Let’s say you have a nutrition coach who is helping you reach your fitness goals. Or alternatively, you’ve read some article online and calculated your own macros. Perhaps you’re dieting. Maybe you want to shed some fat or perhaps you’re trying to pack on some quality muscle mass. You’ve already invested a good amount of time into learning what all the different macronutrients are and what they’re good for. After assessing your unique scenario, you’ve determined that counting your macros is a good idea for your unique situation, and the next step for you to do is to implement this new nutrition program.
But you’re not exactly sure how to go about doing this. Others seem to effortlessly fall within 2 grams of their target macros day after day, and yet here you are, consistently falling short on your protein and over-consuming your carbohydrates.
You’re frustrated because you understand that you won’t make progress unless you’re adhering to your allotted numbers, but it’s not for lack of effort that you don’t successfully follow through.
Plan ahead. This is by and large the most important component of successfully meeting your macros on a consistent basis. If you’re confused about how it is that you frequently find yourself in the kitchen at 9pm wondering how to pack in another 80 grams’ worth of protein before bed, I can absolutely guarantee that lack of planning is the culprit. It’s never a good idea to just wing your nutrition throughout the day and cross your fingers that your macros will somehow magically align with your goal numbers. Tracking as you go is hit or miss – usually the latter. Devote a small chunk of time at the beginning of each week or before you go to bed every night and spell out what you’re going to be eating.
There are a number of applications and websites out there available for your use, many of them freely available. I myself have used the FitDay and CalorieKing programs in the past and am currently using the MyFitnessPal app on my iPhone. If I had to recommend one for ease of use, I would say CalorieKing is probably the most user-friendly, though all three have their pros and cons of course. Once again, since they’re free, I’d recommend taking the time to perhaps experiments with a number of different mediums until you find one that strikes your fancy.
You can also always resort to the old school method of plain old pen and paper or create your own Excel spreadsheet. Over time, you’ll probably find that you eat the same 15-20 food items over and over again, so pulling up nutritional information will be a breeze.
Decide how many meals you want. As an intermittent faster, I’m normally happy with two small snacks followed by a giant feast in the evening. I like it not only for its physiological benefits, but I’m also saving the best for last. This is great because nighttime tends to be when most individuals’ willpower is depleted and it’s harder to resist those goodies in the kitchen. Additionally, I’m normally occupied with work during the day, so I’m too distracted to think about food. It’s when I’m winding down that my stomach starts growling.
As an example, here’s how I used to eat a couple of months ago.
This may be how you roll, but probably not. And to be blunt, I don’t care how many meals you eat, as long as you’re consistent with it. If you like the six-meals-a-day approach and you don’t mind eating out of Tupperware containers everyday, then have at it. If you’re like me and those bite-sized teasers merely tick you off, then maybe intermittent fasting is a good option for you to experiment with.
Pick a number. Stick to it. As long as you’re not being inconsistent with your meal timing and frequency, you’ll be good.
Decide what you want to eat. Ah, this is where indecision kicks in for many folks. It’s a good idea to stick to a list from which you will choose the large majority of your food items. In general, you should have a protein at each meal – think 20 to 25g or more. (In other words, one measly egg is not enough) This protein source will be the epicenter around which the rest of your meal revolves.
Next come your carbs. I’d normally recommend leaving carbs for the last meal of the day and/or the PWO window, but for the individual newly stepping into the fitness world, this is a detail that can be mastered later down the road. For now, pair some of your carbs with your protein. Mix and match. Get creative.
Lastly, you have your fats. If you’ve already got a specific type of meal in mind that you want (eg. cobb salad), then the answer is simple here. Bacon, hardboiled eggs – sources of both protein and fat – will complement the grilled chicken over a bed of lettuce. Dressing on the side or nixed altogether, naturally. You’ve also got coconut oil for cooking, nut butters as a “dessert” (coconut butter is essentially like candy, by the way), olive oil and spices for marinating, avocados as a topping. The list goes on.
Don’t forget that your fish oils have to be counted, too.
Depending on how strict you’re going to be with your nutrition, you may or may not leave some wiggle room for the “fun” foods like the occasional half cup of Ben & Jerry’s that you fit into your macros on a training day. These foods would ideally fall within the PWO (post workout) window one to two hours following your session. Careful not to go hog wild on the sugar, however.
Be willing to be flexible. How do I know what I’m going to want to eat come Thursday? What if I don’t feel like eating chicken and rice for dinner? What do I do if my boss invites me out for lunch?
All valid questions and all variables you should take into account. Most of the foods you eat should be easily categorized into one of the macronutrient groups. All you have to do is swap out a substitution of the same macronutrient and match the total number of calories to determine how much of the new food you get.
To explain what I mean, let’s take some chicken. You have 100g chicken breast planned out for lunch later today, but come 12 o’clock, you’re invited out to a mandatory business lunch at a seafood restaurant. No problem. You pull up CalorieKing and learn that 100g chicken is worth 165 calories, which is the caloric equivalent of 165g cod. You’ll sit down and, when it’s your turn to order, you’ll politely ask that your cod be grilled with no extra oils (unless you can afford to take those fats into account) and no butter.
It’s that simple. Though you obviously won’t have the exact same number of trace carbs and fat in the cod as in the chicken, you’ll be damn close. Good enough has to be good enough.
Sometimes, however, you’ll find yourself completely unprepared as you find yourself starving with no ready-prepped food in sight and nothing but a Chipotle nearby. Don’t panic. Go back to the food rules above. Lean protein first. So get a salad with chicken or steak (or both with double meat if you’re a glutton such as myself). Add some beans or rice (carbs!) if it was a training day, be liberal with the fajita veggies and pico de gallo, and toss in a dollop of guacamole (fats!). You’re all set.
Plan ahead. Ah, here we are again. I’m bringing up this point twice because it really is that important.
Plan ahead. Plan ahead. Plan ahead.
I can’t say it enough times. There’s nothing like feeling like a goof when you log your food at the end of the night and you’re 80g over your carb allotment. All because you thought to yourself I’ll just deal with it later. There’s really nothing you can do about that – after all, you can’t uneat those carbs – and you’ll just have to chalk it up to an off-macro day. Repeat that a couple of days in a row and your progress stalls. And unfortunately, no matter how good you’re being with your food choices, when you consume enough to push yourself out of calorie deficit mode, you’re not going to get any leaner.
Then you’ll be kicking yourself for having wasted the past week half-assing it.
This may seem overwhelming at first, but I promise that the learning curve is high and you’ll quickly be plugging in your numbers and tweaking your food amounts without a second thought. There’s no need to be intimidated by macronutrients and doing some simple calculations yourself. And no, you should absolutely not try to go the easy route and ask your trainer to toss you a meal plan – my friend JC Deen explains why. In short, it’s not sustainable and it won’t teach you the tools you need to learn to make your diet fit your day-to-day life, curveballs and all.
Give it a whirl, I dare ya. You’ll be one step closer toward reaching the body of your dreams.