Those serious about their strength and physique goals don’t only count calories; they pay close attention to what macros these calories come from (carbs, fat, and protein) because it leads to significantly better results.
The problem is that while using a macro calculator is quick and easy, counting macros and making meals out of them can be a pain.
Ask yourself, it worth the extra mental headache of counting uncooked rice as 73 g of carbs per 100 g, or will simplifying it to 70 g suffice? I would say that it’s well worth going with the simplification and it’s this way of counting that I’ll teach you in this guide.
The content is based on what I’ve learned guiding clients over the last decade — real people with busy lives, not fitness professionals who can dedicate all their time to this stuff. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The Problem With Macro Counting
- The Importance of Consistency When You Count
- How To Make Your Own Simplified Counting Rules
- Simplified Macro Counting Recommendations
- Using Flexible Macronutrient Targets for Easier Weight Loss
- How To Make Meal Plans Out of Your Macros
- How To Count Macros When Eating Out
- Macro Counting FAQ
The Problem With Macro Counting
Before we begin, I’d like to point out that I don’t believe the majority of the general population should try to count their macros as the first step to getting in shape. There are much easier-to-implement lifestyle changes most people can make to get results.
(Eating more fruit and vegetables, cutting out desserts, getting more exercise, cutting down on alcohol, getting sufficient sleep, etc.)
However, past a certain point, it becomes necessary to count calories and macros drive further change. But the majority of people do not think about the nutrition labels on foods until they attempt to do so. And when they do, it can be overwhelming.
Let’s consider Freddie, who we met in my Nutrition Setup Guide. He’s just calculated that he needs to consume 180 g of protein, 40 g of fat, and 185 g of carbs each day. How will he do that?
He’ll probably walk into the supermarket that evening and start grabbing food items to look at what calories and macros are in them.
He’ll see that the majority of foods that he knows should make up the large part of his diet (fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and some dairy products) do not come with nutrition labels. It’s all the delicious shit in boxes and packets in the middle of the supermarket that have the labels, but he knows that building a diet that way isn’t going to be best for his long-term health.
“Can someone just give me a meal plan?” Freddie screams. And sure enough, our phones are listening, and he’s served an advert delivering him that later in the day.
He buys but is bored after a month. He feels like a slave to the meal plan, not knowing how to navigate his nutrition targets without it. He’s stopped going out with friends and he won’t allow himself to have a slice of pizza at a party because “it’s not in the plan.”
Something has to change. He realizes that he has to learn to build meals out of his favorite foods that fit his nutrition targets if he’s going to reach his physique goals. He can go two routes from here:
- Log everything you eat into a nutritional calculator every day.
- Use simplified rules to help make building meals you love easier, and then rotate them across the week.
The first method can drive people nuts as they seek perfection, so it’s the second method that I recommend. But only after a period of logging everything. Why? Because people are horrible at estimating calorie intake.
Log Everything You Eat And Drink For Two Weeks So That Your Calorie Counting Doesn’t Go Horribly Wrong
The research on calorie counting shows that people are terrible at it. Under-reporting is rife.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has told me that they are eating [insert low-calorie number here] per day, and yet they can’t lose weight. Sure, they might need to reduce calories further, but the chances are they are just screwing something up with the way they are counting.
Here are some common things people forget to count:
- The 40 g of fat in your salad dressing. (350 kcal)
- The calories from the cola and fruit juices.
- The two large-pour whiskeys you have every night. (250 kcal)
- The 30 g of butter you put into your coffee every morning because you’ve been tricked into believing that this “gives you energy” and helps burn more body fat. (270 kcal)
To prevent this from happening, I would recommend that you use an online calorie and macro counter to log every single thing except water that you put in your mouth for an entire week. You’ll need to buy a small electric food scale to do this.
You can use one or a combination of these nutrition calculators:
Try not to change your diet. What you discover may be enlightening.
The Importance of Consistency When You Count
It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how accurate we attempt to be with how we count our calorie and macro intake, we will never be perfect — there are food labeling errors and the estimations built into the nutrition calculators we use.
This is such a critical point that I’ll say that again:
There will be a difference between what you think you are eating and what you are actually eating each day.
Nutritional calculators are great to show us if we are making any large errors, but the numbers can give us a false sense of precision.
Instead of fighting this inevitable inaccuracy, we can embrace it by making simplified counting rules which make our lives easier.
So for example, instead of counting 100g of dry pasta as 73 g carbs, 2 g fat, and 15 g protein, we might choose to just count it as 70 g of carbs and 15 g of protein.
The only important thing then is that we are consistent with how we count. So for example, we don’t want to count our rice uncooked the one day and cooked the next, and we don’t want to swap between the values given in different calculators from day-to-day.
As we build up simplifications in our diet, we may end up a little over or under our target intake. You might think you’re consuming 1800 kcal, but you actually consuming 2160 kcal because of the simplifications. Does this matter? I’d argue not. Because as long as you are consistent, you can adjust things upwards or downwards relative to your intake baseline to get the desired result.
- If you are losing weight too fast, increase calories.
- If you are losing weight too slowly, decrease calories.
I know that’s not rocket science, but it’s something many folks seem to miss. They make new calorie calculations instead of making a simple macro adjustment.
How To Make Your Own Counting Rules
Before I get into some examples of simplified macro counting recommendations, I’d like to show you how I’ve made them, so that you know how to make them on your own.
Have a look at this label for 100 g of dried pasta. Here are some examples of simplified rules we can make:
- 100g of dry pasta ~= 70 g carbs, 0 g fat, and 0 g protein.
- 100g of dry pasta ~= 70 g carbs, 0 g fat, and 10 g protein.
- 100g of dry pasta ~= 75 g carbs, 0 g fat, and 10 g protein.
- 100g of dry pasta ~= 75 g carbs, 0 g fat, and 15 g protein.
- 100g of dry pasta ~= 75 g carbs, 2 g fat, and 15 g protein.
Actual: 100g of dry pasta = 73 g carbs, 2 g fat, and 15 g protein.
In all but one of the above examples, calories will be underestimated. You’ll see that they range from least to most accurate top-down, with the last barely being a counting simplification at all.
How accurate you wish to be with your rules is up to you. The trade-off to greater accuracy is more complication.
I’d say that it’s better to underestimate because fat is slow to gain but can be quickly burned off, whereas muscle takes a lot of effort to gain, but can easily be lost if we lost weight too quickly.
The green area in the figure above represents the target area. Think about this when constructing your simplified rules. Be on the black line or slightly above.
BEFORE GOING ANY FURTHER…
May I send you that course along with my free nutrition ebook?
People consistently make the same simple mistakes when setting up their diets. So I have built a free, 7-lesson email course that has helped 100,000 people so far avoid them.
It’ll be in your inbox by the time you’ve finished reading this article.
Simplified Macro Counting Recommendations
In this section, I will make some suggestions on simplified counting rules you can use.
Everything below is a simplification for raw (or uncooked) foods.
This is because the weight of food differs depending on how you cook it and how long you cook it. This is because water is gained or lost through the cooking process. If you cook a steak for too long, it loses water and weighs less. The fat and protein content is the same, but it weighs less. Similarly, if you cook rice or pasta for too long, it goes mushy because it holds more water and weighs more. Therefore, I recommend you weigh your food before you cook it.
If something is in a packet with the nutritional information label on it, look at the macro content and make your own simplified rule if you’re going to eat it often. Most things will be listed ‘per 100g’, others will be ‘per serving.’ Make sure you double-check and don’t assume that it’s to the nearest 100g always, or you’ll get caught out.
How to Count Carbs
1 g Carbohydrate = ~4 kcal
Carbs are going to come through your diet in a variety of sources: fruit, starchy carbs, veg, and in the other things you don’t generally think about like dairy, sauces, and drinks.
These will form the bulk of your carb intake. (Think bread, rice, pasta, potatoes.)
- Raw potatoes: ~15 g carbs per 100 g weight.
- Sweet potatoes: ~25 g per 100 g weight.
- Dried rice: ~70 g of carbs per 100 g weight. This works for most dried pasta too.
- Bread: varies (some manufacturers add a lot of butter for flavor). Look at the nutritional label if available or in one of the nutritional calculators.
You’ll see that I’ve ignored protein and fat content in the starchy carbs. That’s purposeful to make things easier, but it’s up to you.
Pro tip: Microwavable rice and other similar things won’t conform to the simplifications above because they are partially cooked and have greater water content.
- You may consider one ‘medium’ sized piece of fruit (an apple, a banana, a pear, an orange, etc.) to be 25 g of carbs.
- For other fruits, weigh them once and look them up.
- If you are unsure or hate the idea of ‘medium,’ weigh it once and look it up.
Pro tip: Avoid smoothies and fruit juice when dieting. They have all the sugar, but none of the fiber, so they are easy to consume but not very filling.
- You can see from the image below that leafy green vegetables have a low calorie amount per cup. For this reason, I feel it’s fine to simply not count them towards your targets. It’s not that the calories in these vegetables don’t have energy, it’s that you’re purposefully choosing not to count them. I consider a reasonable amount to apply this rule to as 2-4 cups per day.
- Count starchy vegetables, as they are more energy-dense. Examples: carrots, peas, corn, potatoes, parsnips. (When looking these up, you’ll see that the energy content is relatively high for a vegetable, and fiber content per gram of carbs is low.)
- For anything else, look it up, make your own rule, stick to that rule. I’ll cover how to make your own simplified rules in the next section.
Carbs in other things that add up quickly and are easily missed:
- Drinks (milk, juice, soft-drinks)
- Protein powder
- Salad dressings
Check the packaging or look it up and count it against your daily target.
Pro tip: If you come across something labeled as “net carbs”, I’d recommend you ignore it. It’s labeling trickery. Count all the carbs as carbs. More on this here: Should I Count Net Carbs?
How to Count Protein
1 g Protein = ~4 kcal
- Uncooked beef/ chicken/ pork/ lamb/ fish 100 g = ~25 g of protein.
- One large egg = ~8 g protein 5 g fat.
- Egg whites = ~4 g protein.
The fat content in protein sources can quickly add up, so I would recommend you look up the fat content for all. Some cuts of meats have fastly higher fat content than others. This can push you over your fat macro budget for the day very quickly.
Here are the leanest protein sources:
- Chicken breast (skinless)
- Red meats that visually lack much whiteness
- Most white fish
- Some cuts of tuna (again, those that lack whiteness)
- Protein shakes
- Skimmed milk and other low-fat dairy.
To say that I am not a fan of supplement companies would be an understatement. However, I do concede that in most countries in the world, the cheapest way to hit your protein requirements, aside from chicken breast, is protein powder. Consider this if you are on a budget.
Pro tip: The trade-off to drinking our food is that it is less satisfying, more easily digested, and we get hungry quicker than if it were eating regular food. Avoid liquid food when dieting. But for those bulking and struggling to get in enough calories to hit your targets, liquid foods like protein shakes or fruit juices can be helpful.
How to Count Fat
1 g Fat = ~9 kcal
Fat has the highest energy density of the macronutrients. I suggest that you consider counting the fat in everything.
How many grams of fat are in that cut of steak? How about after it’s grilled and some fat has dripped off of it, should I weigh the fat and deduct from the total?
Here’s the most sensible strategy — look it up in a nutritional calculator, make your best, educated guess at the fat content, and then forget about it. You’re likely to eat the same cuts of meat again and again, so it won’t matter because you’ll be following the ‘consistency rule.’
How to Count Alcohol
1 g Alcohol = ~7 kcal
It is challenging to make simplifications for alcohol, especially beer, as each drink will vary. Here is a rough idea:
- Beer @5%: ~150 kcal, ~12 g carbs, ~14 g alcohol (per 12 floz/350 ml can/bottle)
- White wine @10%: ~200 kcal, ~7 g carbs, ~25 g alcohol (250 g glass, 1/3 bottle)
- Red wine @10%: ~210 kcal, 9 g carbs~25 g alcohol
- Spirit shot @40%: 70/84 kcal (25 ml/1 fl.oz)
- You can look up your favorite beer (or other alcohol) here.
Most generic spirits will be 40% alcohol with no other macro content. You take the amount you drink, multiply by the alcohol content, then multiply by the calories per gram of alcohol.
So if you have four European shots (25 ml), that’s 100 ml. 100×0.4×7 = 280 kcal. Deduct the carbs from your allowance for the day.
Alcohol isn’t part of your three macro targets, but it is going to count towards the daily calorie balance, which needs to be maintained, so reduce your carb and fat intake accordingly.
On the occasions where you may have many drinks, see my alcohol guide.
Using Flexible Macronutrient Targets for Easier Weight Loss
Ok, so we’ve made our lives a lot easier. We know we’re a little inaccurate, but we’re in the right range and we’re being consistent. Within the counting framework you’ve created to make life easier, are you now going to shit it all up by aiming to get exactly 67 g of fat, 173 g of protein, and 266 g of carbohydrate each day? I certainly hope not — this is exactly the all-or-nothing mindset we’re trying to avoid.
So this begs the question, how accurate should we be?
I’d recommend that you aim to be within 10% either side of each macro target for the day, 90% of the time. (As long as the other 10% of the time you aren’t abusing it by binge eating.)
For those who are already sub-10% body fat and destined for the stage, tighten this up to 5% either side.
As much as you think your diet may be varied, the foods that you actually cook from and eat will not be that numerous, so it won’t take long to look everything up in one of the nutritional calculators I listed above once. (Just do it when you get home from the supermarket over the next week so that it isn’t a chore.)
Make a note of any new foods on a memo sheet (‘cheat sheet’) and pin it up on your fridge.
Put together a few meals out of your favorite foods, and put these meals together so that you have a set of meals for your training days and rest days that fit your macros, then rotate them.
How to Make Meal Plans Out of Your Macros
Creating meals we enjoy doesn’t have to be tedious or difficult, we just need to apply the simplified rules we learned above, and convert them into meals that we enjoy so we can rotate them throughout the week.
Training Day Meal Examples
- You have calculated your daily macros (using this guide) to be: 175 g of protein, 250 g of carbs, and 60 g of fat.
- You are going to train fasted in the morning (well, actually you’ll have a 25 g whey shake) and have two big meals for lunch and dinner, split 50-50. (More on timing options in that guide also.)
- Therefore, you need to make two meals, each with 75 g of protein, 125 g of carbs, and 30 g of fat.
(Note: It doesn’t have to be an exact 50-50 split, but let’s just roll with this for the example.)
Example lunch for a training day
What we have here is 300 g of shredded lean beef, 180 g of couscous, and a couple of fists of vegetables.
Using our simplified rules, the math on this is simple:
- We need 75 g of protein. There is ~25g in 100 g of uncooked meat, so we need 300 g of meat. (75/25)*100
- We need 125 g of carbs. There is 70g in 100 g of dry pasta/couscous, so we need 180 g of dry pasta/couscous. (125/70)*100
- 30 g of fat = Estimate 10 g of fat per 100 g of lean beef.
Note: Vegetables were grilled, so no fat has been added to the count. If you stir-fry these or add any oil to the cooking process, add that into your numbers. Fat can very easily be overlooked and will mess up your calculations if you don’t pay attention.
Example dinner for a training day
The first meal was easy enough, right? Let’s try the second meal of the day.
We still need the same quantity of protein, carbs, and fat. We’re going to choose a leaner cut of meat like turkey, rather than steak, as we only have 30g of fat to work with, and let’s say we want to feel really full with potatoes.
Here’s how that would look:
What we have here is 300 g of turkey steak, around 500 g of potatoes, and a couple of fists of vegetables.
Using our simplified rules, the math on this one is also simple:
- We need 75 g of protein. There is ~25 g in 100 g of uncooked meat, so we need 300 g of meat. (75/25)*100
- We need 100 g of carbs. There is ~20 g in 100 g of dry potatoes, so we need 500 g of dry potatoes (two medium or one very large one). (100/20)*100
- We need 30 g of fat. Turkey is very lean, so we have created our rule of 0 g of fat per 100 g. The fat calculated here comes from a couple of tablespoons of oil used to cook both the mushrooms and the turkey.
Tip: Reduce the fat used for cooking if you are trying to lower your numbers in any meal.
Rest Day Meal Examples
Now, let’s say you are having a lower calorie day, with lower carbs and more fats — something like 175 g of protein, 75 g of carbs, and 80 g of fat.
What’s the simple adjustment you might make?
Well, just choose a slightly fattier protein, and then drop out the majority of your starchy carbohydrate.
You might begin to see a pattern here; the ‘star’ of the show is your protein portion, which we then complement with veggies, carbs & condiments, depending on our goals.
Example meal for a rest day
Boring salads? Here’s how a salad can look:
Let’s break those numbers down:
- 80 g of protein from 300 g of chicken breast, one whole egg, 30 g of bacon, plus the 15 g of cheddar cheese.
- 0 g of carbs. Yes, there are almost 500 g of vegetables in this but, since it’s mostly greens, we make our lives easier by not trying to figure out how many grams of carbs are in lettuce, tomato, spinach, etc. You can choose to count them, of course, just be consistent with whatever you decide to do.
- 45 g of fat from the tablespoon of olive oil used in the dressing, the fat in the egg, the 30 g of bacon, and the 15 g of cheddar cheese.
Trust me when I say that you will be full after eating all that volume. When in doubt, remember:
- Pick your protein.
- Add veggies.
- Condiments and seasoning for flavor.
- Complete with carbs and/or fat, depending on your macros.
Do that with 6–8 different set meals you can rotate during the week and make it easy for yourself to hit your numbers.
Then as you get more experience, add in some more meals.
Start small and simple, then build.
Let’s look at what a day might look like rotating those meals
How To Count Macros When Eating Out
We know that being perfect isn’t the goal, but trying to stay consistent when eating out can be a challenge, too.
Bear in mind that restaurants don’t care about your macros, and the chef usually wants you to enjoy delicious food so you recommend them and come back often. This means that restaurants tend to serve large portions and have a lot of hidden (but delicious fats). The average restaurant meal is high in calories.
You can still enjoy meals out whilst maintaining progress, you just have to be smart:
- Try to replicate what you created at home as much as possible. Visual memory should help here with portion sizes, choices, etc… Use your hands to estimate!
- If you are trying to keep calories low, it might be a good idea to exaggerate the numbers in the meal in front of you, especially the fat count.
- Adjust the rest of the day around this event. Similarly to our alcohol guide, you can try to get your protein in early in the day so you can be a bit more relaxed when going out. Careful though, making this a daily occurrence will most likely have an impact on your progress. Keep that in mind.
“This is all great, Andy. But how do I count macros on things like burgers, pizza, etc…? Should I even bother?”
Excellent question. Here’s another example:
How can we estimate those macros?
Just like we have done at home, all we have to do is break it down into smaller steps.
The more you cook at home, the more you’ll learn about these things, and the easier it will be to estimate them for you.
- Look at the menu. A burger is simply meat, bread, cheese and whatever condiments the restaurant chose to make it tasty. With that in mind, our first step is to try and learn the quantities that the restaurant serves. This can be easily done by paying attention to the menu in front of your eyes, it usually states the weight of the meat and a list of the ingredients used to create your burger.
- Use your simplified rules. If you see “150g of pure Angus beef” on the menu, create a rule for yourself on how much fat content that type of meat has. Once you have created that rule, use it everywhere you go, it will keep things simpler and will help you stay consistent.
- Choose wisely. Ask for sauces to be served separately so you can control how much you add. They are usually mayo-based, so go with the macros of mayonnaise here.
- Add it all together. After deciding what you want and the simplified rules you are applying, you could use an online calculator to add all the ingredients up once, and see what the numbers approximately are. If you are cutting and want to be on the safe side, overestimate the fat macros by 5-10%. Again, be consistent here; remember that this is not a daily occurrence, so we are trying to make things as simple as possible.
Here’s how I simplified my calculations for the burger above, note that I added no sauce at all (I asked for it to be removed) and used my 15% fat content rule with the meat.
The meat could very well be 30% or 8% fat, but I will not stress about it since I’m trying to be as consistent as possible and can always adjust at a later stage if I see my numbers are all over the place, or I’m not making the progress I had anticipated.
I suggest you do something similar and make it as easy as possible to not stress yourself when eating out.
Prioritize cooking at home, and you will learn the proper skills to navigate your life outside the comfort of your kitchen.
EatThisMuch.com is also a great tool to plan out meals.
Macro Counting Q&A
Use a macro calculator, like The RippedBody Macro Calculator, to figure out your macros for your body type and goals in 60 seconds.
Just use my macro calculator.
Macros refer to the three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
Calorie intake determines whether weight is gained or lost, but the macronutrient content of the calories you eat has a significant effect on whether that change is fat or muscle mass, how you feel, perform, and how easy your nutrition plan is to stick to. This guide teaches you how to make meals out of your macros once you have calculated them.
A macro diet should be rich in fruits, vegetables, have sufficient protein (1 g/lb of body weight per day), and be predominantly fresh and unprocessed foods. It is the same as any other “healthy” diet; the difference is that people have daily carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake targets which affect the specific food choices. This guide is here to teach you how to build meals out of your macros.
It’s possible to get shredded without counting anything if you are prepared to repeat the same meal combinations. I had two very successful cuts before I knew what I was doing, using that method. Here’s how it’s done:
• Cook most of your meals at home. Be sure you are consuming protein at each meal.
• Create a schedule based on your meal preference and stick to it.
• Track your body measurements and ensure your data is moving downwards.
• If you need to make a reduction, just remove a fist-sized portion of carbohydrates from your food each day. This should keep the scale moving in the right direction.
• Each time the fat loss stalls, remove another half-fist of carbohydrates from your meals. Do this as few times as you can, though, so that you’re eating as much as possible while still losing fat.
Using this method, technically your fat intake will remain pretty much unchanged throughout your cut, which isn’t optimal – carbs are important to fuel your training.
I’ve got that covered in The Complete Nutrition Setup Guide: The Hierarchy of Importance for Physique Mastery. Make sure you read it cause if you understand that you’ll set yourself free from being duped by the BS in this industry.
Vegetables are not very energy-dense. With the exception of the few starchy ones (such as potatoes and carrots), it’s tough to eat so many that it makes a significant impact on your calorie intake.
• 100 g of raw tomatoes: ~3 g carbs, 1 g protein, ~=16 kcal
• 100 g of spinach: ~3 g carbs, 2 g protein, ~=20 kcal
• vs 100 g of butter =100 g fat, ~= 900 kcal
Even if you choose to eat a truly huge amount of vegetables each day to keep yourself full, 1.5 kg/3.3 lbs for example, and choose not to count any of it, at the worst case we’re only talking a ~300 kcal increase above what you were counting – if your digestive system were as efficient as a cow that is.
In reality, the energy availability of that veg will be lower than the standard 4 kcal per 1 g for carbs because it will be mostly fiber, which our bodies are not very good at taking the energy from. Also, it’s likely that your gut won’t be able to handle such a high amount of fiber anyway, and the severe bloating and/or diarrhea will get you to limit yourself naturally.
In a nutshell, fibrous (non-starchy) vegetables aren’t something we need to worry about counting. (My
fiber and intake guidelines.)
No. The bodyweight change would be the same in both situations, however, this isn’t optimal for workout recovery or nutrient partitioning. This is why binge-starve cycles don’t lead to ripped physiques.
Look it up in a calculator, make an executive decision on what you deem to be a reasonable simplification for this food, stick to it and that way you have the ‘consistency rule’ covered.
That can be absolutely fine. However, it’s also an indication of a slightly OCD personality, and for that reason, you may benefit from letting go to reduce stress.
I hope you found it useful. If anything doesn’t make sense just hit me up in the comments.