An 1800-calorie bodybuilding meal plan should include a series of meals and snacks that promote lean muscle growth, and give you plenty of energy for your workouts, all while keeping you feeling full and satisfied.
While this may sound straightforward, knowing both the right foods to eat and how much to eat is difficult and one of the most common questions I get from my nutrition clients.
The bodybuilding meal plan below provides you with a complete food list, including quantities, portion sizes, and the optimal macronutrient breakdown (protein, carbs, and fats).
The Macronutrient Split For An 1800-Calorie Bodybuilding Diet
When we are considering what to eat to fill our 1800 calories, we want to be aware of the amount of protein, carbs, and fat we are consuming to meet these calories. As bodybuilders, this is going to be an important consideration in best fueling ourselves.
Generally speaking, as bodybuilders we want to stick to a diet that is 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat.
It is important to note that there are individual circumstances that can affect this. If you want a more custom macro ratio, talk with one of our coaches.
You may be wondering why this macronutrient split is best.
As bodybuilders, having a balanced ratio will ensure that we have enough of each macronutrient to get the benefits, without consuming too many calories that would negatively impact body composition.
Who Is The 1800 Calorie Bodybuilding Meal Plan For?
An 1800-calorie bodybuilding meal plan is ideal for:
- Women between 140 – 165 lbs looking to lose body weight
- Women between 115 – 140lbs looking to maintain body weight
- Women less than 115lbs looking to gain muscle mass
1800 calories daily are likely too few calories for most men, even with the goal of weight loss.
If you are looking to understand what your personal caloric needs are, I recommend trying a macro calculator.
The calculator will take into consideration your height, weight, age, and exercise level and provide you with a caloric goal as a starting point.
As a bodybuilder, I recommend the following approach when using the calculator:
- Select “moderate exercise level” unless they are also completing additional endurance training (such as running or biking) or have a very active job where you’re on your feet most of the day.
- Use the ‘gain’ goal if you want to find the calories you need to bulk.
- Use the ‘recomp’ goal if you want to find the calories you need to cut.
- Use the average of your ‘gain’ and ‘recomp’ calories if you want to find the calories you need to maintain your weight.
My biggest piece of advice with these calculators is to use them as a starting point only.
Once you have your starting calories, begin to follow them for three weeks assessing your progress as you go.
A few indicators of progress I recommend are your body weight, how your clothes are fitting, and progress photos.
If you are seeing the progress you are looking for, remember this will be different depending on if your goal is weight loss, muscle gain, or maintaining your weight, continue to follow those calories.
If you aren’t seeing the progress you want, I recommend adjusting your calories by 150 and continuing to follow those for another three weeks before reassessing again.
If you are bulking, this means increasing your calories by 150 and if you are cutting it will mean reducing your calories by 150.
Continue to follow this approach until you are at your goal weight.
What Foods to Eat On An 1800-Calorie Bodybuilding Diet?
As bodybuilders, it’s critical to consume protein so our body can repair and build muscles, we want to aim for 30% of our calories each day to come from protein, which on an 1800-calorie diet is 135g.
You may have heard the expression that ‘protein is king’ when it comes to macronutrients.
Protein is what our body will use to repair our muscles after a workout.
This means, if we are giving our muscles the right training stimulus and eating enough protein, that is when muscle growth will be able to occur.
Protein isn’t just for muscle growth either, it’s also key for other bodily functions such as immune function and the transportation of other nutrients.
“High-protein foods are essential for building muscle, burning fat, supporting metabolism, and even bolstering the health of certain organs like your thyroid and adrenal glands — in other words, we need protein to be healthy.”-Dr. Josh Axe, DC,DNM,CNS
While that may not seem super important for bodybuilders, we want to keep our body functioning at its best so we can most optimally achieve our body composition goals.
When it comes to the ‘how much’ of protein consumption, research shows that 1.2 – 2.2g of protein per kg of body weight is best to optimize lean muscle mass.
If you are consuming an 1800-calorie diet, your body weight is typically between 52 – 72kg (115lbs – 160lb) meaning 135g of protein daily falls nicely within that range.
When it comes to the ‘what’ to eat to get our protein, this will generally be meat, dairy, and soy.
Leaner sources of protein are a better choice for bodybuilders, otherwise, you are likely to find you are eating too many calories worth of fat trying to eat enough protein.
Lean protein sources that are a great choice for bodybuilders are:
- Chicken breast
- Pork tenderloin and pork chops
- Lean steak
- Extra-lean ground meats
- Low-fat Greek yogurt
- Low-fat cottage cheese
Many people also ask me about beans and legumes and whether those are good sources of protein.
The quick answer is no because while they do include some protein they are mostly carbs. This means you are likely to eat too many carbohydrates trying to get enough protein if this is your primary source.
Instead, I recommend focusing on those leaner protein sources and adding in beans and legumes as a carb source with a little bonus protein.
Carbs are our body’s primary source of energy, making them important for bodybuilders to fuel heavy training sessions. We want about 40% of our daily calories to come from carbohydrates, which on an 1800-calorie diet is 180g.
With the rise of low-carb diets in recent years, many people fear and avoid carbohydrates.
If you are a bodybuilder though this is a big problem.
Research shows that carbohydrates are a key factor in athletic performance, so we need to make sure we are consuming enough carbs so we can perform at our best.
We want to be consuming most of our carbs from slow-acting carbs as this will give us a more consistent stream of energy during the day.
Slow-acting carbs are your starchier carb sources including:
- Whole grain bread
- Whole-wheat pasta
We also want to include our fast-digesting carbohydrates as well, but primarily around our workouts. These sources will give us a quick boost of energy which is perfect before any physical activity.
Good sources of fast-digesting carbs include:
- Maple syrup
- Dried fruit
- Coconut water
Consuming enough fat is critical for bodybuilders to ensure proper hormone production and regulation. We want to aim for 30% of our daily calories to come from fat, which on an 1800-calorie diet is 60g.
Similar to protein, fat plays a really important role in our bodily functions such as hormone production and vitamin absorption.
“Fat is a major source of energy and helps you absorb certain vitamins and minerals. We need fat to build cell membranes…and it’s essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and immune processes. Healthy fats help you feel fuller longer, balance blood sugar, and help to regulate hormones”.–Dr. Jolene Brighton
When we think about how much fat to eat, we want to be within the range of 20-35% as recommended by The World Health Organization.
Landing at 30% is a good place for bodybuilders as it will still leave enough calories to ensure we are eating enough protein and carbohydrates as well.
Fat is also important for bodybuilders as it will help keep you feeling full and satisfied longer after eating.
When you are cutting, you are eating less calories than you are burning in a day which often leads to hunger.
If we can add a fat source into each meal we can reduce this, making it easier to stick to your diet long enough to reach your goals.
We want to focus on getting most of our fat each day from unsaturated sources which include:
- Olive oil
- Nut butters
Many sources of meat also contain some fat so make sure you take that into consideration as well.
What Foods To Avoid On An 1800-Calorie Bodybuilding Diet
When we are on an 1800-calorie bodybuilding diet, it’s important to avoid highly processed food since it will leave you feeling hungry and less satisfied compared to whole foods.
When we are eating on a lower-calorie diet, we need to be cognizant of what we are using those calories for.
Foods that are highly processed, like fast-food, can easily add up to 800 – 1200 calories for one meal.
On an 1800 calories diet, that would constitute 50% or more of our daily calories for just one meal.
Eating the majority of our calories from a processed source like this is likely to leave us feeling hungry and dissatisfied which is when we are most likely to go over our calories.
Instead, if we can focus on consuming mostly whole foods in our diet, those 1800 calories will provide significantly more volume of food which will leave you more full and satisfied throughout your day and make sticking to your diet both easier and more enjoyable.
The 1800 Calorie Bodybuilding Meal Plan
The meal plan has two options for each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) plus a snack option.
Both options 1 and 2 have the same nutrition so you can pick and choose based on what you like to eat and the amount of variety you are looking for.
Lunch and dinner meals also all have the same nutrition giving you even more options to pick and choose from.
Daily Meal Plan
Total daily nutrition:
- Calories – 1800
- Protein – 135g
- Carbs – 180g
- Fat – 60g
|MEAL||NUTRITION||OPTION 1||OPTION 2|
Calories - 455
- ½ cup / 45g oats
- 2 tsp / 6g flax seeds
- 1 scoop / 30g protein powder
- 1 tbsp / 15g peanut butter
- 1/2 small / 50g banana
|Scrambled Eggs |
- 2 eggs
- ⅓ cup / 80g egg whites
- 1 handful of spinach
- ¼ medium / 25g avocado
- 1 English muffin with 1 tbsp no sugar added jam
- 1 cup / 150g berries
|Lunch||Calories - 495|
Protein - 40g
Carbs - 50g
Fat - 15g
- 5oz extra lean ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning
- ¼ cup / 50g basmati rice (measured when dry)
- 2 cups romaine lettuce
- ½ cup /90g halved cherry tomatoes
- ⅛ cup / 15g grated cheddar cheese
- 2 tbsp salsa
- 2 tbsp greek yogurt
|Chicken Sandwich |
- 2 slices whole-wheat bread
- 100g deli smoked chicken breast
- 1 oz/ 28g sliced cheddar cheese
- 2 slices tomato
- 2 leaves of lettuce
- Optional: fat-free italian dressing
- 3oz baby carrots
- 3oz sliced cucumber
|Dinner||Calories - 495|
Protein - 40g
Carbs - 50g
Fat - 15g
|Chicken Fajitas |
- 5oz roasted chicken breast with fajita seasoning
- 1 small / 75g red pepper
- 1 small / 75g onion
- 1 whole wheat tortilla (8 inch diameter)
- ½ small / 50g avocado
- 3 tbsp / 30g black beans
|Pasta and Meat Sauce |
- 5oz extra lean ground turkey
- ½ cup / 120g crushed tomatoes, seasoned with italian seasoning
- Handful of spinach wilted into the sauce
- ⅔ cup / 63g whole-wheat pasta (dry)
- 2 tbsp / 12g parmesan cheese
|Snacks||Calories - 355|
Protein - 25g
Carbs - 30g
Fat - 15g
|Greek Yogurt Parfait|
- ½ cup / 125g fat-free Greek yogurt
- ⅓ scoop / 10g protein powder (mixed into the yogurt)
- ½ cup / 75g berries
- ¼ cup / 30g granola
- 2 tbsp / 15g slivered almonds
|Pina Colada Smoothie |
- 1 scoop / 30g vanilla protein powder
- 1 cup / 150g frozen pineapple
- ¼ cup / 60g full-fat coconut milk
- 1 handful spinach
- 1 handful of ice
- ½ cup almond milk (more if thinner consistency is desired)
Weekly Meal Plan
If you’re someone who enjoys variety, then here is an example of how you can set up your week to include a different combination of food each day.
What Results Can You Expect on The 1800-Calorie Bodybuilding Diet?
I had one of my female clients follow this 1800-calorie diet with the goal of losing body fat. I had her follow the diet for 3 months.
In the beginning, this client weighed 160 pounds and was maintaining her weight on about 2100 calories per day.
She participated in light exercise a few times a week, which consisted mostly of steady-state cardio (such as running or elliptical training).
After starting the 1800-calorie diet, her exercise was increased to roughly 4-5 per week.
However, the primary focus of her exercise routine was resistance training, with only a minimal focus on cardio (15 minutes of incline walking three times per week).
While being in a calorie deficit of 300 calories per day while also slightly increasing calorie burn through exercise, the goal was for her to lose roughly 0.5-1 pound per week.
After 3 months, this client lost a total of 10 pounds. She was able to lose just under 1lb (0.8lb) per week for a total of 12 weeks.
This is a very healthy and sustainable amount of weight to lose in this amount of time, and my client was not left feeling too depleted or hungry after her cut.
While results may vary, this is a typical outcome if you’re consistent given the timeframe of 12 weeks.
How To Customize The 1800 Calorie Meal Plan
This meal plan is a great starting point but there are opportunities for further customization that can be made, based on when in the day you workout, to prioritize energy and recovery.
Pre-workout and Post-workout Meals
For your pre-workout meal, you want to focus on consuming a high carbs meal with some protein 1.5 – 2 hours before your workout. Post-workout should also include carbs and protein but we want to ensure the meal is high in both.
While having some protein pre-workout is important, having too much can slow down the digestion process making it difficult for our body to utilize all the carbs it’s consuming for energy.
If breakfast is your pre-workout or post-workout meal, no changes are required.
If lunch is your pre-workout meal, we want to reduce the protein slightly and move it to your snack or breakfast.
This means reducing the ground beef to 3.5oz or chicken to 70g and increasing the protein powder in your snack or breakfast by 15g or upping the egg whites to ½ cup (120g).
If dinner is your pre-workout meal, we want to reduce the protein slightly and move it to your snack or breakfast.
This means reducing the meat to 3.5oz and increasing the protein powder in your snack or breakfast by 15g or upping the egg whites to ½ cup (120g).
If lunch or dinner is your post-workout meal, no changes are required.
Your snack would be a lighter pre-workout option, likely best if you are working out early in the morning or do not like to eat a lot before a workout. I do not recommend it post-workout as it’s not likely to have enough calories.
Other Similar Meal Plans
Check out all our meal plans or view similar calorie specific meal plans.
Frequently Asked Questions
What supplements should I consider with an 1800-calorie bodybuilding plan?
While the 1800-calorie plan focuses on whole foods, consider adding whey protein for muscle recovery, creatine for enhanced performance, and a multivitamin to fill nutritional gaps. Always consult a nutritionist before starting any supplements.
How do I adjust the 1800-calorie plan if I’m doing cardio workouts?
If incorporating cardio, you may burn more calories. Monitor your energy levels and weight. If you feel fatigued or lose weight rapidly, consider increasing your calorie intake by 100-200 calories, focusing on carbs for energy.
Can I follow the 1800-calorie plan if I’m vegan or vegetarian?
Yes, you can adapt the plan for vegan or vegetarian diets. Replace animal proteins with plant-based options like tofu, tempeh, and legumes. Ensure you’re meeting protein and micronutrient needs.
Can I gain muscle on 1800 calories?
Gaining muscle on 1800 calories depends on individual factors like metabolism, activity level, and body size. While it’s possible, especially for smaller individuals, most people may find it challenging.
Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. & Fitschen, P.J. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
Liu, A. G., Ford, N. A., Hu, F. B., Zelman, K. M., Mozaffarian, D., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2017). A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition journal, 16(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-017-0271-4
About The Author
Laura Semotiuk is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She works with athletes and active individuals looking to improve performance and develop healthy nutritional habits and behaviors. She has a passion for cooking, meal prepping, and creating simple and healthy recipes.
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