Understanding Macros/Calories & How To Read A Nutrition Label

This is a topic A LOT of people need help with and to be honest, I don’t think you’ll find a more comprehensive yet plain-language post on this topic anywhere.

I’m glad you’re here!

Let’s start with the basics so we’re on the same page.

Calories (kcals) = Energy.

To lose weight, you need to eat less energy than you are burning. On the flip, if you are trying to put on weight, you need to eat more than you are burning.

Re: Weight loss – The reason: Fat storage is stored energy. With the calorie deficit you get through food and exercise, your body needs to tap into it’s stored energy to support its functions and meet its daily needs. This is how you burn fat.

Calories = protein + carbs + fat.

Alcohol has calories but this post assumes you keep it minimal to 0 as you start your journey so you don’t slow your progress as alcohol does slow the oxidation (metabolism) of protein, carbs, and fat.

Protein = 4 kcals per 1g

Carbs = 4 kcals per 1g

Fat = 9 kcals per 1g

Alcohol = 7 kcals per 1g

Depending on your protein, carb, and fat goals, your food choices and amounts will be based on that.

You can have anything you want as long as it fits your macro goals.

When you’re starting to understand what foods actually have the dominant macronutrient source especially when you read the label, it’ll totally open up your eyes to just what and how much you eat.

It’ll basically make you reassess your statements, “I eat healthily” and “I eat well”.

By the time you’re done reading this –

Nevermind, keep reading.

The goal of this post is to:

  1. Look at the nutrition label first and go by the labeled numbers and discuss what they mean.
  2. Look at three different food items and we’ll look at what makes them a protein, carb, or fat source.
  3. Finally, we will go over why in my coaching program, I make everyone a grams (g) convert when measuring food. It’s really important you understand.

 

The Nutrition Label

This is a nutrition label (in North America at least. Elsewhere in the world, it looks different but the contents are the same – for the most part).

1 – Serving Size

The serving size is labeled, “1 oz (28g)”

This means 1 serving of this food is measured as 1 oz (28g).

Now depending on your macro/calories goals, you may need to adjust the serving size to get enough of what you want and/or need to make it part of your meal plan.

The bigger the serving size, the more calories it is (thus the adjustment in protein, carbs, and fat increase).

The smaller the serving size, the fewer calories it is (thus the adjustments in protein, carbs, and fat decrease).

 

2 – Servings Per Container

This tells you how many servings are in the package.

This is critical when making your own recipes, for instance.

Let’s say you find a recipe and it says, “Serving Size 4”.

In the recipe, it asks for “2 cups marinara sauce” and you input that into MyFitnessPal, it may seem like a lot but once the entire recipe is done and you have 1 serving of this dish, you’re really only getting a quarter serving of the 2 cups (.5 cup)

If that was a little confusing, imagine a bag of microwave popcorn. It may say:

  • Serving Size – 1 bag
  • Servings Per Container – 3 (33g)

This means when you put it into MyFitnessPal, if you don’t have enough macros/calories for one bag, you’ll have to measure the entire bag of popcorn then only take 33g of popcorn and then change the serving size to 1 serving or if it’s in grams, enter 33g.

Another note: Just because you see, as an example, a bag of chips you may find from the deli, “Serving Size – 1 bag” – you do not need to have the entire bag nor will you possibly have the calories/macros to spare for the entire bag.

 

3 – Calories

This tells you the total calories for the serving on the bag. In this case on the label above, this is the number of calories for the serving size (1oz [28g]).

The calories come from the total number of:

  • Fat (1.5g)
  • Carbs (1g)
  • Protein (21g)

The calories go up or down depending on the increased or decreased serving-size, respectively.

Need more calories? Increase the serving.

Need fewer calories? Decrease the serving.

Most of the calories on this label come from protein so one would realize that the label here is indicative of a protein source.

More on this later.

Another Note: Depending on if you need more of a particular macronutrient – and in many cases, it’s the need for more protein – you will have to lower the serving size on fat sources and carbs sources to increase your protein sources,

 

4 – Total Fat

If the total fat number is more than protein and carbs, thus the bulk of the calories in the serving, it is a fat source.

Let’s look at something like olive oil.

*Not that you would ever use 100g of olive oil, for consistency purposes, we will keep each macro from here on out as a serving size of 100g*

In this 100g serving of olive oil, there is 100g fat for 884kcals. (I know, I know, “If 9kcals x 100g = 900kcals, why is it only showing 884kcals?” Food scientists have this answer. That said, in this case, 16kcals is semantics and as metabolism is a moving scale, it won’t necessarily matter).

There is 0 carbs and 0 protein. This alone makes it a fat source.

“What about peanut butter? Is it a fat source or protein source?”

Foods like this are a fat source. They have [high] traces of other macronutrients (which do count towards daily totals) but the bulk of the calories and macronutrient amounts/calories come from fat.

 

5 – Total Carbohydrate

Carbs are not evil. Carbs don’t make you fat. Sugar is a carbohydrate.

Person A > I don’t eat carbs. They make me fat.

Me > Oh really? Do tell…

Person A > ::sips summer cocktail:: ::drinks a nice riesling::

Me > 

Fiber is also part of the carbohydrate group as well.

Ok, this wasn’t the point of the post but I will find ways to hammer this until you get over this carbphobia nonsense.

Just…STOP

Anyway, let’s look at rice.

In this serving size of 100g, there is 151kcals.

  • 34g carbs
  • 3g protein
  • 0g fat

This means in this serving size of 151kcals, a bulk of these calories come from carbohydrates.

If you need more carbs – increase the serving size.

If you need fewer carbs – decrease the serving size.

Another Note: Some carb sources have high fiber so when you’re tracking them, you may notice you in MyFitnessPal that it says you’re hitting your carbs perfect but have more calories. This is because some fiber is insoluble fiber so the calories are minimal or negligent. To save yourself a mathematic headache, once you’ve hit your carbs goal regardless of the fiber, do not eat more carbs. It may say you have more food left but really, you don’t.

 

6 – Total Protein

A lot of people need help here.

As stated before, peanut butter isn’t a primary source – neither is bacon.

As a rule of thumb…well, as stated about – if the the total calories in the serving size are coming from protein, it’s a protein source.

Let’s look at chicken breast.

*This measurement is cooked. Like most meats, the macronutrient profile doesn’t change once cooked but you do lose density. In my estimation, it loses about ~20% after cooking. The raw version with 100g would yield less protein/calories overall because once cooked, it would weigh around 75-80g.

In this serving size, 100g, it yields 165kcals. A majority of it comes from protein while there are 0g carbs and minimal fat.

This makes it a lean protein source versus something like salmon which is a high protein/high-fat fish.

Need more protein? Increase the serving size.

Need less protein? Decrease the serving size.

Another note: This assumes you are using boneless/skinless chicken breast. Added skin makes it fattier. Also, it’s easier to cook all your chicken (or whatever else you want to eat) and measure it cooked than to make individual raw servings and cooking them on there own.

 

“Why the need for grams?”

I want you to travel the path of least resistance.

It’s easier to increase/decrease with grams than it is to do so with ounces.

This is not my own experience but with all the clients I work with.

Look at the 3 photos below.

If I started off with 110g of a food and needed to increase it, it’s easier to add in increments of a whole numer (1) then it is to play with a crap-ton of decimals.

It’s easier to go from 110 to 130 then it is to go to 3.8 (or wait..it’s 3.9…but wait…it’s 4.0…but my scale only have 1 decimal place…where do I go????) to 4.5 (or is it 4.6? But really if you round up is 5.0 because anything below 5 you round down and above 5 you round up – I mean I was taught that in school…but that doesn’t make sense – Which is it?? I’m confused!!)

See what I mean.

Any time you need to search for something in grams, it’s quite simple: Type in the search bar of MyFitnessPal whatever the food is and then add ‘g’ at the end. It’s like a keyword. It’ll bring the grams versions up first.

Want Cool Ranch Doritos? COOL!

Search: “Cool Ranch Doritos g” and watch the magic happen.

I also wrote about it here: CLICK TO READ

The goal is to make your meal prepping and planning that much easier.

Before you can prep, you need to know what you need so you can figure out the amounts.

It’s like Tetris but for food.

The best part about THIS Tetris is you get to eat the foods you want and never feel like you’re missing out…

As long as it fits your calories/macros. 

 

 

Interested in coaching? Want to get your nutrition game on point? Want to change the way you train and eat so you can live..like really live? READ HERE AND SEE IF MY COACHING IS RIGHT FOR YOU!

Written by Louis