Flexible Dieting Implementation: Macros, Planning, & Nerd Things

*Disclaimer: I am NOT a nutritionist, dietician, etc. I’m just sharing my knowledge and experience.*

Counting macros - some people love it, some people hate it, and some people are just confused by it. I’m not here to argue why or why not certain groups should or should not track their macronutrient intake; I’m here to help those who are a little confused about the entire macro/flexible dieting process. Quantifiable flexible dieting isn’t for everyone and I certainly don’t think it is the only way to meet goals nor do I think the way that people should eat all the time/for life. Since flexible dieting has sort of “taken off” recently, I’ve been getting an influx of questions about how the heck to do this “macros” things, so that’s what I’m here to discuss.



First - what the eff are macros?! Check out this post to get down and nerdy with all of that stuff. To sum it up, there are three macronutrients that people discuss when talking about “macros”:


Protein: Made up of amino acids (essential and nonessential).

Purpose: Provides amino acids your body needs for muscle, enzymatic processes, and basically everything. Critical for overall health, wellness, and of course, gainz.

Caloric value: 4 kcal (calories) per gram.

Recommended Intake: Varies; common recommendations are 0.8g per kg bodyweight - 2.0g per kg bodyweight or lean mass for normal individuals to strength athletes.

Example: meats, dairy, eggs


Carbohydrates: Body’s preferred energy source.

Purpose: Provide energy in the form of glucose for your body to operate. Especially relevant for athletes who need ample amounts of muscle glycogen (aka energy) for training and competition.

Caloric value: 4 kcal (calories) per gram

Recommended Intake: Varies; 50-100g needed to keep body out of ketosis.

Examples:  grains, potatoes, sugars


Fats: Lipids that include triglycerides, fatty acids, and other fatty compounds.

Purpose: Provides assistance with repair and recovery from everyday (and athletic) endeavours. Important for hormone functioning and certain fat-soluble vitamins (like Vitamin D).

Caloric value: 9 kcal (calories) per gram

Recommended Intake: Varies.

Examples: oils, nuts, seeds

If you’re tracking your macros, you’re probably doing so within some sort of caloric range. For example, you would like to eat 2000kcal and have macronutrient amounts in mind to meet those caloric needs. I am not going to talk about how to determine your caloric and/or macro needs. Instead, I’m going to talk about what the heck you do after you already have those numbers.

"SO I have my macros. Now what?"

Now you eat them...which is easier said than done. Having to quantify and navigate a macros-based diet can be very intimidating and confusing for several reasons. One, it requires to have some vague notion of  what foods contain what macronutrients. Two, it requires that you know how to portion those foods accordingly. Three, it requires some effort when learning how to navigate food choices to meet said macros. Things can get a little more complicated if you carb cycle in addition to counting macros (I’ve written a little bit about carb cycling here); however, the basics are still the basics.


"Is Butter A Carb?”: What Foods Contain What Macros

Having some knowledge about what foods contain which macronutrients is critical to being successful with a macros-based approach to dieting. While most of us have a general idea of what foods contain what, there are often times that people are surprised by how little/how much macronutrient “value” some foods have. A prime example: nut butters. Unless you’re vegan, nut butters are not going to be a significant protein source (and even then, I’d argue that they still aren’t a significant protein source) BUT  it is not uncommon for people to assume that if they throw some peanut butter on something, they’re getting a ton of protein. Realistically, what you’re getting is a hefty dose of fats above all else.


Let’s look the nutrition stats for a typical nut butter:

Nutritional Stats for Justin’s Honey Almond Butter

Total Calories: 190kcal per serving (2tbsps or 1 travel pack)

Fats: 17g

Total Carbohydrate: 8g

Protein: 6g


6g of protein, that’s it.

Also, let’s actually do the math here: 17x9 (kcal value of fats) = 153, 8x4 (kcal value of carbohydrate) =32, 6x4 (kcal value of protein) = 24. 153+32+24 = 209kcal. BUT WAIT, it says 190?! Yeah, it does. Caloric values and macronutrients values are often guesstimates, so I wouldn’t stress out about the mathematical inaccuracies that occur on nutrient labels if they’re fairly small. ANYWAYS, according to our math, this food item derives about 80% of it’s caloric value from fats. Great source of fats, not so great source of everything else.  Let's take another example -  sweet potatoes and rice.  Most people think that sweet potatoes are an extremely dense carb source. According to most databases, 300g of raw sweet potato (or a decent sized sweet potato) has about 60g of carbs, which is about the same amount of carbs as 1 ¼ cups of cooked white rice. While 300g of sweet potato provides a generous carbohydrate hit, I’m guessing the carb count is considerably different than what many people believe. Likewise, the white rice carbohydrate count is lower than what most believe. Both are solid carbohydrate sources since the majority of their caloric value comes from carbs.  All of this serves to illustrate a point when it comes to determining what foods fit into which macro  "categories".

My general rule of thumb: it goes in whichever category it has the largest value.


Why even discuss this topic? Because when you’re trying to plan out your day/week/etc. it is helpful to know what foods fit where. Having this extra knowledge also helps you navigate food choices “in the real world” when your plans go awry or you simply just want Chipotle for lunch.

"Just Tell Me What to Eat”: Learning the System

Another issue that frequently arises when people begin implement a macros-based approach to dieting is that they just want someone to tell them exactly what to eat - what foods, which quantities, and when. Sorry, but if you want to be successful, for the long term, you’re going to have to put in a little leg work (#squatpun) and not rely on someone telling you what to eat every moment of everyday. That works well for some but it can leave you in a situation where you’re unsure of what to do when life throws you a curveball (or parmesan fries). Knowledge is power, right?



"Plan The Work": Planning Ahead

Now that we’ve all agreed on that, let’s discuss how you can make your life a little easier by planning ahead. So if you have “numbers” to meet, how do you plan out your food intake? There are a few different strategies:


  1. Pre-plan and prepare every meal of every day for the week: This pretty much ensures compliance and that you’re not thinking about food all the time...but it can get pretty boring and be a little more work than some people want to put in. This also gives you flexibility with your foods because you know where you can substitute and make adjustments.

  2. Pre-plan a day at a time: You can make, pack up, and track your food for the next day the night before. This definitely helps with compliance and helps you not think about food 24/7. This has the same flexibility as strategy #1.

  3. Wing it: Just go through your day, eat food, and make it “fit your macros” as you go.


The best strategy is the one that works for you. I personally use a combination of all three. I often make some large batches of food for the week that I know I’m going to eat, I pack and track my food the night before, and then if I want to eat something different, I just simply look at where I can substitute and make adjustments and adjust accordingly. Again, having the knowledge of what foods fit into your plan makes flexibility easy.



"Work The Plan": Strategies for Implementation (and nerdy things!)

So you know your macros, you know all about fats/proteins/carbs, you have a strategy for how you plan your work...now it’s time to work the plan. It has been well-established that I am a spreadsheet geek of the highest magnitude and for that reason, I use spreadsheets to make my nutrition life easier. I know what macros I’m supposed to eat on what day (I carb cycle) and while I no longer rely heavily on them, I have created “meal templates” to help me organize my grocery shopping, food prepping, and general nutrition for the week.


First, I select a bunch of foods that I like to eat. There is no reason to eat stuff that you don’t enjoy.  I simply make a list of various sources of foods and their corresponding macronutrients according to my tastes, preferences, and what I buy often. In the grand scheme of things, food selection is NOT going to make a hugely measurable impact on physique changes. It can and will make an impact on other health factors. Choose things you like to eat and things you eat often :




Chicken breast

Gluten-free oatmeal

Coconut oil

Ground beef

White rice



Sweet potato

Peanut butter cups (duh)

Then, if you really want to get nerdy, you can create a table for the amount of macronutrients in each of said items by looking up nutritional info via a variety of databases and your bff Google.  Example:



(g) grams PRO

(g) grams CHO

(g) grams FFA

6 oz. (cooked) chicken breast





This step definitely isn’t necessary (because apps can do that for you) but it IS a helpful exercise to learn about the different macronutrient values in a variety of foods.


Next, you can plan out how many macros you want to include in each meal and how many meals you want to eat. This is helpful if you want to plan and prep your meals ahead of time and it is also helpful for building some flexibility into your plan.  Here is an example:





meal 1




meal 2




meal 3




meal 4




meal 5




It’s important to remember to not let perfection be the enemy of good - I don’t expect to hit my macros dead on every single day because life happens. At the same time, while I may plan out my day to look like 5 evenly distributed meals, I may decided to grab lunch from somewhere and maybe have more calories or protein or carbs or whatever at that meal then I’ve “scheduled”. No big deal, I’ve already got a road map of where I am going to end up, so I just make adjustments on how I get there. See? Flexibility.


Is all of this planning and spreadsheeting necessary? Absolutely not. BUT it can be helpful if you’re feeling a little lost on how to implement flexible dieting principles into your life.