If you keep finding yourself frustratingly short of hitting one or two of your macros at the end of the day, this guide will teach you how to fix that.
The implicit assumption I’m making is that you understand the benefits of focusing on macro targets, have calculated your macros, learned how to count and make meals out of them, but keep struggling to find a balance at the end of some days.
If this is you, rest assured that this is something that everyone experiences at some point. In this quick guide, I’ll teach you how to fill in the gaps quickly, easily, and with foods you enjoy.
“Balancing foods” is a phrase I made up to describe food choices made with the primary focus being to help us hit our macro targets by the end of the day should our meals fall short. Taste, while important, is a secondary consideration to convenience for most people.
As I said in my guide to making meals out of macros, the majority of people will find success easiest when they build 10-12 meals that they enjoy and fit their macros, then just eat the same meals over and over again. Yes, variety is marginally constrained, but the alternative – feeling like you’re on a macro hunt all day every day – is exhausting and unsustainable.
Once you have done that, there are two situations which commonly occur and cause people trouble:
It is variations of these two scenarios we will focus on in the examples below. First, have a look at this food Venn diagram food cheat sheet.
For more useful graphics, check out my Instagram.
Focus on the foods comprised of predominantly one or two macronutrients on the outside, those in blue and yellow. Take note in particular to those foods that you enjoy. We’re going to use this to help us fix issues you might find yourself having with examples below. It is not close to an exhaustive list, so feel free to add your own.
Here are some of the common issues.
👉🏻 I can’t eat enough high protein foods to hit X g of protein in a day.
This is a problem typically raised by people who have recently decided they are going to start counting macros but are unwilling to change their #eatoutalldayeveryday #restaurantlife lifestyle. Yes, you will find it very hard unless you are prepared to cook.
Assuming you are cooking, then it’s just a case of increasing the amount of meat that you eat. For example, I have a protein target of 220 g per day. Two large chicken breasts (one for lunch, one for dinner) will weigh around 600 g (~21 oz) in total and have 150 g of protein. Two 25 g scoops of whey in the morning before my training brings this to 200 g, and the incidental protein from other foods takes me to my target. Boom.
So, if you usually eat 170 g (~6 oz) portions of meat, try increasing this by 50% to 250 g (~9 oz) and you will probably be close to your target. However, you then have to be careful of going over your fat budget…
👉🏻 I’m over my fat target considerably.
This is usually a problem that occurs when people increase their meat intake. Choose leaner cuts of meat or a ‘leaner’ cooking method.
👉🏻 I’m under my fat numbers and don’t know what to add or adjust.
Note: A high dietary saturated fat intake can increase heart disease risk factors. The topic is complicated1, but as a rule of thumb, try to keep your saturated fat intake equal to or lower than your unsaturated fat intake, especially when in a caloric surplus.
Consider this balance before adding a stick of butter or spoon of coconut oil (which is 90% saturated fat) to your food. I say this because with the recent come back of keto diet dogma and wider diet hipsterism, people seem to have been tricked into thinking that coconut oil and butter are magic. – They are not. Potentially avoiding a heart attack is more important. For the same reason, try to avoid trans fats.
👉🏻 I’m too full and struggle to eat enough carbs by the end of the day.
👉🏻 I struggle to keep my carb intake low enough.
By irregular days I am referring to those days where you are not able to stick to your usual meal plan.
I’m going to give examples here based on my food preferences. Obviously, tastes differ and you need to go with yours, so please don’t blindly copy mine thinking they are special.
Bear in mind that maintaining the calorie balance for the day is more important than hitting any particular macronutrient target, so, don’t hit a macro target at the cost of going over calorie balance for the day. So, let’s say for example that you are looking for 150 g of carbs at the end of the day and no other macronutrients. Practically, this would be nearly impossible to do in a palatable way. So, consider this to be a 600 kcal target, and choose foods from the carbs side of the diagram.
👉🏻 You are 150 g of carbs short of your goal.
You need to eat 600 kcal (150*4) predominantly from carbs. Here are a couple of options:
The banana will give you around 150 kcal. To hit the remaining 450 kcal, you need 120 g of oats. (This will give ~114 g of carbs, ~22 g of protein and ~6 g of fat, but I suggest you don’t worry about these minor details. We’re aiming to be close, not perfect.)
👉🏻 You are 40 g short of your protein target and 50 g short of your carb target for the day.
You need to eat 360 kcal (90*4) from a near equal mix of carbs and protein. Here are a couple of options:
👉🏻 You’re short of your fat goal by 20 g; your other macros are fine.
You need 180 kcal predominantly from fat. Assuming you have already eaten and you can’t add a little oil to one of your meals, this means you’re left with a lot of unappetizing decisions link gulping down a big spoon of oil. Eating 30 g (1 oz) of nuts, though of a mixed macro profile, is probably your best choice.
👉🏻 You’ve exceeded all your macros.
This means you are over your calorie target. If you know how much, 500 kcal, for example, you can reduce this from your food intake the next day, or spread that out over several days (166 kcal over three days), to balance things out for the week.
If you don’t know how much you were over, just go to bed and don’t worry about it.
👉🏻 You’ve eaten out and estimate you are 50 g short on your protein targets.
Consider having a protein shake or ‘protein mug cake’ (instructions below). However, do not do this if you estimate you were over on your other macros and thus over on your total caloric budget. Recall from The Muscle and Strength Nutritional Pyramid of Importance, hitting your caloric intake is more important than hitting your protein intake (or any other macronutrient for that matter).
👉🏻 You ate out and could not fully control what was on that particular meal.
If you can, try to estimate what is in the meal by eyeballing it (refer to the sister article on counting macros for more on this). ‘Adjust’ things after as best you can with one of the examples above.
👉🏻 You’re going away for the weekend and won’t be able to cook.
If you have been dieting for a while, you risk binge eating if left to your own devices. Eyeball your foods if you can, but if you can’t (or don’t want to), just apply the following rules that my clients have had success with.
I add this here because advice for hitting protein targets is such a common question in comments on social media.
For more useful graphics, check out my Instagram.
Approximately half of my clients travel regularly for business and have to implement these strategies often. This makes things more challenging, but by far, the most important determinant of success or failure for these clients over the years has been their attitude. – Aim to be consistent over the long-term rather than stressing yourself above being perfect. Do what you can rather than taking minor derailments as an excuse to binge-eat for a day. We are the product of our habits, not the occasions.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions please hit me up in the comments. If you can think of someone who might benefit from reading this, please share it.
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Like, seriously complicated. I’d highly recommend this article on Examine.com if the subject interests you.
“We have evidence that eating more saturated fat (instead of unsaturated fat) increases known risk factors for heart disease, such as blood lipids, but studies looking at the big picture do not find a link between saturated fat and heart disease. How can this be?
“The simple answer is that fat intake is but a single piece of the heart-disease puzzle. Eating more saturated fat may increase your risk of developing heart disease, but that doesn’t mean you will develop heart disease. Conversely, banning all saturated fat from your diet does not make your heart attack proof.
“In other words, rather than singling out any food or nutrient, we need to consider a person’s overall diet and lifestyle.”
This means: un-fatten yourself, eat a varied diet containing fruit and vegetables, primarily whole (rather than refined) grains, don’t eat too much processed red meat, exercise. ↩