Fitness Meal Plans – Why I Don’t Make Them

By JC Deen



Fitness meal plans, or pre-made diets, are something I’ve strayed from for the longest time and I can’t imagine I’ll ever give into creating them for clients.

A few common questions I get on a weekly basis are “what do you eat?” “What do I need to eat to lose weight?”  “Can you make me a personal fitness meal plan?” or something in a similar vein.

While the questions are not necessarily bad, they’re just not the right questions, in my opinion.  First of all, I’ll just be outright with it – I hate meal plans.  I hate them so much that when I see one written out by another trainer, or even when I scan some forums and see someone posting their meal plan, I conjure up feelings of dismay.

In saying that, I want to give some explanation on why I’m not a meal plan kind of guy, and what I believe to be a better alternative.

There are 2 main reasons I do not prescribe a fitness meal plan.

  1. They are restrictive.
  2. They make us stupid.

Fitness Meal Plans Are Restrictive

Oftentimes, I believe we get into this mindset that there is ONE way to get things done, and subsequently, we feel that those with the best physiques, or the best trainers, must have a golden meal plan that made them look the way they do.

I’ve fallen into this trap before – way back when I was scouring all the magazines, I wanted to know exactly what my heroes were eating.  Then I wanted to emulate this pattern because it was obviously their key to success.

However, when I did this, I began to notice just how restrictive my relationship with food became.  Since my favorite bodybuilder wasn’t eating egg yolks in his scrambled eggs, neither did I.  Instead of having a few bananas for breakfast, I always opted for oatmeal, because that’s what he was having.

Over time, I realized that I was never straying from this meal plan and my diet became quite boring and even deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.  So even though in principle there was nothing wrong with me having different types of foods for my meals, even with a similar macro nutrient breakdown, I subconsciously thought my results wouldn’t be as good.

Another example is a friend of mine here in town. She competes in pageants and as she was preparing for her last one, her trainer gave her a meal plan that included fish and broccoli for her dinner meal.

For 6 whole months, her dinners, for the most part, was always fish and broccoli.  When I asked her why, she simply said it was the meal plan her trainer gave her – he never explained that it was just an example meal and that it was interchangeable.  Heck, he may have never intended it to be interchangeable, and if this is the case, something is crazy wrong with this situation.

Who’s to say she couldn’t have some red meat and potatoes for dinner every once in a while?  Or even some fruit and dairy like quark or cottage cheese as long as her daily macros were met?

In my opinion, fitness meal plans like this can be very restrictive due to our nature of attempting to stick with the plan.

And this leads me to the second point.

Meal Plans Make Us Stupid

I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense.  I don’t believe following a meal plan is really making us stupid, but I do believe they keep us in the dark, so to speak.  They keep us from learning how to eat and prepare meals for the longterm.  You see, if someone is always telling you what to do, and how to do it, you have no reason to do any further investigation – no real reason to actually learn anything.

And this is a major problem.
What happens when you decide you aren’t going to work with a trainer any longer, or that you can’t afford the services anymore?  Or what if he just gets sick of you and decides to fire you?

Then what?

Most people will revert back to their old habits, and their current fitness levels or accomplishments will deteriorate.

In this case, you just spent all this time and effort getting results, but because you failed to learn what was actually going on, you can’t do it for yourself.

In reality, there’s nothing special about a meal plan, the magic is found in setting a macronutrient goal and staying within those calorie parameters.

This is why I never, ever make a meal plan – I always give macronutrient guidelines and recommend that my people hit those macros on a daily basis, regardless of meal timing,  or composition.
The Purpose of Macronutrient Guidelines
If a person is accustomed to meal plans and not used to creating meals that fit within their macros, the thought of this can seem rather daunting, but the learning curve is relatively short.

But guess what?  Once you figure out how to create meals on the fly that fits within your macros, you’ll never, ever need another meal plan again.

Also, you’ll no longer be a slave to eating the same foods day in and day out, unless you’re like me and actually prefer uniform eating.  I’ve found that most people enjoy their diet to be somewhat varied though.

Keeping It Simple

The only thing you need to know, essentially is how to track your intake accurately.  Not sure how to do that?  Cool, we have just the thing you need, right here at JCDFitness.

Counting Calories – the No-BS Guide – all you need to know about tracking your intake and macros.

After that, set aside some extra time to make some meals and fit them into your macro guidelines as best you can.  It’s never going to be 100% perfect.  Some days, you will have more carbs, and other days more fat.  Sometimes, you might undershoot protein by 5-10 grams.

In the end, as long as you’re consistently getting close to your macro goals and staying within the recommended amounts, you’ll hit your mark.  I promise.

Remember – just because I’m not a fan of meal plans, doesn’t mean they don’t work or aren’t effective for some people.  I’m all about educating people to be independent and to think for themselves, so the idea of making meal plans just doesn’t make much sense to me for the long-term.  But it’s just advice.

23 thoughts on “Fitness Meal Plans – Why I Don’t Make Them”

  1. There’s a bunch of tools out there that now allow you to properly deliver meal plans (eg Trainerize, Evolution Nutrition). I agree with your approach that meal plans might be restrictive if created in a biased way, but what do you think about meal plans where clients can actually add/swap foods based on preference without changing the overall calorie target?

  2. This is a very great article. As a beginner to weight lifting and “meal planning” (for myself/family), I can tell you I appreciate the meal plans given to me by trainers, websites, etc.

    But, I’m not the average n00b. I actually understand how the body works and know how to substitute. I just like not having to think about meal composition. When I started *dieting,* I would use the SouthBeach Diet and create meals based on what was in that meal plan; then when I went gluten free, I started using meal plans from the Type O diet plan in Eating Right 4 Your Type. Now, I’m switching to Paleo/Primal, but I’ve also started weight lifting, so I’m having difficulty coming up with foods to eat to hit my macros.

    I think in the very beginning stages, meal plans are good to help a person establish a pattern or gain an understanding of what types of foods they’re looking to consume for fuel. I’m slightly confused by my current “target goals” for the macros and calories, but I’m happily researching whilst trying to hit them (I never eat enough, it seems). Thank you for this article. I really wish more trainers were like you, sir.

    • Glad you found this article useful. I’d highly recommend not going the paleo route for more reasons than one, but mainly because you’re training, and our bodies need sugar for fuel. We didn’t evolve to rely on fat all the time.

  3. I don’t even know what a meal plan is… but it does sound stupid! For weight loss situations I like providing the daily caloric intake, RMR, and macro percentages. Then I have them use a smart phone app to track food for a week. It’s just the resulting awareness that’s more valuable than anything.

  4. Great write-up bro – it’s amazing how many people in the fitness world become truly obsessive-compulsive about nutrition because “it’s on the paper”.

    That’s exactly the reason I competed once… and never again. Just opened my eyes to the reality of how a lot of people get in this rigid meal plan routine and a) never actually enjoy their food and b) even after they’re done competing or hitting their goal, they hold on to their bad habits and emotions surrounding food.

  5. Good stuff, JC! I’ve wanted to write a blog post like this myself. The most popular fitness website in Estonia has page where people can order meal plans from personal trainers they like. Some personal trainers go as far as saying that you have to change a meal plan every two weeks or else you won’t achieve your results. Every single detail counts. Surely, they want the money.

    But can’t eating be even more simple? Like not counting much of anything? Not making eating mathematical at all? Have you thought about that?

    • well sure. my eating patterns are not mathmatical at all since I don’t count calories anymore. However, you can’t tell a beginner this because they haven’t a clue, usually, about how much they’re actually consuming.

  6. Great post man and I completely agree. The RD I work with gives me examples, but also breaks down what components of macros each meal should have and exact foods. As you points out- the biggest problem is telling people what to eat without telling them why. “Eat fish for dinner” is not acceptable, where as “fish is one item that can be a good protein source for your dinner” makes more sense.

    And I almost threw the remote through the TV tonight watching “Fat Chef” on Food Network. The nutritionist wanted to put a 340 pound woman on an 1,800 calorie diet. Clearly she had no idea about the actual laws of thermodynamics where that woman’s metabolism is actually going to HIGHER than an average weight person. Not to mention she’s probably twice as many calories as the average person as rest due to the fact of supporting and moving all that weight around and the calories needed to maintain it.

    Sorry rant- but I thought you might get it

  7. Another great article JC, there can never be enough encouragement for people to move away from forum dogma.

    You make a good point about eating the same foods day after day promoting deficiencies – perhaps even intolerances (physical or mental) over time? After eating nuts at midday for the best part of four years until I knew better, I now feel quite nauseous at the thought of them.

    • honestly, I haven’t looked at uniform eating and it causing intolerances, so I can’t comment on that one. I partake in uniform eating just because it’s easy.

  8. Another fantastic article. I really like your website and approach to fitness. I’ve had the same experiences as you being too restrictive and its really counterproductive and ridiculous. Since then I’ve become more relaxed and I feel like I’ve made even better progress, and am much happier as well. Thanks for being a great source of sound fitness information on the web!

    • hey Yasemin, thanks a lot for commenting. I’m glad you’re enjoying a somewhat alternative approach to this fitness stuff.

  9. I really like how you mentioned that hitting your macros is much more sustainable in the long term than a “meal plan.” Staying with a boring set of meals can make anyone obsessive or burn out quickly. Macros teach you that it’s fine to indulge every now and then if you eat consistently towards your goals.

  10. I agree 100%! I’ve created meal plans for clients in the past, and even though I gave them various options for meals and how to substitute other foods, I felt like they wouldn’t always think for themselves. I would spend time explaining how the body works, processes calories, etc and found some people really don’t want to think about the how & the why. They just want a precise blueprint to follow. :(

    Along the lines of keeping clients stupid, I think some trainers prescribe exact meal plans for this very reason. They want their clients to be ignorant and completely reliant on them, so the clients keep coming back for more and more. And/or the trainer is a complete moron.

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JC Deen is a nationally published fitness coach and writer from Nashville, TN. Currently living in the blistering Northeast. Follow me on X/Twitter