Why I Don't Prescribe Meal Plans
In the days of everyone wanting a quick fix or not really wanting to put much thought into their nutrition, meal plans are now big business and are a very easy way for someone to make money from it. I often get people contacting me looking for meal plans for sports performance or weight loss and I recently had someone call me looking to buy one. I had to spend about 20 minutes on the phone explaining to them why I don’t prescribe meal plans, why I don’t agree with people selling them and why he should be careful of it as he said he had already called a number of other people about getting a meal plan to improve his sports performance.
In this article, I want to share with you these reasons so you are aware of why they will not benefit you. My 3 main issues with buying a meal plan from someone are
- You already have a diet/meal plan
- You are not learning anything
- They are not personalised to you
You Already Have a Diet/Meal Plan
The main point I want to make is that YOU ALREADY HAVE A DIET/MEAL PLAN. If you have noticed that your sports performance has been affected or you “can’t lose weight” the issue is not that you need a completely new diet, it is just that your current one is not working for you and needs to be changed/improved. you may make a plan for what meals you are going to eat in the week ahead or you just eat when you are hungry but both methods without any thought about the calorie and macronutrient content of your diet. If you needed 2500kcals with 120g Protein and 250g of Carbohydrate every day for you to successfully achieve your goals, how are you going to be able to accurately hit these figures without putting some thought into your food choices?
This is where prescribed meal plans come into it. You see that your performance is being affected and instead of paying a little bit more attention to your current diet and making changes where necessary, you go out searching for someone to give you a meal plan that will help you reach your goal. You give them money to send you a list of foods that add up to a specific calorie and macronutrient content to help you reach your goal and see a difference so you continue to give them money. However, you may not realise that to send a meal plan can be as simple as opening a file and changing the name on the top of a PDF to make it look like it is personalised to you. As i said, you already have a diet, everyone has a diet but some peoples work better FOR THEM. You need to work on making YOUR diet better, not searching out someone else diet. Think about it this way.. Heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua has an incredibly healthy diet which is personalised for him and his specific goals. If the majority of the general public were to eat what he eats on a day to day basis, they would put on a lot of weight due to the sheer volume of food he requires, even though it is classed as being very healthy FOR HIM.
You Are Not Learning Anything
Let’s say your favourite foods are chicken curry, vegetarian enchiladas, and halloumi & spinach traybake, and you love having these every week. What are the chances that the person you contact to buy a meal plan from including these meals each week? Not very high. If you were to start planning out your own diet, you may notice that the issue with your food choices was just your portion sizes were too small, which could be sorted by adding a mid-morning snack. If you went down the route of buying a meal plan from someone, you will be eating an entirely different diet for a set period of time. My big issue with this is… What do you do when that period finishes? You have 2 options…1. Continue paying the person for more meal plans so you can keep going or 2. Stop paying them for more meal plans then you are right back to square one again, with no idea about what to eat, why you should be eating them and how you should change if your goals change.
It is important to remember that when you are aiming for a specific goal, your calorie and macronutrient requirements will not stay the same all the way through. E.g. If you are looking to build a lot of muscle, you need to be in a calorie surplus and be consuming a high protein intake. As you gain muscle mass, your calorie and protein requirements will increase in order to keep you hitting your goals. You should, therefore, be aiming to understand your own diet, goals and requirements so you know how to change it when it is needed. If you go down the route of buying meal plans, you might get a couple of months down the line and then plateau, instead of re-evaluating your diet you will have to keep paying them to get an updated meal plan which may end up becoming quite expensive for something you can do yourself with a bit of time and planning.
Another big issue arises when you change your goals. A lot of people want to continue to progress, especially when it comes to sport. E.g. A runner may start out at their local Parkrun looking to lose weight and catch the running bug then go for a 10k followed by a half marathon, full marathon and eventually an ultra-marathon. Each of these events requires a different nutritional approach. If they got a meal plan for weight loss when they started the running journey they may have to keep buying new meal plans as they progress which, again could become quite expensive.
They Are Not Personalised To You
When people create meal plans, they will likely have a database set meal plans such as “2000kcal muscle meal plan”, “2500kcal running meal plan”, “1500kcal weight loss meal plan” etc and will just change the name at the top of it and send it out to whoever buys it. As it has your name on, it looks like it has been designed specifically for you and you go away happy that your new plan will let you reach your goals. Sadly, it has not been designed specifically for you and you are likely to be eating the exact same meals as someone else who weighs the same, is the same gender and has the same goals as you.
When you pay someone for a meal plan, there is a good chance that they don’t take your lifestyle into account. When it comes to properly advising someone on their diet it takes a lot of considerations. Things like job, work patterns, exercise type, training times, family life, hobbies, location etc all play a big factor in when/what a person is able to eat and is probably not thought about in generic meal plans. For example, you could get a meal plan that tells you to eat a baked sweet potato for lunch but you might work as a fisherman and have no access to cooking facilities for the potato, or you could be given something that takes you 2 hours to prepare but by the time you get home from training, sort the kids out you only have 30minutes to have it before you need to head out to work. It is so important that your diet is tailored to you.
I often get clients who work in a hectic job that requires a lot of traveling and I have to help teach them about how they can plan their own diet and what to do if work gets in the way. With buying a meal plan from someone you will likely struggle if something pops up that disrupts your plan and you don’t know what to do as an alternative.
Top Tips For Meal Planning
When it comes to planning for a specific goal there are a lot of factors you should consider and this is something that can take a lot of practice to get absolutely right. That being said, with a little bit of time and effort you will be able to get some big improvements to your diet which will allow you to notice a difference to your performance. Following these tips will give you a good idea about how to go approach meal planning for yourself.
1. Use your current diet
As mentioned earlier, you have a diet, the issue is that it isn’t working properly for you. Before you rush into a new diet or trying to radically change everything you currently eat, start by writing out a food diary for a week and use this as your starting point. You can look at this and see potential areas that need improvement or could be changed.
2. Start small
Pick 1 or 2 parts of your current diet that you have identified as potential areas of improvement and work out them. People tend to try and change their entire diet which becomes hard to sustain, instead, you could just pick 1 or 2 small parts each week or 2 and go from there. E.g. Start with breakfast and recovery and focus your attention on improving these. Once you have mastered this, move on to lunch, snacks, dinner, hydration etc.
3. Understand the Nutritional Content of Foods
Often, people start planning their diet or just loading up on one specific nutrient but without really knowing how much foods contain. E.g. Someone thinks they need more protein
. Instead of looking at how much they need, what their diet currently contains and how much different foods contain, they just go out and buy loads of protein shakes and eat masses of chicken and eggs when they might have only needed an extra 20g a day.
Check out my new Online Performance Nutrition Platform which is a monthly subscription service that has been specifically designed to help you with meal planning, understanding nutrition and improving your own diet. It has an abundance of useful resources, recipes, and foods along with their nutritional breakdown, educational videos and much more. This platform is also free as part of my private
4. Plan to Make Extras
One of the best tips for meal planning which can save you a lot of time and money is to plan to make extra portions. Instead of making enough for just you and your partner, make 8 portions. That way you can eat the 2 portions that day and you have another 6 that can go in the freezer for a later date.
5. Reuse Plans
From working with my clients over the years I have found a very useful tactic is to make a number of weeks plans and go back to them each week. So you could make 2,3,4 weeks worth of plans for example and reuse them over and over until you need to re-evaluate your diet or if you want a change. This will save you a lot of time and effort going forward. A lot of people think that meal planning meals you need to make a new one every week, for 52 weeks of the year. This is not true, you should do what suits your lifestyle.
If you do need any further support with meal planning, please get in touch to find out what I can do to help you achieve your goals while also learning everything you need to know for when you need to change your diet yourself in the future.