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.
When thinking about protein, salads usually don’t come to mind. I’m here to change that with this basic recipe. I have a simple salad that is full of protein and will leave you feeling full for hours! Did I mention that this has 41 grams of protein?
Ginger Sesame tofu (or a plant based chicken like MorningStar farms or Gardein)
Ginger Sesame dressing
Won ton strips (optional)
Cook the tofu and edamame according to instructions. I will do this step last if I want my salad to be a little warm.
Mix veggies together, garnish with sliced almonds and dressing.
Allow some time for the tofu and edamame to cool. Add on top.
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?
I throw around the word “health” often. It’s in my title and the foundation of my content. What does it mean, though? There are many different facets of health; physical, mental, spiritual, financial, etc. It is very different for everyone. I won’t go too much into mental and spiritual health. With that being said, mental health is one of the higher priority items and is very individualized. If your mental health is not where it should be, or you suffer from a condition or illness, please seek professional help and treatment. Once mental health is in line, the other types of health will be more achievable. Nothing is impossible, but we must fill our own cup. Filling our cup without taking care of mental health is kind of like filling our “strainer.”
Now, when I’m talking about “health,” I’m mostly referring to physical and financial. These aspects of health are easier to cut and paste into your daily routine. One of the most important topics in physical health is sleep. Your body needs sleep to get all of the “behind the scenes” work done. Muscle repair, digestion, memory building, and many other processes occur during sleep. Professionals will recommend 7-8 hours of sleep. Getting the same amount of sleep every night is a great starting point. Physical health means to eat foods you love to nourish yourself with in the quantities you like it in. Using food for self-love (not emotional eating.) Using food to power through your workouts and work days. Physical health is also being able to move your body to the best of its ability and working on improving. Its not being able to run x miles, or lift x pounds for y reps. Its putting effort into yourself to enhance your abilities. Its believing in yourself and your future. Beginner-level nutrition and fitness are much healthier than continuing negative thought and behavior patterns and doing nothing about them.
Health is putting yourself first. Performing every action as an act of self-love. That’s what I think of when I think of health. Its fertilizing and growing your potential to be able to give yourself the best quality of life. Obviously it gets much more complex when you think about mental, spiritual and financial health, but its easier to break them down and master bits and pieces of them at a time.
What about you? What comes to mind when you think about health? Do you measure health based on statistics or more abstract ideas?
This recipe is a basic tofu scramble. I love this recipe because it is very few ingredients, but contains lots of nutrients to kickstart your day! This recipe is loaded with protein and fiber to keep you feeling satiated! This makes a lot of food. I can only eat half of this when paired with breakfast potatoes (or zucchini!)
You can always omit or add ingredients, not everyone has the same taste! I personally like this recipe because it fits very well into my macros and keeps me full for a majority of the day!
Basic Tofu Scramble
1/2 package tofu
1 bell pepper
spinach (as much as you like)
nutritional yeast (I use 1 shot glass full)
turmeric (for color)
garlic powder (or fresh)
oil (optional, if you are oil-free, do not drain all of the liquid from the tofu when pressing it)
black salt (optional, but it gives the tofu the sulfur/eggy taste. I got mine from amazon)
2 beyond meat spicy breakfast patties (optional, you can use any fake breakfast meat, or none at all)
If you are going to eat breakfast potatoes/zucchini, prepare them now.
Open tofu and cut it in half (or use the whole block to double recipe). Press the tofu. If you are not using oil, keep some of the moisture in the tofu.
While tofu is being pressed, chop the onion and bell pepper. You may chop the spinach if you don’t want to fiddle with cooking down large leaves.
Prepare spices. I do not measure my spices, except for nutritional yeast. I will put 1/2 shot glass of nutritional yeast into the pan with the other spices, and the other half will go on when I’m serving it.
Now, you have all of your chopped veggies and spices ready to go. If you are using the Beyond Meat patties, start them now. You just heat them up in a pan, no oil necessary if you’re using nonstick. They take about 3 minutes on both sides.
In a separate pan (10-12 inch,) warm it on medium heat. Add oil if you like.
Crumble tofu into pan. Stir it around and let it cook for about a minute, then add spices. I measure them by color and taste. I add enough turmeric to turn the tofu yellow, enough black salt to make it taste eggy and lots of garlic powder and black pepper! After adding spices, cook for another 2-4 minutes.
Add in the bell pepper, onion, and garlic if using fresh. Cook until onion is translucent.
Add in spinach and any other veggie you might be using (I like to add in mushrooms in this step if I have any!)
By now, your sausage patties should be done, and spinach wilted.
Sprinkle the rest of the nutritional yeast on top and serve with breakfast potatoes/zucchini, toast, in a tortilla, etc! I will sometimes add sliced cherry tomatoes if I have any!