Meal Plan Vs Target Macros?
Over the years I've often been asked if I follow a Meal plan or a Flexible diet?
Do I advocate either dieting protocol towards my clients for their Fitness goals?
Is it best to be following a Meal Plan and meal prep or follow a more flexible approach?
A Meal plan can be known to offer you a good outline of what we should be including into our Daily diet according to most Dietary peak bodies.
Flexible dieting or IIFYM another popular alternative has also grown in recent years as you are able to alternate between various food.
But, which one is superior? Do I recommend one over the other?
To answer this requires further context for each popular Dieting Method.
Lets dive right in!
Meal Plans are general outlines of recommended food sources in accordance to Dietary peak body guidelines.
They are a Personalized and structured list of food sources especially tailored by registered professionals to suite an individual's dietary requirements.
Some Meal plans are also designed will an overall purpose to further encourage individuals to achieve their Fitness goals.
Whether it's Losing Weight, Fat loss, Muscle building. improving Health or overall Strength & Performance. Meal plans are a Rigid approach as you eat accordingly off of a tailored plan towards your desired Goals.
A Meal Plan will usually consist of varying lists for an individual recommended daily intake including:
- Preferred or Recommended Food Sources
- Food Serving Sizes
- Specific Meal times or frequency
- Macronutrient / Micronutrient / Daily Energy (Calorie) Balance breakdown
Pro's & Con's
Meal Plans when adhered to will help you Optimize results in a quick and timely manner. One of the main benefits is the removal of various variables i.e. inaccuracy and the arduous thought process and emotion often involved with dieting.
With a menu individuals can make informed food choices based off of a food list including dietary requirements, schedule, food availability. Meal plans also help individuals maintain a sense of control and motivation in terms of adherence & setting up a meal prep regime.
Provided a nutrition program contains both the equivalent dietary preferences, guidelines, individual characteristics & personal preference. This can help further aid individuals adhere to a meal plan.
However, part of the problem with with rigid eating is not the lack of macronutrients but rather micronutrients. A past study review found rigid dietary practices is not only dated and of poor quality but rather underpins the main objective of an individual looking to improve their eating habits.
Furthermore Meal plans offer very little to no food flexibility. The study concluded a more flexible approach is required to meet a broad spectrum of micronutrient intake and quality.
Macro / Calorie tracking has grown exponentially in the last few years and is now a very popular weight management tool.
As there is no Meal Plan involved, Target Macros offers a far more flexible approach provided you meet certain dietary requirements aka your Target Macronutrient goals.
Target Macros short for Macronutrients are personalized nutritional targets specifically tailored for any given individual. With prescribed macronutrient targets, you are in theory able to eat certain foods you typically wouldn't on a Meal plan and still be goal focused.
Note: whilst you can pretty much eat how you want to, it is highly recommended to ensure you're within range of your Target Macronutrient goals for optimal Health and performance.
Pro's & Con's
Unlike a Meal Plan however, Target Macros are less rigid and structured. In most cases there is a period of learning required. It also falls entirely up to the expertise and knowledge of the individual applying the method.
In recent years IIFYM (If it fits your macros) has been poorly brushed over with a false dichotomy of a diet only consisting of 'unhealthy' food sources. Whilst this may be true for un-informed new goers, there is now recent evidence suggesting otherwise:
A past peer reviewed study found individuals following a 'flexible' approach was equal to or in some cases superior to meal plans for getting in a full spectrum of their micronutrients.
The Better choice?
Whilst both methods of eating have their advantages, which one is better suited requires context and can depend largely on an Individual's situation, goal(s) and Lifestyle.
Let's take a look at a few scenarios where a Meal Plan or Target Macros would better suit:
Preparing for your big perfect day can be very energy demanding and emotionally taxing. It is usually a time where small things can quickly become an unnecessary concern. Sometimes things don't always run according to plan.
During these times it is often beneficial to remove the thought & emotional process out completely by following something structured and specific to your needs. The lesser stressed and happy the individual is, the better one will experience a result.
In this case, a Meal Plan may better suit.
There's no better way to enjoy food than with good company. Whether it's a warm summer evening or a birthday party, we love a good get together over a BBQ.
These social occasions whilst festive can usually amount for a large quantity of our Daily Calorie allowance. Coupled with availability and consumption of alcohol, it's not too difficult to end up in an excess during these periods.
This is ok, whilst we have actively worked hard towards our Fitness goals, we also sometimes need to live a little within reason.
Given adequate time, one can apply a simple strategy i.e. Daily Macros Vs Weekly Calories and adjust one's intake over the course of the week or day.
This can allow for a more joyous experience and remove any unnecessary stress or anxiety as you've made the necessary adjustments as to not derail you completely off track!
Unless you're the head chef, Target Macros can definitely be more beneficial on these occasions.
Perhaps one of the biggest moments in an Athletes career is the moment they finally get to step on stage or arena and showcase years of hard work and commitment!
This is where all the arduous and exhilarating training sessions in the Gym and constant Weighing or Tracking of food will shine for all to see. Regardless of the approach we follow, we usually want to look and perform at our damn best!
For those willing to excel and stand out above the rest, a high degree of accuracy and consistency is usually required. As Energy levels and Physical prowess tend to decrease so do motor skills and day to day thinking.
More-so than often, a rigid structure (Meal plan) may better suit an athlete's needs to help take the thought and emotional process out of Dieting.
Note: a Flexible approach (Target Macros) or dietary 'break' may also suit, however this is largely dependent on the Athlete's:
✔️ Support system
The truth is both are valid methods of Self-Monitoring and both can lead to great results. However which method is used can depend on the overall goal.
As every individual is different, which method is better suited is largely dependent on their individual situation.
If you're a busy bee, prefer structure & routine, a Meal Plan may be for you.
If you Love Flexibility and Freedom of food choice, Target Macros will better suite.
If you've been sitting on the fence, drop me a line to give one a go!
1. Sports Med. 2015 Jul;45(7):1041-63. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0329-4.Dietary Intake of Competitive Bodybuilders.
2. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2018 Sep 1;28(5):502-508. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0323. Epub 2018 May 16.A Comparison of the Nutrient Intakes of Macronutrient-Based Dieting and Strict Dieting Bodybuilders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29140151
3. BARIATRIC ENDOCRINOLOGY AND VERY-LOW-CALORIE MEAL PLANS.
4. LIMITED CARBOHYDRATE REFEEDING INSTRUCTION FOR LONG-TERM WEIGHT MAINTENANCE FOLLOWING A KETOGENIC, VERY-LOW-CALORIE MEAL PLAN.
5. Letter to the editor: Low-carb meal plan and postmeal exercise.
6. Self-reported adherence to diet and preferences towards type of meal plan in patient with type 2 diabetes mellitus. A cross-sectional study.
7. Similarity in meal plan use among first-year roommates.
8. Dynamic Macronutrient Meal-Equivalent Menu Method: Towards Individual Nutrition Intervention Programs.