How To Track Macros When Eating Out
If you count macronutrients, one of the more challenging parts when you first begin tracking is learning what to do when eating out at a restaurant or how to account for meals that you didn’t prepare yourself.
Counting foods with nutrition labels is straightforward…
You are getting the hang of using a food scale to weigh and control portions…
But what the heck do you do when you’re invited out to meet some friends for dinner to celebrate a birthday on a Friday night?
Do you stay home and hide in your own kitchen? Do you pack a meal with you?
…Not necessary, my friend.
Here’s your game plan…
— Basics of counting macros here. —
Does The Restaurant Publish The Nutrition Information Online?
This is the first place you look.
Most larger chain restaurants as well as fast food restaurants are now publishing their nutrition data online and you can access it there.
If you use an app such as MyFitnessPal, simply search the name of the restaurant, and you will start to see a bunch of items come up. Find and select the dish you are having.
Your only caution here is that some items in the database are user-generated, so may be inaccurate. Foods that are verified have a green check-mark beside them. If an item is not verified, it may be a good idea to do a quick check to see if it matches nutrition facts online for the restaurant’s website.
If you don’t track with an app, you can also find nutritional data for menu items online, on the restaurant’s website — usually in a pdf format.
Are The Facts Online 100% Accurate?
Is the chef guaranteed to give you an 8 oz steak?
Will your pasta be cooked in exactly 1 tbsp of oil?
The answer to both of these questions is — of course not. It would be ignorant to think otherwise.
Unfortunately, the chef couldn’t care less that you are tracking macros.
This means he isn’t going to weigh your steak. It could be 7.2 ounces. Maybe 8.3.
The oil — will he bust out his measuring spoons?
Good luck. It’s going to be a free pour. Maybe it ends up being 1.5 tbsp and you get an extra 7g of fat.
Theres no way to know for sure. So be it. The fact of the matter is it’s close enough.
Your goal is just to get close anyways.
If your restaurant of choice does publish their nutrition data, this is great news.
You can high-five yourself, because you don’t have to do any extra thinking or spend any extra time calculating your macros.
Reality is, there are still many smaller restaurants that don’t have this information available.
Here are the rules for tracking macros when you visit one of these places…
The Restaurant Does Not Publish Nutrition Data
If there’s no nutritional data to be found online, you’ve got a couple of options.
1. Find a similar item from a different restaurant.
Your first option is to use the nutritional info for a similar item from a different restaurant.
Eating pepperoni pizza?
A slice of pepperoni pizza will have very similar macros, no matter where you get it. As long as its roughly the same size, it’s a safe bet to use the nutritional info for a slice of pepperoni pizza from another restaurant that has their nutritional info published. Find one that is most similar or look at a few different restaurants and take the average of their data.
Going out for sushi?
The same rule applies.
Look up the data from another sushi joint and their spicy tuna roll will have very similar macros.
2. Look up the individual components of each part of your meal.
Here’s the process broken down:
- Determine each component of the meal.
- Estimate the portion size of each component.
- From there, look up the nutrition values for each food component.
It’s important to note right off the bat that this an estimate – your best guess.
You’re not going to be 100% accurate. Accept it.
“But that seems like a lot of work…”
Sure, it may take a couple minutes. But its a small price to pay if you’re serious about staying consistent and on track with your nutrition.
If you’ve counted macros for a while, you’ll at least have a rough idea of what 6 ounces of chicken looks like, what 50 grams of carb looks like in the form of rice or potatoes, or how much cheese is going to yield 15 grams of fat.
One simple strategy is to learn to measure foods at home and compare them to other objects or body parts so you can get a rough idea of serving sizes.
- 3 oz cooked meat = deck of cards
- 2 tbsp nut butter = golf ball
- 1 cup salad = size of your first
- 1 cup berries/fruit = size of your first
- 1 baked yam/potato (approx. 6oz) = size of your first
- 1 oz nuts = small palm
Estimating Ham & Cheese Omelette Macros
What you’ll want to account for:
- Eggs — First thing to look at is how many eggs are used – typically about 3 or so (18g protein, 3 carb, 15 fat)
- Ham — Maybe 2 slices of ham deli meat – roughly 50g (14g protein, 2g fat)
- Cheese — How much cheese is there? If you decide there is roughly 50g of cheese you’re looking at: 10g protein, 1g carb, 15g fat
- Are there any sides? — Is the omelette served with toast? You’ll have to account for that as well. Toast has butter? Add that in.
**Account for extra fat**
Chef’s love to cook with lot’s of oil and use extra butter. It makes dishes tastier. But it also adds a lot of calories.
When you eat any meal that is likely to contain more fat or be cooked in oil, add 10-20g of fat to account for this. In this case, you can bet that the omelette was cooked in a fair bit of oil. So go ahead and add around 1 tbsp (15g) of fat to the meal.
Estimating Chicken Club Sandwich Macros
What you’ll want to account for:
- Bun – The average bun is going to yield roughly 35-45g of carbs depending on the size
- Is there butter on the bun?
- Chicken – A chicken breast in a sandwich will typically be around 3.5 – 4 ounces which yields 25-30g protein. You’ll also want to take into account how the chicken is cooked — Is it grilled? Baked? Breaded? Fried? If it’s breaded or fried as opposed to grilled or baked, you’re looking at an extra 10-15g fat.
- What other components of the sandwich are there? Cheese, bacon, etc.
- Are there any other sauces? Things like ranch, chipotle, and mayo all contain significant calories, and you’ll want to account for them.
What Should You Order At A Restaurant?
Look: this is your call.
If you decide to estimate your macros – awesome.
If once in a while you decide screw it, I’m just going to enjoy myself and forget about tracking macros for a night. Also fine. Everyone needs the odd night off.
Eating out is a big part of our culture.
Whether you are travelling or vacationing with family, at a social gathering with friends, or dining out with your significant other, food will always be a significant part of the experience.
And you don’t want to waste it and completely miss out on this part of life.
Fitness goals are important.
But so is the quality of your life and relationships with others.
Your entire life should not revolve around hitting your macronutrients to the gram every single day, year round…
There’s no need to skip out on a social function and hide in your bedroom with a container of precisely weighed chicken and broccoli… in fear that you wont be able to enter your meal as accurately into MyFitnessPal.
Remember to enjoy your life too.
There may be certain times when you just want to keep things simple, while others you may want to be more adventurous.
For times when you want to keep things simple and make things easy on yourself…
Get A Simple, Easily Trackable Meal
This could be something like:
- A salad with grilled chicken or shrimp (be sure to account for extra toppings on the salad like cheese, nuts, and dressings)
- Grilled chicken or turkey breast sandwich (be sure to account for extra toppings like cheese, bacon, sauces, etc.)
- Grilled chicken or fish entrée
- Steak and baked potato (watch for extra toppings on the potato — cheese, butter, sour cream, bacon, etc.)
A chicken breast or sirloin steak with side of potatoes and vegetables is easy to track. Estimate the size of the chicken breast. Estimate the portion of the potatoes. Veggies are free. Add a tablespoon or so of oil (~15g fat) depending on how the meat/potatoes are cooked. Done.
But if you decide to go with something like a lasagna on the other hand… things get a little tougher. Because you really have no idea the quantity or source of ingredients included and its very difficult to estimate.
In the case of a family function, girlfriend’s birthday, or grandma’s anniversary, you may choose to say “fuck it” and decide to let go of the precise macro tracking for a minute and actually enjoy something like a lasagna. It’s ultimately your call.
**(Only time you won’t do this is when preparing for an upcoming bodybuilding/physique competition).
What If Someone Else Cooks For You?
If your going to grandma’s house for a home-cooked meal, the same rule applies as if you were eating out at a restaurant.
Determine each component of the meal.
Eyeball the portion size.
Look up the nutritional values.
You could of course pack your food scale along with you… if you’re okay with getting laughed at, heckled, questioned, and criticized – but again it’s entirely unnecessary unless you are approaching a bodybuilding/physique competition.
What if I Mess Up and Blow It?
If you happen to miss your macronutrient targets one day, slightly overindulge in a meal, or have a few extra drinks with your buddies, it’s not the end of the world.
Should you make a habit of it?
Get back on track as soon as you can (the next meal – or next day).
Moderation is the key.
Minimize the damage done.
Remember that success with nutrition comes when you are consistently pretty close, while avoiding days that are way off or you just blow up and eat 10000 calories.
I know I stressed this already, but I want to emphasize this point again — you’re never going to be spot on with your numbers.
You have no control over how the chef cooks the meal. But that doesn’t matter. You control what you can.
If you happen to accidently go over on your fat intake by 20g one day, either lower your carb intake for the day to balance overall calories, or just forget about it and move on.
The truth is, even a standard nutrition label can have 10-15% variance in the macros listed so you’re not going to be perfect anyway.
On Alcohol & Drinking
Drinking is often a fairly big part of dining or eating out. Problem is, if you’re not mindful, a few beers or sodas over the course of just a couple hours adds up to quite a few calories very quickly. And this is just pure carbs.
My advice to you is…
Go easy on the drinks.
Remember to exercise portion control here. One or two drinks may be fine depending on your macronutrient allowance. But water or a non-caloric beverage may be an even better option. If you’re more conservative with the drinks, then you’ll be able to enjoy more calories from food, which is usually much more satisfying.
You may not always be able to control exactly what you can eat when you dine out (depending on the restaurant)… but you can always control how much you eat.
If you order a pizza, it doesn’t mean you need to eat the entire thing.
How To Enjoy Larger Meals Eating Out
What if you know you will be going out and likely having a larger meal in the evening?
You want to treat yourself and put back a few extra calories…
No problem. With some simple planning, you can absolutely make it work…
Be Smart and Plan Your Day
Here’s one simple strategy you can use.
On days you plan on having a big meal at night or later in the day, save extra calories (mainly carbs and fats) by just having a couple of smaller meals containing protein/veggies earlier in the day. Then you can afford to consume more calories in the evening if it’s a dinner function with family/friends or special event. You could even consider fasting for a few hours in the morning and starting your meals a bit later in the day. This will of course allow for more calories later on in the day.
Alright, that’s a wrap.
Any other questions, pop them in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!