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“P” is for protein − the priority nutrient in your muscle-centric eating plan. Learn how 3 more “P’s” − Principles, Plate Proportions, and Pleasure – can put you on the path to success.
- Think of your muscle-centric eating pattern as a shift in eating style to support both muscle and overall good health, instead of as a diet. Team up a commitment to being physically active and nurturing your mind-body connection with your shift in eating style for a long-term, energy-filled, healthy lifestyle strategy.
Prioritize high quality protein with every meal and snack. Every eating occasion is an opportunity to make a choice to support your muscle health and consume vital nutrients. Strive to distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day with at least 30 grams of high-quality protein per eating occasion.
Space your meals. Try to eat 3 meals a day, 3-5 hours apart to optimize your body’s ability to use protein to support muscle maintenance and growth. If you have a higher daily calorie target (>2200 calories) or a higher protein recommendation, adding a 4th meal and/or a high protein snack may be a useful strategy. Avoid grazing (nibbling) throughout the day.
Follow a consistent eating schedule. Try to eat a high protein breakfast within 90 minutes of waking every day. If you are following a time restricted eating schedule, try to give yourself at least 3 hours between meals.
Plan ahead. Take some time each week to plan your meals and snacks for the upcoming week, make a shopping list, and shop for or order the foods you need. You could also consider purchasing home delivered meals. These suggestions save time and can reduce stress (and temptation) by not worrying about what to eat at the last minute.
2. Plate Proportions
- Picture your plate like this:
Prioritize eating 30-60 grams of high quality protein per meal.
- As a general “rule of thumb” fill about ¼ of your plate with quality protein foods to achieve a MINIMUM of 30 grams of high quality protein per meal.
- Quality-protein foods include beef, pork, game meats, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, and soy-based foods, such as tofu. If you struggle with dairy, consider lactose-free or soy-based dairy alternatives.
- Besides supplying muscle-supporting protein, these foods provide other important vitamins and minerals including vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and selenium. Many soy-based sources also contribute calcium.
- High-quality protein sources also provide the right amount (~3 grams per eating occasion) of leucine — an essential amino acid that kick-starts building muscle proteins.
- Your meal could include a single high quality protein food (such as chicken with lunch or dinner) or a combination of foods (such as eggs, cheese, and Greek yogurt at breakfast).
- Strive to eat all the high-quality protein foods on your plate. Try eating these foods first to help you consume enough grams of protein before you get full.
- Review the tabs below to explore more about quality protein sources, including the amounts of protein and leucine they contain, and how you could use this information to achieve your daily protein target.
- Red Meat
Red meat (without bone, fat trimmed, cooked)
Poultry (meat without bone and skin, cooked)
Seafood (edible portion, cooked)
Fill the rest of your plate with quality carbs from primarily vegetables.
- Your muscle centric plan does NOT eliminate carbs. But it’s important to know that not all carbs are created equal. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains all contain carbs. So do sugary snacks and drinks. This plan focuses on nutrient-dense quality carbs to help provide you with the fiber, nutrients, and sustained energy you need without providing empty calories.
Your plan DOES aim to strike the best balance of quality carbs. The plan emphasizes vegetables, some fruits, and whole grains so your body can use themfor energy instead of protein. They also provide fiber (to support digestive and cardiovascular health, to reduce the risk of certain cancers, and to help you feel full after a meal), and supply key vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients essential for overall good health.
MOST of the quality carbs on your plate should be high fiber, colorful (especially dark green and red/orange), non-starchy vegetables and some fruit. These foods are fiber-rich and relatively lower in carbs compared to the category described below. Examples include acorn squash, spinach, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, raspberries, and oranges.
LESS of the quality carbs on your plate should be starchy vegetables and whole grains. Foods in this category contain more carbs (including starches) compared to the category described above. Examples include potatoes, peas, black beans, brown rice, quinoa, and oats.
Expand the sections below to see a list of quality carb foods and more detailed information on the amounts of calories, carbs, fiber, and “bonus” nutrients they contain.
Get most of Your Carbs from High Fiber, Colorful, Non-Starchy Vegetables & Fruits (expand to see examples)
Get less of Your Quality Carbs from Starchy Vegetables and Whole Grains (expand to see examples)
Add a little healthy fat to your plate.
Most of the fat grams in your eating plan will come from what naturally occurs in quality protein foods, so adding only a little extra fat is recommended.
Include some nuts, seeds, and avocado as fat sources that also provide a fiber boost. For example, you could add 1 – 2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds or about a ¼ cup of cubed avocado to a salad, stir-fry, or smoothie.
Use oils in cooking and at the table sparingly to avoid excess calories. A little goes a long way. Limiting added oil to no more than 1 tablespoon per meal is a good general guide.
Explore below for more tips about adding healthy fats in your eating plan.
- Nuts & Seeds
- Add 1 – 2 tbsp. to salads, yogurt, whole grain cereal, a stir–fry, or a smoothie.
- Keep 1/2 - 1 oz portion-controlled pouches on hand for a quick snack.
- Grind and use in place of bread crumbs as a crispy coating for meat, chicken, or fish.
- Mash and use as a spread instead of mayo, cream cheese, or butter.
- Dice or slice and toss into colorful, dark leafy green salads.
- Try frozen avocado − a convenient option that's great in smoothies!
• A little goes a long way to add essential fatty acids, moisture, and sometimes flavor, to your meals.
• With well over 100 calories per tablespoon, extra calories from oils can really add up if you don't use sparingly.
• If you make muffins or other baked goods, try substituting ¾ cup of a neutral flavored oil, such as canola, for 1 cup of solid fat (butter, lard, or shortening).
1 Good for lower and high temperature cooking (pan searing and sautéing).
2 Use for salad dressings, dips, marinades, or drizzling over cooked food.
Jump-start your muscle centric eating style transformation by following the guidelines to proportion your plate as outlined above.
During the first couple of weeks of starting your plan, consider using the food diary feature of the Chronometer app to help you compare the nutrients you eat with the precise calorie, protein, carbs, and fat grams targets we recommended for you. Click here to learn how to set your nutrient targets in Chronometer to align with the personalized targets we provided for your muscle centric plan.
3. Pursue Pleasure
- Enjoy your eating experiences! There are MANY delicious foods that fit in your plan. Lean into those you love and consider trying some new ones to add variety, nutrition, and some excitement to your health journey.
- Take the time to savor the flavor, colors, aromas, and textures of the foods on your plate. Share meals with good company, or make mealtime a peaceful, relaxing time for yourself.
- Take pride in eating well to support your muscles and overall health and well-being. Remember, every time you eat is an opportunity to support your health goals.
By adopting basic core principles, properly proportioning your plate, and taking pleasure in your eating experiences, putting your muscle centric eating plan into action will be a do-able and delicious endeavor!
Hungry for more information to put your meal plan into action? Check out DIY Quick & Easy Muscle-Centric Meals & Snacks and Maintaining Your Muscle-Centric Meal Plan When Eating Away from Home, to get inspired to prepare delicious muscle centric meals at home and to stay successful when you’re on the go.