Everything you need to know about calculating your macros, calories and meal plansCategory: Primary Menu Fitness Recipes
How to calculate macros, how many calories to eat and meal plan ideas
My all time favorite book related to women & lifting: NROLFW “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” – click here
Since creating my blog I have seen many women start various workout programs listed on my site, and that is exactly the goal! I’ve seen many women commenting and sharing their stories how they have gone from never lifting weights, to now loving their strength training routines. Working out though is only part of the process. What you eat is equally, if not more important when you are trying to gain lean muscle and burn body fat. They say that abs are made in the kitchen and that is true. You can lift all you want, do as much cardio as you can withstand, but if you go home at night and eat crap and don’t watch your macros and calories then you will not see results. Below I wanted to list out some really great food options for each time of the day so that you can see that you really can EAT food, good food, and not feel like you are on a “diet”. You will want to change some food habits and you will need to eat multiple times a day. I usually eat every 3-4 hours, whether it’s a snack, a protein shake or a full meal. I am constantly fueling my body with good, nutritious foods to keep my metabolism up and my body getting what it needs to grow and repair and feel its very best. This post will help you understand how to calculate “macros”, the # of calories you should aim to eat each day and some suggested meals that allow for high protein, good carbs and healthy fats into your diet.
Keep in mind, I have already taken the time to calculate my macros and calories needed per day and have been using this as a guide for the last three years. Before that I was flying completely blind on what I SHOULD eat and would just eat what I thought was “healthy” which meant I was not getting the right amount of nutrients and was likely very under my calorie needs. I recommend you get your figures first so that you know what you are working with each day to achieve your goals. And keep in mind, goals are not always to lose weight. Some of you may have the goal to maintain your current weight or to gain weight so that you can put on more muscle. The important thing is to learn what you should be eating per day to achieve those goals: calorie deficit (eating less calories than you body needs each day), maintenance, or bulking (eating more calories than your body needs each day).
When I am looking to put on more muscle mass, I aim to “bulk” or eat more calories than I am burning each day in order to put on size. When I am bulking (in the winter months) I eat around 1900-2200 calories per day. I am sure some of you just fell off your chairs; “what do you mean 2200 calories per day!? Aren’t women only supposed to eat 1300 per day to lose weight?” Well first off that is what magazines tell you, second if I strength train 5 times a week and only eat 1300 calories per day I would never seen muscle gains. So for me, I aim to eat more so that I can gain muscle size. Typically November – end of February I am lifting heavy and eating higher calorie diet.
When I am “cutting” or trying to drop body fat (in the spring time and summer) it is to reduce body fat % so that my muscle that I have been building all winter during my bulk can slowly be seen. Muscle can only be seen when you reduce the amount of fat covering it. So by lowering my calorie intake and increasing my cardio workouts I will slowly drop body fat and expose my hard earned muscle. During my “cutting” phase I drop down to about 1600-1700 calories. That is when I add in more HIIT cardio work but I still lift five times a week. The goal is never to stop lifting, I am lifting year round! In March I begin to cut and do that until end of September.
At 1,700 calories I aim to eat 170 grams of carbs/170 grams of protein/38 grams of fat
To maintain my current weight I should be eating 1,764 calories per day; this is also called your TDEE. TDEE is the amount calories your body burns in a 24 hour period, sleeping, working, exercising, playing and even digesting food. Unless we know exactly what our TDEE is, we have no way of knowing how many calories to consume while dieting to burn body fat or gain muscle. Don’t go by what you read in magazines, they don’t know your age, height and current weight. They also don’t know your activity level per week. Use a calculator to help you instead of going by what “everyone else is doing.”
CLICK HERE to determine your TDEE
Now that you know what you’re working with you will need to start using a tracker to log your food so that you REALLY know what you are eating. Many of the “healthy” food you think is healthy really might not be. You will also be surprised when you realize the serving sizes for certain foods and how many calories they have. I use MyFitness Pal on my iPhone to log every food I eat per day to determine my macros and calories. If by dinner time I see that I have a lot of fat left, or a lot of carbs, I will adjust my dinner and night time snack accordingly. The goal is to eat to meet your macros and stay within your calories. Make sure when you log you are really inputting the serving size you eat, not what you “think” you ate. For example, many people under report the size of the meat they eat. Do you know what 1 serving size of salmon really looks like? Its around 4 ounces and it’s this small:
Some tips of what to buy and what NOT to buy:
Make sure to stock your house with good, healthy foods. Avoid temptation by NOT buying junk. Yes we can have a cheat here or there, but if you have it in your house at all times odds are you will eat it. Sometimes I want to binge on bad food, not gonna lie, but if it’s not in my house then I can’t go off the deep end. If I wind up overeating on healthy snacks I don’t feel so bad. The goal is to keep your house stocked with good foods and leave the “cheat” foods only for cheat days.
1. Shop the outer perimeter of your grocery store first. Load up on fresh produce, meats, seafood, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese etc FIRST. This leaves less room in your cart to fill up with boxed, processed, frozen foods.
2. If it can go bad, it is good. You want food that is fresh and not frozen. Always choose fresh vegetables and fruits over anything that can sit in a cooler or on a shelf and not go bad. The less cans and boxes in your home the better!
3. Carbs are not the devil. Carbs are good and carbs are needed to fuel your workouts. Low carb diets do not last long term. They also make you a miserable person to be around and make you very tired and fatigued. You can eat carbs but good carbs! (35-40% of your diet should come from carbs!) Good carbs include sweet potatoes, organic rolled oats, brown rice pasta, quinoa, brown rice cakes. For me I always look for organic and non-gmo sources because a lot of “whole wheat” and “natural” products are also filled with lots of chemicals and junk.
4. Learn to eat protein, lots of it. Lean meats, yogurt, cottage cheese, legumes, protein shakes, tuna fish etc. A good part of your diet (at least 40% of your calories) should come from protein sources. For me I aim to eat 1.25-1.5 grams of protein per pound of my body weight. To put this simply if I weight 110lbs I am eating 110-165grams of protein PER DAY. The more protein, the more lean muscle gains.
5. Avoid boxes of products that say “healthy” on them. Healthy food usually doesn’t have to market to you that it is healthy. “healthy choice” frozen dinners for example are the farthest thing from healthy. The words “low fat” or “low calories” usually means the taste was removed and substituted with lots of sugars, sweeteners and fillers. Anything with the words “corn syrup” just put back on the shelf.
6. Look at ingredients! If you buy something that comes in a jar or other packaging (for example peanut butter) LOOK at the ingredients list. Peanut butter should have no more than 3 ingredients. Peanuts, Oil, Salt. It should not contain any type of chemicals, additives or preservatives. The less ingredients in a product the better and if it isn’t something you understand, don’t buy it. I love D’s Naturals Fluffbutter, P28 Peanut Butters, and Buff Bake spreads.
7. I personally always go with organic if I have the choice between two products. For example: I buy organic Trader Joe’s ketchup and never regular Heintz. Why? I want to know that the food I am eating is actually FOOD and not chemicals and garbage. I’ve gone more toward organic in the last year and really am sick of seeing how much crap makes it into our food in the US. Some of these ingredients arent even allowed in other countries. If you can afford to, go with organic always!
Americans consume 75% of their tomatoes in processed forms such as ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Each year, tomatoes appear on the Environmental Working Group's list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. In studies, a single sample of cherry tomatoes tested positive for 13 different pesticides. When you buy organic, you're not only avoiding all of those chemicals, you're getting more nutritional bang for your buck. A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organic ketchup contains higher levels of antioxidants than its conventional counterpart.
8. Fat does not make you fat. Good fats are necessary in your diet and should be around 20% of your daily calories. Aim to eat good fats like avocados, almonds, peanut butter, olive oil, coconut oil, salmon. Your body needs a certain amount of fat per day, but it should come from healthy sources. 9. I personally eat my carbs earlier in the day, it really doesn’t matter when you eat them but I eat them earlier as I work out in the morning and like to have them to help fuel my workouts. The earlier I eat them it feels like I have more energy throughout the day. 10. It’s good to eat casein protein before bed. I eat cottage cheese every night an hour before sleep. It is a slow digesting protein (casein) and it helps to release the amino acids into your body overnight so that you can constantly feed those muscles. Don’t fall for the “no eating at night” rule, its garbage. So now that you know some of the things to look for, now it’s time to think about what you can eat on a normal day! Here is an example of some options for you to eat. I have broken them down into times of the day: breakfast, mid morning snack, lunch, mid afternoon snack, dinner and late night snack. I don’t believe in the “no eating past 6pm thing” because well I don’t even get home from work until after six so my dinner happens later around 7 or 730. With a busy schedule I still manage to cook, prep my food, work a full time job, have a life, do things with family and friends and work out five times a week. If it is important to you, you will find the time
Calculating your MACROS
What are macros? They are your macro nutrients broken down by FATS, PROTEIN, CARBS. They are calculated after you have determined your TDEE and your goals. I use the IIFYM.com calculator to determine mine ( click here). So for me my macros are currently as follows: Calories per day: 1,784 Carbs = 216 grams per day Protein = 137 grams per day (1.25 grams per pound of my body weight) Fats = 38 grams
MEAL PLAN IDEAS FOR HEALTHY EATING
Breakfast: Option 1: 1 packet of organic oatmeal, 1 scoop of natural peanut butter, 1/2 scoop of protein powder, water, cinnamon
Option 2: organic brown rice cake, 1 scoop of natural peanut butter, cinnamon, 1/2 banana sliced on top
Option 3: 3 egg whites scrambled with 1/2 cup of assorted vegetables, organic ketchup
Option 4: 1/2 cup of organic bran flakes, 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 banana sliced on top
Option 5: 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 scoop of peanut butter, 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk, ice and water
Mid Morning Snack: Option 1: handful of berries and handful of almonds
Option 2: 1 scoop of protein powder, ice, water, 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
Option 3: brown rice cake, 1 scoop of peanut butter, cinnamon
Option 4: celery sticks, carrot sticks, 4 tbsp of organic hummus
Lunch: Option 1: 4 ounces of grilled chicken, 1/2 cup of any green vegetable 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes
Option 2: 3 ounces of grilled salmon, 1/2 cup of mixed vegetables, 1/4 cup of brown rice
Option 3: 1 cup of lean ground turkey chili with beans and onions
Option 4: 4 ounces of shredded chicken, 1/2 avacado and 1/2 cup of veggies Option 5: 1 can of albacore tuna in water, lemon juice, seasonings, 1 whole wheat pita bread
Mid Afternoon Snack: Option 1: 1 cup of non fat plain greek yogurt, 1/2 scoop of protein powder, 2 tbsp almond slices
Option 2: 1 scoop of protein powder, 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk, ice, water
Option 3: 3 hard boiled eggs
Option 4: 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, 1 scoop of peanut butter, handful of berries Option 5: organic apple slices, cinnamon, 2 tbsp peanut butter to dip
Dinner: Option 1: 4 ounces of grilled chicken, 2 cups of sautted vegetables with liquid aminos
Option 2: 4 ounces of grilled salmon with lemon and pepper, 1/2 cup of brown rice, 1 cup of steamed brocolli
Option 3: 4 ounces of filet mignon (lean), 1/2 cup of mashes sweet potatoes, 1 cup of sauttedbrocollirabe
Option 4: 4 ounces of shredded chicken with organic bbq sauce, 1 cup assorted veggies, 1/2 cup of brown rice Option 5: 3 large lean turkey meat balls, 1/2 brown rice pasta with vegetables
Night time snack: Option 1: 1 cup of non fat plain fat free yogurt, 1 scoop of protein powder, cinnamon
Option 2: 1/2 cup of low sodium cottage cheese, 1/2 scoop of protein powder, 2 tbsp sliced almonds
I hope that this will put you on the right path, and help you to look at food a bit differently. I have struggled most of my adult life with an unhealthy relationship with food. I did some extreme dieting in my 20s and also never really valued my body, which now I look back and think “for what?!” I just wanted to be skinny but not realizing that by extreme dieting and not eating healthy foods I was doing torture to myself. It took me a long time to allow myself to eat 6 meals a day and snacks and realize that was okay. It was hard to do, knowing that for years I thought eating less and less was better for me, but it wasn’t. After months of strength training and eating 2200 calories and NOT gaining weight, I realized that it could be possible: to eat well, eat a lot of good food, work out and get the body I really wanted was possible. Without eating salad and water and doing hours of cardio a day. It is possible to eat and grow muscle and not gain weight. I learned, I hope you realize it too. I am happier now than I have ever been about my body, I don’t beat myself up if I slip up. I don’t starve or kill myself to eat less, I encourage myself to eat more. I leave the gym feeling GOOD, I never leave thinking I didn’t do enough. I enjoy working out, eating, being kind to my body – something that took years to learn. I hope you feel this way about your beautiful bodies too!