In the world of nutrition, we hear the balance and moderation of the term ALL THE TIME. There is a good reason for this, as the success of a “diet” comes down to these two words. I put diet in parentheses because I don’t believe in a dieting approach, more a long-term approach to eating that can be sustained FOREVER. The perfect diet would have a balance of whole-food derived protein, complex carbs and healthy fats at each meal in line with an individual’s goals while including tasty, higher-calorie foods in moderation. Below I will discuss how to build a balanced meal for your goals.
If you have not yet read my post on macronutrients, give that a quick read first. This will give you a better understanding of the concepts I will discuss here.
Using the Plate Method
In 2011, the USDA replaced the MyPyramid with an updated version called MyPlate. The update aimed to bring the guide into the 21st century and introduce new food patterns. This infographic breaks down the various food groups into portions on a plate, as shown in the image below. While not everyone’s plate will look the same, this can be a great starting point for most people.
First, you want to take into consideration what your goals are. Do you want to lose fat or gain muscle? Maintain your weight, etc. Your goal will determine how your plate should look. First, we will start with the “maintain weight plate.”
The maintained weight plate will be the middle one in the above picture. If looking to maintain your weight, a balanced portion would look like 1/3 complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes), 1/3 non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, green beans, asparagus, etc., 1/3 lean protein (lean ground beef, chicken breast, tofu, etc.). This would provide enough of each macronutrient to maintain weight while consuming a good amount of vegetables.
Next up would be the fat loss plate, pictured on the left in the image above. This plate would consist of 1/2 non-starchy fruits and vegetables, 1/3-1/2 of lean protein and 1/4 complex carbs. This plate would provide enough protein and vegetables to fill you up while limiting the amount of carbohydrates you consume. This does not mean carbs are bad, but by consuming smaller amounts of simple carbs (white bread, pasta, doughnuts, and sugary cereals) and more complex carbs, you can satisfy your hunger while meeting your fat loss goals.
Lastly, we come to the muscle gain plate. While it may sound odd to need to gain weight, some individuals have just as hard a time gaining weight as those struggling with losing weight. The weight gain plate would consist of 1/2 carbohydrates, 1/3 protein and 1/4 – 1/3 non-starchy vegetables. The focus of this plate is the carbs. In this ratio, they provide sufficient energy to meet the body’s needs, plus some extra to promote slight weight gain.
Don’t Forget Healthy Fats
You may ask, where are the fats on these plates? And that is a great question. Many times the foods we consume already contain a certain amount of fats, such as meats and some carbohydrates. Fats are an essential nutrient and should not be cut out of the diet. When using the “plate method”, include servings of fats from healthy sources such as olive oil, avocado, nut butter and fatty fish. Fats are more energy dense than protein and carbs, so be aware of portion sizes. Protein Remains Consistent
On each of the plates, you can see that protein remains fairly consistent. This is because protein provides the building blocks your body needs to rebuild muscle and regular hormones, among many other functions. The fat loss plate is the only plate where protein may be slightly higher. The added protein would help satisfy hunger due to slightly lower carbohydrates in this situation. Additionally, the vegetables would serve this purpose because most are filling when eaten in larger quantities.
What About Dairy?
It can also be included in the balanced meal for those who consume dairy. Alternatively, dairy can be eaten between meals as a snack, such as yogurt with granola or cheese and crackers. Dairy provides essential vitamins and minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, and niacin) that aren’t found in the same quantities in other foods. If you don’t eat dairy, there are many other food sources to get these nutrients, though they may not be as concentrated.
And there you have it. You can implement some methods immediately to help you meet your nutrition and fitness goals. This is one tool of many that can be used. Using the plate method helps you focus on one meal at a time rather than becoming overwhelmed by planning out a full day of eating. Next time you sit down to a meal, take notice of the ratios of macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) on your plate. This will help you create a more balanced meal.
What other methods do you like to use to create a balanced meal? Please let me know in the comments section! And until next time, my friends, BE ELITE!