There’s an old saying that “abs are made in the kitchen”. While it might not be accurate in a literal sense, the idea behind the expression rings true. When it comes to achieving many types of fitness goals, what you consume on a daily basis is more important than your exercise routine. Your diet is what fuels your workouts, your workout recovery and your body fat percentage.
If your goal is to get in shape and up your fitness levels, it’s important to make your diet a priority. Don’t get us wrong! Exercise is an important part of any fitness regime but you cannot expect washboard abs to emerge if you continue eating fatty burgers while adding a few extra miles to your daily runs. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how you can adjust your diet to help you meet your fitness milestones.
Nutrition Guidelines for Every Fitness Goal
Regardless of your particular aspirations, any physique will benefit if you moderately increase protein intake, “good” fats, fruits and vegetables. Stay hydrated, focus on eating a variety of whole foods and avoid consuming sugar, alcohol, processed foods, excess carbs and “bad” fats. That said, don’t eliminate carbs completely! Carbohydrates are important when training, as they increase energy, stamina and recovery time. The key is to replace carb-centric foods like pasta, bread and cereal with smaller amounts of “good” carbs, like sweet potatoes, quinoa and oatmeal.
To get the most out of your workouts, it’s best to consume foods high in protein and carbohydrates both before and after exercise—eating no sooner than 45 minutes before a workout will help fuel your body, while eating after a workout will help your body to recover.
Meal Plans for Losing Weight
Cutting calories and increasing your exercise levels is the best game plan for losing weight. Adjust your intake of different macronutrients to ensure that you burn about 20% more calories a day than you are consuming. Be sure to greatly reduce your calorie intake of carbs, “bad” fats and sugar while moderately increasing your consumption of foods high in protein, vegetables and good fats.
Sample meal plan:
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with green pepper and mushrooms
- Snack: Seaweed chips with hummus
- Lunch: Tilapia and avocado salad with whole-wheat crackers
- Snack: Almonds and one hard-boiled egg
- Dinner: Roasted winter vegetable medley
Meal Plans for Building Muscle
If you want to build muscle, your dietary goal is to moderately increase your calorie consumption by eating more protein and healthy fats while taking in fewer carbohydrates. Our sample meal plan is packed with protein to help you reach your daily intake threshold, as protein is crucial for muscle development. Just be sure you don’t overdo the protein!
Sample meal plan:
- Breakfast: Nuevos Huevos Rancheritos
- Snack: Greek yogurt with berries
- Lunch: Roasted veggie quinoa bowl
- Snack: Apple, whole-wheat crackers and a hard-boiled egg
- Dinner: Baked Tilapia with tomatoes and potatoes
Meal Plans for Toning Up
To tone up, focus on maintaining relative nutritional balance while also increasing your protein intake. Similar to the philosophy behind the muscle-building sample meal plan, your objective is to moderately increase your overall calorie and protein intakes in order to gain muscle.
Keep in mind that you can’t spot reduce targeted areas of the body. For example, working out your core for months won’t result in you sporting a visible six-pack if you’re holding onto excess weight in your stomach area. If weight loss is a big part of your toning goal, primarily look into adopting a weight loss meal plan in advance.
Sample meal plan:
- Breakfast: Lox eggs and onions with half of a plain baked potato
- Snack: Celery and peanut butter
- Lunch: Blackened Tilapia sandwich on whole-wheat bread
- Snack: Almond, cheese and dried cranberries
- Dinner: Roasted vegetable falafel bowl
If you’re serious about losing weight or gaining muscle, consider consulting a dietician or personal trainer to find a course of action that will work best for you. But in regards to your diet, the key thing to remember is that portion size is everything. Calculate your caloric needs and adjust your meal sizes accordingly. By doing so, a healthy diet plus adequate exercise will have you reaching your health and fitness goals healthily.
For more meal planning ideas, visit How to Plan an Entire Month of Healthy Meals and Meal Planning 101: The Staples to Include on Your Grocery List.
Photo Credits: Rawpixel / Shutterstock Inc., Jacek Chabraszewski / Shutterstock Inc., Chudovska / Shutterstock Inc.