Creating a meal plan for a hypothetical athlete
Nutrition is relatively simple when distilled into the basic components of caloric balance, macronutrients, meal frequency, food composition, and supplementation. Protein synthesis, although a complicated process, can be maximized using relatively simple principles as discussed in part two. In part three we shall discuss how to pull all of the principles together to create a full meal plan for a hypothetical athlete.
Our athlete for this example is 5’9” 200 lb female recreational ball sport athlete. She is 35 years old and would ideally be 15 pounds lighter for her position. She trains hard 4 days per week, including resistance exercise. During her days off she takes a 30-60 minute brisk walk for active recovery.
The initial step is estimating her daily caloric expenditure for days of activity and relative inactivity. The number simply needs to create a ballpark, absolute accuracy is impossible. For this purpose my preferred equation is Harris-Benedict.
Male: (66+(6.23 x weight in pounds)+(12.7 x height in inches)-(6.8 x age in years)) x *Activity Level Coefficient
Female: (655+(4.35 x weight in pounds)+(4.7 x height in inches)-(4.7 x age in years)) x *Activity Level Coefficient
*Activity Level Coefficient
Sedentary : 1.2
Lightly active : 1.375
Moderately active : 1.55
Very Active : 1.725
Strenuous activity : 1.9
The original equation was intended to calculate the average energy expenditure per day, but I have found improved success accounting for each day individually. Our female example’s caloric estimation for the day, based upon a very active level (1.725), is 2910 calories. Her estimated calories on rest days, with moderate activity (1.375), is 2320 calories.
The goal for this athlete is a 15 pound loss of weight while maintaining the most amount of muscle mass. Obviously we cannot just put our athlete in extreme caloric deprivation to achieve this goal, else she will lose athletic ability and a high of percentage of loss will be muscle tissue. Therefore we need to aim for a weight loss goal appropriate for her gender and size. The larger, more male an athlete, the faster they can tolerate weight loss. The smaller, more female an athlete, the slower we must proceed.
Our female athlete can safely lose 1.25-1.5 lbs per week. If fat contains approximately 3,500 calories per pound, we can safely enter a deficit of 4,375-5250 calories per week or 625-750 calories per day.
In a deficit of 625 calories per day, the athlete will lose approximately 15 pounds over twelve weeks. This works out well in regard to total length of caloric deficit. There exists a phenomenon that the longer a person is in a caloric deficit the greater amount of muscle is lost instead of fat. Similarly the longer a person is in a state of caloric surplus the greater amount of tissue built becomes fat. It is for this reason that I stick to roughly 12 week cycles of caloric surplus or caloric deficit before taking at least a four week break to acclimate to the new state.
Based upon an estimated homeostasis achieved with 2910 calories, subtract 625 calories as a deficit; we can estimate our calories during highly active days to be 2,285. During her less active days, 1695 calories is an appropriate place to begin.
Next we must establish a basic macronutrient breakdown for each day that matches our caloric estimation. On our very active day protein will initially be set at a gram per pound of body weight to maximize protein synthesis. 200 pounds of body weight = 200 grams of protein in this example. In an effort to maximize carbohydrates in order to fuel activity on this strenuous day, fat will be established at a minimum level necessary for optimal functioning, 20% of total calories. With 9 calories per gram of fat, 51 grams of fat is 20% of 2285 calories. Carbohydrates will fill in the remainder of calories at 256 grams. Nutrition during very active days will need to provide an estimated 2283 calories, 200 grams of protein (35%), 256 grams of carbohydrates (45%), and 51 grams of fat (20%).
Protein during her days of moderate activity will still be set at 200 grams, a gram per pound of body weight, once again to maximize protein synthesis. A decreased relative activity level requires a decreased total amount of carbohydrates, increasing the amount that fat can be used as an energy source per percentage. In order to assure optimal hormone functioning, fat will be set towards the higher end of optimal percentage at 30% initially. 56 grams of fat is 30% of 1695 calories. Carbohydrates again will fill the remainder of calories at 98 grams. Nutrition during moderately active days will need to provide 1695 calories, 200 grams of protein (47%), 98 grams of carbohydrates (23%), and 56 grams of fat (30%).
With calories and macronutrients established, we can utilize the principles discussed in parts one and two to begin the creation of a meal plan. We will utilize five meals per day for protein assimilation and convenience. Proteins will be distributed evenly throughout the day. Carbohydrates will be clustered around periods of activity. Food selections will be primarily animal sources of protein, fruits, vegetables, and grains. And because humans prefer variation, many food selections will be accompanied by alternative options. Using a food macro nutrient calculator the following was created to best comply with our estimations.
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Training days begin with almonds and an egg white and whole eggs blend. Eggs by themselves are more heavily weighted towards fat then protein. By using egg whites the balance can be tipped more towards protein. The blend insures that the athlete still receive the benefits that a whole egg has to offer. The primary activity of the day is assumed to occur during the third meal in this example, therefore in an effort to cluster carbohydrates in proximity to training, meal one’s energy source is primarily fat.
Meal two begins with a lean protein. Lean protein is more protein then fat and therefore fits our established macronutrients better in this example. Carbohydrates are introduced in the form of rice or yams. The selected carbohydrates are low on the glycemic index which has debatable benefit but primarily they create a great deal of satiety (fullness). Vegetables create satiety and are high in micronutrients while typically providing few calories.
Meal three is intended as intraworkout nutrition. During training it is difficult to take in a great deal of calories, typically easy to consume, low volume items are selected. Concentrated whey protein is selected for its rapidly assimilated amino acids. Milk is chosen for caloric density and pro tip: it makes protein powder taste better.
Meal four is intended as a post workout meal. Post workout the body is most ready to accept carbohydrates and calories in general. A very lean protein is selected to maximize energy from carbohydrates during this time. Carbohydrate selection is the same but with the addition of faster acting carbohydrates in the form of fruit. Many bodybuilding nutrition coaches dislike fruit but I find no issue with it. Fruit tastes good, is easy to consume, has plenty of micronutrients and often has fiber.
Meal five provides a blend of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins as the distance from the training increases. Probiotic Yogurt is wonderful for digestive health. Fruit makes a tasty way to wrap up the evening. Raw honey is also a natural probiotic if local and tastes wonderful in Greek yogurt.
One piece of fruit and 5 rice cakes are scheduled for anytime during the day. Giving the athlete some control over a few items will allow them to intervene upon hunger pains or alternatively, force food down when they most feel like they could tolerate additional calories. These items are selected for portablility.
Non-training days food selections are very similar to training days with a few exceptions. Foods are selected with high satiety in mind. Cooked oats, lentils, vegetables, fattier proteins are more filling. Carbohydrates are spaced evenly throughout the day because there is not training to account for. And obviously the macronutrient spread is different which requires different foods.
Ultimately a meal plan has been established that meets all of the discussed parameters, and based upon our estimations will result in about 1.25lbs of weight loss per week, meeting our goal in about 12 weeks time. The meal plan provides adequate variation, simple instruction, and requires only a food scale and basic food measuring tools to carry out.
In the end this is only based upon estimations and may require significant refinement going forward. Refinement will be based upon weight loss, physical composition, performance, energy, satiety, and athlete preferences. Join us for part four where we discuss just a few of the ways that this template can be modified for the athlete.