Gym Diets: The Best Advice and Tips for Beginners

Top view of woman eating healthy food while sitting in a gym. Healthy lifestyle concept.

Abs are made in the kitchen and built in the gym. It is nearly impossible to meet your fitness goals without a healthy and balanced diet. For gym beginners, figuring out the perfect diet can be tricky and intimidating.

This article contains everything you need to know about what to eat when starting out in the gym, as well as an example of a diet plan for beginners that can help you to meet your fitness goals.

An Overview of Macronutrients

The first step to creating a diet plan is understanding macronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients that your body needs in large amounts. The three main macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. You can manipulate these macronutrients to meet your specific fitness and body goals.


Protein is one of the most important macronutrients to consider when you are starting out at the gym. Protein helps your body repair cells and make new ones, which is essential to muscle growth and recovery. Protein is great for keeping you full for a long time.

At a minimum, the average adult should be consuming .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, if a person weighs 150 pounds, they should be consuming 54 grams of protein per day. 

When choosing your protein sources, opt for natural, high-quality options. These are a few of the best protein sources: chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, pasta, and cheese

Try to add a solid source of protein to each meal you consume throughout the day.


Carbohydrates can help power you through your intense workouts. Carbs provide the body with glucose, which your body uses as energy. They help to fuel your brain, heart, and nervous system, allowing you to perform your best physically and mentally. It is recommended that carbs make up 45% to 65% of your total daily calories.

It is important to choose carbohydrates that are either unprocessed or minimally processed. Some of the healthiest carbohydrates include: oats, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread, rice, sweet potatoes, and beans

These carbs can help fuel your body while also giving you essential vitamins and minerals. They are slow-digesting, which can help you to stay fuller longer and prevent overeating. Carbohydrates such as white bread, cake, and soda are less healthy and filled with sugar — which makes them hard to put down. However, these types of carbs should be enjoyed in moderation.


Fats are essential in getting your body the nutrients it needs. Vitamins such as A, D, and E are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of fats. Adding healthy fats to your diet can aid you in the absorption of proteins. Fats also help to give your body energy and protect your organs. Fats should ideally make up about 35% of your daily calories.

When selecting fats to consume, opt for unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats can help boost heart health, improve cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. Some of the best sources of unsaturated fats include the following: avocado, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olives, dark chocolate, and olive oil

These fats are all-natural and offer many benefits. On the other hand, try to avoid saturated fats. These fats are typically highly processed and can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Person meal preps food for the week

Determine Your Goals

Now that you know about the different macronutrients, you need to understand how to manipulate them to meet your goals. Altering your diet to make the most out of your macros can help you achieve peak performance and feel your best.

Take some time to determine what you want out of your gym experience. Do you want to bulk up and build muscle? Or would you prefer to lose fat before toning up? If you want to gain muscle, protein will be more of a priority. If losing weight is the goal, you’ll focus more on healthy fats.

Eating for Muscle Gain

If you have decided that muscle gain is your priority, your caloric intake will likely be higher. In general, people require about 20 calories per pound of body weight to gain muscle mass. So take your body weight and multiply it by 20. This will give you a rough estimate of how many calories you will need to eat per day to gain muscle.

Once you have determined your caloric intake, you need to figure out your macronutrients. As mentioned before, make it a priority to eat a lot of protein when bulking. Protein should make up about 25%-50% of your daily intake when trying to gain muscle. Carbohydrates should come in at about 30-40%, and fats at 15-40%.

Eat around 4-6 meals per day when trying to build muscle. Smaller, more frequent meals can provide you with a steady supply of energy and can prevent you from overeating or being tempted to snack.

During this time, make sure your workouts are supporting your diet plan. Focus on muscle-strengthening exercises. Some of the best types of exercises to build muscle are resistance training, free weights, weight machines, and bodyweight exercises

Focus on increasing your weight as you progress in your fitness journey. This will help to grow your muscles and increase your strength. While cardio is important to do every once in a while for heart health, it should not be a priority when building muscle.

Eating for muscle gain takes a lot of trial and error. You will likely gain some body fat at first, so don’t let that stop you from eating more calories. If you continue to gain body fat without muscle gain, however, then you may want to either increase the amount of exercise you are doing or decrease the number of calories you are eating.

Eating for Fat Loss

If fat loss is your goal, you need to eat fewer calories than you are burning. To do this, you need to first determine your weight-maintenance calorie number. To find your weight-maintenance caloric intake, multiply your current weight by 15. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less than your maintenance number.

To safely lose one to two pounds a week, then eat 500-1000 calories less than your total weight-maintenance calories. To prevent shocking your body, start with a small calorie reduction, and work your way up each week. Make sure your caloric intake does not fall below 1,200 if you are a woman and 1,500 if you are a man. Not eating enough calories can deprive your body of essential nutrients.

When trying to lose weight, focus less on carbohydrates and more on fats. For weight loss, protein should make up 35-50% of your daily caloric intake. Carbohydrates should make up 25%-40%, and fats should take up 30%-40%.

In addition to eating a bit less, work out more. To lose fat, focus on exercises that get your heart rate up. These exercises include but are not limited to: running, cycling, HIIT training, yoga, pilates, and kickboxing

Don’t neglect strength training during this time. Try to either pair your cardio with strength or get in one to two separate strength workouts during the week.

Various gym equipment on floor with fruits and veggies

What Should I Eat Before and After My Workout?

In addition to your regularly scheduled meals, properly fuel your workouts and recovery. Eating the right foods before and after exercise can help you to perform your best.

15 to 30 minutes before you work out, focus on eating a high-carb snack to power you through your workout. Foods high in fat or fiber can upset your stomach or cause cramping. Grab something such as a piece of fruit, a small bowl of oats, or a quick sports drink to give you the energy boost you need for your workout. 

If you are completing a workout that is less than an hour long, you don’t necessarily need to eat after you train. If you are hitting the gym for more than an hour, however, prioritize a recovery snack or meal. Immediately after working out, your body is highly efficient at using protein to build new muscle, so eating a high-protein meal is a smart choice.

Example 7-Day Gym and Diet Plan for Muscle Gain

If you are on the hunt for a seven-day meal plan for muscle gain for beginners, then hunt no further. Here is a quick and simple seven-day gym and diet plan for muscle gain. This is a loose plan, so feel free to swap out meals or workouts to meet your specific goals and preferences.


  • Breakfast: 3 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, 2 pieces of toast

  • Lunch: Tuna sandwich with regular mayonnaise, 1 apple

  • Dinner: Grilled chicken and vegetables

  • Workout: 1-hour strength session


  • Breakfast: 4 protein pancakes, 1 orange

  • Lunch: Large salad topped with 2 chicken breasts

  • Dinner: 2 BBQ chicken sandwiches

  • Workout: 90-minute strength session


  • Breakfast: 2 cups of Greek yogurt, ½ cup of granola, blueberries

  • Lunch: BLT sandwich, 1 banana

  • Dinner: 2 cups of pasta, ½ pound ground turkey

  • Workout: Rest

Woman holds dumbbell and bowl of salad


  • Breakfast: Mushroom, cheese and bacon omelet, 1 piece of toast

  • Lunch: 2 protein smoothies, a handful of almonds

  • Dinner: 2 salmon filets, garlic mashed potatoes

  • Workout: 10 minutes of cardio, followed by 45 minutes of strength


  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with peanut butter and honey

  • Lunch: Salad with 2 salmon filets and avocado 

  • Dinner: 2 chicken breasts with vegetables

  • Workout: 75-minute strength session


  • Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelet

  • Lunch: Salad with chickpeas, feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers

  • Dinner: Turkey burger on a whole-wheat bun, asparagus 

  • Workout: Rest


  • Breakfast: Whole grain bagel, 3 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon

  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, cheddar cheese, carrots

  • Dinner: 2 cups of pasta with 1 chicken breast

  • Workout: 1-hour strength session followed by 20 minutes of cardio

In addition to these meals, make sure to eat small snacks such as nuts, protein shakes, protein bars, popcorn, hummus, and fresh fruit and veggies.

Various meats, fruits, and veggies laid on wooden table

Example 7-Day Gym and Diet Plan for Weight Loss

If you are trying to lose weight, then you can follow a similar plan with small modifications. Here is the same plan modified for the goal of weight loss.


  • Breakfast: 2 eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, 1 piece of toast

  • Lunch: Tuna sandwich with fat-free mayonnaise, ½  of an apple

  • Dinner: Grilled chicken and vegetables

  • Workout: 30 minutes of intense cardio


  • Breakfast: 2 protein pancakes, 1 orange

  • Lunch: Large salad topped with 1 chicken breast

  • Dinner: 1 BBQ chicken sandwich

  • Workout: 45 minutes of moderate cardio


  • Breakfast: 1 cup of Greek yogurt, ¼ cup of granola, blueberries

  • Lunch: BLT sandwich, ½ of a banana

  • Dinner: 1 cup of pasta, ½ pound of ground turkey

  • Workout: Rest or low-intensity workout


  • Breakfast: Mushroom, cheese and bacon omelet

  • Lunch: 1 protein smoothie, a handful of almonds

  • Dinner: 1 salmon filet, garlic mashed potatoes

  • Workout: 30 minutes of cardio, followed by 20 minutes of strength 

Man sits on gym bench while eating protein bar


  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with honey

  • Lunch: Salad with 1 salmon filet and avocado 

  • Dinner: 1 chicken breast with vegetables

  • Workout: 1 hour of moderate or low-intensity cardio


  • Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelet

  • Lunch: Salad with chickpeas, low-fat feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers

  • Dinner: Turkey burger on a lettuce bun, asparagus 

  • Workout: Rest


  • Breakfast: Whole grain bagel, 2 eggs, 2 pieces of bacon

  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on a lettuce bun, cheddar cheese, carrots

  • Dinner: 1 cup of pasta with 1 chicken breast

  • Workout: 45 minutes of moderate cardio

If you feel like you need snacks in-between meals, then make sure you reach for healthy choices that won’t push you over your caloric intake goals.

Don’t Forget About Water

While food is incredibly important, don’t neglect your water intake. Water should be a top priority when you are physically active daily. Staying hydrated can help you to work out longer at higher intensities. Water is also essential to your rest and recovery efforts. 

If you are working out frequently, drink 17-20 ounces of water two to three hours before your workout, eight ounces 20-30 minutes before, 7-10 ounces during exercise, and eight ounces no more than 30 minutes after exercise.

Man makes a smoothie in kitchen

Track Your Fitness Goals

This may be a lot to remember, but with a few helpful tools, you can stay on track at all times. There are many different apps that you can use to count your calories and macronutrient goals. As long as you are using these apps smartly and healthily, they can be very beneficial in helping you meet your fitness goals.

You can also purchase fitness journals to track things such as your weight, muscle mass, water intake, and more. These can help keep you accountable and will give you the information to assess what is working for you and what is not.

The Bottom Line

Staying on track with your diet is important to meeting your fitness goals. This diet plan for beginners is only a starting point. Make sure to consider your own needs and goals when creating a plan for yourself and don’t be afraid to stray from your plan to explore what works best for you.

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