AI Gave Me a Budget-Friendly Running Meal Plan.


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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere these days, being used in the strangest of places, like TV news stations, the music industry, little league baseball, and beehives. So why wouldn’t we utilize AI for the running world? 

I decided to test out AI in the department running I struggle with most, and that’s fueling. Because, as most everyone knows, life can get busy, we forget to eat or don’t eat enough, and our runs suffer as a result. 

One evening, I (politely) asked ChatGPT, what’s considered to be the most sophisticated AI chatbot available today, to help me with the following:

“Hello. I run about 50 miles a week. Please write me a week meal plan that fuels me for those runs, separating meals into breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert. Include the macros for every meal. The budget for this should be $35 for the week. Please make a shopping list as well including price per item.”

ChatGPT responded in two seconds flat:

“Designing a meal plan that fuels your 50 miles a week running routine on a $35 budget requires careful selection of nutritious and budget-friendly ingredients. Below is a sample weeklong meal plan along with a shopping list. Keep in mind that prices can vary depending on your location, so it’s essential to adjust the plan according to the available options.

Normally, I wouldn’t recommend trusting a robot with nutrition advice, but I ran the meal plan past Balance Nutrition Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee, and received  the green light to try it out for a week. Here’s what ChatGPT delivered:

Day 1

Breakfast: 1 cup of oatmeal with 1 sliced banana and 1 Tbsp. peanut butter. | 54g carbs, 7g protein, 9g fat

Lunch: Turkey avocado wrap with 2 slices whole wheat bread with 4 oz. sliced turkey, half an avocado, lettuce, and tomato. | 40g carbs, 30g protein, 14g fat

Snack: 1 medium apple and handful of almonds. | 25g carbs, 6g protein, 15g fat

Dinner: 1 cup cooked brown rice with 4 oz. grilled chicken breast with 1 cup mixed vegetables. | 36g carbs, 54g protein, 6g fat

Dessert: 1 small serving plain Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey. | 10g carbs, 10g protein, 2g fat

My thoughts: This is going to be easy! Starting the day off with what I usually eat for breakfast–oats with a banana and peanut butter–helped start the day on the right foot. Lunch and dinner were fine, but the snack was a little lackluster.

Day 2

Breakfast: Smoothie made with 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 1 cup spinach, 1 cup of almond milk, and 1 scoop protein powder. | 25g carbs, 20g protein, 6g fat

Lunch: Quinoa salad with 1 cup cooked quinoa, diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and a lemon-tahini dressing.  | 52g carbs, 18g protein, 15g fat

Snack: 1 medium-sized orange and a cup of cottage cheese. | 16g carbs, 13g protein, 2g fat

Dinner: 1 baked sweet potato topped with 3 oz. of baked salmon and 1 cup steamed broccoli.  | 40g carbs, 32g protein, 12g fat

Dessert: 1 small serving of mixed nuts. | 5g carbs, 6g protein, 14g fat

My thoughts: I am a creature of habit and eat practically the same thing everyday. So a meal plan that has variety was a little jarring for me, but exciting. The quinoa salad was good, though ChatGBT’s instructions to use a “lemon-tahini dressing” wasn’t specific, so I had to guess at what that meant. I purchased this one, which wasn’t included in the grocery list or the budget. 

Nothing new to see here, just a classic breakfast of eggs and spinach on whole wheat toast. (Photo: Dani Serrano, Getty)

Day 3

Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with 1 cup spinach and 2 slices of whole wheat toast. | 40g carbs, 18g protein, 2g fat

Lunch: Lentil soup made of 1 cup cooked lentils with carrots, celery, onions, and vegetable broth. | 40g carbs, 18g protein, 2g fat

Snack: 1 small banana and a small serving of hummus and baby carrots. | 31g carbs, 6g protein, 8g fat

Dinner: Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, lean ground turkey (4 oz.) and a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese. | 30g carbs, 32g protein, 10g fat

Dessert: 1 small serving dark chocolate. | 10g carbs, 1g protein, 8g fat

My thoughts: Today I had a big issue with lunch. ChatGBT told me to make lentil soup, but provided no instructions on how. This was a conundrum when it came to the experiment; should I look up a recipe online or would that be ‘cheating?’ Should I ask ChatGBT for help? Should I just wing it? I chose the latter. In a large pot, I sautéed a cup of chopped carrots and a cup of chopped celery in a drizzle of olive oil. When the vegetables were soft, I poured in three cups of vegetable broth and canned cooked lentils. I brought it to a simmer, put the lid on top, and cooked the soup for 30 minutes. It was pretty bland, though the spaghetti squash dinner (a meal I actually know how to make) redeemed a lackluster day of eating.

Day 4

Breakfast: 1 cup Greek yogurt  with 1 cup of mixed berries and 1 Tbsp. chia seeds. | 30g carbs, 20g protein, 10g fat 

Lunch: Hummus and vegetable wrap made of hummus on whole wheat tortilla with sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, and lettuce. | 40g carbs, 8g protein, 16g fat

Snack: 1 cup baby carrots with hummus. | 22g carbs, 6g protein, 14g fat

Dinner: 1 cup cooked quinoa with 6 oz. grilled chicken breast and a side of asparagus.  | 32g carbs, 54g protein, 6g fat

Dessert: 1 small serving of fresh berries. | 30g carbs, 5g protein, 3g fat

My thoughts: This day I was so tempted to swerve off the meal plan, but I powered through. The measly snack of baby carrots and hummus wasn’t optimal, though, especially when I had to squeeze in a midday 3 miles on my lunch break. 

For the love of all things food, put away the hummus! (Photo: JosuOzkaritz, Getty)

Day 5

Breakfast: Smoothie made with 1 cup frozen mango, 1 cup spinach, 1 cup of coconut water, and 1 scoop of protein powder. | 35g carbs, 20g protein, 2g fat

Lunch: Veggie wrap made with hummus on whole wheat tortilla with sliced avocado, lettuce, and shredded carrots. | 30g carbs, 6g protein, 12g fat

Snack: 1 cup sliced bell peppers and a small serving of hummus. | 10g carbs, 4g protein, 8g fat

Dinner: Stir-fried tofu (6 oz.) with mixed vegetables and 1 cup cooked brown rice. | 50g carbs, 20g protein, 8g fat

Dessert: 1 small serving of mixed nuts. | 5g carbs, 6g protein, 14g fat

My thoughts: I never want hummus again. PLEASE. NO MORE HUMMUS. There is, however, no easy way to iterate, no way to offer feedback on the prescribed meal plan. So I continue to choke down hummus. Dinner was delicious, though the vague ‘stir-fried tofu’ didn’t offer much explanation as to how I was supposed to prepare it. I sauteed tofu cubes and a bag of quick-cooked mixed vegetables with soy sauce, ginger, and chives before folding them into brown rice. Dessert was disappointing: a small serving of cashews, almonds, and peanuts was not what I had in mind as an end-of-the-day treat.

Day 6

Breakfast: 1 cup oatmeal with 1 cup mixed berries and 1 tbsp. almond butter. | 54 carbs, 7g protein, 9g fat

Lunch: Turkey and avocado wrap with 2 slices of whole wheat bread with 4 oz. of sliced turkey, half an avocado, lettuce, and tomato. | 40g carbs, 30g protein, 14g fat

Snack: 1 small apple and a handful of almonds. | 25g carbs, 6g protein, 15g fat

Dinner: Grilled chicken breast (6 oz.) with 1 cup cooked brown rice and 1 cup steamed broccoli. | 36g carbs, 54g protein, 6g fat

Dessert: 1 cup Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey. | 8g carbs, 10g protein

My thoughts: Turkey and avocado wraps are becoming my favorite lunch in this meal plan. However, I’m not sure what ChatGBT is thinking by calling this a wrap when it requires two pieces of whole wheat bread. 

I’d never say no to a mixed berry smoothie. (Photo: foment, Getty)

Day 7

Breakfast: 1 cup frozen mixed berries, 1 cup spinach, 1 cup of almond milk, and 1 scoop of protein powder. | 25g carbs, 20g protein, 6g fat

Lunch: Chickpea salad made with 1 cup cooked chickpeas with diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and lemon-tahini dressing. | 52g carbs, 18g protein, 15g fat

Snack: 1 medium orange and a small serving of cottage cheese. | 16g carbs, 13g protein, 2g fat

Dinner: 1 baked sweet potato topped with 4 oz. grilled chicken breast and a side of green beans. | 40g carbs, 32g protein, 12g fat

Dessert: 1 small serving of mixed nuts. | 5g carbs, 6g protein, 14g fat

My thoughts: Nothing to complain about today, except maybe that lunch was a little light for me. I loved dinner–sweet potatoes are my favorite–but dessert proved to be another disappointing handful of nuts. What a way to end the week with a bang. 

Food For Final Thoughts

By the end of the week, I came to the following conclusion: this meal plan wasn’t the worst to follow. If anything, it was a little too simple with its vague instructions. Someone who enjoys cooking and exploring big flavors in the kitchen wouldn’t like this, though, as there’s little to no spice instructions. 

Nutritionist and running coach, Sarah Cuff, read over the meal plan and was both surprised and skeptical. 

“It’s a solid plan in that it does hit target numbers and uses ‘good’ foods,” Cuff says. “However, there’s no personalization. My clients work with me because they want to tell me about their goals as well as challenges they are working to overcome, like health issues or dietary restrictions or gut problems.”

To ChatGBT’s credit, I could have requested a meal plan following certain dietary restrictions. To confirm this, I went back to my keyboard and requested the same meal plan but without nuts, pretending I had an allergy. It spat out the same weekly schedule, minus the mixed nuts for dessert. Instead, however, it offered mixed seeds instead. Whoopee…

The only thing my AI meal plan seems to be  missing is a human touch. I’ve worked with nutritionists before, and I’d like to think they would never tell me to eat seeds for dessert; most likely they’d offer more creative suggestions.. For example,would they have a good hummus recommendation? Because I was utterly lost standing in the grocery store aisle, scanning the many chickpea concoctions. 

“I find my clients not only want to know what to eat, but they also want to know that someone is looking out for them,” Cuff says. “I am here to not just offer up information, but genuinely care about them and their results.” 

In any case, I applaud AI for its progression in the meal planning field. It’s well-organized, provides accurate information, and is free. However, because food is so personal, I prefer to speak to a person when following a new nutrition plan.

“AI will never be able to provide a human connection,” Cuff says. “I’m not the least bit concerned that it might push me out of a job.”

For now, I’ll be sticking to human-sourced nutrition recommendations, while still dabbling into ChatGPT for some basic guidance. And yes, thanks to these hummus-loving AI chatbots, I’ll never think of chickpeas or seeds-for-dessert the same again. 

Note about the shopping list: ChatGBT cannot make accurate estimates about price, so although I requested the week stay under $35, the total cost of this grocery list was $112.34. So. Life lesson? Don’t ask ChatGBT for financial planning advice. 

Shopping List

  • Eggs (1 dozen)
  • Canned tuna (two 5 oz. cans)
  • Grilled chicken breast (20 oz.)
  • Baked salmon (12 oz.)
  • Tofu (8 oz.)
  • Hummus (16 oz.)
  • Protein powder (1 container)
  • Oatmeal (1 container)
  • Whole wheat bread (1 loaf)
  • Brown rice (1 box)
  • Quinoa (1 box)
  • Whole wheat pasta (1 lb.)
  • Bananas (1 bunch)
  • Apples (7 medium sized)
  • Oranges (7 medium sized)
  • Mixed berries (2 cups)
  • Lemons (2)
  • Spinach (1 bag)
  • Lettuce (1 bag)
  • Cucumbers (4 medium sized)
  • Cherry tomatoes (1 container)
    Carrots (1 bag)
  • Celery (1 bag)
  • Broccoli (1 head)
  • Asparagus (1 bunch) 
  • Mushrooms (1 container) 
  • Green beans (1 pound)
  • Greek yogurt (1 small container)
  • Almond milk (1 container)
  • Peanut butter (1 jar)
  • Sliced almonds (1 small bag)
  • Granola (1 small bag)
  • Mixed nuts (1 small bag)



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