Meal Plans That Fit Your Needs
 
A lot of diet programs offer a “one-size-fits all” meal plan for fat loss and/or muscle gain. In fact, one size does NOT fit all. Your personal meal plan depends on several factors including (but not limited to) your current weight, body composition, level of physical activity, unique metabolic profile, tastes/food preferences, lifestyle, and personal health and fitness goals. The meal plans provided on this website may get you started, but it’s always best to consult with a Registered Dietitian or other qualified health professional for more detailed and long-term guidance on your individual nutrition goals and needs.

Read on to learn…
  • How many calories do I need?
  • How should my calories be distributed between carbohydrate, protein, and fat?
  • What exactly is a serving, and how many servings do I need to achieve my goals?
  • Meal plans make me crazy! Is there an alternative to counting calories and measuring servings?
Calorie Levels
For healthy college woman, energy requirements average between1600 and 2400 calories/day. Smaller or shorter women (as well as women who are older, less active, or on a weight-reducing plan), likely need around 1600 calories per day. Larger or taller women (as well as women who are more active or on a muscle building plan), likely need 2400 calories per day or more. Of course, these numbers are just estimates. Your individual needs may be higher or lower depending on your resting metabolic rate and level of physical activity. Click here for more info about calories and your personal needs. 

For healthy college men, energy requirements average between 2400 and 3200 calories/day. Smaller or shorter men (as well as men who are older, less active, or on a weight-reducing plan), likely need around 2400 calories per day. Larger or taller men (as well as men who are more active or on a muscle building plan), likely need 3200 calories per day or more. Of course, these numbers are just estimates. Your individual needs may be higher or lower depending on your resting metabolic rate and level of physical activity. Click here for more info about calories and your personal needs.

Macronutrient Distribution
In September 2002, the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine issued new recommendations for distributing calories between macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein). The new recommendations follow:
  • 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrate
  • 20-35% of calories should come from fat
  • 10-35% of calories should come from protein
As you can see, the recommendations offer a broad set of ranges that accommodate most people’s unique metabolic needs and personal tastes/preferences. 

Who might benefit from an eating plan that is higher in carbohydrate?
Athletes and other very active individuals generally benefit from a higher carbohydrate meal plan (i.e. 60-65% of total calories). Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred and most efficient source of energy. In fact, it is the only fuel your muscles can use during short and/or very intense physical activities (since fat breakdown takes too long and requires too much oxygen). And, it is the “limiting fuel” during long endurance events (since the body can’t break down fat in the absence of carbohydrate). So, a high carbohydrate meal plan helps athletes maintain optimal muscle carbohydrate (or glycogen) stores for optimal training, performance, and recovery. Further, a high carbohydrate meal plan helps preserve lean body mass (since more protein is broken down when inadequate carbohydrate is available for energy). Click here for more info on eating for exercise and sport.

Who might benefit from an eating plan that is more moderate in carbohydrate?
Someone with diabetes, insulin resistance, or frequent hypoglycemia (low blood sugars) may enjoy better blood sugar and/or insulin control with an eating plan that is more moderate in carbohydrate (i.e. 45-50% of total calories). People with these conditions can't handle carbohydrate as well, especially if they are not physically active or they are obese. Click here for more info on diabetes and insulin resistance.

How do I know if I need an eating plan with a lower or higher percentage of protein?
First, keep in mind that the percentages are relative to your calorie intake. So, even though you may be eating a lower percentage of calories from protein doesn’t mean you are actually eating less protein. Confused? Consider the following example:
  • A 165 lb. very active man who is trying to build muscle needs ~3500 calories and ~130 grams of protein per day. This is a high amount of protein. But, because of his high calorie level, he can meet his protein needs with just 15% of his calories coming from protein (a relatively low percentage from protein).
  • On the other hand, an overweight sedentary man (who is trying to lose weight while preserving his lean body mass on a 2000 calories diet) would have to consume 26% of his calories from protein to achieve the 130 g protein goal. The sedentary man’s protein level isn’t higher than the active man’s – it’s just that his calorie intake is lower. This is why people on low calorie weight loss plans need a higher percentage of calories from protein to meet their protein needs.
Click here for more info about protein and your personal needs. 

Sample Plans
Click on the links below to see how many servings you need from each of the food groups for various calorie levels and macronutrient distributions:

High Carbohydrate Plans 
These plans show five different calorie levels (1600, 2000, 2400, 2800, and 3200). Calories are distributed as follows: 60% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 20% fat. These plans are ideal for athletes and other very active individuals who need more carbohydrate and protein to support their high volume of training and lean body mass. They’re also great for individuals trying to eat a more healthful plant-based diet.

Moderate Carbohydrate Plans
These plans show five different calorie levels (1600, 2000, 2400, 2800, and 3200). Calories are distributed as follows: 50% carbohydrate, 25% protein, and 25% fat. These plans are ideal for individuals who can’t handle carbohydrates as well (due to diabetes, insulin resistance, or reactive hypoglycemia) or who simply prefer more protein and fat in their diet.

Weight Loss Plans
These plans show five different calorie levels (1200, 1500, 1800, 2100, and 2400). Calories are distributed as follows: 50% carbohydrate, 25% protein, and 25% fat. These plans are ideal for individuals who are very sedentary and/or overweight. The relatively high protein content helps promote satiety (fullness) on fewer calories and preserve lean body mass during weight loss. Keep in mind that the more active you are, the more calories you need for healthy weight loss.

Portion Distortion
After looking at some of the meal plans above, you may be surprised or even confused. The number of servings recommended from each food group sounds like WAY too much food, with 7 to 10 servings of fruits and veggies and 5-16 servings of breads, cereals, and grains. How can you possibly reach those goals? And if you do, won’t you gain weight eating that much food? 

In fact, the recommended serving sizes are much smaller than what is typically served at restaurants and what you might typically eat at home. Click here for some surprising facts about Pyramid Portions vs. Real Life Portions. You’ll see that it’s much easier than you think to meet (or exceed) the recommended servings. 

Intuitive Eating – The Alternative to a Meal Plan
Meal plans are NOT for everyone. In fact, for the long term, they shouldn’t be for anyone!!! Consider the following:
  • For many people (especially chronic dieters), prescribed meal plans can feel very restrictive and can actually back-fire as tools for weight loss. For example, with meal plans (as with any diet), people fall into the trap of either being “on” or “off” their plan. And, if they deviate just a bit from their plan, they assume they are “off” and so might as well go REALLY WAY OFF and overeat that day. Further, most people tend to want more whenever there is a perceived limit to how much they are allowed. In other words, the more food is off limits, the more food they want!
  • For others, meal plans are too limiting to accommodate their varied tastes and hunger levels from day to day. And, for still others, meal plans are simply too cumbersome – they don’t want to count servings and measure foods all day!
In reality, it’s not realistic or healthy for anyone to stay on a strict meal plan forever. Eating cannot (and should not) be that “perfect” and inflexible. If you decide to try a meal plan, think of it as training wheels. They help you re-learn what healthy, normal eating looks like. But, once you get the hang of it, you can take them off and ride freely.

What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an alternative approach that works for everyone. It’s about listening to (and trusting) your own body’s hunger and satiety signals. In other words, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. This may sound incredibly simplistic, but actually most of us do not do this. Instead, we habitually eat for so many other reasons besides physical hunger. Click here for more info about physical vs. emotional (or recreational) hunger and how to manage emotions without food. Also, for more detailed info about intuitive eating, check out the book below:

Intuitive Eating: A Recovery Book for the Chronic Dieter. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD. 2nd Edition. 2003. 

 
Sheri Barke, MPH, RD 
COC, Student Health & Wellness Center
Rev. 2005