So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the plunge into this delicious and kind of ridiculous world of macro counting. Seems pretty easy right? The principle of “Eat whatever you want, whenever you want” that includes feasting on donuts, pizza, peanut butter ice cream, Oreos, leftover Easter candy while on your way to getting abs and mad quads is what brought you here. You’re stoked that you get to eat gluten, dairy, and anything else that was previously on a no-no list too.
Assuming you’ve done a fair amount of research in regards to the science of this diet or you’re working with someone knowledgeable enough to give you the right macros based on your goals (both HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), the magic stops when you see what your macros are. All of a sudden, you have questions. Lots of them. What is this lingo that everyone’s now throwing around? 143p/0f/45c? What does that mean? And how in the world do you count/track vegetables and meat? How do you measure cooked vegetables vs. raw? What if I’m going out to dinner with my parents? What if I made a gigantic pot of chicken noodle soup for the week and now need to measure that out? What does a gram of fat look like from a caloric perspective? Do I even care about calories? MyFitnessPal doesn’t have my food item, now what?
All relevant questions, and all questions I’ve definitely had myself. As I previously mentioned in my other ‘macro counting‘ post, coming to terms with this comes with a lot of good and bad things. I’m also still learning myself in terms of what actually works for me. Some days I feel like my carbs are too much, and other days I can’t seem to get enough fats into my diet. I’ve had a few people come to me and ask me for some tips and tricks to starting their macro counting experience, and I thought it’d be helpful to share with you some of the things I wish someone had told me when I first started. Brace yourselves folks, here are some of my tips to starting macro counting based on some questions that seem to come up a lot:
Q1: How can I change MyFitnessPal to be based on what my exact macros are? Can’t I just round it to be based on the percentages that’s embedded in the app already?
If you want to be as accurate as possible, I highly recommend reconfiguring MyFitnessPal (“MFP”) to be based on grams rather than percentages. MFP works in whole numbers such that the total of the three categories adds up to 100%. Depending on how your macros were calculated, your macros might come out to being something that looks like 40%/24%/36%, in which case MFP will not be able to calculate this and will round up or round down, depending on how you set it up. To eliminate this issue all together, click here to set your macros to be based on grams and not percentages.
At the same time, if you’re only looking for approximation and not exact numbers, then the percentages are a great way to ballpark it too. Click here for a step-by-step picture tutorial on how to change this in MFP. Also, please note that this fix can only be done on a computer, not on your phone.
Q2: How do I know how much I’m eating? What’s the easiest way to measure something on a food scale?
In the order of most important things, buying a food scale is probably #1 or #2 after you figure out your macros. I have two food scales; one at my desk and one at my house. I use both every single day. Please don’t laugh at me when I say that I only recently discovered the ‘Tare’ feature on my scales too. I wish you could have seen me painstakingly measuring out what 50g of Greek yogurt and making an absolute mess all over the place. So, it’s worth sharing the definition of ‘Tare’: weight is accounted for in kitchen, analytical (scientific) weighing scales and other scales which include a button that resets the zero of the scale display when an empty container is placed on the weighing platform, in order to subsequently display only the weight of the contents of the container. So basically, put your bowl on the scale, hit ‘Tare’, and measure away. I’m still blown away by this feature (#n00b)!
Q3: How do I avoid over-eating or under-eating for the day? It seems like it’s a lot of volume to take down!
This is where my detail orientated self kicks in. I plan all my meals out for the week in advance. That means on Saturday morning, along with some much needed caffeine, I’m writing out my menu for the upcoming week that’s inclusive of any side dishes. I very rarely leave anything for the last minute and don’t really cook anything “on a whim.” That means, I know exactly what I’m going to be eating on each day of the week, regardless if it’s leftovers from the night before, or if I’m cooking something new. I also log in my portion servings the night before and meal prep everything so that I’m not arbitrarily eating something that might cause me to go over on my macros. I’m a big fan of snacking and if left on my own, I’d probably eat half a container of Goldfish along with Quest Bars every hour on the hour. By planning out what I’m having in advance, it prevents me from over or undereating and then sticking to that schedule.
Q4: Do I measure things raw or cooked?
This is a popular one. To ensure full accuracy, I calculate all the raw ingredients before cooking. I enter in all the raw ingredients (including the brands you’re using, not all things are the same from a macros perspective!) into MFP and into their ‘Recipe’ builder. Whatever total comes out of MFP, that’s the total count for the entire recipe. Once cooked, I weigh the entire batch of whatever I just made and divide it into equal portions (ps. I tend to ignore the ‘serving size’ indication on some recipes since if I’m cooking for just myself, it may be more servings than what is being listed). I then take the total macros and divide by the number of portions. And then voila! You have your macro count per serving!
To make this easy on myself though, I find myself gravitating towards staple meals I like enough to eat often, make in bulk and eat throughout the week. I keep post-it notes with the serving indications and how much one serving weighs in my kitchen so I know how much to portion out for lunch or dinner.
Q5: Can I eat candy/sweets every day? I LOVE this diet already!
Can you eat candy every day? Sure. Should you eat candy every day? Probably not, regardless if you’re macro counting or not. Candy, sweets, treats, just like anything else in this category, is exactly what it is – a treat. If you find yourself with some leftover carbs and fats, sure, throwing a few M&Ms onto your nonfat Greek yogurt might work. But keep in mind that the macros that come from that itty bitty candy could almost be the same as what berries, bananas, or other of nature’s treats. I love this visual that was on the internet from my coach Adee Zukier in regards to candy carbs vs. vegetable carbs:
Q6: What happens if I go over my macros for the day and I’m only through lunch? Do I give up?
Going over your macros isn’t a free pass to eat like crap for the rest of the day. You might be WAY over your carbs, but that’s no reason to abandon trying to hit your protein and fat goals for the day. And, if you’ve gone over for the day, remind yourself that it’s just one day. If you’re constantly going over your macros though, it’s probably a sign that you need to reconfigure things to be more in line with how you’re feeling. One day won’t break you, but constantly missing your macros day in and day out will.
Q7: I’m going out to eat at a fancy pants restaurant where there’s no nutritional information available. It’s got about 10 different things on the plate, how do I track? What do I do?
As someone who is a self-proclaimed foodie, I struggle with this one CONSTANTLY. How do you account for the microplane vegetables and truffles that’s on top of the pan sauce that goes with your rib-eye? To be honest, I haven’t found a perfect way of going about it, but one of the things that I do is that I’ll order menu items that are easy to track. Grilled chicken is generally consistent from a macros perspective, as is most cuts of meat (minus any garnishes or sides that come with it). If you’re seriously anal about what you’re planning on eating, you can research via Yelp or their restaurant photos to see what you’re getting yourself in to. I find that “guesstimating” is the best way to go and err on the side of caution and “overestimate portions” slightly- I figure it’s better to be a little under than over in your macros. Also, take into consideration that your delicious filet mignon is probably cooked in butter, as are the healthy looking vegetables that are on the side. I reserve a little bit of fats leading up to eating out to account for this, which is another conservative way of going about it.
Q8: I’m going to the grocery store tomorrow. What foods should I keep on hand all the time?
I make sure I always come back with egg whites (great for when you’re short on your protein macros), lean meats like chicken breast and ground turkey, nonfat Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes, and berries. I also have found a HUGE love for La Croix (sparkling water without the sodium that Pellegrino has in it). I also make sure my pantry has enough rice, pasta and pasta alternatives. I also keep a small reserve of cheeses like Babybel or Laughing Cow on hand for when I need protein & fats without the carbs. But, you can an ample source of healthy fats from avocados! I also keep a jar of PB2 on hand and to spread on things like rice cakes!
Q9: Does alcohol count? MFP says that my vodka soda has 0 calories…am I winning at life on this diet?
Alcohol absolutely counts. Even if you’re drinking it with things that no calories. Whether it’s a glass of wine, a beer at the baseball game, or a shot on a wild night out, it all counts. Don’t be fooled by what MFP might say either. My experience has been that MFP tends to short the actual impact drinking has. I generally follow this formula when drinking:
- For beer: Total calories/9 = counts against ‘Fat’ grams or Total calories/4 = counts against Carb grams
- For liquor: 40g carbs per shot or 18g of fat per shot
These aren’t exact, but a good approximation. Also, for liquor, don’t forget to include anything you drank the liquor with. That includes any juice, soda, syrups, or anything else.
Q10: Anything else I should know?
Water and fiber consumption is also important as part of your tracking. I try to drink about a gallon of water a day, and eat at least 30 grams of fiber a day too. I have a wonderful water tracking app that I use to keep track of how much water I’m drinking, and you can see how much fiber you’re consuming via the categories under MFP.
Q11: Does this whole macro counting actually work?
Having been on macro counting for a little over a year and a half, you tell me whether it works or not:
Like anything that’s challenging, macro counting requires a lot of work. I’d be lying if I told you I thought this whole process was easy and straightforward. It isn’t without it’s challenges. At the same time, watching yourself transform by enjoying what you’re eating and not taking away from your strength and capacity is easily one of the coolest things I’ve experienced so far. I don’t pretend to be a nutrition coach, or someone who considers themselves an expert in the field, so if you have any questions on what your macros should be, I encourage you to find someone who you trust to help you with what’s right for you. Macro counting works for people looking to lose weight, but also works for anyone looking to stack on some muscle in a safe and healthy way. Happy counting!