravitate towards the more lean proteins such as fish, chicken and turkey and away from the higher fat proteins such as red meat and many forms of pork.
We like to grill, bake, slow cook, and use an Instapot when cooking proteins. Try to avoid fried proteins.
Some of our top lean protein choices include fish, skinless chicken breasts, legumes, cottage cheese, turkey, eggs, and egg whites to name a few.
We like to avoid or eat in moderation meats such as bacon, most cheeses, full fat dairy, pork, ribs and fried meat to name a few.
Role of Fat
Fat gets a bad wrap just because of its name.
But it is a vital component of our cell membranes, particularly in the brain and nervous system. It aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and is used as a source of energy. Despite what the processed food industry may try to tell us, we need fat in our diet. We recommend healthy sources of fat should comprise about 30% of our diet.
Stick with the plant and natural based sources of fat such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oils, and butter.
Avoid fats that come with fried foods, baked goods, and junk food.
The Role of Carbohydrates (Carbs)
Despite what Keto, Atkins and other fad diets may say not all carbs are bad. It is processed carbs we want to avoid.
Carbs are our body’s main source of fuel. They spare protein from being used as energy and aids in oxidation (breakdown) of body fat. Carbohydrates should comprise about 40% of our diet.
You want to gravitate to carbs that are low in sugar, high in fiber and minimally processed. What does that mean? Eat vegetables, some fruits and whole grains. These can be found in the perimeter of your grocery store. Avoid all those boxed items that can be found in the middle aisles.
We want a high amount of non-starchy carbs such as broccoli, carrots, green beans, asparagus, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, etc.
Starchy carbs that should be consumed in moderation include, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, steel cut oats, basmati rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, ezekiel bread and rice cakes to name a few.
Fruit is good in moderation. Fruit tends to have natural binding agents and fiber that helps process the sugar in a better way that doesn’t spike insulin and lead to being stored as body fat.
Chapter 4: How to create a custom meal plan for yourself
The next step is to come up with a meal plan.
At Signum CrossFit we recommend having 40% of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 30% coming from protein, and 30% coming from fat.
We find for the majority of the population that is looking to lose weight, gain muscle and balance their hormone levels to just feel better it works for them.
Yes, there is a learning curve at first. Yes, it can be tough at first to wrap your head around what specific servings are, etc.
But the great thing about eating the way we prescribe is its ability to include most all whole foods. And once you understand it you can adapt your proportion sizes to any meal.
We don’t believe in FAD diets because they don’t set you up for success in the long run.
The first thing we need to do is determine the number of servings of protein, fat and carbohydrates you need to consume in a day.
We will use the terms “servings” and “blocks” interchangeably.
We are going to approach this two ways. The first will be using your body fat % & lean muscle mass % to do so.
But we recognize the numbers can be overwhelming for some. So we will provide another approach as given by CrossFit Inc.
Approach #1: The Body Fat Percentage Method for determining your number of servings per day.
First you will need to determine your body fat percentage. You can do this by finding a local gym, nutritionist, hospital or other health provider that owns either a Dexa Scan or an InBody machine.
You can find a Dexa or InBody machine by just doing a Google Search. If you can’t find one near you, another way to do so is purchasing a hand held OmRon on Amazon.
This is a cheaper option but not quite as accurate as the other two.
In our example, we will measure your weight and body fat percentage (BF%). From that we will determine the total number of servings of carbs, proteins and fats one should consume in a day.
So in our example we have a 165lbs person that has 25% body fat. Therefore, their lean body mass is 124 pounds [165 x (1-25%)].
Next we need to apply an activity factor. In our example, this person exercises about 1-2x per week for about 30 minutes.
This person is just a beginner so we are assuming they go out on walks and maybe one of those workout sessions is a treadmill or strength training with weights.
Next we multiply the activity factor x lean body mass to get the total number of grams of protein per day this person will consume.
In our case it is 81 grams or (124lbs x 0.65 activity factor).
Next we divide 81 grams by 7 to get a total of 12 servings or blocks of protein in a day.
The final step is to calculate the total servings of carbohydrates and fat as well. And it’s simple.
It’s the same as the protein!
Therefore, in our hypothetical example, this person will need to consume 12 servings or protein, 12 servings of carbohydrates and 12 servings of fat in a day!
To add to it, we assume 1 serving of carbs is 9 grams. 1 serving of protein is 7 grams. And 1 serving of fat is 3 grams. Therefore, in this example, this person will be consuming:
- 108 grams (12 x 9) of carbs
- 84 grams (12 x 7) of protein
- Finally 36 grams (12 x 3) of fat.
And not to confuse you any further, protein and carbs both contain 4 calories per gram, whereas fat contains 9 calories per gram.
So in our example this person will consume the following calories throughout the day:
- 432 calories of carbs (108 grams x 4 calories/gram)
- 336 calories of protein (84 grams x 4 calories/gram)
- 324 calories of fat (36 x 9 calories/gram)
It is total calorie intake of 1,092. Low and behold the calorie intake is split at 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein & 30% fat!
Have you gone cross eyed with that explanation? It’s ok.
Approach #2: A rough meal plan guide using an example from CrossFit.com
Ok so maybe math is not your thing. Maybe you are the type that just wants to be told what to do. You are in luck, in 2015, The CrossFit Journal published this guide to the Zone diet.
In the graphic just simply choose the body type that best describes as well as Male or Female
The table will provide the total number of “blocks” or “servings” you will need to consume throughout the day.
Chapter 5: How to time your meals to boost your metabolism and burn fat.
Ok now that we have our serving and calorie targets we need to know how to split these meals up.
You want to strive to eat every 3 hours. This can be daunting for some but just remember that you want to make sure your metabolism stays high so you can continue to burn fat throughout the day.
As Nutrition Coach Emily explains skipping meals typically leads us to gorge ourselves later in the day.
Eating every 3 hours can help you avoid the following:
- The 3pm crash where you give into cravings and temptations.
- Prolonged muscle soreness or increased inflammation.
- Lower levels of energy that can cause anxiousness and moodiness.
- Low body temperature or the feeling of being cold all the time.
Generally speaking you want to stick to a breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as two snacks in between. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will have larger proportions than the snacks.
So getting back to our 13 serving example. A great way for this person to start would be the following:
- Breakfast – 3 serving meal
- AM Snack – 1 serving meal
- Lunch – 4 serving meal
- PM Snack – 1 serving meal
- Dinner – 4 serving meal
These numbers don’t have to be set in stone. For example this person can switch out the PM & AM snacks if they are feeling a little hungry.
What is important is the person is eating throughout the day rather than being in starvation mode and just gorging themselves later on.
Chapter 6: How to create a properly balanced meal using My Fitness Pal
Going back to our example. We are going to review how to construct a 3 serving/block breakfast as well as a 3 serving/block lunch.
Before we do so it is important to know how many grams are in 1 serving of protein, carbs and fat, respectively. Recall from above:
- 1 serving of protein equates to 7 grams.
- 1 serving of carbohydrates equates to 9 grams.
- 1 serving of fat equates to 3 grams.
So to construct a 3 serving breakfast we simply multiply each by 3. Therefore, we want to have a breakfast that has about 27 grams of carbohydrates (9 grams x 3 servings), 21 grams of protein (7 grams x 3 servings) and 9 grams of fat (3 grams x 3 servings).
Warning! Don’t be alarmed if you are off by a few grams here and there! We don’t want to make you obsessive compulsive! Just get within 10-15% of your numbers and things will be just fine!
How to Construct a 3 serving/block breakfast.
How to Construct a 3 serving/block lunch.
Now that you have that. If you want to take it to the next level, this video will show you how to construct a recipe in My Fitness Pal to fit your macros.
Chapter 8: How to come with your own meal prep action items
1) What are you going to meal prep for the week?
Ok so you need to decide what you are going to make for your meals throughout the week. You have a couple choices here. You can scour the internet or check out some of these HEALTHY RECIPES here.
If you are ok with eating the same thing all week that is best. Taking options away can relieve some decision stress.
But note that the more meals you choose to prep, the more cooking you have. My husband and I eat the same breakfast every day. We meal prep to eat the same lunch all week. We throw in some variety at dinner.
As you figure out what you want to eat, and input it into MyFitnessPal (see above) you may find your macros are a bit off. Just adjust the ingredient amounts to hone in the protein fat and carbs requirements.
As you continue you can start to take recipes you may find and adjust the ingredients to hit your macros. But that is an advanced technique. For now we recommend just using the recipes mentioned above.
2) Make an appointment with yourself to go to the grocery store!
TAKE ACTION! This is the most important step. Some nutrition clients will leave their initial consult feeling jazzed up and ready to conquer the world. But two weeks later we realize they have yet to go to the grocery store!
Make a date and time with yourself to go to the grocery store! Block off your calendar and take action!
Success breeds motivation, not the other way around.
3) Decide when are you going to meal prep!
Finally you need to make a date and time with yourself to do your meal prep. Some people like to split their meal prep into 2 days. One at the beginning of their week (Sunday) and another at the midpoint (Wednesday).
That’s fine, the important thing is that you block off that time.
Pro Tip: Try to do your grocery shopping and meal prepping of different days. It just makes the process easier and you don’t get consumed by it.
We like to do our grocery shopping either Friday afternoon or Saturday. Then we meal prep on Sunday’s. We have a busy schedule of running a business and raising two toddlers so things can get hectic.
Chapter 9: Miscellaneous Meal Prep Items to Consider
The importance of hydration in losing weight
Hydration plays such a big role in your nutrition goals.
Water and proper hydration helps you:
- Burn fat
- Speed up your metabolism
- Improves digestion
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves athletic performance
You want to stay away from sodas and sports drinks! They are filled with chemicals and sugar that spike insulin levels which can get stored as unwanted body fat
Try to get in at least 80 ounces of water a day.
Use a water bottle with a straw to help you drink more throughout the day.
How to read a nutrition label
Above all we want to make sure we are eating real, whole foods. Stay away from processed foods. Shop the perimeters of your grocery store and try to stay away from the middle aisles is a great way to go about it.
To start, you want to make sure you know the number of servings of protein, carbs and fat are in the item you are looking at.
Recall that 1 serving of fat equates to 3 grams, 1 serving of carbs is 9 grams and a serving of protein is 7 grams. This way you will know if it is high in a particular macro.
You also want to pay attention to the number of ingredients. Is the list of ingredients only a half dozen or is it multiple lines of ingredients?
Avoid foods where the labels list ingredients that you can’t pronounce (except quinoa, you can eat quinoa!) or have never heard of. These are typically preservatives and other chemicals that can have a negative affect on your health.
And again, avoid foods where the nutrition label has a high amount of sugar. You will find that many food companies reduce the amount of fat by simply just adding loads of sugar to improve the taste. It’s a trap!
Chapter 10: Our top 10 healthy snack ideas
Snacks will be key in your success to reaching your health and fitness goals.
Quite often we find new clients are skipping breakfast and or lunch. This puts their bodies in hybernation mode which simply slows down your metabolism. You are teaching your body to hold onto unwanted fat.
So what happens at the end of the day? You gorge yourself with highly palatable processed carbs!
Having 2 healthy snacks in your day will make sure that your metabolism remains high and the fat burning machine stays on!
Below is a list of some of our favorite healthy snacks.
- 4 Ingredient Protein Pancake
- Chia Pudding
- Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies
- Dark Chocolate Avocado Truffles
- Oven Roasted Chickpeas
- Protein-Packed Cookie Dough Bites
- Pumpkin Protein Balls
- Sam’s Energy Balls
- Rx Bars
- Perfect Bars
Now we would love to hear from you!
Which meal prep strategy are you going to tackle this week?
Need more accountability and coaching? Book your Free Intro below to get started!