Meal Planning vs. Macro Counting – Which Works Best For You?
- Objectivity is key for fat loss so if you have no idea how much you are eating, under or over, you need to track and adjust as necessary.
- Macro counting is easy but it can turn you a slave to counting every macro all the time which could lead you to disordered eating if your personality is one where obsession is easy.
- Meal planning takes a bit more work at first but it takes the guess work out of counting and planning once your meals are ultimately prepped.
- Both approaches work with great results but time and personality are key distinctions in choosing what works.
The Need To Know Is Essential
“How much food are you eating?” – “Um, I eat enough. You know, I eat when I’m hungry.”
“How much food are you eating?” – “I don’t know. I mean I eat healthy. You know, a greek yogurt and nuts for breakfast. For lunch I’ll have a salad with chicken. For dinner, some type of meat, asparagus or broccoli.”
“How much food are you eating?” – “I don’t have time to check.”
These are probably the most popular answers I get when someone tells me they wants to lose fat. I’m going to be direct:
- Eating “healthy” means NOTHING when it comes to fat loss. It’s not measurable. In the same token, it’s completely subjective and what is healthy to one person may be unhealthy, or perhaps a health hazard to another person.
- Calories matter when we are speaking body composition.
- Being hungry while losing fat is inevitable. You are in an energy deficit (calorie deficit). You are exerting more energy than your body is intaking. This is when discipline is a must along with wiser food choices.
- “I don’t have time to check” is the adult version of “my hamster ate my homework”. It is really an excuse.
If you are trying to change your body and you think you have you’re lifting down and eating right and nothing is happening, focus on your nutrition. If it cannot be measured at the very moment in time and changes cannot be made objectively, then you will never know where you need to go.
While we are on this topic, let me reiterate to you general guidelines for fat loss in terms of calories (and even body recomposition and muscle growth):
Fat loss – Bodyweight (BW) x 10-12 = Caloric guidelines for fat loss.
Some will say you cannot build muscle AND burn fat at the same time, it is possible, however, incredibly slow. This is not inherently a bad thing. “Slow and steady wins the race”.Â This is done by eating in maintenance.
Maintenance is also a time where you can get out of a deficit for a little and simply eat more and let your body play catch up in regards to it’s hormonal and metabolic function.
Maintenance – BW X 13-15 = Caloric guidelines for recomposition.
Want to put on muscle while keeping fat at a minimum?
Muscle gain – BW x 16+= Caloric guidelines for muscle growth.
Now, let’s go back to the macro breakdown:
Carbs/Fats: Semantics in the overall; however, if you are a bit overweight, you may fair for slightly less carb intake vs a person who is a bit leaner. Keep within your calorie range regardless.
After all this is set, you now have your objective breakdown. You’ll have your calorie guidelines and macro breakdown.
Now how do you put it in to real life?
Let’s find out.
“Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail”
Who is a simpleton?
I hate making things more complex and more trouble than need be. I hate to guess. I hate not knowing what I have and how much I need.
I like to have things nice and neat and in order so that all I have to do is grab n’ go. Period.
Also, I am usually busy throughout the week whether it’s reading, training clients, lifting and/or spending time with loved ones that having to continually sit on my phone logging in food is not something I personally like to do.
Meal planning is a great way to bulk prep everything necessary and have it ready for you for the days/week to come.
Meal planning usually comes with the trade-off.
With macro-counting (which I will dive in next), you can virtually “fit” things in on the fly and keep damage minimal, if at all. You can stay within your macros within a gram or two. Meal-planning, on a consistent basis, tends to work well with people who can also eat a lot of the same foods often … which is someone like me.
If you like a variety of foods but live a very busy life or just like things made simple, meal prep works incredibly well but you may need to sacrifice in the short term, a wide array of foods. This isn’t to say you can’t choose any of the foods you have in your plan; however, if you are meal prepping, the goal here is to make eating something you can enjoy (having the foods you like and the right amounts) and minimize the worry and need to track anything.
When you stop dropping body fat, this is when you will readjust your meal plan and take in slightly less calories. Again, you can objectively do this if you have a plan.
You Can Count On Me
-Love Always, Macros
Macro counting (also known as If It Fits Your Macros [IIFYM]) is another form of diet strategy that helps you plan and execute your dieting strategy by setting target macros (protein/carbs/fat) which ultimately gives you your estimated calorie intake.
So much could be said about this because in essence, it’s a pretty wide-open method in it’s approach (not to be confused with flexible dieting), but I will keep it simple: IIFYM approach works really well but if you are the type who has to hit every macro to the gram, you will literally find yourself pacing back and forth trying to figure out how you can cut that graham cracker in to 1/8th of a sheet or how you can pull the meat from a chicken breast just enough to get the 2 extra grams of protein needed to hit the target for the day and will turn you in to a crazed, disordered eater.
There are many people who have no problem logging in food to MyFitnessPal (or an alternative) and getting close to their macros or on point completely and live normal lives. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who obsess over numbers (and they’re usually the ones obsessing over scale weight amongst many other unhealthy habits) and drive themselves crazy and even with dietary freedom, become unlikeable people because your favorite restaurant threw in an extra piece of rigatoni in your pasta and now you’re +3g/carbs for the day. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH #FirstWorldProblems.
And now that I think about it, tracking macros wouldn’t be so tough, in essence if you … (guess what) … ate whole foods the majority of time. It’s a lot easier to track “apple” or “2% cheese” or “chicken breast” then it is to track “3 slices Ellios meat-lovers pizza”.Â Again, not to say you can’t have that but eating more whole, unprocessed foods is the way to go.
The Good, The Bad, You’re Beautiful
Because you are…even you, sir.
But there isn’t anything inherently “ugly” about these approaches. The only time it’s ugly is when your dietary lifestyle controls and consumes you and all you are. If you are taking time away from family and friends and not being social, you’re doing it wrong. Seriously. And no, you don’t always need to have your tupperware of food with you everywhere you go.
Pros of Meal Planning
- Get’s all your cooking done for the week in virtually a day or two.
- Takes guess work out of knowing how much food you need to eat.
- Allows you to grab n’ go as necessary.
- Great for many people first starting their diet as they learn exactly how much food is necessary.
- Busy? Eat 2 meals at once and you’ll automatically know which ones you had and how much you ate.
- For a beginner, it’s harder to mess up. Once you see the results from consistency, it’ll be easier to stick with.
Pros of Macro Counting
- Allows more variety of food to consume.
- Has apps to help track which is imperative when on-the-go.
- Allows for more social interaction.
- Easier to use while traveling.
- Lower barrier entry for beginners.
Cons of Meal Planning
- Moderately time-consuming
- Doesn’t always match your (hunger) preferences throughout the day (meaning, some days you’ll feel satisfied after a meal while other days you are still hungry).
- Makes social interactions a little more challenging.
Cons of Macro Counting
- It can be even more time-consuming especially on a daily basis.
- Easier to mess up.
- Requires more awareness and knowledge of calories and macronutrients
- It becomes easier to forget to count/log and guessing can do way more harm then good.
Knowledge is Power
Let’s be very clear.
There are tons of dietary strategies that actually work.
You’ll hear “calorie cycling”, “carb cycling”, paleo, ketogenic, vegetarian, low-carb, pescatarian, etc. which all elicit the same response when the set strategy is set like it is above and that is to create a caloric deficit to lose body at.
Whatever your strategy, you don’t need to stick with one for life. The two described in this article are simply tools you can use to find the best way to lose fat while you strength train.
I have done IIFYM then gone to meal planning. I may or may not go back to an IIFYM approach but personally, I love meal plans because I like my life simple.
One thing for sure, no matter your strategy, when it comes to body composition, nutrition is the first thing you need to handle followed by strength training.
There’s more to life than macros and barbells such as family, friends, work, and relationships.
Why make everything so complex?
Find a strategy you feel works for you and do the one thing you didn’t think you could do … START.