I’ve had a number of enquiries in recent weeks on the subject of macro counting, that is, counting macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) as a method of setting daily food intake quantities, without focusing exclusively on calories. SO I think it is time to put a post together that will help anyone to establish a simplified macro counting for weight loss strategy to lose fat, gain weight, or maintain weight, whatever your goal happens to be.
Many of us may be aware that 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate contains 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, so if we count macronutrients, although our focus is moved away from calories, it still allows us to set our daily intake at a level that can affect, or effect, fat loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance. This is good, and what is even better is that by following a simplified macro counting system, you can reduce the time spent on assessing daily food intake to a couple of minutes per day. I think you’ll agree, that if you really want to take steps to make changes to your body composition, or fitness and sports performance, a couple of minutes per day is time well spent.
The ‘intuitive eating brigade’ will likely pro scorn on the idea of ANY sort of counting, citing obsessive behaviour and potential eating disorders as a possible consequence. Sure, some people are always going to be prone to obsessive behaviour in all aspects of their lives, but my take on it is that most people are unable to eat intuitively, a huge proportion of the population are overweight, obese, likely to die before their time due to their diet and exercise habits, so minding a simple, quick, effective approach to dietary planning is essential in my opinion.
That’s why I developed The Lean Reset free course, a simple, enjoyable, and lifestyle based approach to rapid fat loss, without hunger or muscle loss. Check it out here.
But, if you don’t want to count calories, don’t want to eat intuitively in the hope that you’ll subliminally know just how much to eat, and don’t want to stay where you are on the body composition front, then read on. This is one of the simplest systems you can implement, and it will get you to your goals, if you just stick to the plan.
SO, we still need to be able to estimate how much food we should be eating to meet our physique or performance goals. Feel free to guess, but there are some dead simple ways to get a ballpark starting number, one that you can use for a few weeks, and then re-evaluate as the results flow in.
My 3 Simple Macro Counting Rules For Easy Eating
We all want to keep our diet as simple as we can, adding in irrelevancies to what can already be a stressful time is pointless, and most of all, extremely counter-productive. Whether you are after fat loss, muscle gain, a mix of the two, or some other physical transformation, the KISS (keep it simple stupid!) method tends to work the best. Here are 3 simple rules that will require a minimal amount of work per day, minutes to get your food quantities prepared and ready for the pan.
Macro Counting Simple Rule # 1 – Simplicity Is Essential
These simplified macro counting rules will make your life easy, and will be close enough to have the desired effect on your body composition. It is important to remember that an individuals metabolic rate, the way the process food in their bodies, their calorie burn rate for exercise, is all very individual, we are just setting ballpark figures when we are considering calorie deficits or surpluses for body recomposition.
Things Not To Count
1. Fibrous Vegetables.
When you look at the calorie load from veggies like kale, broccoli, spinach, chard, cauliflower and the like, you’ll find that the calorie content of these vegetables is so low per 100g that they just are not worth counting. You could eat a massive plate of vegetables 2-3 times a day and only be taking in a small number of calories, obsessing about these foods is time poorly spent.
Fibrous vegetables have some amazing attribute, good amounts of minerals, photo-nutrients, fibre, they are good to eat, and should make up a significant part of your diet. When dieting for fat loss, in a calorie deficit, these foods are a godsend. They allow you to fill your plate, eat well, and still lose weight. I would suggest that if weight loss stalls, these foods are likely to be the last thing you look at when making adjustments.
Of course, it is ‘possible’ to overeat them, but for most people (myself included and I have a very large appetite) it is unlikely that you are going to totally derail your diet with these foods. Trust me, I’ve tried! I’ve eaten around 1kg of assorted vegetables a day, and still lost body fat easily.
2. Trace Proteins.
If you look up the macronutrient breakdown of rice, potatoes, and many other veggies, you will see that they have trace macronutrients in them. Potatoes and rice for example, have some protein, but it’s in small enough quantities that it’s not worth counting. The carbohydrate content of these foods is what will matter to you. I think it is great to get your macro and micronutrients from a wide variety of sources, but a few grams of protein from a spud or two is going to have such a small impact on your daily (or weekly) calorie load, it’s just too much hassle to consider.
If you do choose to use an app like My Fitness Pal (MFP) or My Net Diary to record your food intake (definitely not necessary), then the app will take care of these trace macros, but if you choose to use a simple macro counting system like I am going to explain in a minute, forget the trace stuff.
3. Low Calorie Condiments
A lot of people like to use some sauces or other condiments on their food, particularly if they are eating a ‘relatively’ repetitive diet, which works very well for many people working to lose some body fat. I like to use a little Tamari sauce, sometimes a small amount of BBQ sauce, perhaps some tomato sauce on my food. I tend to use no more than a tablespoon, and the calories from these are so minuscule they are not worth bothering will. Even the ‘full fat’ versions, when used in small amounts, have pretty low caloric values. If you are eating 8 meals a day, and having 1 tablespoon of BBQ sauce on all your meals, then it’s worth noting how many calories this provides, but for ‘normal’ folks, eating 2-3 meals a day, it’s not going to matter.
4. Near Enough Is Good Enough When Counting Macros Or Calories.
OMG!!! Have I spoken nutritional heresy? Surely it’s better to be SPOT ON than taking a lackadaisical view on something as important as your food intake, especially when you have such precise goals? Well, as mentioned, you really don’t know EXACTLY what you burn per week, the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) figures you get from the plethora of formulae and online calculators are nothing more than estimates, and often not particularly accurate ones.
IF you use the macro counting system I’m going to get onto in a moment, you only need to be in the ballpark. Estimating the macro-nutrient content of a variety of foods is simple, and if you use an app, it does it all for you. If you are targeted to eat 70g of fat per day, if you only eat 65, or go over and eat 73g, it really won’t impact you in the larger scheme of things. Remember that your goal weight of physique could be 3-12 months away. The minor fluctuations in daily energy intake will smooth themselves out over time.
Macro Counting Simple Rule # 2 – An Online OR Phone App Can Help
So, I just mentioned that there is really no need to use an app when you are building your meals, but some people like them, and they are so quick to use that for those who are really intent on getting to their goal as soon as possible, an iPhone or android app can be useful. I use My Net Diary (MND), after using MFP for some time. MND is good because it allows you to set measurements more accurately than the click wheel method on the iPhone MFP app. It also allows you to set your macronutrient targets exactly, whereas MFP only allows a percentage value. Again, not an issue, near enough is good enough, but I think MND definitely has the edge. Here in the UK, the programs database seems to have a really good cross-section of foods, it’s rare that a food is not listed. The product bar code scanning option is amazing at really cutting down the time you spend on meal calculations.
There is also an option to create customised foods, so you can create that quick and easy serving of potatoes, rice, pasta etc, and just set the carb amounts, ignoring those pesky trace calories we discussed earlier.
My final opinion on this, and it is just my opinion. I think that there can be a useful hierarchy of ‘attention’ to food intake, and it will depend very much on your goals, their timeline, your lifestyle, and your mental attitude to food monitoring. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing food intake, it needs to be tailored to the individual.
As an example. You are a competitive physique athlete heading towards a show, and you want to maximise your leanness for a specific day. Taking a very precise approach to your calories, macros, etc, is probably going to be the best way for you. Get the phone app, and monitor things closely. You are most likely only going to be doing it this way for a relatively small portion of the year. For the rest of the time, a more generalised approach will keep you relatively lean without your having to macro-manage everything.
On the other hand. You are a middle-aged woman who is 150 lbs overweight. Taking a much ‘softer’ approach, with either the non app macro counting method with a little weighing, or the eyeball method and better food choices, will get you very close to where you want to be. Counting to the nearest calorie is pointless for anyone, but for some people, it is even less desirable or necessary.
Macro Counting Simple Rule # 3 – Electronic Scales Are A Godsend
Before anyone starts complaining about weighing food being a precursor to OCD behaviour and eating disorders, I want to say this. In a world where almost no-one is able to eat intuitively and maintain healthy body composition (thank the food producers for that), and the obesity and diabetes levels show no signs of slowing, I am convinced that if people spent just a few weeks weighing SOME of their food, the ability to understand portioning, calorie loads of foods, and to see really dramatic improvements in body weight, would offer a glimmer of hope in the crazy world of overeating.
You don’t need to weigh much of your food, just the meat sources, the carb sources, and perhaps treats like ice cream etc. Meat sources should be weighed RAW, meat loses water when cooked, and the weight of a piece of cooked protein may only be 60-70-% of the raw weight. Carbs can be weighed raw or cooked, just decide at the start and stick with that method. I tend to do raw (dry) it works well for me. My weighing protocol takes me 3-4 minutes per day, no more than 5. and to this end, I am able to estimate my daily food requirements accurately enough that I lose fat when I want to, maintain weight when I choose to, and even gain weight when it suits my physique goals.
Note: For fats, estimate them as closely as possible, Fat has 9 calories per gram, so screwing up these numbers ‘could’ lead to stalling in your fat loss.
Simple Macro Counting Guide
Here are the simplified macro coating rules that I apply to foods. If it’s not listed here, it doesn’t mean that I don’t count it, but I will go to my iPhone app for foods that I don’t eat on a regular basis. It makes putting together a simple macro counting meal plan super simple.
Raw Protein – This includes all meat and fish sources. Beef, lamb, chicken, duck, pork, fish, shellfish etc etc/
100g of protein = 20g of protein. Some may be 25g, some 18g, so we use a 20g average, and it is close enough.
Eggs- Medium egg – 7g protein, 5g fat
Carbs – Pasta, Rice, Potatoes, Couscous, etc – 100g DRY = 70g carbohydrate OR 140g DRY = 100g carbs. Simple!
Fruit – Medium sized piece of fruit = 25g carbs. It’s a close enough ‘average’.
Fat – This obviously varies from meat sources, so you need to estimate this, but for most oils, I just say, 1 tsp = 5g of fat. 1 tablespoon = 15g fat.
That really is all there is to it. If you eat sweet potato, just head to your app and find out how many carbs per 100g, record it in your ‘little black book of nutrition data…….yes, I advise you have one’ and use it next time. FYI – 350g of sweet potato = 70g carbs approx.
Hitting Your Macro Targets
When you come to terms with the fact that weight control and macro planning is not in fact, difficult at all, you can really relax into your eating, enjoy it, and still see all the results you want.
When you stick to these guidelines, and get the majority of your foods from unprocessed sources ‘most’ of the time, it is so simple to build a meal and improve your physique and health at the same time.
Super Quick Example Meal Plan
Lunch 85g protein, 100g carbohydrate, 20g fat.
Chicken Breast (raw) – 425g = 85g P, 12g fat (at 3% fat)
Basmati Rice (raw) – 140g = 100g C (forget the trace protein)
1.5 teaspoons of butter on a whacking plateful of leafy greens = 7.5g approx F
Dinner – 70g protein, 70g carbs, 30g fat.
Rump steak (raw) – 350g = 70g P, 20g fat (at 6% fat approx)
350g sweet potato (raw) = 70g carbohydrate
Mixed veg again, with 10g (2 tsp) of butter = 10g F
You can obviously swap out any protein sources or any carb sources and create a massive variety of meals here, change the spices, the seasoning, and your choices are endless. I like to create 6-10 ‘go to’ meals which I can just swap and revolve on a daily basis, plenty of variety, but the measuring via estimating macro intake is SUPER SIMPLE!
Fat Loss Is Easy – Just Simplify Your System
When you get on board and start to focus on your macronutrient targets, and fogey the rest of the ‘noise’ that you had spinning around in your head (it’s not all your fault, the fitness industry, doctors ,government, your parents, authors, advertisers, marketers, food producers, etc, all have their part to take in the blame game, just stop listening to them right now), you will realise how simple it is to reach your body goals and get, and stay lean all year round.
Be accountable for your macros, eat whole unprocessed foods most of the time. Allow your self some treats a couple of times a week as part of your diet. It will keep you sane. Just fit it into your macro goals. You’l get hungrier if you eat a lot of processed and sweetened foods, don’t make it the central part of your diet. There really is no need for super strict rules on this. But you do need to set some simple targets and boundaries.
I really hope this has helped you with your macro counting diet planning. Please feel free to share of leave a comment if you have something to say, or would like my opinion or some clarification. If you want to take things a step further and have a professional and effective nutrition plan drawn up for you, with ongoing assistance and support to make sure you meet your goals, then my consultation page is the place to go to drop me line. Or check out my my free 7 day course to help you lose weight, overcome binge eating and head towards a beach ready body, all year round.
Have you used macro counting to lose weight? How has it worked for you? Share your story in the comments section.