Meal Planning 101

Eating healthy on regular basis can be quite challenging. In my experience, the best way of avoiding falling into the junk food/take out trap is being prepared. If you arrive home from work and have everything ready to prepare a delicious and nutritious meal, you will be less likely to end up at McDonalds drive thru.

Here are some tips for creating your own meal planning system. This is the method I use to plan my meals and grocery shopping for the week.

  1. Start an recipe library. I collect healthy and easy recipes which I keep in a folder divided into categories (beef, chicken, lamb, pork, eggs, vegetarian). I always get the free magazines from the grocery stores. They usually have seasonal recipes and make shopping much easier. However, I only keep the recipes I know I will be able to do. My criteria is healthy, quick preparation, and deliciousūüėČ
  2. Selecting the menu. When I am planning the weekly menu, I pull my recipe folder and choose five to six recipes. I try to include a variety of vegetables, grains, and protein sources to improve nutrient consumption and create some excitement. Also, I distribute the meals according to my schedule. Ex: I usually plan fish dishes for Mondays and Fridays because those are the days I can get fresh fish from the local fishmonger. So you should choose what works for your lifestyle.
  3. Lunch is usually leftovers from dinner. Because of my work schedule, I can only cook in the evenings so I prepare a bigger batch for dinner and portion out my lunch servings. It is time effective and a great way to avoid second helpings. That’s portion-control at its best.
  4. Create go-to breakfast options. I usually have two or three breakfast options which I alternate during the week. I start by choosing a protein source, then adding a fruit or veggie, and finishing with a smart carb (oats, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, whole grain bread). Because I leave home really early in the morning (think 5am, folks), I don’t have time to prepare breakfast before work. So, I have everything ready-to-go in advance. This way, there is no excuse to stop for a coffee-shop pastry.
  5. Create go-to snack options. Same as for breakfast: have two to three options and alternate them. Rule of thumb, unless you are trying to gain weight, your snacks should be 200 kcal or less. That means that a giant muffin is out of the question. Ex: boiled egg and small salad, hummus and carrots, yogurt and fruit.
  6. Make you shopping list based on your menu. Once you’ve made your plan, create your shopping list based on the ingredients you need for the week. Number one rule is stick to your plan and avoid buying anything out of your list. Don’t keep high calorie snacks and lollies at home. If you don’t have them at hand, you won’t eat them. And if you are really craving something special, then you will have to make the effort to go to store and get it. You might give up just by thinking of it.

Take away notes: As I said before, this is what works for me. You can use it as a template but I strongly suggest that you make adjustments according to your lifestyle. I usually shop once a week for most items but get fresh produce and meats as I need them during the week. You may choose to plan only three days at a time. Anyways, do whatever works for you.

Can I Have Carbs?

The 2 Week DietFirst of all, keep in mind that carbohydrates are not bad for you. They do have an important function for the body which is supplying energy to the brain and muscles, especially during exercise. However, not all carbs are the same. There are different categories which are:

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Simple sugars ‚Äď table sugar, honey, lollies, candies, cakes , pastries

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Starchy carbs ‚Äď grains (rice, barley, wheat, rye), beans, potatoes, corn, peas

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Fibre-rich carbs ‚Äď veggies and fruits

Usually veggies and fruits are very low in calories and can be consumed in larger amounts than the other carbohydrates, especially when trying to lose weight. However, after exercise you may consume starchy carbs in moderation because at that time the body can process them better. Therefore, if your goal is to lose weight, you should save starchy carbs such as rice, potatoes, corn and bread for the days you have a training session (if you exercise every day, you may eat them every day;)).

How much should you consume?

·        If you goal is weight loss, you can have one serving of starchy carbs with the first meal after your training session.

·        Choose whole grains (brown rice, barley, whole wheat breads) over processed ones (white rice, white breads, cakes, pastries).

·        Sweet potatoes are preferred than white potatoes.

·        Have starchy carbs together as part of a meal rather than on its own (lower glycaemic load)

To simplify, one serve is about the size of your cupped hand. 

Do You Know How Your Body Burns Calories?

The 2 Week Diet
Metabolism and Energy Needs

Metabolism is the group of biochemical processes that occur within an organism in order to maintain life.  However, the term is commonly used to refer to the breakdown of food and its transformation into energy. But how does food become energy?

Energy Intake

It is common sense that the human body needs some kind of fuel in order the work properly. This fuel is obtained from food sources. Everything we eat and drink is broken down into to smaller units that are absorbed by the digestive system, and then, released into the bloodstream. Travelling through blood vessels, these small units are distributed to all body cells where they will be used to create energy.

The body can use carbohydrates, fats and proteins from the diet to produce energy. However, during exercise, the primary nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates and fats; protein contribution for energy is small. This energy is measured in kilocalories (kcal), or just calories[1].

For example, the breakdown of one gram of carbohydrate releases four calories. Proteins, fats, and alcohol are also energy sources; vitamins and minerals are non-caloric nutrients. See the table below for detailed information.

Nutrients Energy yielded
Carbohydrates 4 kcal/g
Proteins 4 kcal/g
Alcohol 7 kcal/g
Fats 9 kcal/g
Vitamins, minerals and water

Energy intake or caloric intake is the total amount of calories consumed during the day through foods and drinks.

Energy Output

Energy output is the opposite of energy intake. It refers to the total amount of calories burned during the day through metabolism, digestive processes, thermogenesis, and physical activity. The amount of energy a person expends daily varies with age, weight, height, and physical activity levels. Genetics and hormonal differences can also affect the demand for energy.

Everyone needs a minimal amount of energy just to stay alive (to maintain heart, lung, kidney, liver, and brain function). This is known as basal metabolism[2], and in a sedentary person, can contribute to as much as 60% to 70% of the total energy output. People with great percentages of lean body mass[3] usually have higher metabolic rates[4] at rest than people with more fat tissue. This is because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat tissue. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass which can drop our basal metabolic rate considerably. However, regular exercise can maintain muscle mass and contribute to a higher metabolic rate in older adults.

The body also burns energy during digestion. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). Different foods have different TEFs. The principle behind TEF is simple: the harder it is for the body to breakdown a nutrient, the more energy it will burn during the digestive process. For example, protein rich meals take longer to digest than sugar and fat laden foods. This means that protein requires more energy to be digested, thus having a higher TEF value. Also, a large meal has a higher TEF value than a small meal or a snack, because large meals will take longer to digest.

Meal rich in TEF (% of calories consumed)
Proteins 20% to 30%
Carbohydrates 5% to 10%
Fats 0% to 3%

Another way the body expends energy is through thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is the amount of energy needed to maintain body temperature. However, its contribution to the energy output is rather small.

The best way to boost energy expenditure is through physical activity. Exercise increases the demand for energy on the heart, lungs, brain and working muscles. Therefore, calorie burning is enhanced both during and after an exercise session. The table bellow shows estimated caloric expenditure for a 150 pounds person during physical activities of several intensities[5].

Walking the dog 204 kcal/hour
Walking at a moderate pace 224 kcal/hour
Walking at a brisk pace 340 kcal/hour
Backpacking 476 kcal/hour
Jogging 476 kcal/hour
Running at 5 mph 544 kcal/hour

Energy Balance

Energy balance is the state in which the energy intake matches the energy output. This means that all calories consumed are burned. It is important to keep the energy equation balanced in order to maintain a stable weight throughout our lives.

Energy Intake = Energy Output

When the energy intake is greater than the energy output, a positive energy balance occurs, meaning that there is more energy available than your body can actually use. According to the law of conservation of energy, energy may neither be created nor destroyed[6]. So, because this extra energy can’t be just thrown away, it is stored mostly as fat, and weight gain occur.

Energy Intake > Energy Output ‚Üí Positive Energy Balance

On the other hand, when the energy output is greater than the energy intake, there is a negative energy balance. This means that the body has to figure out a way to balance the energy equation in order to survive. One way of doing it is using the energy stored in the fat tissue. That’s what happens when we exercise. The body uses fat as fuel, leading to weight-loss.

Energy Intake < Energy Output ‚Üí Negative Energy Balance

However, when the caloric intake is dramatically reduced for extended periods of time (such as when you engage on a crash diet), the body has no alternative but to shift to a conservation mode. It will try to reduce the energy demand by slowing down the metabolism. This means you’ll be burning fewer calories at rest, and the low levels of blood sugar will make you feel sluggish and cranky. In this case, weight-loss is impaired, because to burn fat as fuel, the body needs energy, which in this situation, you won’t have any to spare.

A safer approach to weight-loss is to modestly reduce the caloric intake by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day, while increasing the energy expenditure by 250 kcal to 500 kcal per day (through exercise). These steps will create a modest energy deficit with which the body can deal. Following this guideline may lead to a weight-loss of one to two pounds per week[7].


[1] Kilocalorie, popular known as calories, is the unit of heat energy. Calorie is defined as ‚ÄúThe energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 ¬įC.‚ÄĚ

[2] ‚ÄúBasal metabolism is the minimal amount of energy expended in a fasting state to keep a resting, awake body alive in a warm, quiet environment.‚ÄĚ Contemporary Nutrition, seventh edition.

[3] Lean body mass is the total mass of the body minus fat tissue. It is usually used to refer to the amount of muscle mass in the body.

[4] ‚ÄúMetabolic rate is the amount of energy expended in a given period.‚ÄĚ Available at

[5] Available at

[6] Available at

[7] ACE Personal Trainer Manual, third edition.

Vegetarian Sources of Protein

The 2 Week Diet
Studies show that plant-based diets are the healthiest but do vegetarians get enough protein?

Why do we need protein anyway?

Proteins are the building blocks body tissues, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Even though, protein could be used as an energy source, it is usually spared. Our body can’t produce amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Therefore, we must get them from food sources.

How much protein do I need?

The minimum recommended daily intake is around 0.8 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. This means that if your weight is 70kg, you should consume at least 56 grams of protein daily. Depending on your fitness goals, you need a little more than that.

How do I know if I am getting enough protein?

A rule of thumb is to eat protein-rich foods with every meal. If you are vegetarian you may struggle meeting your recommended daily intake, especially if you also restrict eggs and dairy products. If you are not sure, you may want to track your food intake for a few days to calculate your calorie and protein intake (use an app like myfitnesspal or calorieking).

Can I get enough protein from plant sources?

Yes, you can. However, because plant sources don not contain all the essential amino acids,  you will need to combine a variety of vegetables, legumes and grains in order to meet your requirement.

What are the best vegetarian sources of protein?

Eggs, milk, and dairy products are on the top of the list. However, pulses such as beans and lentils and nuts and seeds also offer a good amount of protein per serving.

Click here to download a list of vegetarian sources of protein.

12 Tips for Calorie Control

You don’t need to measure/weight your food in order to control your calories. Calorie counting is not only troublesome but also inaccurate so there is no point in doing it anyway. However, you can take control of your caloric intake by adopting these 12 fool-proof strategies:

  1. Clean your pantry – Some foods are supposed to be eaten in MODERATION, meaning once or twice a month. If you keep those foods at home, chances are you are going to eat them more often than you should. So get a garbage back and throw away (or give it to someone you don’t like)¬†any following items: Sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts, Processed meats and sausages, Ice cream, lollies and chocolate, Meat pies and pastries, Crisps, chips, and other salty snacks, Margarine, Soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks, Alcoholic drinks.
  2. Home cook most of your meals РRestaurant foods are usually rich in fat, sugar and salt, tending to be  extremely palatable and easy to over eat. Keep in mind that your meals should be tasty, but not so tasty you can’t stop eating! Also, the portions are usually larger than you would normally eat at home.
  3. Surround your close environment with healthy foods – If all you see around you are fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats, you will be more likely to eat them. Those foods are packed with nutrients and fibre and low in calories (when compared to processed foods).
  4. Eat slowly and without distractions –¬†Did you know that it takes at least 20 minutes for the fullness reflex kick in? So if you eat too fast, you will be more likely to overeat.¬† Pay attention to your fullness level and stop eating when 80% full. Eliminate any distractions, meaning no phone, work or TV during your meals.
  5. Don‚Äôt skip meals –¬†You will get overly hungry and be more likely to overeat on the next meal.
  6. Pay attention to your portion sizes – A serving of grain is about the size of one cupped hand (a restaurant portion size of pasta/noodles usually have about 4 servings!).
  7. Don’t turn to food for psychological comfort РFind other ways to cope with stress, boredom, and anxiety.
  8. Eat only when hungry. Before grabbing a muffin, ask yourself ‚ÄúAm I really hungry? Could I have an apple instead?‚ÄĚ. If the answer is no, you are not hungry, you just feel like eating.
  9. Plan your cheat meal РThis is important to avoid going overboard. Choose what you are going to have in advance. Eat slowly and enjoy it. And remember, it is a cheat meal NOT a cheat day.
  10. Focus on your breakfast – When you start your day with the right foot, you set the mood for the rest of the day. Eat a high protein breakfast to avoid overeating throughout the day. Protein keeps you full for longer.
  11. Avoid high carb meal late in the day. Keep in mind that excess carbohydrates are converted into fat and deposited into your waistline. At night is even worse because most of us are not very active which means there is no time to burn the extra calories.
  12. Don‚Äôt drink your calories. It doesn’t matter if it is orange juice or coke, liquid calories are readily absorbed and spikes the blood sugar levels. A big no-no for calorie control.

The 3 Week Diet

How Much Protein Do I Need?

Protein shake, protein bars, protein pancakes. Everywhere I look, I find a new protein-based product. And the fitness industry seems to be obsessed with it. Have you noticed how many articles just like this one you can find on google?

Anyway, I agree that protein is a very¬†important macronutrient. Without protein, we can’t function.¬†It is present in every single cell of our bodies (except for fat cells, cause fat cells are formed by…well, fat). They are the building blocks of bones, muscles, skin, blood… Bla, bla, bla. You know all that already.

Let’s get to the point. I believe that you can have enough protein from food sources as long as:

  1. You know which foods contain protein
  2. You eat protein with every meal
  3. You understand your portion size

That’s why I created the following guide;)

Click here to download PDF on Protein requirement
The 3 Week Diet

Are You Familiar with the Food Groups?

The 3 Week Diet
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, we should get most of our nutrients from our diet. Whole, nutrient-dense foods (rich in nutrients with few calories) should be preferred over processed foods, which are usually energy-dense (lots of calories per weight) and nutrient-poor.

Food sources are divided into six major groups:

  1. Grains 

Grains are cereals such as rice, wheat, rye, corn, barley and oats. A whole grain is composed of endosperm, germ, and bran, and is a good source of carbohydrates (sugar, starches and fiber), vitamins and minerals. However, when a grain is refined, the germ and the bran are removed to improve texture and taste, and several nutrients (such as fiber, iron and B vitamins) are lost in the process.  Brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour are examples of whole grains, while white flour, white rice, and degermed cornmeal are examples of refined. Even though many refined grain products are enriched with vitamins and minerals, the consumption of whole grains is vital because they provide dietary fiber.

  1. Vegetables

Vegetables are edible plant parts such as leaves, stems, and roots. They are great sources of carbohydrates (starches and fiber), vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vegetables usually offer many nutrients with just a few calories. They may be consumed raw, cooked, canned, frozen, dried or in juice form. However, for most vegetables, gentle cooking methods are advised in order to preserve vitamin content.

There are many types of vegetables available: dark green such as broccoli, kale and spinach; red and orange such as carrots, sweet potatoes and red peppers; and starchy, such as potatoes, corn and green peas. Some vegetables don‚Äôt fall into any of the previous categories ‚Äď onions, artichokes, cauliflower and zucchini are a few examples. There are also beans and peas such as black beans, lentils, chickpeas and soy beans. These are unique vegetables, because they are also an excellent source of protein.

  1. Fruits

Fruits are also an edible part of plants; they differ from vegetables in that they are usually sweet[1]. Fruits provide carbohydrates (sugar and fiber), vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, and have high water content. They are considered nutrient-dense foods, because they usually offer several nutrients with just a few calories. They may be consumed fresh, cooked, canned, frozen, dry or juiced.  Apples, bananas, berries, oranges and peaches are just a few examples.

  1. Dairy

The dairy group consists of fluid milk and milk products such as cheese and yogurt. Milk is a great source of carbohydrates (sugar), protein, vitamins (such as vitamin D), and minerals (such as calcium). However, whole milk and its products also contain saturated fat. Actually, some milk products (such as butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese) are almost 100% fat! To avoid overconsumption of saturated fat, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that you choose fat-free or low-fat varieties.

  1. Proteins

This group contains a variety of animal and plant foods that are great sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Animal sources are meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood; these foods also contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Because of that, the consumption of lean cuts of meat is recommended. Beans, nuts, and seeds are plant sources of protein, but they also provide carbohydrates (starches and fiber) and unsaturated fats. Even though nuts are high-fat, energy-dense foods, they are considered heart-healthy foods, because their unsaturated fatty acids may have a positive effect on blood cholesterol[2].

  1. Oils

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, and even though they provide essential nutrients, they are required only in small amounts in the diet. Oils may be obtained from plant or animal sources. Canola oil, olives and olive oil, avocados, and nuts are examples of plant sources, while fatty fishes such as salmon and tuna are animal sources.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect food. In order to get all the nutrients our body needs, it is imperative that we consume a variety of foods from all food groups. Moderation is also warranted in order to maintain the energy equation balance. Remember that consuming more calories than you are able to expend will result in weight gain. So pay attention to serving sizes of foods, and avoid consuming oversized portions.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) also offers some tips for improving eating habits:

  • Make small changes over time.
  • Try new foods in order to introduce variety to your diet.
  • Balance energy intake with physical activity.
  • Don‚Äôt eliminate your favorite foods; practice moderation instead.

The USDA recently replaced the food pyramid (my pyramid) for a plate icon (choose my plate) in order to make the nutritional guidelines easier to understand. Below, you will find a sample of the recommendations for moderately active adult women. Complete information can be found at

[1] The sweet taste of fruits is attributed to their high content of sugar (fructose).

[2] ‚ÄúNuts and Your Heart: Eating Nuts for Heart Health.‚ÄĚ Available at

Fruit Heat Map

My weight-loss clients often ask me if they can have fruit as part of their plan.

Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. It also has tons of fibre which helps slowing down the digestive process and the release of sugar in the blood stream. In addition, its sweet taste may curb your cravings for desserts. So, yes, you can have fruit as part of your weight-loss plan.

The 3 Week Diet


However, while fruit is not going to make you fat, certain varieties may have more calories and hold more carbohydrates than others. When making a meal plan for weigh-loss, it is important to limit the amount of carbohydrates consumed. For example, a 60kg (132 lbs) female may be allowed to consume between 100 and 115 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you consider all grains, starchy vegetables, dairy products, and fruits to be included in a healthy diet, 100g is definitely not much.

Therefore, I created a little “fruit heat map” to help you choose which fruits fit in your plan.


Trainer’s Meal of the Day

You give your best at training but if you don’t have a proper diet chances are you won’t see the results you deserve. However, when I say “diet” I don’t mean counting calories and under eating. I’m referring to¬†choosing¬†whole foods that are naturally rich in nutrients.

20160111_123022Today I’m having grilled garlic prawns¬†with a kale, cabbage, carrot, beet, and broccoli slaw, yogurt dressing sprinkled with¬†sesame¬†and¬†pumpkin seeds. This meal is low in calories, fitting in anyone’s weigh-loss budget (under 300 calories, 1260 kJ). Besides, the colorful vegetables¬†are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients (all the good stuff your body needs to function well) and fiber-packed (which helps with keeping you satisfied for longer). The prawns provide the much needed protein to¬†avoid muscle wasting and help muscle recovery, especially after a hard core training session. And the best of all is that it took me less than 15 minutes to prepare it! So there are no excuses here.

How to Plan a Healthy Breakfast

The 3 Week Diet

Breakfast is a very important part of a healthy diet, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Since it is the first meal of the day, it can make or break your efforts to stay on track. Keep in mind that what you eat is as important as when you eat it. Starting the day with high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods will not only put your fat-loss efforts in jeopardy, but will also make you feel sluggish throughout the day. Therefore, pay close attention to how you are fueling your body.

Here are a few tips to plan a balanced breakfast:

  1. Choose your protein РEggs, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, low fat milk are a few options. But feel free to have animal meats such as chicken breast, if you can stomach it in the morning. You may choose to use a good quality protein powder  to make a smoothie.
  2. Pile up the produce Р Make a fruit salad, add berries to your oatmeal, or sneak a handful of spinach in your omelette. Be creative, but always include fruits and/or veggies in your morning meal.
  3. Stick to whole grains – Rolled oats is a no-brainer, but you should steer clear of¬†ready-to-eat cereals. They are usually highly processed, sugar-rich and low in fiber¬†–¬†not exactly a healthy option. Grainy breads are ok, but white breads, cakes, muffins, and pastries are definitely a no-no.
  4. Don’t forget the healthy fats – Avocado and olive oil can be used to substitute butter, cream cheese, or¬†margarine. Nut butters (peanut and almond butter, not nutella) are also cleared, just watch your portions. Keep in mind that anything in this group is very high in calories so one tablespoon is more than enough.
  5. Hydrate! – After eight hours of snooze, your body will be mildly dehydrated, so it is important to refill your stores. Water is your best option, but green tea is also¬†a great alternative. Coffee is allowed¬†as long as you don’t put a ton of sugar and cream in it. However,¬†avoid having fruit juices because they contain a great deal of calories which¬†go against your¬†weight-loss efforts.
  6. Supplements – If you take supplements, this is usually the best time to have them. If you make a habit of having them with breakfast, chances are you will never forget to take them. I usually take multivitamins and fish oil.

Click here to download a super easy cheat-sheet to plan a well-balanced breakfast.