If you are new to following a macro nutrition plan, you may struggle with how to plan your meals to match your goals. I remember the first few weeks of my macro nutrition plan as frustrating – I didn’t quite know how to make it work. It took me so long to plan my meals and I wasn’t sure how to adjust recipes very well.
From this frustration, I created my Meal Planning with Macros template (did you download your copy yet?). Over time, I learned how to more easily adjust my recipes to fit my macro nutrition goals. Today, I’m going to share my tips for creating your own macro nutrition meals – from your first few weeks to a more advanced approach – so that you can avoid that same frustration.
Create A Favorites List
Start by making a list of your favorite foods that are nutrient-dense and minimally processed. More simply stated, a list of foods you enjoy that are close to their original state (think: an apple vs an apple fruit roll-up). Look at nutrition labels to learn what macros most calories in each food come from. Most foods have more than one macro, but start by learning which macro is the highest.
Tip: You can use tools like MyFitnessPal to see nutrition info on fruits & veggies (which don’t have labels).
Now divide that list into three buckets to help you clearly identify your favorite protein-dense, carbohydrate-dense, and fat-dense foods. You should now have a list of protein, carbs, and fats that you enjoy! You can take this one step further and separate the carb-dense foods into fruits/veggies vs starchy sources.
Start Simple To Adjust
When you’re just getting started, I recommend keeping it simple. You’re already learning to adjust your eating habits, so simple meals will help you adjust quickly.
For each meal, refer back to your “favorites” list and choose three primary ingredients (one for each macro). I typically start by picking my protein, then choosing a carb that complements that selection. Finally, I’ll choose a fat to use in the cooking or as a topping on my meal.
Let’s look at a few quick example meals:
- Breakfast: eggs, ezekiel toast, steamed spinach, almond butter (microwave egg sandwich)
- Lunch: chicken, mixed greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, avocado, oil & vinegar dressing
- Dinner: grilled fish, sweet potato cooked in coconut oil, roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar
Adjusting Macros in a Recipe
Once you get comfortable with the basic recipes, you may be ready to create more complex meals within your macros. If you are tracking macronutrient grams, using Calorie Count‘s recipe analysis tool can be incredibly helpful for adjusting recipes.
For each meal, choose a recipe that looks close to your macro needs. If you’re creating a meal that is high in protein, it will be more difficult to adjust a recipe that contains mostly carbs (without adding protein powder or something similar).
Copy & paste the ingredients list from your recipe into the Calorie Count tool (link above) and click “Analyze Recipe”. You may need to adjust the formatting to help the tool read your ingredients list. The nutrition label (on the right) shows you the starting point for your recipe. Now you get to be creative, by adjusting the amount of ingredients to adjust the macros. Edit the recipe and adjust the amount of protein-dense, carbohydrate-dense, and fat-dense foods until the nutrition label matches your macro goals.
Let’s look at an example. If you choose Sweet Chipotle Grilled Fish Tacos, let’s talk about ideas to adjust the macros
- To increase the protein, you could add more fish or shrimp (affiliate) for an additional protein source.
- To decrease the protein, simply decrease the amount of fish.
- To increase the carbs, serve with a side of quinoa or similar grain.
- To decrease the carbs, use low-carb tortillas or serve over a big green salad instead of tortillas.
- To increase the fat, add avocado or guacamole to the top.
- To decrease the fat, reduce the oil.
Should You Count Macros?
From my experience, one of the most effective ways to shed excess body fat is to follow a macro nutrition plan. And if you are training for a short-term goal, like a bikini competition, then counting macros is critical to success.
If you are a “regular person” who wants to improve their health, lose weight, and get in better shape, you may find that focusing on learning new nutrition habits and macronutrient portions vs grams is the best approach.
Finally, if you have a history of disordered eating, tracking macro grams is not the right approach for you. This can also be a trigger to regress into unhealthy behaviors. In this situation, there are other nutrition strategies that may be more appropriate and I suggest working with a nutrition coach or dietitian to reach your goals safely.