I know I’m not alone when it comes to being confused on how to put together a great “macro-friendly” meal. For years, I would throw together as many veggies and proteins as possible and wonder if I’m eating the right thing.
I used to make meals by starting out with a foundation of vegetables, and I felt like I didn’t have “room” for protein or fat. I would panic and try to make my next meals based on proteins; eventually burning myself out on what I needed to eat. There is a simple formula that helped me break down each meal by macro, without panic or hassle. This formula came from “Burn The Fat; Feed The Muscle,” which is a great book to read or listen to. In this book, Tom Venuto breaks meals down in this fashion:
1 Starchy Carb (or Whole Grain)
1 Fibrous Carb (Fruit or Vegetable)
Where does fat fit in? If you’re eating a plant-based diet, the fat can come from one or more of these foods. Plants contain a combination of each macro, so you may need to mix-n-match. If you get protein from animal-based sources, the fat is already built into the protein. I’ll give examples of each type of meal.
Scrambled tofu (Protein)
Potato (Starchy Carb)
Kale (Fibrous Carb)
To add fat, cook the potatoes in 1tbsp olive oil, or serve with avocado.
Oatmeal (Starchy carb)
Fruit (Fibrous carb)
You can add peanut butter, flax seed, chia seed, hemp seed, pretty much any nuts or seeds to increase fat content.
Eggs (Protein and fat)
Toast or potatoes (Starchy carb)
Fruit or any non-starchy vegetable (Fibrous carb)
Egg wash (Protein and fat)
Bread (Starchy Carb)
Fruit (Fibrous carb)
Seitan and broccoli:
Rice (Starchy carb)
Broccoli (Fibrous carb)
Add sesame seeds or oil to add fat.
Protein (Chick’n, seitan, tempeh, tofu, edamame)
Leafy greens (Fibrous carb)
Grains, beans, lentils, legumes, potato, pasta, etc. (Starchy carb)
You can use salad dressing to add fat.
Protein (Beefy crumbles, beefless tips, seitan, tempeh)
Fibrous carb (Onions, peppers, sometimes the tortilla [Mission Carb Balance Tortilla])
Starchy carb (Tortilla, potatoes)
Fat (Sour cream, avocado)
Protein (Deli slices, temeh, facon, etc.)
Fibrous carb (Non-starchy veggies, sometimes the bread can be high in fiber)
Starchy carb (Bread)
Fat (Avocado, animal-based protein)
You can apply this to a majority of common dishes. Try it out with your favorite ones! This formula is super simple because it is easy to remember and you can adjust the amount of each food to perfectly fit your macro requirements! You can build almost any meal with this approach and not have to use an excessive amount of ingredients. This helps people lose weight because when keeping track of food intake, it is much easier to calculate meals with 3-5 ingredients rather than those with more than 5 ingredients. Building meals with fewer ingredients can also help people save money!
How is this related to bodybuilding?
This method of breaking down meals by macros has been practiced by bodybuilders. It’s used to ensure that they get the proper amount of each macronutrient to reach their physique goals. You’ll notice that the typical body building meal will be something like chicken, rice, and broccoli. One protein, one starchy carb, one fibrous carb. This is a very customizable approach that can help eliminate decision fatigue.
How do I calculate my macro requirements, though?
I have tried a few macro calculators, and the one by Legion Athletics is my favorite so far. If you use a macro calculator and the total number of calories looks too low, go ahead and add more. I say this because when I put in my stats (4’9″), macro calculators always tell me that I need to eat around 1200 calories, when I should be eating at least 1400-1500. You can always adjust your macros to a ratio that works best for your body and lifestyle. A simple and easy to remember approach would be to divide macros into a 40/40/20 split. 40% Carbs and protein, 20% fat. This is a good baseline to start at if you are new to tracking macros. You can always adjust these numbers based on your needs.
I’ve talked about the importance of why tracking food intake is important. The least I can do is share some tips that make it easier. Trust me, its not as easy as it sounds, it takes some practice. Before diving in, here is a list of food tracking essentials:
Food scale: This is the most important tool because estimation will hinder the desired results. Here is a basic scale.
Food tracking app: I like Cronometer because it breaks down many micronutrients in addition to macronutrients. I am currently using MyFitnessPal because its the app that can sync to the fitness app that I have set up through my personal trainer. Keep in mind that when picking a food tracking app, if its not popular, it may be harder to share your diary with the people or apps you want to see it.
Measuring tools: Measuring cups, spoons, scoops, etc. These will help with your accuracy.
Food storage: Storage containers are great for people who like to meal/ingredient prep.
Now that we have covered the tools, lets get into the tips!
Weigh food as you go. Tracking my food intake was a pain until I realized I was making it too much work. I would weigh my food, chop it and prepare it. Now, I weigh as I chop, and at the same time. I will chop, weigh my food, chop my next food, tare the scale and weigh it. Instead of separating the two actions, I do it all at once.
Prepare your own food! If you are cooking for yourself, you will know exactly what is going into your food! You can control the contents. When you go to a restaurant and log the meal you ate, there may be additional ingredients not accounted for and you may think you’re eating a 600 calorie meal, when in reality, its closer to 900 calories. A high-calorie meal is not bad, but making your own food lets you be more accurate and accountable when it comes to your lifestyle goals.
Write down the measurements of your most common dishes. I used to measure my breakfasts every day, and I was eating the same thing. This tip works if you use the same amount of ingredients every time you make it. A dish that you can cook with your eyes closed. Write down the weight of each ingredient so you can quickly type it in, or most food tracking apps will let you create meals and recipes. You will plug in your ingredients and measurements once, and you can add the whole meal with one tap! I have a weekly meal planner featuring a recipe card template that is perfect for keeping track of your favorite meals!
Do not let “counting calories” keep you from having fun and living life! I know I just said that ordering a meal from a restaurant might not be the best idea for losing weight. You know what? One meal, or a whole day of derailing from your preferred eating style will not suddenly “undo” all of your work. You can either edit the menu item to better fit your lifestyle/macros, OR log the meal as best as you can and enjoy it! It is impossible to eat “perfect” all the time, it is our reaction to it and preceding steps that make a difference. Enjoying the meal with your family, feeding your soul, eating something you actually enjoy is more important than “oh my goodness, I ate ___, I’ll never be healthy! I’ll never see my goals! I cheated, I might as well eat like this for the rest of the day/week!” Eating healthy is important, but please put mental health first. Your journey to a healthy lifestyle should be a fun and pleasant experience!
This step is important because you might need more calories than you think! My personal trainer had me log my calories, the first week I did not change anything. I would eat 900-1200 calories (I am 4’9″) a day. I was eating a lot, but I was getting headaches and I looked bloated. The next week, my PT instructed me to go for 1500 calories and gave me specific macros to follow. At first, I was skeptical, shouldn’t I eat less to lose weight? After eating 1500 calories a day, my headaches went away, I can fit into clothes a little better and I have more energy than before! Keeping track of food intake is all about finding a way of eating that works best for you and your health goals. It is also a good idea to see what’s going inside so you can make changes accordingly.
Get to know your favorite (Insert macro) food!What do you mean get to know my food? I’m very familiar with it! How well do you know it? When counting macros, it takes a little more creativity to hit goals than a lifestyle that includes eating animals. Animal-inclusive diets have very distinct macro categories. Plant-based foods will have more than one macronutrient. This is important because it may be hard to hit a specific macro goal without the other two being disproportionate. Beans are typically considered a protein source, but they contain more carbs than protein. I used to think that peanuts were a protein source until I learned that they have more fat than protein. Seitan is a great source of protein, it’s very low in fat and carbs.
Do you track your food intake? What are your food-related health goals?
If I could pick one eating habit to consistently stick with, it would be tracking food intake. No, not counting calories. When someone tracks their intake, they are looking at the bigger picture. Macronutrients, micronutrients, fiber, water, where the calories come from (not how many). When you start a fitness journey, one of the first steps is to log everything you eat. Portions have increased over the years, so what we think is one serving, might be two or three servings. “If you’re not counting calories, why does it matter? Wouldn’t it be a good thing to eat two or three servings of fruits or vegetables at once?” If you have specific body composition goals, you need to take the “calories in vs. calories out” equation into consideration, but what I have in mind is volume of food. This is what I have learned about myself while trying to “deal with” over eating.
“Eat more, lose weight!” They said. Cool, I’ll make my meals from mostly calorie-dilute foods. For me, eating large volumes of food with not enough calories led me to eat more food because I can’t trick my body into thinking I’m eating more nutrients than I’m giving it. Even though more servings of healthy foods can be a good thing, make sure you are feeding yourself vitamins, minerals, fiber, and not just water. After failing my attempt at learning how to eat calorie-dilute foods, I started tracking what I ate on a normal day. By serving size and weight, I was eating way too much. I was eating twice or three times the serving size of everything. I practiced portion control while tracking what I was eating – I hit my daily nutrient goals with less food. I’m not saying you need to eat less, I’m saying you need to look at what nutrients you’re putting in because you might not be lacking the vitamins that you *think* you are. For me, one example was Vitamin C. I took a vitamin C supplement daily until I learned, through tracking my food intake, that bell pepper has the daily amount of vitamin C! When you see what’s going in, you can adjust your food intake to the almost perfect amount your body needs to do what you need it to. Tracking what you eat can help you lose weight because you can see how much food it really takes to feel full. It helps you be more mindful about what goes in your body.
I have a printable weekly planner template that is perfect for getting started with tracking food. I have been using it for several weeks and it has helped me immensely! It has a weekly agenda to write down foods, a grocery shopping page that breaks down different food groups. It does have items like “meat” and “dairy,” I just write in my fake meats and dairy alternatives. It even comes with a recipe template, so you can have a reference for an awesome dish you made! The best part? You can print out as many copies of each page as you want!