HOW TO COUNT MACROS 101
Before we start, if you aren’t familiar with macronutrients check out our What’s a Macro? page first. In this section, we will cover the very basics of counting macros. We could write a book on how to do this but for now, we’ll keep it simple.
These are loaded with information, most of it you can ignore. If you’ve never counted macros before, here’s a visual on how to read a nutrition label. The main areas to focus on are the serving size and the 3 macros (Carbohydrates, Protein & Fat).
BUT MY FOOD DOESN’T HAVE A NUTRITION LABEL?
No worries! Most unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables don’t come with a label but you can easily find the nutrition facts with a quick Google search. If you are using an app like MyFitnessPal you can search their database too.
This is another food that may or may not have a nutrition label. When calculating your macros for meat, know that the serving size is RAW weight unless it specifically says “cooked”. If you search MyFitnessPal for “boneless, skinless chicken breast” and you find the nutrition for 4 ounces, just remember that’s the raw weight. Water is removed when cooking meat, which shrinks the size and weight. So, 4 ounces of cooked meat could have easily been 6 ounces of raw meat. To get a more accurate count, you should weigh your meat before cooking it. If you forget, here’s a trick to estimate your meat weight.
|Rare Meat||Well-Done Meat|
|Cooked Weight x 1.1 = Raw Meat Weight||Cooked Weight x 1.5 = Raw Meat Weight|
This is a tricky one since alcohol is kind of like the “4th macro”. You will never get an alcohol goal from your coach but because alcohol contains calories, you still need to track it. You will have to make a choice to sacrifice some of your daily carbs, or daily fat. You will NEVER trade in your protein macros for alcohol. To do this, you’ll need to do some basic math first. Tracking alcohol is the only time you will ignore the macros on the label and look only at the calories. The formula you will use will depend on your trade-in choice of carbs or fat. Here is an example going off of a standard American beer with 145 calories per 12 oz serving.
|Ex: 1 – 12 0z. Beer = 145 calories|
|Trading in Carbs
Total Calories ÷ 4 = CARBS
145 ÷ 4 = 36 g
|Trading in Fat
Total Calories ÷ 9 = FAT
145 ÷ 9 = 16 g
So you would have to track either 36 g of carbs OR 16 g of fat. Note you can try mix and match if you’d like, but the math is much simpler to just pick one or the other.
Winging it usually does not work when it comes to counting macros. It will take some planning and preparation to be successful. This starts in the grocery store. Set yourself up for success by stocking your fridge on macro friendly foods. It’s wise to avoid foods you know you tend to overeat. Look for minimally processed foods high in fiber and rich in nutrients.
Plan your meals ahead of time. Use a food tracking app and start with your main meals, whether you eat 3 meals a day, or 5 meals a day. Any macros you have left over can be used for snacks or saved in case you’re still hungry later in the day. By logging them ahead of time, you have a good idea of where your macros sit. From there you can make adjustments and add or remove macros as needed.
Meal prepping is a great habit to start. This helps you to eat more consistently and can help you to avoid choosing “macro bombs” when in a time crunch. How much you meal prep is up to you. You can completely portion out meals or just can make a large pan of chicken so you have some protein readily available. Plus, by having something at home ready to eat makes it far less likely that you’ll stop and grab something on the way home from work.
Tracking your macros while eating out can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Most restaurants have all their nutrition info on their website. By taking looking at the menu ahead of time you can start planning your macros early. Doing this it will make it easier to adjust your macros throughout the rest of the day to make your meal from a restaurant fit.
“REMEMBER: Perfection is not possible because inaccuracies in counting are unavoidable. But with a little legwork on the front end we should be able to minimize those inaccuracies and improve our consistency every day.”
When it comes to figuring out what to eat and how to eat it, try to start with your main meals first. Initially this will seem tedious, but planning will make staying within your macros much easier. All you need to do is look up the specific foods that you currently eat/plan on eating and start from there. If you really are serious about your goals, which we assume you are, the time and effort you invest early will pay massive dividends as your results start to come.
EXAMPLE OF A DAY COUNTING MACROS
Person A’s macro goals are:
- 130 g Protein
- 200 g Carbs
- 70 g Fat
From here it is up to Person A to figure out how many meals/snacks they want to eat and then distribute their macros accordingly. (When we write custom plans we include a simplified breakdown of macros over a variety of combinations of meals and snacks. Ex: 4 Meals/1 Snack, 3 Meals/2 Snacks, 5 Meals etc…)
- There isn’t a right or wrong way in regards to meals vs snacks
- The option that fits your schedule and works for you will always be the best choice
- It doesn’t need to be the same breakdown daily, you may find it easier to lay it out one way for weekdays and another on weekends
- You may have to adjust on days you train vs days you rest
- It may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you
For breakfast Person A typically eats 2 eggs with 2 pieces of toast and butter.
Here’s the macro breakdown for breakfast:
2 large eggs – P 13 g, C 1 g, F 10 g
2 slices whole wheat bread – P 6 g, C 21 g, F 2 g
1/2 Tbsp butter – P O g, C Og, F 6 g
Total Macros = P 19 g, C 22 g, F 18 g
For lunch Person A usually walks to the Subway next to the office and gets a 6 inch Ham & Turkey Sub (no cheese, no mayo) with a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips. Using the MyFitnessPal app it’s easy to look up the nutrition information.
Here’s the macro breakdown for lunch:
6″ sub – P 18 g, C 46 g, F 4 g
Lay’s Potato Chips – P 2 g, C 15 g, F 10 g
Total Macros = P 20 g, C 48 g, F 14 g
For dinner Person A has some chicken that they cooked previously in the week along with black beans, brown rice, and half an avocado.
Here’s the macro breakdown for dinner:
6 ounces (raw) chicken breast – P 38 g, C O g, F 6 g
1 cup cooked brown rice – P 5 g, C 49 g, F 2 g
½ cup black beans – P 7 g, C 19 g, F 1 g
½ avocado – P 1 g, C 6 g, F 11 g
Total Macros = P 51 g, C 74 g, F 38 g
Before planning any snacks let’s see where we are at for our 3 main meals.
Protein – 90 g
Carbs – 144 g
Fat – 52 g
Now let’s figure out what we have left over.
130 g – 90 g = 40 g
|200 g – 144 g = 56 g||
70 g – 52 g = 18 g
Now Person A needs to figure out how to eat the rest of their macros. They can add some snacks throughout the day, add a fourth meal, or manipulate their portion sizes in order to meet their macro goals. Person A decides to add a few snacks.
Here’s the macros breakdown for snack #1.
1 medium banana – P 1 g, C 27 g, F 1 g
1 tablespoon peanut butter – P 8 g, C 7 g, F 16 g
Total Macros = P 9 g, C 34 g, F 17 g
Remaining Macros – P 31g, C 22g, F 1g
Here’s the macro breakdown for snack #2.
1 scoop Isopure protein powder – P 25 g, C O g, F 0.5 g
8 oz Water – P O g, C O g, F O g
Total Macros = P 25 g, C O g, F 0.5 g
Remaining Macros – P 6 g, C22 g, F 0.5 g
Here’s the macro breakdown for snack #3.
Yoplait Nonfat Yogurt – P 5 g, C 16 g, F O g
Total Macros =P 5 g, C 16 g, F O g
Remaining Macros – P 1 g, C O g, F O.5 g
|END OF DAY RESULTS|
|Protein||130 g||129 g|
|Carbs||200 g||194 g|
|Fat||70 g||69.5 g|
Counting your macros can certainly seem daunting at first, but with a little leg work on the front end you can become a pro in no time. The best thing to do is just start. Start small, build momentum and set yourself up for that long-term success utilizing the strategies you just read. Now we know there is more than one way to cook an egg, so look at this information as a guideline not a set of rigid, strict rules. There will always be trial and error as you figure out what the best way for you to count your macros is, that’s why it is vital to start sooner than later.
Your goal should be consistency not perfection. If you keep it simple and don’t sweat being perfect you’ll be well on your way to crushing your goals. It’s better to be consistent every day (+/- 10% of your macro goals) versus perfect one day and all over the map the rest of the week. Is there a little science behind counting macros? Yes. Is there also an art behind it too? Yes. Is there a lot of trial and error? You betcha. Can I have a donut? If you want one, sure. Can I have donuts everyday? Honestly, no, unless you are Michael Phelps training up for the Olympics. That being said, if you are Michael Phelps, it’s a pleasure having you read our stuff. Hope to see you in Tokyo!
Remember, if you are flexible with your approach and smart with your choices you’ll get results. You can still eat the foods you enjoy, but keep in mind no one has ever gotten ripped eating pizza, donuts, fast food and craft beer. Don’t believe the hype and all the memes that float around the Internet. Those that appear to get away with eating anything they want and still getting results are the exception, not the rule. And honestly it’s typically lies and it’s usually a marketing scheme to get more clients. Be the rule, be consistent, put in the work, count your macros, track what you eat, pick colorful nutritious foods filled with vitamins and minerals, meal prep, plan ahead, live your life, have fun, know there will be bumps along the way, but most importantly stay the course.
No one wants to be the person at Karen’s birthday party counting out 9 almonds as a snack instead of eating a piece of cake. Plan ahead, adjust your macros around, and eat that piece of f@$king cake!