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Meal Plans for Lean Muscle Gains and Getting Shredded

January 4, 2019

food - steak and beans

You want to get leaner and more cut, and you know that nutrition is the key to that.

But there’s just so much confusion out there over what type of diet is best for lean muscle.

The truth is there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ meal plan that works for everyone. But there are some basic concepts you can at least start with to get ripped and lean.

In this post, you’ll find several meal plans to help you build lean muscle and get shredded.  In short, use these meal plans if you want to ‘see your muscles’ that you’ve worked so hard to build.

Here’s what you will learn in this post…

  • An array of one-day sample meal plans that will help you gain lean muscle while cutting body fat
  • How to develop healthy eating habits that will help you reach your goal to get shredded faster
  • Purpose-based meal plans from clean foods
  • Caloriespecific meal plans for those who count calories
  • Tips on how to use cheat meals to get even more shredded
  • I also provide links to more specific meal plans that you may want to try!


Calories and Macros for Lean Muscle Explained

Before we ‘dig in’ to the meal plans below, let’s briefly take a look at calories and macronutrients. These are some basic guidelines to start with and will help you understand the role of calories and macros.

Calories for Lean Muscle

The simple formula for calorie intake for lean muscle is multiplying your body weight by 14-15.

So if you’re currently 175 lbs. you’ll need to eat about 2,625 calories per day to maintain your body weight, assuming you’re active and working out (which is a fair assumption to make, being that you’re on this site!).

You can Google something like ‘calories per day for lean muscle’ and you’ll get different answers, but the majority of reputable trainers and bodybuilding nutrition experts recommend this formula, or something close to it.

Remember, your goal is not to merely lose weight. It’s to be lean and have visible muscle. In fact, some will actually gain a little weight while building lean muscle and dropping body fat.

Macros for Lean Muscle

Macros are an extremely subjective topic in the bodybuilding and fitness community. And you’ll find that people are very passionate about their trendy diets.

We’re not going to get into all of that. Instead, I’m going to give you a basic starting point.

Here are some general recommendations:

  • Fat loss: 45-50% protein, 10-30% carbs, 30-40% fat
  • Strength: 30% protein, 50% carbs, 20% fat
  • Endurance: 15-20% protein, 45-50% carbs, 20-30% fat
  • Hypertrophy: 25-35% protein, 40-60% carbs, 15-25% fat
  • Maintenance: 25-35% protein, 30-50% carbs, 25-35% fat
    **This information is referencing the article ‘How to Calculate Macros: Step-by-Step Guide‘ on the Old School Labs website

One little nutrition hack that bodybuilding and physique competitors will do is cycle their carbohydrate intake. Many will have higher carbs on workout days and lower their carbs on non-training days where they may not be as active.

SPECIAL NOTE: It’s important to understand that not every meal plan works the same for everyone. You must take into consideration things like genetics, body types, and where you are now versus where you want to be in regards to your fitness goals.

That said, this information should not be considered gospel – I’m simply providing you with a good place to start with your meal planning. Because that’s where most of us have issues…getting started!

Lean Muscle Meal Plan

lean muscle meal plan thai food

The Lean Muscle Meal Plan is designed to help you gain lean muscle and get shredded at the same time.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

“Dude, that sounds awesome, but is that even possible?”

I’ll talk more about that below, but let’s determine if this meal plan is right for you.

You want to be on the Lean Muscle Meal Plan if…

  • You’re serious about getting ripped, shredded, cut, etc. (I just love all the cool names we have for this goal, don’t you?)
  • You want to see those striations, muscle separation, and, of course, your abs
  • You can seriously commit to a semi-strict eating plan for several weeks

Below you’ll find a sample 1-day Lean Meal Plan.

Lean Muscle Meals

lean muscle diet meals sausage gumbo

Lean Muscle Meal 1

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1-2 servings of oatmeal

Lean Muscle Meal 2

  • 1.5 scoops of whey protein
  • 8 ounces of almond milk or water
  • 1/3 cup of dark berries

Lean Muscle Meal 3

  • 6-8 ounces of lean sirloin steak or chicken breast
  • 2 red potatoes
  • 1 avocado 

Lean Muscle Meal 4

  • 6-8 ounces of fish or lean turkey
  • 1 serving of brown rice
  • 1 cup of broccoli and carrots

Lean Muscle Meal 5

  • 1 serving of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 serving of almonds or natural peanut butter

Gain Lean Muscle While Burning Fat

Back to the million-dollar question:

Is it truly possible to build lean muscle and get shredded at the same time?  

Yes, but the trick is to give your body just enough food to:

  • Keep your metabolism boosted throughout the day to burn more fat
  • Recover so that you can build new, lean muscle
  • Give you the energy you need to workout hard

There are some strict guidelines you will need to follow to make this happen.  Here are your rules for building muscle and losing fat simultaneously…

  • You have to carefully watch your calorie intake yet also ensure you get an adequate amount of food throughout the day.
  • Make sure you stick to a consistent cardio and weight training schedule.
  • Pay attention to your daily caloric intake (this will be different for everyone)

**If you need help with meal prep then I have a resource you may be interested in on this post: Bodybuilding Meals and Recipes: Anabolic Cooking Review

Cutting (Contest Prep) Meal Plan

The Cutting Meal Plan will help you drop down to a low percentage of body fat while preserving lean muscle.  This plan is similar to what a bodybuilder or fitness competitor would do for a contest prep diet.

You’ll eat less carbs on this cutting diet than most other meal plans.  However, don’t confuse this with Atkins or Keto diet.  And I’ll explain after we go through the meals below. 

This type of meal plan is for you if…

  • You need to drop bodyweight without losing much muscle
  • You’re prepping for a contest (bodybuilding/physique)
  • You want to take your body composition and physique to the next level
  • You need help with eliminating cravings

Below is a sample cutting meal plan for one day. 

Cutting Meals

Cutting Meal 1

  • 6 egg whites, 2 whole eggs
  • 1 serving of oatmeal
  • 1 serving of fruit

Cutting Meal 2

  • 2 scoops of whey protein with flax
  • 1 cup of fat-free yogurt

Cutting Meal 3

  • 6-8 ounces of chicken or fish
  • 1 sweet potato

Cutting Meal 4

  • 2 servings of cottage cheese
  • 1 serving of almonds

Cutting Meal 5

  • 6-8 ounces of beef or fatty fish
  • 1 cup of green veggies

Cutting Meal 6

  • 2 scoops of whey protein with flax
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal Plan

low carb meal plan

In this Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal Plan, don’t confuse low carbs with no carbs.  The idea is to minimize carbohydrate intake so that you can burn more fat.

This type of meal plan is for you if…

  • You need to drop weight fast (reducing carbs works for most everyone for weight loss
  • You’re prepping for a contest of photoshoot 
  • You want to look good for the beach or pool (hey, we all want this…don’t lie!)
  • You are carb sensitive and need a healthy eating plan

What I’m going to harp on is minimal carbs, and the timing of those carbs (notice the first meal will contain a decent amount of carbohydrates).

Here’s your low carb meals below.

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meals

low carb diet steak and asparagus

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal 1

  • 3 whole eggs
  • 2 turkey sausage links
  • half bagel with cream cheese

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal 2

  • 1 serving of cottage cheese
  • 1 serving of almonds

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal 3

  • Lean ground beef or steak
  • ​1 serving of lima or butter beans
  • broccoli and carrots

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal 4

  • Chicken breast
  • avocado
  • 1 serving of green veggies

Low Carb Bodybuilding Meal 5

  • 2 scoops of whey or casein protein
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

Does a Low Carb Diet Work for Bodybuilding?

I also want to harp on the fact that losing weight should not be your ultimate goal on a low carb diet.  The purpose of dropping carbs is to lose body fat and build, or at least maintain lean muscle. 

Does this work for bodybuilding?  You should understand that low carb diets aren’t ideal for building muscle mass.  But eating low carbs will indeed help you get ripped and shredded.

Here are some things to consider when on a low carb bodybuilding meal plan…

  • Keep a close eye on your progress to ensure you’re losing the weight from body fat and not eating away at muscle tissue. 
  • Do not let your body go into starvation mode.  If this happens, reassess your overall calorie intake per meal. 
  • Make sure you’re taking daily vitamins as you may not be getting adequate amounts on a super low carb diet. 
  • Take additional amino acids (BCAAs – branched-chain amino acids) to help preserve muscle while on this meal plan.

Get Cut and Shredded with Nutrient Timing

I mentioned earlier that this diet is low in carbohydrates.  More importantly, you may notice the timing of your carbs.  They’re mostly eaten in the morning, and here’s why…

  • Your body can use those carbs as energy throughout the day.  
  • You’ll replace those carbs with fats for your later meals.
  • This combined with higher protein portions will help keep your body in a fat-burning, muscle preserving state. 

*I recommend early morning workouts on this plan with meal 1 being your pre-workout meal and meal 2 for post-workout.

It’s also important to realize that your goal on the cutting meal plan is not to simply lose weight.  Mere weight loss most often equates to muscle loss.  Rather, the goal is to lose body fat and preserve lean muscle.  

Here are some more tips with this cutting (contest prep) meal plan:

  • The cutting meal plan can be anywhere from 2000-3000 calories. 
  • Your portions really depend on how much body fat you need to lose. 
  • A good rule to follow is to keep your protein intake high, at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.
  • You can play around a little with your carb intake to see how your body responds to carbs.
  • Make sure you get plenty of healthy fats as well but don’t overdo it (taking flax seed or flax oil is a great way to get your healthy fats in).

What About Cheat Meals?

cheat meal ice cream hot fudge sundae
pizza for favorite cheat meal

Now we’re getting to my favorite part of eating, and perhaps yours too.  Cheat meals.

But is it realistic to get ripped, toned, and drop body fat with cheat meals? 

Well, yes and no.  Start by asking yourself these questions, and be honest with yourself:

  • How far away am I from achieving my goal?
  • Am I training for a competition, or just wanting to get in better shape?
  • Am I getting frustrated with my current diet?
  • Is the progress I’m making what I expect (or am I even making progress)?
  • Am I happy with the way I look and feel? Can I see my muscles? Do I have the definition and body composition I want…or at least, do I feel I’m getting closer each week?
  • Are you getting bored with eating clean? (perhaps a cheat meal would do you good!)

You simply have to be honest with yourself and monitor your progress along the way.

If you have something like a bodybuilding or physique competition coming up, a cheat meal may not be worth the risk.  

TIP: If you’re flattening out or feel you’ve hit a plateau, having a cheat meal or two may actually help you get over that hump.

cheat meal pancakes
crepes cheat meal for lean meal plan

My Favorite Cheat Meals

**Here are some of my favorite cheat meals

  • Sticky rice and mango (Thai dessert pronounced ‘ma-muong khao niao’)
  • Pizza and garlic bread
  • Craft beer (this usually goes with the above!)
  • Pancakes
  • Cocoa Pebbles
  • Hot fudge sundae
  • Crepes

Meal Prep and Cooking Tips

The most challenging part of eating for lean muscle is knowing what to cook and how to prep your meals. And some meals are more time-consuming than others to cook.

And here’s the thing. If you don’t stick to a meal prepping plan, you’re bound to fall off track and either skip meals or grab the quickest thing available, which is usually not healthy.

Here are a few tips that will help you:

  • Make your grocery list ahead of time
  • Choose specific days to cook in bulk
  • Get several same-size glassware to divide your meals in
  • Get your spouse, partner, or gym buddy on the same meal plan so that you can hold each other accountable
  • Keep a recipe guide in the kitchen or somewhere where you have quick access to (like on your phone)

I also have another resource that may help you with regards to cooking and meal planning. You can read about that in my post: Bodybuilding Recipes and Meals for Lean Muscle

1,600 Calorie Meal Plan

1600 calorie meal plan

If you need to lose weight while maintaining high energy levels, this 1600 Calorie Meal Plan is something you should consider. 

This works for both men and women, though it will be more common with women that want to get in shape. 

The focus of this fat-burning meal plan is to…

  • Make sure you’re eating the types of foods that boost your metabolism and keep your energy levels up to workout hard and burn fat.
  • Give your body just enough calories to use for energy and to recover from your workouts.
  • Tone your muscles by bringing out muscle separation, striations, and definition.
  • Develop healthy eating habits.
  • Temporarily restrict calorie intake to make faster changes in body composition. 

1,600 Calorie Meals

1600 calorie meal plan Thai panang curry chicken and rice

1600 Calorie Meal 1

  • 1 whole egg
  • 5 egg whites
  • oatmeal

280 calories, 28g protein, 19 g carbs, 7 g fat

1600 Calorie Meal 2

  • cottage cheese or protein powder
  • banana
  • 1 serving of almonds

402 calories, 29 g protein, 41 g carbs, 16 g fat

1600 Calorie Meal 3

  • 4 oz lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1 serving whole wheat pasta

380 calories, 30 g protein, 41 g carbs, 10 g fat

1600 Calorie Meal 4

  • 1 can of tuna (or cottage cheese)
  • apple
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

267 calories, 23 g protein, 24 g carbs, 10 g fat

1600 Calorie Meal 5

  • 4-6 oz chicken breast
  • sweet potato
  • cup of veggies or small salad

263 calories, 26 g protein, 34 g carbs, 4 g fat

TOTALS: 1,592 calories, 137 g protein, 158 g carbs, 47 g fat

Toning and Muscle Shaping Diet

This meal plan is all about shaping your muscles and toning up.  It’s designed to help you achieve an optimal physique (mean, and lean!). 

Here are some tips to get the most out of this 1600 calorie meal plan…

  • Lift weights (or continue lifting weights, as this is something you should already be doing!)
  • Arrange this meal plan so that your meal with the highest amount of carbs is eaten post-workout. 
  • Spread out these five meals so that you’re eating every two to three hours. This will help keep your energy levels up.

2,000 Calorie Meal Plan

2000 calorie meal plan pork and rice

A 2,000 Calorie Meal Plan is one of the most popular diet concepts.  And although we’ve been given decades of bad diet information, 2,000 calories is indeed a great starting point for getting shredded and losing fat.

The meals in this one-day sample diet are packed with essential nutrients needed for energy and recovery And it gives you a balance of high quality protein, moderate servings of complex carbohydrates, and adequate healthy fats.

Try the 2,000 calorie meal plan if you want to…

  • Build lean muscle while dropping excess fat (this will be a gradual process, but a lasting one)
  • Get into better shape and conditioning
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Start healthy eating habits

2000 Calorie Meals

2000 calorie diet shrimp refried beans and rice

2000 Calorie Meal 1

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • bagel
  • fat-free cream cheese

470 calories, 37g protein, 43 g carbs, 14 g fat

2000 Calorie Meal 2

  • 1 scoop of whey protein
  • 8 oz unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • banana or 1 serving of dark berries
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

402 calories, 29 g protein, 41 g carbs, 16 g fat

2000 Calorie Meal 3

  • 4 oz lean ground beef or turkey
  • whole wheat pasta

430 calories, 31 g protein, 51 g carbs, 11 g fat

2000 Calorie Meal 4

  • cottage cheese
  • apple
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

327 calories, 25 g protein, 30 g carbs, 14 g fat

2000 Calorie Meal 5

  • 4 oz grilled salmon (or any fatty fish)
  • sweet potato
  • cup of green veggies or small salad

385 calories, 27 g protein, 34 g carbs, 13 g fat

TOTALS: 2,014 calories, 149 g protein, 199 g carbs, 68 g fat

Fat Burning Energy Boosting Meals

The 2,000 calorie meal plan can literally turn your body into a fat-burning machine.  Here’s how:

  • Quality calories that your body can use for energy
  • Balanced ratios of protein, carbs, and fats ensure you get essential nutrients
  • The meals are designed to also aide in muscle recovery, which having more lean muscle helps you burn off even more

It’s a win-win diet plan all the way around.  

The caveat is if you’re looking to go to the next level (in either direction).  For example, if your goal is to build more lean muscle mass, this diet is a great place to start but you will eventually want to add more calories.

If you want to get even leaner, you may not necessarily reduce calories but you may need to up your protein and reduce the number of overall carbs.

Above all, this meal plan is a healthy and sensible meal plan with the appropriate amount of macronutrients to build lean muscle and get ripped

2,500 Calorie Meal Plan

2500 calorie meal plan

Following this 2,500 Calorie Meal Plan is your net level to making some serious lean muscle gains.  

*This meal plan is very similar to the 2,000 Calorie Meal Plan above, but you’re adding an extra meal (6 meals instead of 5).

It’s that sweet spot for many.  You’re giving your muscles enough calories to grow but not excessive calories to be stored as fat.

This meal plan is for you if you…

  • Want to pack on more lean muscle without gaining fat
  • Need to preserve muscle while coming dropping from a higher calorie diet
  • Want your muscles to look more full and defined 

2500 Calorie Meals

2500 calorie diet thai curry meal chicken

2500 Calorie Meal 1

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • bagel
  • cream cheese
  • oatmeal

470 calories, 42 g protein, 67 g carbs, 15 g fat

2500 Calorie Meal 2

  • 1.5 scoops of whey protein
  • 8 oz unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • banana or 1 serving of dark berries
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

402 calories, 29 g protein, 41 g carbs, 16 g fat

2500 Calorie Meal 3

  • 6-8 oz lean ground beef or turkey
  • whole wheat pasta
  • (optional) small piece of garlic bread

430 calories, 31 g protein, 51 g carbs, 11 g fat

2500 Calorie Meal 4

  • cottage cheese
  • apple
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

327 calories, 25 g protein, 30 g carbs, 14 g fat

2500 Calorie Meal 5

  • 6-8 oz grilled salmon (or any fatty fish)
  • sweet potato
  • cup of green veggies or small salad

450 calories, 40 g protein, 34 g carbs, 22 g fat

2500 Calorie Meal 6

  • 1.5 scoops of whey protein
  • 8 oz unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp of natural peanut butter

325 calories, 42 g protein, 14 g carbs, 13 g fat

TOTALS2,504 calories, 209 g protein, 237 g carbs, 91 g fat

How to Add Quality Muscle Size on 2500 Calories

2500 calories may seem excessive for some that want to stay lean.  Believe it or not, you can stay extremely lean on this amount of calories, but only if you’re working out consistently. 

The types of calories you will be eating are coming from high-quality food sources.  These are the foods your body will use for two things:

  1. Energy
  2. Recovery

You may also notice the carbohydrates are high.  However, understand that the majority of carbs are complex, in which your body will use for energy.

The high protein and adequate servings of fat in each meal will help your muscles recover from your workouts.  

Put it all together and you have the perfect meal plan to workout harder and build new muscle tissue. 

How to Eat for Lean Muscle and to Get Shredded

lean muscle meal plans to get shredded

There’s really no secret to building lean muscle and dropping body fat.  It’s simply through the types and amounts of food you eat and your exercise regimen.  

If you’re eating crap foods and not hitting the gym, then you can expect to look the same.  If you just do one of those, you can expect minimal results. 

I personally like to follow an 80/20 rule when it comes to diet.  Eat strict 80% of the time and leave a little room to have some ‘comfort food’ here and there.  Like anything, just don’t overdo it.

And once you develop healthy eating habits, your body (and mind) are going to crave those good foods because you will begin to associate those healthy foods with how you look and feel. 

The weights…we didn’t talk about working out much because this post is about nutrition and meal plans.  But I assume that you being on this site that you’re in the gym several times a week smashing some weights.  If that’s not you, then start, like yesterday! 

Remember this:

  • Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of quality calories
  • Eat 5-6 meals per day
  • Don’t overeat, and don’t under-eat 
  • Give your body and muscles the nutrition they need to recover and grow
  • Be consistent with your workouts and train hard! 

Resources for Getting Lean

Here are some additional resources that may help you on your journey for getting ripped, lean, and shredded!

Train (and eat) with Passion,


About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!