At this point you might find yourself wanting to try out “IIFYM”. That stands for “If It Fits Your Macros”, for those who haven’t heard of it yet. The idea of choosing various foods to eat through the day isn’t new, but this coined acronym has definitely improved the way many can approach their “dieting” endeavors.
Maybe you have a “coach” or someone who has given you macro goals or maybe you’ve been googling and have calculated your own. Either way, learning how to properly plan out your meals is vital to getting the most out of this style of eating. Whether your goal is to lose body fat or gain lean muscle you have determined that in order to reach your goals the next step is to implement this new style of eating.
How do you go about doing that? You’ve tried eating and tracking, but you end up WAY over on your fats and carbs without nearly enough protein. You’re beginning to get frustrated because you understand you have to adhere to your macro and Calorie goals in order to see results. Don’t fret. This get easier, let me teach you!
Macros, what are they?
Macronutrients (macros for short) are protein, carbs and fats. Together they make up all of the foods that we consume. Not one food is void of macronutrients. Their significance is the fast that they provide our bodies energy or Calories. Calories are tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little tighter every night. Haha, got cha!
Seriously though, Calories (kcals for short) are simply the approximate amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. In short, they are energy for our bodies. Protein and Carbohydrates contain about 4 kcals per 1 gram. This means that 1 gram of table sugar yields about 4 kcals of energy for your body. Fat, on the other hand, yields 9 kcals per gram. So, the 20g of olive oil poured over a salad yields 180 kcals.
So, how do we use macro goals within kcal ranges for a whole day? I’m sure hearing 2000kcals in a day rings a bell. What you might not realize is those 2000kcals are made up of various macronutrients. So, when you have macros goals like 135g protein, 55g fat and 240g carbs you would be consuming about 2000kcals in a day. Make sense?
- 135g of protein yields 540kcals
- 55g of fat yields about 495kcals
- 240g of carbs yields about 960kcals
- totalling 1995kcals
So, how do we take all of that info and actually eat food? I’m glad you asked…
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Ha, I’m sure you’ve heard that before. No surprise it applies to eating “on plan” too, huh? Planning is the key to being able to consistently reach your macro and kcal goals. The more comfortable you get, the more accurately you’ll be able to track and eyeball the right foods to meet your goals through the day, but starting out, planning just has to happen. I prefer to take a few hours each weekend to plan the menu for the week. Then, stick to the basics. You can prep all your proteins and carbs and have a tentative plan of their portions. The variables from day to day can be the vegetables you pair with each meal and the seasonings you use for flavor. Doing this will make your life so simple through the week. No more getting the the end of the day a realizing you are well over your fat allotment and a whole chicken away from your protein goals because you were guesstimating through the day.
There are many options available for meal planning. MyFitnessPal, CalorieKing, FitDay are all free websites that you can use to plan and track your foods. I’m currently using MyMacros+ on my iphone and it’s available for purchase through the app store for $2.99. Honestly, though, I would start with MyFitnessPal because it’s free. The customization is a bit limited, but it will surely be enough to get you started.
Of course, you can always just use a handy pen and paper or excel spreadsheet. You will likely find that you’ll typically cycle through the same 15-20 food items on a regular basis.
Planning Your Meals
First on the list is how many meals you want to eat in a day. Typically, this will be 3-5 depending on your schedule and what your coach might suggest. Personally, I suggest 4-6 for most people, but this is very individual. If you want specific advice according to your goals, you can contact me here.
The point is, be consistent. Pick a number of meals that works for you and stick to it.
Decide what you want to eat
This is where I find most people get stuck. My advice to you is to start with your protein. Since protein should be fairly evenly distributed through the day you can plan each meal around the type of protein source you’d like to have. In general, you should have at least ~20-25g of protein per meal. This means the 5g you might get form your oat meal or the 7g you get from your 32g serving of peanut butter isn’t going to cut it! So, plan accordingly.
Next up is carbs or fats. Depending on your schedule and when you go to the gym this might determine when you’d like to have the majority of your carbs. I typically like to have carbs in my pre and post workout meals and possibly in the 2nd meal after my workout as well. If I wake up and sit at a desk for work 8-5pm then, I don’t have to have carbs in my meal 1. So, this will be different for each person. If you’re new to tracking your food or your fitness goals are more general like losing some extra body fat, this specific nutrient timing is less important. Consistency is most important. So, if you just LOVE your warm bowl of oats in the AM and can’t fathom not having them then by all means have your oats. Just pair them with a yummy whey protein shake so you get your protein at that meal too. =)
Last on the list is fats. They’re not last because they’re not important, but their Calories add up fast (recall, 9kcals/1gram). I find when most people track as they go their fat intake is much higher than they intend and in turn they go over on their Calorie goals for the day as well. Remember, each macronutrient yields energy in the form of Calories.
I like to add fats into meals based on what I want that meal to be. If you’re wanting tacos then this is simple. Ground beef (which contains a bit higher fat content than chicken), cheese (you could choose a low fat option here), avocado and possibly some sour cream. By choosing some low fat/fat free versions of some of those items you can decrease the amount of fat the total meal contains. If you need more fat in your meal, then enjoy the full fat versions! Oils like red palm (buttery flavor), coconut, macadamia nut (smooth and great with veggies or salads) are also easy ways to increase healthy fats in a meal without adding to carbs or protein.
Depending how strict you are going to be with your nutrition will determine how much “wiggle room” you might want to leave for less nutritious foods like ice-cream or cookies. I typically like to see these items paired into meals with some protein, rather than just consumed alone before bed, haha. Something like a scoop or 2 of ice-cream or 1-2 cookies worked into your dinner macros is a great option. If you’re aiming to keep your carbs around your workout, then that’s a great option too. The timing really comes down to individual goals. If you are at the point you’d like help figuring out your goals or optimal macros for you, then you can contact me here.
The best part about this style of eating is the flexibility. No more diet prison mentality. No more struggling to “get back on track” after a meal out. It’s a process, but the more you learn about the foods that you consume the better you will be able to order items that don’t particularly even take you off track. For example, you have all your meals planned and ready to go, but someone at work invites you to lunch or your significant other surprises you for dinner. Instead of saying no or brining your Tupperware of chicken and rice you can look up the general kcals of the meal you’ve planned and aim to get within striking distance of that at your meal out. Educate yourself on the foods that you consume. Life changes and your diet should change as well.