Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Your complete step-by-step guide for achieving your health and weight loss goals by putting great food on your plate, and in your belly, every time you eat.

meal planning

Who Is This Guide For?

In reality, this guide will be helpful to just about everyone. If you eat, meal planning will save you time and money. But we specifically created this guide after seeing our clients work really really hard at the gym, only to see less results than they could because of what they eat. It's not that they don't want to, or know what healthy choices are. It's because life gets in the way and they don't actually have a plan for eating healthy, especially when things get crazy. If that sounds familiar, this guide is definitely for you.

What is the Big Deal about Meal Planning?

When your goal is to eat healthier and lose weight, meal planning may be the key that unlocks the door to that ever elusive goal. Almost everyone I talk to claims to know what to eat to lose weight, the challenge is actually doing it. The busyness of life always seems to get in the way of planning and prepping, and when we aren't prepared we are going to fall back on what is easy, even if it's not the healthiest. Hey I get it. That's life, and I have done exactly the same thing. Getting a pizza delivered or a quick run through the drive-through seems like a good idea when the kids are screaming and the fridge is a bit empty.

The good news is meal planning doesn't have to take forever; that's what this guide is all about. By the time you finish, you'll have all the tools you need to be a "meal plan master", and you'll be reciting our meal planning mantra "Simple Is Easiest. Simple Is Best." (We like to keep things simple around here)

So what's the big deal? Here are five big benefits of upping your meal planning game:

Achieve Your Health and Fitness Goals Quicker

Regardless if your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle and strength, or both, meal planning is crucial to your success. Eating better can 3x (or even 10x) the results you get from the exact same exercise plan. 

Spend Less on Groceries

Planning your meals = spending less money. You'll spend less eating out, less on things that are not helpful to your diet, and less overall because you are going to go shopping with a list and just get the items you need.

Reduce Food Waste

This one goes with the previous reason. Most of us buy more food than we need, don't plan for the leftovers, and end up throwing a lot of food out. When you plan and stick to it, everything you buy has a healthy meal it belongs too. 

Save Time

This is huge. When you plan your meals out, you won't be scrambling around trying to figure out what's for dinner, and by building your plan around what you enjoy cooking, you'll actually have some fun. If you know you are going to be short on time, you can plan a meal that doesn't require a lot of prep work.

Get The Family Involved

It can be challenging when you are trying to healthier and feel like you are dragging your spouse or kids along. By getting them involved you will hear less whining, and you'll be teaching them about good nutrition. My girls love to cook, so spending the time teaching them how really paid off.

What You'll Learn

The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning is broken down into eight chapters. While you can skip to a chapter that interests you, the guide builds on itself as the chapters progress, so it's a good idea to go in order. Ready? Let's dive in!

Table of Contents

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 1: How To Plan A Healthy Meal

Plan Your Meals To Nourish Your Body, Not Simply Fill It Up

Before we can plan a whole week's worth of meals, we need to start with just one meal, and we need to figure out what we are doing all this planning for anyway, right? I mean it doesn't take any planning to go to a fast food joint and fill my stomach, so there must be something more we are trying to do.

Here's what I mean.

Good meal planning is more than just about getting rid of the rumble in our tummy. It's about providing nourishment - giving our body what it needs to be healthy and work as it should. There is nothing that has more to do with how healthy you are (and good you can feel) than the food and drink you consume.


Remember Hippocrates? It's ok if you don't, but he is widely considered the father of modern medicine. Here's what he had to say about it;

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"

I don't know if ole' Hippocrates was the first naturopathic doctor, but he knew what he was talking about. We know now what he didn't know; that many if not most of the diseases in the western world are lifestyle related, and a huge part of that is what we eat. Is there a place for medicine? Of course. But I think a worthy goal is to stay off the medications, and in that regard good eating just makes good sense.

With that in mind, take a look at the infographic below. While it's primarily focused on planning a healthy dinner meal, the principles apply to all of our meals.

meal planning

Building Your Meal

You see that we are not shy about emphasizing protein as the foundation for healthy meal planning. Getting enough protein is super important, especially if you are trying to lose weight (body fat). While you will have to eat less calories to lose weight, don't eat less protein. This is a straight path to muscle loss and a weight "rebound" when you are done.

Once you choose your protein source (beef, chicken, pork, etc.), decide on how you are going to spice it up - literally. You can mix and match your own seasonings and spices, and there are also a lot of really tasty spice blends you can buy pre-made in the store. You don't have to settle for plain grilled chicken all the time. You can "taste the world" with a little creativity.

meal planning

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Next on your plate go some healthy fats. Good Fats help keep you full, add flavor, carry fat-soluble vitamins, are anti-inflammatory, and are good for heart health. Get some of the good stuff on your plate with your meals.

Focus on your vegetables next. Veggies provide so many good things - vitamins, minerals, and fiber, just to name a few. There are literally hundreds of vegetables to choose from, and they can be stir-fried, roasted, steamed, sautéed, grilled, sliced, diced, and riced. The possibilities are truly endless.

"Other" carbohydrates are things like rice, grains, beans, and potatoes (starches). There is nothing wrong with these, we just don't want to emphasize them when planning our meals. You can eat a lot of these foods very quickly, they are very calorie-dense, and in excess they can make it hard to lose or maintain weight. 

Here's what your plate should look like, most of the time. If you choose to add starches once in a while, eat less fat and eat a reasonable amount of beans, rice, or potato in its place. 

meal planning

Keep It Simple

The "Super Simple Shopping" list at the bottom of the infographic is designed to get your meal planning ideas started, without overwhelm. If you did nothing more than fill your grocery cart with these items from week to week and keep your cupboard stocked with spices, you would never run out of healthy meal ideas and options.

Ready to keep going? Chapter Two covers how to quickly and easily plan out your first week of healthy meals. Let's go! 

meal planning

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 2: Planning Your First Week

Now that we know how to go about planning one meal, we can start planning out our first week.

While this might sound like a daunting task, it's simple when you break it down step-by-step.

First, go ahead and click this link to download and print out our simple meal planning template.

Once you have downloaded and printed the template, follow the steps on the infographic below and begin filling out your first week's plan.

meal planning

Here are some tips:

If you find a whole week is just too much to start with: 

Simply scale back and start with just your dinner meals. You will be amazed how having just one meal a day planned out will make you feel. And remember, there is no prize for getting it "perfect". Meal planning really is a skill, and it gets easier the more you do it. And don't forget to start building your "meal planning portfolio" by saving your weekly plans, no matter how complete they are (or aren't).

Build on your skills: 

Once you nail your dinner planning routine down, move on to step 2 and plan out your breakfast, then your lunches. Don't overcomplicate, avoid overwhelm - remember:

Simple is Easiest, Simple is Best.

In Chapter Three will cover how we use our "meal planning portfolio" and continue building our meal planning skills.

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 3: Building Your Portfolio 

Have you ever looked through a photographers or artists portfolio? Dozens, if not hundreds of beautiful prints, displaying amazing creativity and artistry. 

We all know instinctively this portfolio took time and effort to cultivate. Pictures get added and removed as experience and skill increases. The artist learns what appeals to her audience, and it gets easier to get in the creative flow.

You are the artist of your kitchen, and your "audience" is the people you are feeding. The first pages in your meal planning portfolio is the work you have already completed; building individual meals and then your first full weeks meal plan. You are building your meal planning skills, but you are also building momentum.

You see, once you get that first weeks plan under your belt, you can really get rolling. The second week builds off the first week, the third week build off the second, and so on. 

Creating A Month of Meals

As noted, the second week of meal planning is easier than the first, because you are not starting from scratch.

Plan Week 2

The simplest strategy is to repeat last week's plan this week. But you will probably find there were a few meals that just didn’t work for your family. That's ok. Print out a new meal planning template and fill in the ones that did work. Then find another family favorite, add that one in its place and move on.

But, you may be thinking, what about variety? Won't I get bored? Maybe, but probably not. Studies show that most of us eat the same 20-30 foods nearly all of the time. But if you are worried about variety, switch the days you serve a certain meal or switch up the side dish. Don’t forget to make your grocery list now. Week two is done. Simple is Easiest, Simple is Best.

Week 3

We are on a roll and just getting the hang of meal plans. The amount of time it takes this week will be shorter than the first two weeks. The process gets quicker and easier every week.

With weeks one and two meal plans in front of you, print out a new meal planning template and use them as the basis for week three. Keep the ones you like, replace the ones you don't. Just like our photographer, you are cultivating your portfolio. In general you should be repeating most of your meals on a week-to-week basis. Adjust one or two meals. Don’t go crazy and change up everything that is working. Keep the changes small and consistent. Mix up the side dishes you served with a different meal and move forward. Don’t forget to make your grocery list. Week three is done. Simple is Easiest, Simple is Best.

And if you are struggling to make it happen? Don’t give up. Anything new takes a bit longer until we have made the system our own. All this planning will save you time and loads of stress each day, and you are oh so close to making that happen.

Week 4

When you sit down to plan this week, you have three weeks of your portfolio already created. This portfolio will be key to stress free kitchen time now and in the future. After this week you will have whole month of meal plans to mix and match.

Just like last week, we are going to review, and where necessary, replace. Circle the meals your family loved, and cross out the ones that got the "thumbs down". Even if you really want your kids to start eating spinach, don’t force one recipe at them. You’ll find a meal with spinach (or your wish list food item) that your family will eat.

Keep cultivating. How did the new recipe night work? Is there a certain mealtime that you want to mix up? Stick with one or two changes each week. Fill out your meal planner, and then make your grocery list. Remember Simple is Easiest, Simple is Best.

Once you have four weeks of meal plans that you like, use them like a revolving door (circular planning).

I have certain days of the week that I always fix the same thing, and my family likes that they have something to look forward to. Other days are crunch days where I need to remember to use a crockpot or have a quick fix meal. The days that I plan to have time to spend in the kitchen I use to prep other meals, make a new recipe, or make two meals at once.

Any time you feel stuck with your meal plans, come back to our basic principles.

  • Plan Dinners First
  • Plan Breakfast Second
  • Leftovers for Lunch
  • Shop with a List
  • Build your Portfolio

One more note. While this might sound silly, it's crucial to your success. Have the food you need for your plan in the house. You can spend all the time in the world planning, but if the food on your plan isn't around when it's time to prep and eat, it's hard to succeed. 

And remember, progress not perfection. Some planning is better than no planning. One meal at a time is all it takes to get started.

Let's go shopping!

meal planning

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 4: Shopping For Success

Once you have created your meal plans for the week, you'll need to create your shopping list, and then go grocery shopping. There really is no one way to create your list. Some of us like old fashioned paper, and there are plenty of apps online if you prefer the electronic thing.

The purpose of this chapter is to provide a sanity check for what's actually ON your list. We should see plenty of lean proteins, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats. If you have more boxes of breakfast bars in your cart than you do packages of broccoli, beans and beef, you need to reconsider.

As one of my nutrition coaching mentors used to say; "Don’t spend your time scavenging the bread aisle for a lower net carb English muffin while your cart is overflowing with Pop Tarts. That’s like mowing your lawn while your house is on fire.”

The infographic below shows what should go in your cart, and into your body, 90% or more of the time. Take a few minutes to check it out. I bet you come up some great ideas to add to your meal plans just from this list.

meal planning

My Number One Grocery Shopping Tip

This is NOT a secret and most assuredly you have heard it before. But it's worth remembering, rehearsing, and getting tattooed on the inside of your eyelids. (Ok, maybe that's going too far. Maybe.)

Don't go grocery shopping hungry. Ever.

I swear when I am hungry cookies jump off the shelf into my cart and a pint of gelato rolls across the floor in front of me. Every time.

And always always always shop with, and stick to, your list. Honor the time and hard work you put into creating it, you'll be happy you did.

Let's head to Chapter 5, where you'll find my secrets for making dinnertime meals quick and easy!

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Meal Planning

EASIER, every day

The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 5: Quick and Easy Dinners 

Some (most?) weeks we just need easy. You look at your calendar for next week and you just know making it all work is going to be nearly impossible. While you'd love to make a 5 course meal, 5 minutes is probably more like it. 

That's where our quick and easy dinner meal planner comes in. In the case of "crazy week", you need simple, and sometimes popping open up a can or jar is just the right thing to do. Here are some tips for making it easy when "life happens":

1. Always cook more protein than you need. Bake a couple extra chicken breasts or brown an extra pound of ground beef when you are making your meals. That way you can just add some chicken to a salad or add the beef to a jar of a sauce the next day.

2. Sides like Three Bean Salad and Cole Slaw keep really well over 2-4 days, and compliment a wide variety of cuisine.

3. Frozen is your friend. There are so many different frozen veggie combos that can be stir fried or roasted, so don't get stuck on fresh. Freezer to fry pan is a winner. 

4. If chopping, slicing and dicing isn't your thing, most grocery stores sell packages of "done for you" produce in just about any way you can imagine. Stock up on a few.

Check out these simple and delicious meal combos, and don't be afraid to mix and match!

meal planning

Recipes and Ideas

Many of these ideas are self-explanatory; heat a can of beans or shred some lettuce. But we didn't want to leave you hanging, so click here to download some great recipes that go with the meal plan in the infographic above.

Add These Dinners To Your Portfolio

If you don't have an extra meal planning template handy, print one out here, and make a few quick notes on which of these meals you are going to use as your "go-to's". Add this template to your portfolio; you may even want to keep it in the front!

Now that we have started to get a good handle on planning our dinners, let's take a look in Chapter 6 how to quickly and easily integrate a healthy breakfast into our plan.

meal planning

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 6: Simply Smooth Breakfasts 

If I had my choice, I would have eggs just about every morning. Scrambled, fried, or as an omelette, I'll have eggs for breakfast, please.

And... I don't have time for that. At least not every day. I don't want to just eat cereal or even oatmeal, because if I don't start with some protein and a little healthy fat, I'll be hungry by 10:00am. 

The Solution? A nutritious and delicious breakfast smoothie. But not just any old smoothie. We are going to create a protein packed powerhouse that will fuel us for the whole morning.  

Check out the infographic below, then keep reading for one of my favorite recipes.

meal planning

Vanilla and Berries Breakfast Smoothie 

It doesn't get much simpler or tastier than this "berry good" recipe. Try it tomorrow morning!


8 ounces water
1 scoop vanilla protein
½ cup wild frozen blueberries
½ cup frozen raspberries
1 Tablespoon chia seeds
2 Tablespoons walnuts


Mix all ingredients in blender until smooth and creamy. Pour immediately into a large cup. Eat with a spoon or sip. 

Remember, keep your meal planning simple and easy. A breakfast smoothie is both, takes less than 5 minutes to make and tastes great. 

Simple is Easiest. Simple is Best.

Chapter 7 is going to cover what to do when things get really out of control!

meal planning

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 7: The "Crazy Day" Meal Plan 

Reality Check: We ALL have crazy days, when the best laid plans just go haywire. The "Crazy Day Food Plan" is for THOSE kinds of days. In fact our colleague Josh Hillis recommends you just make this your "Monday Food Plan" and start your week off with no fuss at all. 

I'll bet you can identify at least one day of the week, every week, where this plan would really be a big help. All these foods are easy to keep in the house and grab when we need them. Set yourself up for success!

meal planning

You DO Have A Choice

There are so many more choices to get a healthy meal on the go than there used to be, like the Burrito Bowl in the infographic above. That's a good thing, because we eat out a LOT more than we used to even 10 years ago. There is more travel for work, one or more vacations a year, and many of our gatherings with family and friends involve sitting down at our favorite restaurant.

Integrating these occasions into our overall meal planning is important. Noting when, where and what you eat at these times on your weekly meal planning template reveals patterns; How often am I eating out? Where am I eating? What am I eating? 

In Chapter 8 we are going to cover some "real world" strategies for making healthy choices when you eat out. Let's go!

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The Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning

Chapter 8: Planning For Eating Out 

Now I have to be frank; my family and I do not eat out very much. MAYBE once a month, but usually less. When I do I still make good choices and try not to pig out, but if there is a great looking dessert on the menu, I may just go ahead and get it. But it's a lot different when I travel or go on vacation. The "generous" restaurant portions really add up, and very quickly. If you are an occasional "eater outer" it's not a big deal, but if you go out frequently, you need to think about portion control.

You CAN plan for these times. When our family goes on vacation we, you guessed it, plan out our meals. We'll take a look at what the hotel offers for breakfast; many have a decent hot breakfast with eggs and fruit for, instance. Then we talk about the rest of the day. Will we eat any meals in our room or pack some lunches? Do the kids need to carry some snacks? For dinner we don't always know exactly what restaurant we are going to eat at, but we do know at which meals we are planning to do so. And when we figure it out the "where", it's really easy to hop online and take a look at the menu and see what our choices will be. Using your menu planner ahead of time saves time and money, and it's kinda fun!

Before Heading To The Restaurant

  • Check the menu online before you go, so you know ahead of time exactly what you’ll be ordering.
  • Look or ask if a ‘gluten free’ menu is available (gluten free is not magic, but will save carbs and calories)
  • Drink 8 ounces of water before you leave home.
  • Eat something light before you go (apple + almonds). This will help you ward off the chip/bread bowl, and also keep your portion sizes under control.
meal planning

Travel or Eat Out A Lot? 

Download this handy "cheat sheet", with many of the most popular coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and sit-down restaurants included, both locally and across the country. You'll get calorie counts of popular menu items, as well as "what to order" menu suggestions.

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At The Restaurant

  • Choose a protein with 2 vegetables and a healthy fat (avocado).
  • Order your burger with no bun or on a salad.
  • Change up the dish – if there is some kind of meat over pasta, just ask for the same but over salad instead.
  • Make sure not to order anything fried.
  • Add extra vegetables.
  • Ask for a double order of vegetables instead pasta or rice.
  • For breakfast, instead of hash browns ask for sliced tomatoes or a side of fruit.
  • Ask for steamed vegetables as a side (add real butter or olive oil)
  • Order a grilled protein (chicken, salmon, etc.) with just salt and pepper.
  • Ask for a lettuce wrap instead of bread or a bun.

As you can see, you can still enjoy a wonderful, tasty meal while saving on some extra calories. Once in awhile it's ok to splurge, but when you eat out often it really adds up. Planning ahead will make for an enjoyable time without feeling bad ucky a little later.

So What's Next?

I get it, I really do. We've covered a lot of ground here. You are a busy person, and taking the time to do your meal planning might seem like too much to take on. And the reality is that it is, it might be.

Some people I know really like sitting down every week and planning out their menu. They have practiced their "meal plan mastery" skills, they keep it simple, and they practice the basics:

  • Plan Dinners First
  • Plan Breakfast Second
  • Leftovers for Lunch
  • Shop with a List
  • Build your Portfolio

But what about the rest of us?

I think we can agree the benefits of meal planning, both to your health and your wallet, are just too numerous to ignore. And if you aren't ready to tackle it yourself, we've got you covered. We started our "Cr8 Your Plate" meal planning service for people just like you. Hard working people who just need some assistance fitting it all in.

How the "Cr8 Your Plate" Meal Planning Service Helps You

For as low as $15 a month, we do everything for you but the shopping. Each month you receive 4-weeks of Master Nutrition Coach designed "Done For You" Meal Plans, a new Recipe Collection, and your Shopping List. You also get a subscription to the Modernmeal Menu Planning software platform, where you can add your own recipes, change up the meal plan, scale the serving sizes, and much more. A subscription will save you 5x the amount of time and money you are investing instead of doing it yourself.

Look at it this way. You want to get healthier. Maybe you need to lose some weight. You have to eat something, and you have to go grocery shopping. Why not let us do the heavy lifting and click here to subscribe today to the "Cr8 Your Plate" meal planning service? We will even give 30 days for free to test it out. The only downside is if you don't take us up on it. :)

So there you have it. The "Cr8 Fitness Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning". We've given you all our best stuff, and everything you need to put nutritious and tasty food on your plate, every day. You have the knowledge, now it's up to you take action. We are here to help every step of the way. 

To your best health,

Coach Nancy

Coach Dean

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About Cr8 Fitness

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At Cr8 Fitness, our passion is helping you turn your “Happy and Healthy” on by Coaching you to Eat Well, Exercise Smart, and Enjoy Your Best Life.

We are a small facility tucked into the heart of the Suncook Valley in New Hampshire, family-owned and operated for over 10 years. Each of our clients is family to us, and we are their fitness home.

Our heart is to create a safe, fun, and happy environment where you get the personal attention to reach your health and fitness goals. Our services include Group Personal Training, Online Training and Online Nutrition Coaching.

We would love the opportunity to discover if working together is a good fit. Simply fill out the form below for your complimentary success session.

Our Legacy

About Coach Nancy Carlson

Getting started is most often the challenging part of losing weight and staying fit. Life is busy, and setting time aside to “work out” is simply one more thing to add to the list.

As a mom of six, with a high maintenance husband (look out below), I have this challenge as well. To be honest, I am a work in progress. I believe this is part of what makes a good trainer – the ability to relate to clients. I truly understand the need to integrate an exercise program into a busy lifestyle without neglecting other responsibilities.

I can relate to late nights and early mornings due to a baby in the house or a sick preschooler. I understand relaxing my food standards at the Fourth of July picnic and at Christmas. And I understand being mentally exhausted to the point that I don’t even want to THINK about training.

But I’ve learned not to throw up my hands and give in to the frustration. I want to share this determination and enthusiasm with you. It is not only possible to reach your fitness goals – it will happen! I am living proof. I may not be Mrs. Fitness USA yet, but I have reached goals that others said were simply not possible after having six kids and crossing the big 5-0.

My passion is teaching and coaching others to think big and reach high. It takes work – hard work – but I am committed to helping you reach your fitness goals and getting in the best shape of your life!

Nancy Carlson is a Certified Professional Fitness Trainer with the National Exercise and Sports Trainer Association, a Level 1 Youth Conditioning Specialist with the International Youth Conditioning Association, and is a Level 2 Certified Precision Nutrition Master coach.

Nancy was recognized in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 as “Best of” Fitness Trainer in Southern NH by the Hippo Press.

About Coach Dean Carlson

What makes a good physical preparation coach? A passion for helping people train, not only their bodies, but also their minds. I have a deep desire to help people break out of perceived limitations and achieve their goals. I would like to help move them along the path from “I can’t” to “I DID!” A good coach does not try to motivate, but rather to inspire a trainee to find the drive within himself to do what he didn’t think was possible.

My decision to become a nutrition coach and trainer began through my own journey to good health and fitness. I was actually too thin in high school but played sports which kept me reasonably fit. My tour in the Army did the same.

It was after the Army that I ballooned to over 260 pounds. My blood sugar was too high and I was out of energy all the time; the classic symptoms of being overweight and unhealthy. When Nancy and I started our family, the realization hit me that if something didn’t change, my children could be without a dad at very young ages. It was this reality check that has led to a stronger, healthier, leaner and much more fit me: 185 pounds and feeling GREAT!

I now have the privilege of sharing my passion with others. Whether you are an athlete striving for better performance, a frustrated dieter who wants to get off the diet roller coaster or somewhere in-between, my dedication to health and happiness means the one who deserves my best coaching skills is you!

Dean Carlson is a Level 2 Certified Precision Nutrition Master coach, a certified Functional Aging Specialist through The Functional Aging Institute, a Level 2 Youth Conditioning Specialist with the International Youth Conditioning Association, and a Certified Online Trainer with the Online Trainer Academy. He also holds instructor certifications with TRX, Kettlebell Athletics, and Training for Warriors.

Dean was recognized in 2010, 2012 and 2013 as Best Fitness Trainer in Concord by the Hippo Press and in 2010 as Best Fitness Trainer in the Capital Area by the Concord Insider.