1200 Calorie Bodybuilding Meal Plan & Diet (Printable)

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When you take your calories down to only 1200 per day, it’s extremely important to include high-quality foods in the right amounts to preserve as much lean muscle tissue as possible, give you energy for your day, and keep you feeling reasonably full.

The issue is that many individuals have a hard time understanding how to translate 1200 calories into real foods that can be combined into appetizing and satisfying meals and snacks.

That’s where I come in. In this article, I’ll give you:

  • Meals and snacks with the calorie count and macro breakdown of protein, carbs, and fat
  • A complete food list, including quantities and portion sizes
  • Practical tips and tricks to help you customize this plan for your needs

The Macronutrient Split for a 1200 Calorie Bodybuilding Diet

The total number of calories you eat each day is the most important part of dieting, whether you’re cutting (trying to lose fat) or bulking (trying to gain lean muscle mass). 

However, when it comes to bodybuilding, the source of the calories has a significant impact on whether the weight gained or lost is lean muscle tissue or fat.  The goal of bodybuilding is to preserve as much lean muscle tissue as possible while cutting and to minimize fat gain while bulking.

So how many of your total daily calories should come from protein, carbohydrates, and fat?

Generally speaking, while individual needs vary, most bodybuilders experience good results with a macronutrient breakdown that provides 30% of calories from protein, 40% from carbohydrates, and 30% from fat.

The 1200 calorie meal plan I provide below aligns with this macronutrient split.  It provides bodybuilders with enough protein to preserve or build muscle, enough carbohydrates to fuel their workouts and activities of daily life, and enough fat for optimal hormonal function.

Who Is the 1200 Calorie Bodybuilding Meal Plan For?

Who is the 1200 calorie bodybuilding meal plan for?

The 1200 calorie bodybuilding meal plan is a very low-calorie diet.  This plan is therefore suitable only for a few small segments of the general population:

  • Women less than 100lbs looking to maintain body weight
  • Women who weigh between 100-120lbs and are in the final stages of a cut for a competitive bodybuilding show

An intake of 1200 calories daily is much too low for most men, even with the goal of weight loss. 

To determine your recommended daily calorie intake, I recommend using an online calculator like this one.  Simply input your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level and press Calculate.

It is important to realize that this calculator is a tool to provide an estimate only and be used as a possible starting point.  It could provide an estimate that is too high or too low.

As such, you’ll need to assess your progress after 2-3 weeks of consistently hitting your macros.  In order to do this, it means that you will need to accurately track your macros.

I suggest using an app like MacroFactor (get a two-week free trial with the code FEASTGOOD).  Start your free trial on either Apple or Google play.

Apps Store
Google play

Also be sure that you are measuring progress according to more than just your weight on the scale.  Consider adding the following additional ways to measure progress:

  • Progress photos: take photos of yourself on a regular basis while wearing the same clothing in the same poses with the same lighting in the same location each time.
  • Circumference measurements: use a soft measuring tape to measure girth at key places (chest, waist, and hips as a minimum, and also consider neck, shoulders, thighs, calves, and biceps).
  • Body fat measurements: get a DEXA scan (do a Google search to find places near you that offer them) or use a smart scale to estimate your body fat percentage.
  • Physical performance: keep track of weights lifted, especially for benchmark lifts such as bench press, squat, and deadlift, and/or your pace/time for running distances.
  • Subjective measures: keep records of your energy levels, sleep quality, and mood.

If you are not seeing desired progress after 2-3 weeks, adjust your calories by 10% (120 calories) either up (if you are losing weight when you want to maintain or gain it) or down (if you are not losing weight).

Note that eating less than 1200 calories per day is generally not a sustainable approach and is not recommended outside of extreme circumstances such as prep week for a bodybuilding show.

What Foods To Eat On A 1200 Calorie Bodybuilding Diet?

What foods to eat on a 1200 calorie bodybuilding diet?

Now that we have the calorie count and the macronutrient breakdown, we need to also consider micronutrients.  This means getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals from whole food sources for overall health.

For each of the macronutrients, I’ll provide a list of healthy whole food sources that allow you to optimize your intake of micronutrients while hitting your macronutrient targets.

Protein

Protein intake is extremely important for bodybuilders, especially during a cutting phase.  Eating enough protein is necessary to preserve lean body mass while cutting and ensure that most of the weight lost is from fat and not muscle.

As a reminder, for bodybuilders, 30% of your daily calories should come from protein. In a 1200 calorie diet, this is 90g.

Protein is used to build and repair muscle tissue, and it also plays a role in hormone production.  Paired with an appropriately challenging resistance training program, protein leads to muscle growth.

Protein is also the most satiating (filling) macronutrient.  It takes the most time and effort to digest, which means that it keeps you feeling full for longer.  Feeling full is very important when managing the hunger and cravings that can come from following a low-calorie diet.

As well, because the 1200 calorie diet is low in fat, it is important to focus on lean sources of protein to help keep fat intake low.  

My recommendations for lean protein sources include:

You will notice that the choices in this list are animal-based, meaning that they are not suitable for vegans and some vegetarians.  Plant-based sources of protein such as beans and legumes can also provide protein for a bodybuilder, but they tend to be high in carbohydrates as well, so they will need to be tracked for their carb content too.

Below are some plant-based whole food sources of protein.  These foods are also high in insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is helpful to include in a low-calorie diet because it is filling but does not provide calories because your body does not digest it:

Plant-based protein powders are a more concentrated source of protein with fewer carbohydrates than whole food sources.  My top recommendations for plant-based protein powders are:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred and primary source of energy.  Even on a low-calorie diet, it’s important to consume enough carbohydrates to provide fuel for training sessions and to recover from that training.

If 40% of your calories come from carbohydrates in the 1200 calorie diet, you would need to eat 120g of carbs per day.

Ingesting carbohydrates helps with lowering cortisol, the hormone that is released during periods of stress such as heavy or high-intensity exercise.  Cortisol is linked to breaking down muscle tissue, so “turning off” cortisol is very important for preserving lean muscle mass.

Carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates (sugar), prompt the pancreas to release insulin.  Insulin allows sugar in the bloodstream to replenish glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and allow amino acids (the building blocks from protein) to be used for building new muscle tissue.

It’s important to strategically include some “quick” carbs around workouts and to have the remainder of carbohydrates for the day coming from slower-digesting whole food sources of complex carbohydrates.

Here are my recommendations for faster-digesting carbohydrates to consume pre-workout and post-workout:

At meals or snacks away from the training window, I recommend slower-digesting sources of complex carbohydrates, such as:

Related Article: 15 Cheap Carbs for Bulking (That Are Still Good For You)

Fat

Fat is critical for overall health due to its role in hormone regulation, nutrient absorption, and other bodily functions.

In the 1200 calorie diet with 30% of the calories coming from fat, you would need to eat 40g of fat per day.

Fat, like protein, is a slower-digesting macronutrient, which means that it also contributes to feelings of fullness and therefore helps with navigating the hunger that can come from a low-calorie diet.

Note that many whole food sources of protein named in the list above also have a small amount of fat in each serving.  Be sure to track those fats as part of the overall daily intake.

In addition to fat from whole food protein sources, I recommend including the following sources of fat in your diet:

If you’re not losing weight eating 1200 calories, then check out my other article that explains the reasons why and what to do about it.

What Foods To Avoid on a 1200 Calorie Bodybuilding Diet

With 1200 calories, the goal is to ensure that as many of these calories as possible are coming from nutritious, satiating, whole foods.  I recommend avoiding lower-quality, commercially-processed foods.  These foods tend to be high in calories but low in nutrients.  They are generally not very filling and are easy to over-consume.

Within the 1200 calorie diet, meals are approximately 300 calories and snacks are 150 calories.  Getting those calories from whole foods that naturally contain water and fiber will provide volume that helps to provide a feeling of fullness.

For example, a single-serving bag of potato chips (1½ oz or 42g) is 240 calories with 23g of carbs, 15g of fat, and negligible protein.  In comparison, 2oz (56g) of hummus, 1oz (28g) of avocado, and 3oz EACH of carrot and celery sticks is 225 calories with 24g of carbs, 13g of fat, and 6g of protein.

This means 9oz of whole foods (252g) provides nearly the same calories and macronutrients as 1½ oz (42g) of potato chips.  As you can imagine, the whole food option is much more filling.  It also provides many more micronutrients in terms of vitamins and minerals.

If you are eating your calories from highly-processed commercial foods, you are likely to struggle with feelings of hunger, making you likely to overeat and fail to achieve your goals. 

Also, including highly-processed commercial foods means missing out on the micronutrients from minimally-processed whole foods.  That means you run the risk of a deficiency of one or more micronutrients, which means that you will not feel your best.

I highly recommend that you avoid ultra-processed foods while following a 1200 calorie diet. 

The 1200 Calorie Bodybuilding Meal Plan

I have created a meal plan with two options for each meal or snack (breakfast, lunch, and dinner and two snacks).  Each of the meal options has the same calories and macronutrients, so you can mix and match the meals whenever you like.

Similarly, both snack options have the same calories and macronutrients, so you can pick either option for a snack.

As well, I am suggesting a total of three meals and two snacks, generally evenly spaced throughout the day, but special considerations for pre- and post-workout are discussed in the section that follows.

Daily Meal Plan

Total daily nutrition:

  • Calories – 1200
  • Protein – 90g
  • Carbohydrates – 120g
  • Fat – 40g

Per meal: 300 calories, 20g protein, 30g carbs, 10g fat

Per snack: 150 calories, 15g protein, 15g carbs, 5g fat

MEALNUTRITIONOPTION 1OPTION 2
BreakfastCalories - 300
Protein - 20g
Carbs - 30g
Fat - 10g
Nutty Raspberry Oats & Yogurt

● 1 packet (28g) plain instant oatmeal
● ½ oz (14g) raw chopped walnuts
● ¾ cup (175g) plain non-fat Greek yogurt
● 1 oz (28g) fresh raspberries
● Optional sprinkle of cinnamon

Prepare the oatmeal according to package directions and stir in the chopped walnuts. In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt & raspberries.
Mexican Black Bean Breakfast Scramble

● 1 large egg
● ½ cup black beans (drained & rinsed)
● 2 large handfuls baby spinach
● ⅓ cup (30g) low-fat shredded cheese
● ¼ cup (64g) sugar-free salsa
● 2 slices tomato, for garnish
● Salt & pepper, to taste

Scramble the egg and saute the spinach in a non-stick pan. Stir in the beans to warm, then top with shredded cheese and salsa.
LunchCalories - 300
Protein - 20g
Carbs - 30g
Fat - 10g
Mixed Green Salad w/ Chicken & Rice

● 2 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
● 3oz (85g) cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
● ¼ cup (45g) dry brown rice
● ½ tbsp (7mL) olive oil
● 1 tbsp lemon juice
● Salt & pepper, to taste

Cook the rice according to package directions. While the rice cooks, prepare the salad & dressing. Combine the oil & lemon juice in a small glass jar and shake vigorously. Put the salad in a bowl and top with chicken pieces. Drizzle with dressing and have rice on the side.
Crunchy Platter with Tuna

● ½ can of tuna, packed in water (drained)
● 1 tbsp (15g) light mayonnaise
● Salt & pepper, to taste
● 1 oz (28g) avocado, cubed
● 4oz (113g) carrot sticks
● 4 oz (113g) celery sticks
● 2 multigrain Ryvita crackers

Mix the tuna and mayo in a small bowl and add salt & pepper to taste. Prepare a large plate with the avocado and tuna in the middle and crackers and veggie sticks around the edges. Serve the avocado on the crackers and dip the veggie sticks in the tuna mixture.
DinnerCalories - 300
Protein - 20g
Carbs - 30g
Fat - 10g
Pork Tenderloin & Sweet Potato

3oz (85g) pork tenderloin, grilled
1 tsp hot mustard, optional
4oz (113g) sweet potatoes, cubed and steamed
3oz (85g) broccoli, steamed
2 tsp butter
Salt & pepper to taste

Plate the pork, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Spread the hot mustard on the pork, if using. Spread the butter on the potatoes and broccoli and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired.
Flank Steak & Oven-Baked “Fries”

3oz (85g) lean flank steak, cooked & cut in strips
4oz (113g) waxy white potatoes, cut into French fry shapes
3oz (85g) asparagus
1 tsp butter
10 cherry tomatoes
Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Arrange the potato pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spritz lightly with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crispy and golden brown. While the potato bakes, steam the asparagus and warm the flank steak if desired. Serve the butter on the asparagus and cherry tomatoes on the side.
Snacks 1Calories - 150
Protein - 15g
Carbs - 15g
Fat - 5g
Peanut Butter-Banana Protein Shake

1 cup (250mL) of water
½ scoop (15g) vanilla protein powder
½ small banana
½ tbsp (7.5g) peanut butter
1 handful of ice cubes

Blend together until smooth.
Yogurt, Apple & Almond Butter

4oz (113g) plain non-fat Greek yogurt
½ small apple, sliced
½ tbsp (7.5g) almond butter

Spread the almond butter on the apple slices and/or into the yogurt.
Snacks 2Calories - 150
Protein - 15g
Carbs - 15g
Fat - 5g
Deli Roll ups

● 2oz (56g) extra lean deli ham slices
● ¾ oz (21g) light Swiss cheese slice, cut into small pieces
● ½ small apple, sliced

Place 1 piece of cheese and 1 apple slice inside each slice of ham and roll up. Hold in place with a toothpick.
Chocolate Blueberry Protein Shake

● 1 cup (250mL) of water
● ½ scoop (15g) chocolate protein powder
● ½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
● ½ tbsp (7.5g) almond butter
● 1 handful of ice cubes

Blend together until smooth.

Weekly Meal Plan

If you’d like to incorporate some variety, you can mix and match the different options for meals and snacks from above to create a different combination for each day of the week.

If you prefer a different snack timing (perhaps you like a bedtime snack), feel free to adjust the timing of the snacks to suit your preferences.

MonTuesWedThursFriSatSun
BreakfastBreakfast 
Option 1
Breakfast 
Option 2
Breakfast 
Option 1
Breakfast 
Option 2
Breakfast 
Option 1
Breakfast 
Option 2
Breakfast 
Option 2
Snack 1Snack
Option 1
Snack
Option 2
Snack
Option 2
Snack
Option 1
Snack
Option 2
Snack
Option 1
Snack
Option 1
LunchLunch
Option 1
Lunch
Option 2
Lunch
Option 1
Lunch
Option 2
Lunch
Option 2
Lunch
Option 1
Lunch
Option 1
Snack 2Snack
Option 1
Snack
Option 2
Snack
Option 2
Snack
Option 1
Snack
Option 2
Snack
Option 1
Snack
Option 2
DinnerDinner
Option 1
Dinner
Option 2
Dinner
Option 1
Dinner
Option 2
Dinner
Option 1
Dinner
Option 2
Dinner
Option 2

How to Customize the 1200 Calorie Meal Plan

The meal plan above is a great jumping-off point for you to get a sense of the types, amounts, and combinations of nutritious whole foods that you can eat for 1200 calories.

This plan can be considered a basic template. You can and should substitute your favorite foods into the plan, but make sure that they have a similar calorie count and macronutrient breakdown when replacing items.

Pre-Workout Meals

Pre-workout meals should not contain a lot of fat but should instead contain carbs and protein for energy.  Fat can slow down the digestion process and delay the delivery of energy for your workout.  Aim to eat a pre-workout meal 1.5-2 hours before your workout.

To make any meal or snack low in fat, simply shift the fat source(s) from that meal or snack to another meal or snack.  This would include foods like oil, butter, mayo, cheese, avocado, nuts, or nut butters.  Simply omit these types of ingredients pre-workout and add them to other meals and/or snacks later in the day.

The snacks I provided above are low in calories and may not provide enough fuel for a workout.  Pay attention to your energy levels, and try to schedule your workouts for after a full meal instead so you have more energy to get you through your workout.

Post-Workout Meals

After a workout, aim to eat a meal that is high in protein and carbohydrates within 1 hour in order to replenish muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrates and to repair and build muscle with protein.  

Fat should be moderate post-workout.  All of the meals and snacks in the meal plan above are low enough in fat to be a good choice post-workout.

If you have fat sources to eat that were removed from the pre-workout meal/snack, do not add them to the post-workout meal.  Choose other meals or snacks instead, and add the fats to meals or snacks that are further away from your workout.

If you need more guidance coming up with a customized meal plan that takes into account your personal preferences, lifestyle, and goals, book a complimentary 20-minute consultation with one of our coaches.

Final Considerations

When following a bodybuilding diet, many people are also curious about supplements.  However, it is important to first achieve consistency with calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, and meal frequency and timing before worrying about supplements.  

With that being said, one supplement that I highly recommend for anyone doing resistance training is creatine monohydrate.  Studies show that it allows individuals to train longer and more intensely and results in higher gains in lean muscle mass and strength than from resistance training alone.

Preserving and building lean muscle mass is such a critical component of bodybuilding that creatine supplementation is worthy of mention.

Other Bodybuilding Meal Plans


About The Author

Lauren Graham
LAUREN GRAHAM

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.