Nutrition 101: How to Balance Macros

October 06, 2017 / in Nutrition, Lincoln Park / by Sarah Sobotka, FFC Registered Dietitian

Nutrition 101: How to Balance MacrosIt’s 5 PM and you’ve almost hit your daily 60-gram macro limit for fat (or some other type of macro), and you haven’t even had dinner yet. What’s a flexible dieter to do?

This is a question I get from my clients all the time. You have two choices in this situation: 1) you can go over the limit for a particular macro for that day or 2) you can eat foods that are free or very low in that particular macro.

If you opt for the second option, your next natural question would probably be something along the lines of, “what foods are available to eat in each category?” Below I’ve compiled a number of useful lists you can refer to in this situation to help yourself balance macros and stay on track, but also eat healthy and feel satisfied!

Protein-Dominant Foods

These foods are rich in protein, but free from all or most other macros. Eat these foods when you need more protein, but have already hit or are coming close on your limit of carb or fat macros.

  • Pure whey protein powder/ vegan protein powder: this is great to have on hand and choose brands that have zero carbs and fat or brands that have very little of the other macros. Brands like Isopure, Pescience, Vega One, and BioSteel are zero carbs or very low carbs and 1 gram of fat per serving.  
  • Very lean chicken breast: this is only about 1.5-2 grams of fat per serving and could be even less if you remove visible trace of yellow chicken fat before you cook it.
  • Fish: many fish are very low in fat. The top three? Atlantic Cod (0 carbs and .8 grams of fat per serving, Orange Roughy (0 carb and .8 grams of fat per serving) and Mahi Mahi (0 carb and .8 grams of fat per serving).
  • Seitan: this source of protein is 0 grams of fat and just 6 net carbs.
  • Egg Whites: 1 egg white provides just trivial amounts of both fat and carbs, but 3.6 grams of protein.
  • Turkey Breast: roasted turkey breast is just .8 grams of fat per serving and 0 carbs.
  • Crabmeat: Alaskan King Crab is just .8 grams of fat per serving and zero carbs. Just skip the dipping butter!

Carbohydrate-Dominant Foods

These foods are rich in carbs, but free from all or most other macros. These may come in handy when you need more carbohydrates, but have already hit your limit on protein and fat. While it would be simple to just eat a tablespoon of sugar… these are healthier options!

  • Fruit: most fruit is (almost) fat free and very low in protein. Some common options? \
    • Bananas - a medium banana has less than .5 grams of fat and only 1.4 grams of protein.
    • Apples - a large/ medium apple has less than a gram of both fat and protein.
    • Blueberries - a cup has .5 grams of fat and only 1 gram of protein.
    • Strawberries - a cup of strawberries has less than .5 grams of fat and only 1 gram of protein.
    • Pears - a large pear has a trivial amount of fat and less than a gram of protein.
  • Honey: While honey is mostly pure sugar, it does offer some good health benefits, so use this as a carb-boosting sweetener when needed.
  • Sweet potatoes: a medium sweet potato has a trivial amount of fat and just 2 grams of protein, but 23 grams of healthy carbs.
  • Butternut squash: a cup of roasted butternut squash is virtually fat-free and contains less than 2 grams of protein.
  • Dried fruit: dried fruit is a quick way to boost your carb intake in a hurry. Make sure to choose dried fruits with no added sugar and ones that are unsulfured. Some good options:
    • Trader Joe's Unsulfured Apricots: 10 apricots contain 50 grams of carbs, 0 grams of fat and only 2 grams of protein plus 4 grams of fiber.
    • Dried figs: 5 dried figs deliver 26 grams of carbs, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 7 grams of fiber
    • Dried dates - this is as good as candy dried fruit and contains 31 g of carbs, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 3 grams of fiber per 5 dates.

Related: do you need help regulating your cortisol levels? Read this!

Fat-Dominant Foods

This is one macro group that I never have trouble reaching, and one that I actually have to work at NOT going over – but I recognize some flexible dieters may not find it as easy, especially if you have been stuck in a low fat mindset for a long time. Below are some options that are not only rich in fat, but in healthy fat too.

  • Virgin olive oil: this monosaturated oil has been linked to a lot of health benefits so use it when possible to boost your fat grams for the day. 1 tablespoon is 14 grams of fat and nothing else.
  • Virgin coconut oil: this fat has gained wide popularity over the last 5 years and also has some health promoting properties. 1 tablespoon contains 14 grams of fat and no other macros.
  • Grass fed butter: grass fed butter also packs some nutrition along with the fat. 1 tablespoon is 11.6 grams of fat and has just a trace of carbs and protein.
  • Nuts: nuts are high in fat, but do contain some protein and carbs. However, the fat they contain is healthy and by far the dominant macro. Some good options include:
    • Almonds - 10 almonds have 6 grams of fat, 2.4 grams of carbs, and 2.6 grams of protein.
    • Walnuts - 1 oz contains 18.6 grams of fat, 3.9 grams of carbs and 4.3 grams of protein.
    • Pecans - 1 oz delivers 20.4 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbs and 2.6 grams of protein.

Other Tips on Macros Related to a Healthy Diet

Will going over on a macro ruin your diet?

Don’t stress out if you go over one of your macros on a particular day – or even if you don’t hit one. It won’t ruin your diet. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to his as close to your TDEE as possible. Macros are more for “fine tuning” your results, while your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure, related to exercise or expended energy through normal daily activities) determines whether you lose, maintain or gain. Your TDEE is determined by combining your MBR (metabolic rate) with the calories you burn through physical activity.

So yes, you should strive to meet your macros, as these will help you reach your goals as far as body composition is concerned, but eating 20 extra grams of fat on a particular day won’t derail your progress unless it puts you over your caloric goal regarding your TDEE.

Interested in knowing how many calories you should be eating or more about macro tracking? Feel free to contact me at ssobotka@ffc.com or set up a 30-minute complimentary nutrition session and learn more about the programming and resources available to you here at FFC!

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