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Many fitness apps have personalised meal plans. However, I am wondering whether meal plans are actually a good idea, as they might not match your dietary requirements.

Would it be better to stick to a meal plan when trying to build muscle or would it be better to just ensure that you eat lots of protein, vegetables and fruit, eat enough carbohydrates and fibre and eat not too much sugar and salt?

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As long as you have your staples in place, you'll see progress. But a proper meal plan is a lot more than the checklist you mentioned.

Time and time again we see people intending to consume far more protein than what is actually good for them, because they have this notion that "the more, the better", and some buy in to the rumor that you should eat this many grams per pound of bodyweight. But even if you do balance your macronutrients properly, are you going to mind your micronutrients with the same care? Because you should. Micronutrient deficiencies (e.g. iron deficiency) is a very frequent problem. Not just for those who train, but for people in general who aren't educated on nutrition.

For that reason, a meal plan should come from your doctor, your trainer, your physical therapist, or an educated dietician. A meal plan should be made specifically for you, by someone who knows you, your body, your starting point, and your goals. In this case, the meal plan will meet your dietary requirements, and is a very good idea.


Citations/clarifications

My comment about the harmful effects of protein should be backed up. In general, too much of any macronutrient will end up as fat. In the case of protein, it is first metabolized into amino acids and ammonia, whereby the leftover carbon is converted into glucose (see: Gluconeogenesis). If your cells, muscles and liver already have sufficient glucose, it is converted to fat and stored. Therefore, consuming excess protein can cause you to gain excess fat. The asker does not provide his intended numbers, but at worst, we had another asker intending to consume well over 300g per day.

On the subject of more direct harmfulness:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0261561415000916

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9614169

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2826524 (specifically animal protein, so take this one with a pinch of salt)

On the topic of iron deficiency being common, it started with myself. I went to the doctor and got a blood test, and was told I was iron deficient. My doctor then told me it was quite common. So with a sample size of 1, it's 100% prevalent.

On a more serious note, I found this article claiming iron deficiency affects more than 25% worldwide. It's just an article, but it lists two credible sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18498676

https://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/micronutrients/anaemia_iron_deficiency/9789241596107/en/

And this is just iron deficiency alone.

I have not had the time to properly read through these studies in detail. Please let me know if there are reasons to doubt them. It's always possible that an article misrepresents studies.

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  • Citation needed for excessive protein being being harmful. (The statement "far more protein than what is actually good for them" implies that excessive protein is harmful.) Also citation needed for micronutrient deficiencies being common outside of populations with restrictive diets (e.g. iron deficiency in vegetarians, B12 deficiency in vegans). – David Scarlett Jan 10 at 4:13
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    @DavidScarlett - I've added some citations. You raise the topic of restrictive diets, but I see no reason to make the distinction. If deficiencies are classified as a frequent occurrence worldwide, there's no cause to believe that omnivores are any sort of exception. Some deficiencies (like B12) are known to affect people on restrictive diets more than anyone else, but deficiencies in general seem to affect anyone who isn't careful or knowledgeable. – Alec Jan 10 at 6:12

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