Rabbit Carrot
You have a pet rabbit. You have been feeding him 3 carrots a day but he has gotten so fat his stomach drags on the sidewalk. You are starting to worry about his health. What adjustment to his diet do you make to slim the fella down?  – Image: The Jester’s Corner

The purpose of this guide is to offer an easier and more sustainable method to counting your macros than entering every single food and drink you eat, every day, into a nutritional calculator. The trade-off to this is a little more thought up front, but getting this right will potentially make or break your fitness success. Essentially I’m going to explain here why your instinct to feed your rabbit just two carrots a day is correct, and how we can apply this principle to ourselves.

The RippedBody.jp Philosophy & Approach To Counting

  • Perfection is not possible because inaccuracies in counting are unavoidable.
  • Simplifications make life easier, but we introduce an additional layer of inaccuracy.
  • Inaccuracies (to a degree) are fine as long as we are consistently inaccurate – we can then make relative adjustments to our intake after a baseline has been established over several weeks of consistency.

 


This guide is based on what I’ve learned guiding clients with this over the last several years. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why consistency is important
  • Simplified counting rule suggestions
  • How to make your own counting rules
  • ‘The 10% Rule’ – Accuracy targets that make life easier

Why Consistency is Important

Weighing and counting everything to the exact gram for months on end doesn’t encourage a very healthy relationship with food, and relying exclusively on packaged goods with a nutritional label isn’t a very healthy or tasty way to go either. This is why I suggest that people simplify the way they count their macros rather than driving themselves nuts seeking perfection.

Simplifications will lead to come inaccuracies, however I don’t believe that inaccuracies need to matter as long as we’re, a) not wildly off from what we thought, b) consistent with our cooking & counting methods so that we don’t have large variances from day-to-day.

Common Mistake 1 – Miscounting leading to energy intake being way off target

Here’s are some examples of how this commonly happens:

  • Your daily lunchtime salad that you thought wouldn’t be worth counting (because it’s mostly leafy green vegetables) actually has 40g of fat in it because of the dressing.
  • You forgot to count the cola/ fruit juices in your diet.
  • You’ve been melting 80g of butter into your coffee each morning because you read that you would burn more fat this way, so you decided not to count it.

Figure 1: What we don’t want: average calorie/macro intake wildly above or below target.Calorie intake – wild inaccuracy

Common Mistake 2 – Miscounting leading to large fluctuations in daily energy intake

Here’s are some examples of how this commonly happens:

  • After tough days at work you’re in the habit of drinking several beers. You count the carbs but forget to count the alcohol. (More on this below.)
  • Some days you grill your meat, some days you fry it, some days you sous vide it (boiling your meat in a zip lock bag, I hear this is a tasty trend in California). You count the macros as the same regardless of cooking style, forgetting that fat intake will change depending on the method.

Figure 2: Unacceptable vs Acceptable average daily calorie/macro intake fluctuations from targetUnacceptable vs Acceptable average energy intake fluctuations from target

 

It’s too easy for counting mistakes to occur or things to slip in unnoticed into our diets. They quickly add up to big differences, so here’s some homework: Without changing your diet, use a nutritional calculator to count the calories and macros in every single thing except water that you put in your mouth for an entire week. Use one or a combination of these nutritional calculators / food databases:

MyFitnessPal
Fitocracy Macros – iPhone App.
Getmymacros.com
Fitday.com/
Calorieking.com/
Wolfram Alpha – Search Engine

Be Consistent With Counting & Cooking Methods So You Can Make Relative Adjustments

Recall the example of our pet rabbit at the top of the post – the cheeky little bugger is sure to be eating some grass from the garden too, so we won’t know his actual energy intake. However, we know that on his current “3 carrots and some grass” diet he’s gotten fat, and we can guess that the carrots are going to be the main energy component of the diet, so we know it’s likely a good idea to try him on a ‘2 carrots a day’ diet for a while.

We can take a similar approach ourselves. (The difference here is that while the rabbit may start munching more grass from the garden as hunger kicks in – we of course won’t do this to ourselves.)

It is not necessary to know exact intake or energy expenditure as long as you are willing to track things and then make adjustments.

Figure 3 – A manageable (but not ideal) range of calorie intake inaccuracy.Acceptable Calorie Intake Range

Let’s say we aim for the black line as our target intake, but we don’t know whether we’re over or under 20% of our target – this definitely isn’t ideal but if you track things over several weeks, you can adjust things relatively:

  • Weight falling too fast?  Increase calories.
  • Weight not falling in line with how you planned? – Decrease calories.

I know, that’s not rocket science but it’s something many folks seem to easily miss. They make complete re-calculations instead of adjusting from their baseline.

Ah, but what about macros, it surely matters if one is way off compared with the others, right?

Yes, naturally. We’re still counting macros so we’re not going to be way off with any of them. We just want to make things easier for ourselves. Here’s how.


Simplified Counting Rule Suggestions

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Ask yourself, it worth the extra mental headache of counting rice as 71g of carbs per 100g of dried weight, or will simplifying it to 70g suffice? I would say that it’s well worth going with the simplification. Here are some suggestions.

Notes:

  • Everything below is a simplification for raw or uncooked foods. Cooked weight simplifications are not given because the water weight they contain will vary depending on the degree to which they are cooked.
  • If something is in a packet with the nutritional information label on it, look at the macro content and make your own simplified rule from that. Most things will be listed ‘per 100g’, others will be ‘per serving’. Make sure you double-check and don’t just assume that it’s to the nearest 100g always or you’ll get caught out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Counting Carbs

1g Carbohydrate ~=4kCal

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.

Starchy carbs

These will form the bulk of your carb intake. – (Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.)

  • Raw Potatoes ~15g-20g carbs per 100g weight.
  • Sweet potatoes, ~20-25g per 100g weight.
  • Dried Rice ~70g of carbs per 100g weight. Works for most dried pasta too.
  • Bread – varies (some manufacturers add a lot of butter for flavour). Look at the nutritional label if available or in one of the nutritional calculators.

You’ll see that protein and fat content in the starchy carbs has been ignored in the above simplifications. 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.

Fruit
  • Consider one ‘medium’ sized piece of fruit (an apple, a banana, a pear, an orange, etc.) to be 25g of carbs.
  • Other things like berries, melon, etc? Weigh them once and look them up.
  • Unsure, or hate the idea of ‘medium’? Weigh it once, look it up.

Pro tip: Avoid smoothies and fruit juice when dieting. – All the sugar, none of the fibre. Easy to ‘eat’ but not very filling.

Vegetables
  • Count the carbs in 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 fibre content per gram of carbs is low.)
  • Don’t bother counting the carbs in any leafy, green vegetables.
  • Consider ignoring the rest. – Look it up, make a decision, stick to that decision.

Pro tip: A can of diced or chopped tomatoes is a great idea, but if the math doesn’t add up on the ingredient label to what it should normally, that’s probably because that particular manufacturer added sugar. You’ll want to count the carb content of this in that case.

Carbs in other things that add up quickly and are easily missed:

  • Drinks (milk, juice, soft-drinks)
  • Dairy
  • Protein powder
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings

Check the packaging, or look it up and count it against your daily target.

Pro tip:Net Carbs” If you come across this, ignore it. You’ll likely find it on protein bars or other health snacks if you’re into those things. Count the fibre and sugar alcohols in them against your carb target for the day – they still have energy (not as much energy admittedly) but you can’t just gorge yourself on these things. Exactly how much energy depends on the fibre type or the sugar alcohol type and is probably a road you don’t want to go down.

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Protein

1g Protein ~=4kCal

  • Uncooked beef/ chicken/ pork/ lamb/ fish 100g = ~20-25g of protein.
  • One large egg = ~8g protein 5g fat.
  • Egg whites = ~4g protein.

The fat content in meat can quickly add up so be careful that your choices of cut don’t add up over your fat macro budget for the day. Here are the leanest protein sources:

  • Chicken breast (skinless),
  • some red meat,
  • white fish,
  • some cuts of tuna,
  • protein shakes,
  • Skimmed milk & 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 is protein powder, so if you’re on a budget then consider this.

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. Casein protein is the most filling type of protein powder due to the slow rate of absorption. For those bulking, liquid food like this or fruit juices can be your friend.

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Fat

1g Fat ~=9kCal

In contrast to vegetables, fat is highly energy dense. Generally 1g of weight = 1g fat = 9kCal. As the energy content can add up quickly I’d 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 you 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’.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Alcohol

1g Alcohol ~=7kCal

It is difficult to make simplifications for alcohol, especially beer, as each drink will vary. Here is a rough idea though:

  • Beer @5%: ~150kCal, ~12g carbs, ~14g alcohol (per 12floz/350ml can/bottle)
  • White wine @10%: ~200kCal, ~7g carbs, ~25g alcohol (250g glass, 1/3 bottle)
  • Red wine @10%: ~210kCal, 9g carbs~25g alcohol
  • Spirit shot @40%: 70/84kCal (25ml/1fl.oz)
  • You can look up your favourite 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 4 european shots (25ml) that’s 100ml, 100g; 100×0.4×7 = 280kCal. 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. If you’re going to binge drink then see here.

Pro tip: Zubrowka mixed with apple juice. Tastes awesome, thank me later.

Zubrowka


How To Make Some Simplified Counting Rules of Your Own

That above was not an attempt at an exhaustive list. The idea is to give you examples so you can learn how to make them on your own, for the foods that you like.

Have a look at this label for 100g of dried pasta. Dry Macaroni Nutritional InfoHere are some examples of simplified rules we can make:

  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 70g carbs, 0g fat and 0g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 70g carbs, 0g fat and 10g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 75g carbs, 0g fat and 10g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 75g carbs, 0g fat and 15g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 75g carbs, 2g fat and 15g protein.

Actual: 100g of dry pasta = 73g carbs, 2g fat and 15g 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 – clearly the trade-off to greater accuracy is more complication, however I’d say that it’s better to underestimate and over-consume than vice versa. Here’s why:

Fat is slow to gain but can be quickly burned off. Muscle takes a lot of effort to gain, but can easily be lost if there is an excess calorie deficit, inadequate training intensity, or inadequate protein intake.

If we verge on the side of under-counting rather than overestimation it’s better for lean mass preservation, and a safer long-term strategy overall.

Figure 4: Target area of intake to think about when constructing counting rules Better-to-underestimate-and-over-consume-than-vice-versa
When dieting, it’s better to underestimate and over-consume than vice versa.

The green area in the figure above represents the target area to be in, and to be thought about when constructing your simplified rules. Basically, we want to be on the black line or slightly above.


‘The 10% Rule’ – Accuracy Targets That Make Life Easier

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 67g of fat, 173g of protein and 266g 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?

In my experience the following works very well:

Goal: Shoot for 10% either side of each macro target for the day, 90% of the time (as long as the other 10% of the time isn’t total binge eating) and you’ll be fine.

For those on a deadline – magazine shoot, competition, etc. – and are already <10% body fat, tighten this up to 5% either side. This is more for the psychological security that it will bring, in case you have to wait for a whoosh for example, than anything else.

Practice this for a week or two little and when you can start getting within that +/-10% accuracy target, start tracking.

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 the fridge in the kitchen. Put together a few meals out of your favourite 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. Build on this number over time to bring variety to your diet. From here you don’t need to recalculate things, you just refer to the cheat sheet up on your fridge.


FAQ

What if I don’t wish to count at all?

I’ve talked about strategies for this in this interview over on Anymanfitness.com.

Why is it safe to not count most veg?

Vegetables in general are not very energy dense. With the exception of the few starchy ones it’s tough to eat so many that it makes a significant impact to your calorie intake.

100g of raw tomatoes: ~3g carbs, 1g protein, ~=16kCal 100g of spinach: ~3g carbs, 2g protein, ~=20kCal 
vs 
100g of butter =100g fat, ~= 900kCal

Even if you choose to eat a truly huge amount of vegetables each day to keep yourself full, 1.5kg/3.3lbs for example, and choose not to count any of it, at the worst case we’re only talking a ~300kCal 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 4kCal per 1g for carbs because it will be mostly fibre, 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 fibre anyway, and the severe bloating and/or diarrhoea will get you to limit yourself naturally.

In a nutshell then, fibrous (non-starchy) vegetables aren’t something we need to worry about counting. (My fibre and intake guidelines.)

Are large swings in calorie intake from day to day fine if they lead to the same average intake over time?

No. The bodyweight change would be the same in both situations, however, this isn’t optimal for workout recovery or nutrient partitioning so you’ll be fatter with less muscle in the ‘wild swing’ condition (see: ‘common mistake 2’ diagram). This is why binge-starve cycles don’t lead to ripped physiques.

Why do you say under-counting is less common?

People tend to auto-correct. Hunger intensifies and eventually leads to binges followed by more strict adherence. Interestingly this seems to be more common the more dedicated people are, instead of realising that perhaps a small increase in calorie intake across the board is necessary to stave off cravings. Occasional exceptions (i.e. a day with a hike in the mountains) aren’t the issue, it’s only if an excess energy deficit continues over a long time.

What about eating out?

If you’re eating out in restaurants all the time, and/or partying your ass off all the time, then no matter how much of a cheat-sheet I give you, you’re not going to have success with counting macros so forget it. Diet adherence goes out the window after a few drinks anyway, and it’s easy to wake up surrounded by kebab wrappers.

It’s difficult to guess what macros are in foods at restaurants (particularly hidden fat), so while you can do your best to eyeball the foods (if you have experience from home cooking to base this on) your diet is not going to be accurate enough overall if the frequency you eat out is too high. – Nobody said there wasn’t a tradeoff.

Why not use one of those macro calculators forever?

You can do that, but I don’t see it as being a long-term sustainable strategy.

What about [insert food here]?

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. If this worries you, press this button and come back.

Oh but I live in country x and the food is really, really oily/strange.

Excellent. The least fatty cuts of meat will probably be the cheapest ones in your supermarket. Rejoice friend. The food is weird you say? Come try the supermarkets in Japan. I have to skip past the octopus, whale, & cod semen to get to the meat & poultry section every day.

I live in a country where the nutritional information is not typically listed on food packets or in restaurants?

Your best bet is to cook at home. Rice, pasta, potaties, quinoa, etc… these basic carbs have the same nutritional info everywhere, so even though it may not be listed on the packet in your supermarket, just weigh it and then google it in english to get the nutritional information. Same principle with vegetables and meat also. You just need a small kitchen scale which may cost you $10.

I prefer to count everything. Is this ok?

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.

Ah, but now I can’t throw my macros up onto a forum to ask if they look right. What say you?

Sure, but do you want multiple unqualified opinions on whether your macros are ‘correct’ or is that going to just confuse the situation? You can read these calorie and macro setting guides to see if they are in the right ballpark yourself. From there, “Are these macros right?” is the wrong question to be asking, it should be, “How are these macros working for me?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Alright, I think that’s enough for today. Let’s talk about putting your macros into meal plans and using ‘balancing foods’ to get to within those 10% targets another day.

I hope you found it useful. If anything doesn’t make sense just hit me up in the comments. – Andy

Rabbit Carrot
You have a pet rabbit. You have been feeding him 3 carrots a day but he has gotten so fat his stomach drags on the sidewalk. You are starting to worry about his health. What adjustment to his diet do you make to slim the fella down?  – Image: The Jester’s Corner

Calculating your macros is easy, learning to count and make meals from them isn’t. Well, not to start with – it takes some getting used to, but once you do it simply becomes habit.

Getting this right will potentially make or break your fitness success, but most people can’t really be bothered, and so they don’t get over the initial learning phase. The first week is the toughest, it’s all downhill from there.  So put in the effort and reap the rewards. Hope you find this guide useful. – Andy.


I liked maths at school – there was a single, neat answer with little room for interpretation, which meant I could ace tests with little effort compared to hacking through Shakespeare, pretending to understand.

It doesn’t give me any pleasure to tell you that calculations aren’t the key to solving the diet puzzle. Many people first encounter this when the math of their energy calculations doesn’t work out, and they realise that consistency, tracking and relative adjustments is key. This is an important step, because once we let go of the idea of perfection as a requirement for success, it’s less of a mental leap to accept that purposeful inaccuracies with counting our food can be fine also.

The purpose of this guide is to offer an easier and more sustainable method to counting your macros than entering every single food and drink you eat, every day, into a nutritional calculator. The trade-off to this is a little more thought up front. Essentially I’m going to explain here why your instinct to feed your rabbit just two carrots a day is correct, and how we can apply this principle to ourselves.

The RippedBody.jp Philosophy & Approach To Counting:

  • Perfection is not possible because inaccuracies in counting are unavoidable.
  • Simplifications make life easier, but we introduce an additional layer of inaccuracy.
  • Inaccuracies (to a degree) are fine as long as we are consistently inaccurate – we can then make relative adjustments to our intake after a baseline has been established over several weeks of consistency.

This is a long guide, not a quick blog post. It’s based on what I’ve learned guiding clients with this over the last several years. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why Consistency Is Important
  • Simplified Counting Rule Suggestions
  • How To Make Your Own Counting Rules
  • ‘The 10% Rule’ – Accuracy Targets That Are Accurate Enough

Why Consistency is Important

Weighing and counting everything to the exact gram for months on end doesn’t encourage a very healthy relationship with food, and relying exclusively on packaged goods with a nutritional label isn’t a very healthy or tasty way to go either. This is why I suggest that people simplify the way they count their macros rather than driving themselves nuts seeking perfection.

Simplifications will lead to come inaccuracies, however I don’t believe that inaccuracies need to matter as long as we’re, a) not wildly off from what we thought, b) consistent with our cooking & counting methods so that we don’t have large variances from day-to-day.

a) Common Counting Mistakes

Common Mistake 1 – Miscounting leading to energy intake being way off target

How does this happen?

  • Your daily lunchtime salad that you thought wouldn’t be worth counting (because it’s mostly leafy green vegetables) actually has 40g of fat in it because of the dressing.
  • You forgot to count the cola/ fruit juices in your diet.
  • You’ve been melting 80g of butter into your coffee each morning because you read that you would burn more fat this way, so you decided not to count it.

What we don’t want: average calorie/macro intake wildly above or below target.Calorie intake – wild inaccuracy

Common Mistake 2 – Miscounting leading to large fluctuations in daily energy intake

How does this happen?

  • After tough days at work you’re in the habit of drinking several beers. You count the carbs but forget to count the alcohol. (More on this below.)
  • Some days you grill your meat, some days you fry it, some days you sous vide it (boiling your meat in a zip lock bag, I hear this is a tasty trend in California). You count the macros as the same regardless of cooking style, forgetting that fat intake will change depending on the method.

Unacceptable vs Acceptable average daily calorie/macro intake fluctuations from targetUnacceptable vs Acceptable average energy intake fluctuations from target

 

It’s too easy for counting mistakes to occur or things to slip in unnoticed into our diets. They quickly add up to big differences, so here’s some homework: Without changing your diet, use a nutritional calculator to count the calories and macros in every single thing except water that you put in your mouth for an entire week. Use one or a combination of these nutritional calculators / food databases:

MyFitnessPal
Fitocracy Macros – iPhone App.
Getmymacros.com
Fitday.com/
Calorieking.com/
Wolfram Alpha – Search Engine

b) Be Consistent With Counting & Cooking Methods So You Can Make Relative Adjustments

Recall the example of our pet rabbit at the top of the post – the cheeky little bugger is sure to be eating some grass from the garden too, so we won’t know his actual energy intake. However, we know that on his current “3 carrots and some grass” diet he’s gotten fat, and we can guess that the carrots are going to be the main energy component of the diet, so we know it’s likely a good idea to try him on a ‘2 carrots a day’ diet for a while.

We can take a similar approach ourselves. (The difference here is that while the rabbit may start munching more grass from the garden as hunger kicks in – we of course won’t do this to ourselves.)

It is not necessary to know exact intake or energy expenditure as long as you are willing to track things and then make adjustments.

Figure 3 – A manageable (but not ideal) range of calorie intake inaccuracy.Acceptable Calorie Intake Range

Let’s say we aim for the black line as our target intake, but we don’t know whether we’re over or under 20% of our target – this definitely isn’t ideal but if you track things over several weeks, you can adjust things relatively:

  • Weight falling too fast?  Increase calories.
  • Weight not falling in line with how you planned? – Decrease calories.

I know, that’s not rocket science but it’s something many folks seem to easily miss. They make complete re-calculations instead of adjusting from their baseline.

Ah, but what about macros, it surely matters if one is way off compared with the others, right?

Yes, naturally. We’re still counting macros so we’re not going to be way off with any of them. We just want to make things easier for ourselves. Here’s how.


Simplified Counting Rule Suggestions

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Ask yourself, it worth the extra mental headache of counting rice as 71g of carbs per 100g of dried weight, or will simplifying it to 70g suffice? I would say that it’s well worth going with the simplification. Here are some suggestions.

Notes:

  • Everything below is a simplification for raw or uncooked foods. Cooked weight simplifications are not given because the water weight they contain will vary depending on the degree to which they are cooked.
  • If something is in a packet with the nutritional information label on it, look at the macro content and make your own simplified rule from that. Most things will be listed ‘per 100g’, others will be ‘per serving’. Make sure you double-check and don’t just assume that it’s to the nearest 100g always or you’ll get caught out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Carbs

1g Carbohydrate ~=4kCal

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.

Starchy Carbs will form the bulk of your carb intake. – (Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.)

  • Raw Potatoes ~15g-20g carbs per 100g weight.
  • Sweet potatoes, ~20-25g per 100g weight.
  • Dried Rice ~70g of carbs per 100g weight. Works for most dried pasta too.
  • Bread – varies (some manufacturers add a lot of butter for flavour). Look at the nutritional label if available or in one of the nutritional calculators.

You’ll see that protein and fat content in the starchy carbs has been ignored in the above simplifications. 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.

Fruit

  • Consider one ‘medium’ sized piece of fruit (an apple, a banana, a pear, an orange, etc.) to be 25g of carbs.
  • Other things like berries, melon, etc? Weigh them once and look them up.
  • Unsure, or hate the idea of ‘medium’? Weigh it once, look it up.

Pro tip: Avoid smoothies and fruit juice when dieting. – All the sugar, none of the fibre. Easy to ‘eat’ but not very filling.

Vegetables

  • Count the carbs in 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 fibre content per gram of carbs is low.)
  • Don’t bother counting the carbs in any leafy, green vegetables.
  • Consider ignoring the rest. – Look it up, make a decision, stick to that decision.

Pro tip: A can of diced or chopped tomatoes is a great idea, but if the math doesn’t add up on the ingredient label to what it should normally, that’s probably because that particular manufacturer added sugar. You’ll want to count the carb content of this in that case.

Carbs in other things that add up quickly and are easily missed:

  • Drinks (milk, juice, soft-drinks)
  • Dairy
  • Protein powder
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings

Check the packaging, or look it up and count it against your daily target.

Pro tip:Net Carbs” If you come across this, ignore it. You’ll likely find it on protein bars or other health snacks if you’re into those things. Count the fibre and sugar alcohols in them against your carb target for the day – they still have energy (not as much energy admittedly) but you can’t just gorge yourself on these things. Exactly how much energy depends on the fibre type or the sugar alcohol type and is probably a road you don’t want to go down.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Protein

1g Protein ~=4kCal

  • Uncooked beef/ chicken/ pork/ lamb/ fish 100g = ~20-25g of protein.
  • One large egg = ~8g protein 5g fat.
  • Egg whites = ~4g protein.

The fat content in meat can quickly add up so be careful that your choices of cut don’t add up over your fat macro budget for the day. Here are the leanest protein sources:

  • Chicken breast (skinless),
  • some red meat,
  • white fish,
  • some cuts of tuna,
  • protein shakes,
  • Skimmed milk & 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 is protein powder, so if you’re on a budget then consider this.

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. Casein protein is the most filling type of protein powder due to the slow rate of absorption. For those bulking, liquid food like this or fruit juices can be your friend.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fat

1g Fat ~=9kCal

In contrast to vegetables, fat is highly energy dense. Generally 1g of weight = 1g fat = 9kCal. As the energy content can add up quickly I’d 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 you 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’.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Alcohol

1g Alcohol ~=7kCal

It is difficult to make simplifications for alcohol, especially beer, as each drink will vary. Here is a rough idea though:

  • Beer @5%: ~150kCal, ~12g carbs, ~14g alcohol (per 12floz/350ml can/bottle)
  • White wine @10%: ~200kCal, ~7g carbs, ~25g alcohol (250g glass, 1/3 bottle)
  • Red wine @10%: ~210kCal, 9g carbs~25g alcohol
  • Spirit shot @40%: 70/84kCal (25ml/1fl.oz)
  • You can look up your favourite 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 4 european shots (25ml) that’s 100ml, 100g; 100×0.4×7 = 280kCal. 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. If you’re going to binge drink then see here.

Pro tip: Zubrowka mixed with apple juice – thank me later.

Zubrowka


How To Make Some Simplified Counting Rules of Your Own

That above was not an attempt at an exhaustive list. The idea is to give you examples so you can learn how to make them on your own, for the foods that you like.

Have a look at this label for 100g of dried pasta. Dry Macaroni Nutritional InfoHere are some examples of simplified rules we can make:

  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 70g carbs, 0g fat and 0g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 70g carbs, 0g fat and 10g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 75g carbs, 0g fat and 10g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 75g carbs, 0g fat and 15g protein.
  • 100g of dry pasta ~= 75g carbs, 2g fat and 15g protein.

Actual: 100g of dry pasta = 73g carbs, 2g fat and 15g 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 – clearly the trade-off to greater accuracy is more complication, however I’d say that it’s better to underestimate and over-consume than vice versa. Here’s why:

Fat is slow to gain but can be quickly burned off. Muscle takes a lot of effort to gain, but can easily be lost if there is an excess calorie deficit, inadequate training intensity, or inadequate protein intake.

If we verge on the side of under-counting rather than overestimation it’s better for lean mass preservation, and a safer long-term strategy overall.

Figure 4: Target area of intake to think about when constructing counting rules Better-to-underestimate-and-over-consume-than-vice-versa
When dieting, it’s better to underestimate and over-consume than vice versa.

The green area in the figure above represents the target area to be in, and to be thought about when constructing your simplified rules. Basically, we want to be on the black line or slightly above.


‘The 10% Rule’ – Accuracy Targets That Are Accurate Enough

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 67g of fat, 173g of protein and 266g 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?

In my experience the following works very well:

Goal: Shoot for 10% either side of each macro target for the day, 90% of the time (as long as the other 10% of the time isn’t total binge eating) and you’ll be fine.
For those on a deadline – magazine shoot, competition, etc. – and are already <10% body fat, tighten this up to 5% either side. This is more for the psychological security that it will bring, in case you have to wait for a whoosh for example, than anything else.

Practice this for a week or two little and when you can start getting within that +/-10% accuracy target, start tracking.

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 the fridge in the kitchen. Put together a few meals out of your favourite 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. Build on this number over time to bring variety to your diet. From here you don’t need to recalculate things, you just refer to the cheat sheet up on your fridge.


FAQ

What if I don’t wish to count at all?

I’ve talked about strategies for this in this interview over on Anymanfitness.com.

Why is it safe to not count most veg?

Vegetables in general are not very energy dense. With the exception of the few starchy ones it’s tough to eat so many that it makes a significant impact to your calorie intake.

100g of raw tomatoes: ~3g carbs, 1g protein, ~=16kCal 100g of spinach: ~3g carbs, 2g protein, ~=20kCal 
vs 
100g of butter =100g fat, ~= 900kCal

Even if you choose to eat a truly huge amount of vegetables each day to keep yourself full, 1.5kg/3.3lbs for example, and choose not to count any of it, at the worst case we’re only talking a ~300kCal 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 4kCal per 1g for carbs because it will be mostly fibre, 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 fibre anyway, and the severe bloating and/or diarrhoea will get you to limit yourself naturally.

In a nutshell then, fibrous (non-starchy) vegetables aren’t something we need to worry about counting. (My fibre and intake guidelines.)

Are large swings in calorie intake from day to day fine if they lead to the same average intake over time?

No. The bodyweight change would be the same in both situations, however, this isn’t optimal for workout recovery or nutrient partitioning so you’ll be fatter with less muscle in the ‘wild swing’ condition (see: ‘common mistake 2’ diagram). This is why binge-starve cycles don’t lead to ripped physiques.

Why do you say under-counting is less common?

People tend to auto-correct. Hunger intensifies and eventually leads to binges followed by more strict adherence. Interestingly this seems to be more common the more dedicated people are, instead of realising that perhaps a small increase in calorie intake across the board is necessary to stave off cravings. Occasional exceptions (i.e. a day with a hike in the mountains) aren’t the issue, it’s only if an excess energy deficit continues over a long time.

What about eating out?

If you’re eating out in restaurants all the time, and/or partying your ass off all the time, then no matter how much of a cheat-sheet I give you, you’re not going to have success with counting macros so forget it. Diet adherence goes out the window after a few drinks anyway, and it’s easy to wake up surrounded by kebab wrappers.

It’s difficult to guess what macros are in foods at restaurants (particularly hidden fat), so while you can do your best to eyeball the foods (if you have experience from home cooking to base this on) your diet is not going to be accurate enough overall if the frequency you eat out is too high. – Nobody said there wasn’t a tradeoff.

Why not use one of those macro calculators forever?

You can do that, but I don’t see it as being a long-term sustainable strategy.

What about [insert food here]?

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. If this worries you, press this button and come back.

Oh but I live in country x and the food is really, really oily/strange.

Excellent. The least fatty cuts of meat will probably be the cheapest ones in your supermarket. Rejoice friend. The food is weird you say? Come try the supermarkets in Japan. I have to skip past the octopus, whale, & cod semen to get to the meat & poultry section every day.

I live in a country where the nutritional information is not typically listed on food packets or in restaurants?

Your best bet is to cook at home. Rice, pasta, potaties, quinoa, etc… these basic carbs have the same nutritional info everywhere, so even though it may not be listed on the packet in your supermarket, just weigh it and then google it in english to get the nutritional information. Same principle with vegetables and meat also. You just need a small kitchen scale which may cost you $10.

I prefer to count everything. Is this ok?

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.

Ah, but now I can’t throw my macros up onto a forum to ask if they look right. What say you?

Sure, but do you want multiple unqualified opinions on whether your macros are ‘correct’ or is that going to just confuse the situation? You can read these calorie and macro setting guides to see if they are in the right ballpark yourself. From there, “Are these macros right?” is the wrong question to be asking, it should be, “How are these macros working for me?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Alright, I think that’s enough for today. Let’s talk about putting your macros into meal plans and using ‘balancing foods’ to get to within those 10% targets another day.

I hope you found it useful. If anything doesn’t make sense just hit me up in the comments. – Andy

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional coach and trainer. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, riding a motorbike, or staring at watches I can't afford.

147 Comments on “How To Count Macros – A More Flexible Approach”

  1. Derek

    Andy Im loving this, but could you clarify this Marco Split calculation for me.
    Your training day calorie intake = (Target average daily calorie intake*7)/(Number of training days per week+(Number of rest days per week)*(1-(chosen percentage calorie difference between training and rest days)/100))
    For the life of me I cannot seem to make the numbers match the example you gave for o’l Tom. You mention the automated calculator/spreadsheet, which would likely benefit a dullard like myself, but I cant seem to find a link out to that either.
    Sorry to bother..just try’n to get ripped!
    Thanks

  2. Thomas

    Hey Andy,

    Awesome content that you provide throughout all your site, love it!

    Though on this topic (counting macros), one thing bothers me:
    You speak a lot about fluctuating calories from day to day (outside of an acceptable range), that’s bad, even if the weekly intake stays correct.
    But what about fluctuating macros with a constant calorie intake? Let’s say one day more carbs and compensate (calorie-wise) by diminishing my fat intake, and the day after, an overconsumption of fat leads me to reduce carbs to balance my calorie intake (of course I would try every day to have enough proteins). Does that put the same kind of stress than calorie fluctuation?

    If that’s ok, why not counting calories overall + quantity of proteins (as long as the carbs/fat balance is not overly wrong)?

    Can’t seem to find any litterature on it (though a few coaches recommend this method).

    Keep up the good work!
    Thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Thomas, thanks for the compliment, very happy to read that you find the site so useful.

      “If that’s ok, why not counting calories overall + quantity of proteins (as long as the carbs/fat balance is not overly wrong)?”
      You could certainly do that. The key is to find a balance between the level of complication necessary to get results, and what you can sustain. It all depends on the individual, their goals, and their current position.

      For example, I have a friend who’s looking to diet and needs to take off 30-40kg. He’s failed with dieting multiple times before. Will I recommend to him that he tries to count his carbs and fats? Hell no. That extra layer of complication right now could tip the balance to him failing again. Monitoring protein intake in his case and keeping the calorie balance roughly in check is the right way to go for him. Looking at his fat and carb balance would come later.

      Now, if I have an athlete looking to get shredded for the stage, it absolutely matters. If their carb intake is off they’re performance in the gym will be affected (which negatively impacts our ability to hold onto muscle mass when dieting) and will stop them looking their best on stage. If thy go the other direction and eat too many carbs and too little fats, it can affect hormonal regulation, and make them hungry and moody (among other things) which will threaten performance and adherence.

      Everyone else is somewhere in-between. It’s not black and white, there are shades of grey. You need to find your own personal balance point.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Thomas

        Thanks a lot, so I will not bother with counting all macros (I mean carbs and fat) until I stall in my weight loss or other goals (right now I am somewhere between 25 and 35% BF I think).

        I am nowhere near a stage bodybuilder right now (nor is it my intension to become one).

  3. Nick

    Andy hi,
    I used the complete guide to set up my macros but I get a negative result for carbs on the rest days. You have mentioned it somewhere in the site but I was unable to find your suggestion when this happens. So I had to ask! Thanks for your time !

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Nick,
      Check that you didn’t set your fat loss rate too high for your current level of body fat. If you have that right, then reduce the calorie split between the training and rest days (from 30% to 20% for example). If you’ve already done that, then reduce it further manually by just taking some of your carb intake from the training days and adding it to the rest days.

  4. Phil

    Hi Andy.
    Great site, found everything really helpful!
    Apologies if this isn’t a relevant post for this question, but I’ve searched your site and can’t find anywhere else more appropriate.
    Anyway, I’m wondering, seeing as you’re living in Japan, if you’ve come across Konjac-based goods/Konnyaku?
    I’ve recently read about this ‘miracle’ Japanese plant food online, and of course I’m very sceptical.
    If you haven’t heard of it (nobody else I’ve asked has), its made from the Konjac plant, is tastless (but takes on the flavour of whatever it is cooked with) and has an apparently strange texture, but for every 100g, there are about 9 calories and 3g of fibre (the other 97% is water apparently). Its been touted as a great way to stay full without using up a daily calorie budget, and I’m definitely intrigued, especially as I’ll soon be undertaking a large cut when I get home (been travelling for the past few months).
    I was thinking it would be a great addition to rest day meals in particular, which are already devoid of carbs other than F+V.
    Any info or opinion you have on it would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Phil

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Phil. Yes I know about konyak, very low calorie. It’s pretty much just a tasteless goo. Go for it if you like, definitely isn’t on my personal menu.

  5. Solis

    Andy, it would be nice if you could make some portion size visuals for those of us who, for whatever reason, can’t get a digital weight scale. Comparing such grams of certain uncooked/raw food with some common object. There are plenty of such on the net, i.e. 85 grams of meat = size of a deck of cards, 1 cup of starch = a tennis ball. But I think that that’s only for cooked foods.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Solis, thank you for the suggestion.

      I won’t be doing this, as to do so would be to just add in too much room for error (screw-ups) on top of an already simplified rule set.
      If you can’t get a digital scale, cup measurements can be used also – just google to find the values. Slightly less accurate but it will do as a start point, though not something I’d get clients to do.

  6. Pingback: The Leangains Guide | RippedBody.jp

  7. Kenya

    Hi Andy,

    I’m trying to drop lbs and I know my lean body mass. How much should I be multiplying my protein, carb and fat grams by to drop lbs? I have seen this number vary from .5 all the way up to 2. It’s confusing!

  8. Ride2Live

    Hey Andy, love the content. Thanks for sharing.
    I plan to start Slow Bulking at 2700/day. If I ride a mountain bike for 1.5 hr, 3-4x/week, should I simply increase cal’s on those days by the approximate amount burned while riding?
    Is that amount of cardio likely to interfere with muscle gains due to competition for recovery resources?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Brent, thanks for the question.
      Two options, either:
      1) Do that.
      2) Increase your activity multiplier in your TDEE calculation.

      I could argue both the practical implementation pros and cons along with the efficacy pros and cons of each, so just do what you feel most comfortable with/find easiest.

      “Is that amount of cardio likely to interfere with muscle gains due to competition for recovery resources?”
      – Yes, it will interfere to an extent it is two different/competing metabolic pathways. However, fortunately, you’re a cyclist, and this is one of the least impactful due to the lack of eccentric component in your training. So, I wouldn’t worry about it – your nickname is ride2live, not live2lift after all. More theory on all this here:
      On Cardio for the Physique-Focused Trainee

  9. Slidhr

    Hello Andy

    I’ve tried to look on the Internet but answers are confusing. When you look at the nutritional facts label of rice, pasta, buckwheat etc… is the data valid for dry or for cooked food ?
    I mean, if I weight 100g of cooked rice it equals to less dry rice, right ? So if the data is for dry rice, I’m probably getting less carbs than I should.
    Thing is, I always cook a bunch of rice/buckwheat (whatever..) to have enough for a few days. Then I weight the serving when I’m going to eat it. So I always measure it cooked.

    thanks in advance for your help!
    Slidhr

    1. Andy Morgan

      This will be the food in it’s current condition, though sometimes there is another nutrition panel next to it that has the cooked information.

  10. Brandon

    Hi Andy – it looks like 200 grams of protein is what that particular macro looks like for me according to your plan. Given that I’m only eating two meals per day and have tried to eat (not drink) 100 grams of protein at each meal… I’m finding it a LOT (almost too much) of meat to digest at each sitting. Am I the only person who finds this to be the case?.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Brandon. Sure, it can feel like a lot. Feel free to add in some protein shakes until you get used to it. Then if/when hunger pangs eventually catch up with you as you progress with your diet, swap out the liquid calories for real food and that way you’ll stay fuller for longer throughout your diet.

  11. Jose Fuentes Rodriguez

    Hi Andy, what are your thoughts on the use of big amount of Diet/light Coca Cola and/or black coffee during the day? Do you see any negative impact on the diet itself?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jose, thanks for the question.
      None of those drinks will have a negative impact on the diet. The black coffee will have a slightly appetite-suppressing effect.
      In the long term though, if you’re an overweight guy with a sweet tooth, it’s best to train yourself out of those habits, so it may be best to wean yourself off of the cola.

  12. Emmanuel Garza

    Hi Andy, I enjoyed reading your page…I have been using a spread sheet to calculate my macros, but my ratios are always add up over 100%…are the fats, carbs and proteins ratios supposed to add up to over 100% or be on the dot?..because mine usually go above… for example:
    Macros (%)
    FAT CARBS PROTEIN Total
    Mon 26.7% 32.8% 46.4% 105.9%
    Tue 30.2% 30.5% 43.5% 104.2%
    Wed 35.8% 37.2% 38.8% 111.8%
    Thr Fri and Sat i repeat the same meals…
    Thank you for your time

  13. sunney

    Hey Andy Great Info You Provide Here.

    I have 2 questions….

    1. Tracking Calories for the rest of my life. Personally i don’t think this is the way. Everyday, inputting data into a application to see how much im eating. May this is just me but what are your thoughts is there an easier way?

    2. I’m Bulking on 2,700 Calories and gaining weight. However, i hate the fact that i feel bloated, have Gas Makes me feel horrible. Do you think I’m eating too many calories.

    Whats your thoughts thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Sunney. Yes, I agree, trying to put things into a nutritional calculator every day forever is completely unrealistic. It’s not really what I’m saying here. – Just remember the macros in the meals that you regularly eat, and then only use those calculators when you eat something different. The average person will eat somewhere between something like 8 and 15 meals only on a regular basis. So there’s no need to do it forever.

Have a question? Hit me up in the comments: