MACRO COUNTING 101

Counting macros is an effective way to ensure a nutrient rich diet (micronutrients count too!) and gives the flexibility to incorporate less nutritious foods without falling off the wagon. It may seem daunting at first but learning the art of counting macros will give you tools for lifelong health and food freedom. With practice you will be able to navigate dining out, social events, satiating cravings, and anything else life may throw your way.

Before you start counting macros it’s probably a good idea to know what they are. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are the three main macronutrients that make up our daily diet each with their own caloric values. Both protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram while fats are 9 calories per gram. Counting macros is the most accurate way to track calories, eat for your goals, and far superior than calorie counting alone. Let’s break down the importance of each one before we get into the nitty gritty

THE HOLY TRINITY

Protein is needed to maintain muscle mass, help with satiety, and is most thermogenic of 3 macros. Thermogenic meaning it takes the most energy for our body to use it, but it is negligible so don’t think overdoing protein will lead to much of a metabolic boost; it won’t have any benefit and will likely result in digestive upset

Carbohydrates give us energy for workouts and everyday life. They can be good sources of fiber and are fucking delicious! To make gains in the gym carbs are essential and you can ignore just about every article on the internet saying they’re bad for you; remember when cigarettes were good? We need carbs to fuel our workouts then replenish glycogen depleted from a lift.

Carbohydrates give us energy for workouts and everyday life. They can be good sources of fiber and are fucking delicious! To make gains in the gym carbs are essential and you can ignore just about every article on the internet saying they’re bad for you; remember when cigarettes were good? We need carbs to fuel our workouts then replenish glycogen depleted from a lift.

Fats are the most calorically dense of the three macros and a great balance for satiation and energy. Fats are essential for our hormonal health, gut health, and brain function. This is the most important of the three macros to measure completely accurately as the calories can add up quickly!

MACRO SOURCES

Macro Sources- there are foods we will consider “pure” macro sources and other that are hybrids with two or all three macros. This is where it can be a bit tricky; every food likely has traces of other macros and some even a more hefty split. When you encounter these hybrid foods you will want to account for them in the rest of your meal when balancing macros; not hard to do but something to be mindful of when building your menu. For example, you may have a meal of chicken thigh (protein hybrid), avocado (fat hybrid), and rice (pure carb). Dark meat chicken will have fats as well as protein and avocado will have carbs in addition to fats; you would need to reduce your fat source to accommodate fatty meat and decrease rice to accommodate for carbs in avocado. There may be times you choose a hybrid food and it leaves no room for the pure macro you intended for that meal, typically with fatty meats, and thats okay just account for it!

Food Sources- it is helpful to keep a list of pure and hybrid macro sources on hand as you are learning to count macros and build meals. I’ve compiled a list below for guidance; if there are any foods you enjoy that I missed please let me know and I will include them.

MACRO SOURCES

Macro Sources- there are foods we will consider “pure” macro sources and other that are hybrids with two or all three macros. This is where it can be a bit tricky; every food likely has traces of other macros and some even a more hefty split. When you encounter these hybrid foods you will want to account for them in the rest of your meal when balancing macros; not hard to do but something to be mindful of when building your menu. For example, you may have a meal of chicken thigh (protein hybrid), avocado (fat hybrid), and rice (pure carb). Dark meat chicken will have fats as well as protein and avocado will have carbs in addition to fats; you would need to reduce your fat source to accommodate fatty meat and decrease rice to accommodate for carbs in avocado. There may be times you choose a hybrid food and it leaves no room for the pure macro you intended for that meal, typically with fatty meats, and thats okay just account for it!

Food Sources- it is helpful to keep a list of pure and hybrid macro sources on hand as you are learning to count macros and build meals. I’ve compiled a list below for guidance; if there are any foods you enjoy that I missed please let me know and I will include them.

MACRO CHEAT SHEET

**When looking at labels stick with whatever macro is highest then work backwards. For example, nut butter has 2x the amount of fat compared to protein so count it as your fat for that meal then reduce protein amount for balance. Avocado have 2x the amount of fat compared to carbs so you would count as your fat then reduce your carb source.**

BUILDING YOUR MENU

Basics of Logging- every meal should have a protein, carb, fat, and vegetable. All food should be weighed on a food scale with protein and carbs in ounces or grams (ounces fine by me) and fats in grams or milliliters.
Cooked vs Raw- Macros are different! If you weigh ingredients raw then log that way, if recording as cooked then search for “cooked xyz” for accuracy. You can weigh raw and do the math but it is unnecessary unless you intend to get to unhealthily low body fat levels and participate in a bodybuilding competition. Most important to be consistent with whichever you choose.
Step 1: To start, balance all macros evenly across meals; try to stay within 5g of all macros for each meal. For example, if your macros are 150P, 170C, 50F over five meals you would shoot for 30c, 34C, 10F per meal. Now that you have your targets per meal you will start to build your menu.
**You can see grams per meal in My Fitness Pal above each meal along with total macros remaining for the day along the top. Tap to switch from % to grams**
Step 2: Pick your carb(s) (grain/fruit/vegetables etc) and protein first. Then decide if you need to add a fat based on what you have left, typically dependent on fat content of your protein choice. From there you have a skeleton of a meal and will only need small tweaks to get to goals
Step 3: Do this for each meal and outline the day. If macros are not zero once all meals are in then compare proteins, carbs, and fats of each meal and edit accordingly. Goal is to stay within 5g of meal targets per meal and plan to 0 remaining macros overall. There will be times you may be off balance for satiety reasons and that is okay! For example, if you’re in the mood for a fattier protein you may rob some fats from other meals

THE FOURTH MACRO

Alcohol- the fourth “macro” and one that does nothing for your goals but, let’s face it, there are times to let loose and enjoy the social lube. It is important to note when you drink your body will stall all fat loss and focus on metabolizing the alcohol first along with dehydrating you.
Each gram of alcohol is 7 calories and 1 shot/mixed drink is 1.5oz of booze; although MFP will not account for alcohol macros we must account for calories consumed; these calories can be taken from carbs, fats or a combination of the two but protein goals should still be met with proper sources. There are a few ways to do this; I will use vodka for an example here
  1. search in mfp for “vodka as carbs”, “vodka as fats”, or “vodka as carbs and fats”. This should do the work for you but always triple check that the macros add up to calories. Also helpful to add “IIFYM” (if it fits your macros) to the end of the search as well
  2. google calories or look at label then do the math yourself. 1oz of vodka is 60 cals so if I’m using carbs 60/4=15carbs. At the bottom of meal there are three dots, select “quick add” than enter 15 carbs.
  3. Note that macros listed on labels only accounts for additive, not the actual alcohol, so be mindful of total calories and account for them!

DINING OUT

Dining out- possible anywhere with a little planning and communication with wait staff; I’ve been able to keep it clean at every sports bar around the country my boss has dragged me to and even “dining” at gas stations. Look for protein options first that can be ordered grilled, steamed, no breading etc. Then find a vegetable you can order with no butter/oil and steamed and a clean carb like baked potato or white rice. Order any dressings, cheese, nuts, aka fats of any kind on the side so you can measure. From there, use guidelines above for logging.
**Salad tip- dip your fork into the dressing cup (1.5oz) to enjoy each bite with some flavor. I usually only go through 1/2 of the cup with this method and account for 0.75oz in my diary**
**rule change- you can further simplify by sticking to just protein and vegetables, like a salad, then distribute carbs throughout other meals in the day. One less thing to track!**
**Salad tip- dip your fork into the dressing cup (1.5oz) to enjoy each bite with some flavor. I usually only go through 1/2 of the cup with this method and account for 0.75oz in my diary**
**rule change- you can further simplify by sticking to just protein and vegetables, like a salad, then distribute carbs throughout other meals in the day. One less thing to track!**

MEAL PREP RECOMMENDATIONS

Meal prep- your lifestyle will dictate the level of prep required to stay on plan. If planning meals is stressful I highly recommend planning and prepping all of your meals in advance; set yourself up for success! I personally keep bulk prepped rice, potato, and chicken breast in my fridge at all time for easy meal prep. You should always have clean options on hand; pantry items like rice cakes, minute rice, oats, cream of rice, canned tuna/chicken, protein powder, etc are all easy to prepare and count. If you enjoy a meal, repeat it, there is no need to reinvent the wheel or fix what ain’t broke!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Food combinations- Although overall macros are what count for goals long term it is important to consume balanced meals for maximal satiety and bioavailability of nutrients. Learning how to combine foods for balance through macro counting will give you the tools to eat well for life whether you choose to track or not.
Condiments and spices- anything under 10cals/1oz serving is “free” but stay within serving size; if you use more than 2oz individually or combined, count it. Be mindful of condiments sweetened with anything but stevia as this can affect your gut health, hunger cues, and overall adherence. Spices are your flavor friend and I highly recommend adding iodized salt to all of your savory meals. Sea salt has 26 minerals that helps the carbs and protein cross the cell membrane AND it helps keep electrolytes in balance. Unless you have high blood pressure, salt will help you not hinder; ignore the lies you have been told!
Packaged food- be aware that packaged food calories can be mislabeled 20%+ due to FDA guidelines. This can be the difference between losing, maintaining, or gaining which is kind of scary, right? The magic of macros comes into play here as you can easily add up the macro values listed to calculate the correct calories.
**Note, MFP does not do macro math and uses calories listed on the package! You may often see no macros remaining for the day but calories over/under in the app. Ignore this and remember macros=calories and food labels lie**
Frankenfoods- we have all fallen victim to low carb bread, veggie pasta, and sugar free desserts but there is no doubt choosing whole food sources are better for your goals, inside and out. There are times they are useful for satiating cravings and tactfully dieting but they should not be pillars of your diet. These foods are chemical and preservative laden and will affect your hunger cues, nutrient absorption, and gut health.
Sweeteners- the effect on your gut microbiome and inflammation should be enough reason to limit as much as possible but note they can also affect hunger hormones/cues. The only truly clean sweetener is pure stevia; sucraloase, maltodextrin, dextrose, aspartame, erythritol, etc feed the bad bugs in your gut and there are many foods they are hidden in. You will find even many brands that advertise as pure stevia are, in fact, blends of stevia and one of these frankenfoods. Many protein powders and “diet friendly” foods are sweetened with sucralose, buyer beware!
Coffee and caffeinated beverages- no need to count black coffee or other caffeinated beverages but limit to 8oz/day as overdoing these will put stress on internal systems. Adrenal fatigue is not fun to fix and once you get there the caffeine won’t work, your cortisol levels will be sky high, and fat loss will be impossible. Be mindful of what you are adding to beverages in general and be sure to count any cream, milk, honey, etc.
Coffee and caffeinated beverages- no need to count black coffee or other caffeinated beverages but limit to 8oz/day as overdoing these will put stress on internal systems. Adrenal fatigue is not fun to fix and once you get there the caffeine won’t work, your cortisol levels will be sky high, and fat loss will be impossible. Be mindful of what you are adding to beverages in general and be sure to count any cream, milk, honey, etc.

TIPS AND TRICKS

High volume foods- as you become more aware of hunger cues, especially in a deficit/cut phase, it is helpful to be strategic with food sources. For example, if 3oz of rice (17 carbs) is not filling you up or holding you until the next meal you may decide to have 7.5oz of green beans or a combo of the two. Feeling satisfied is essential to adherence and non starchy veggies are the key!
Low volume foods- on the contrary, when you are reversing or in a slight surplus you may find yourself overly full. Flip the tip above or break out the blender! A calorie dense balanced shake could look like protein powder/liquid egg whites (safe to eat btw), fruit/oats, and nuts/nut butter/full fat dairy. Throw in a handful of spinach for extra micronutrients and you have a high calorie meal that goes down easy!
Low volume foods- on the contrary, when you are reversing or in a slight surplus you may find yourself overly full. Flip the tip above or break out the blender! A calorie dense balanced shake could look like protein powder/liquid egg whites (safe to eat btw), fruit/oats, and nuts/nut butter/full fat dairy. Throw in a handful of spinach for extra micronutrients and you have a high calorie meal that goes down easy!
Eyeballing portions- DON’T FUCKING DO IT! Until you have been consistently weighing food your eyes will deceive you. There will be times when you must, usually dining out if you are not comfortable bringing a scale with you, and thats when these guidelines are useful. When tracking use round numbers if you are not able to weigh portions.
Basic math to eyeball portions:
8oz=1cuP
4oz=1/2c= deck of cards for protein, small fist for carbs
1.5oz=1 shot glass, small salad dressing cup
1oz=2 tablespoons = 1 cheese cube or 1 dice
Basic math to eyeball portions:
8oz=1cuP
4oz=1/2c= deck of cards for protein, small fist for carbs
1.5oz=1 shot glass, small salad dressing cup
1oz=2 tablespoons = 1 cheese cube or 1 dice
Tare your scale- save dishes and increase accuracy with this handy tool. When weighing food set dish you intend to eat off of on the scale, tare, add food, tare add next food etc. When using anything from a container you will be scooping out of (ie nut butter, cottage cheese, hummus etc) place that container on the scale, tare, then weigh to – target number. If you have 16g of peanut butter set jar down, tare, take portion until scale reads -16 then feel free to lick the spoon, its accounted for!

Sarah Fucinari

Certified Nutrition Coach & Personal Trainer

www.TeamFitWithMe.com
SarahF@teamfitwithme.com