How To Track Macros When Eating Out At A Restaurant

In This Article:

  • How to count macros in restaurant food
  • Estimating nutrition facts in popular dishes
  • Counting macros in home-cooked meals
  • What to order at a restaurant

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So, your crazy coach has you counting these things called macros.

You are slowly getting used to it.

Foods with labels are now pretty simple, like greek yogurt and granola bars.

You have even become something of a pro in your kitchen, using a food scale to weigh your peanut butter and oats.

You even weigh meat raw instead of cooked.

Two weeks in, you are down four pounds; everything is smooth sailing.

But one Friday after work, everything changes.

Your crew suggests dinner at a fancy new downtown restaurant.

Uh oh.

You say yes, because 16 weeks of fat loss programming did not come with a zero-social-life upsell.

But strictly between you and I, because why wouldn’t you confide in a some dude on the internet who you don’t know, you are pretty nervous right now.

Pizza, lasagna, bread.

Butter, oil, dressing.

Breaded, blacked, grilled, and fried.

Who the hell knows what’s in this stuff?

Three weeks ago you thought macros were a computer game that excel nerds played on weekends, and now you’d give anything to know your sweet potato weighs exactly 114 grams.

What are you supposed to do???

Live your remaining days in the comfort and sheer boredom of your kitchen? By yourself? Forever? Never eating out? And never having sex again???

No way, my friend.

Let me help you.

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Does The Restaurant Publish Macros?

Wendy's

Wendy’s Website – Double Chicken, No Cheese – 58p / 53c / 19f

Some restaurants publish nutrition information online.

This should be the first place you look.

While it is mainly fast food and chain restaurants that do this, there is a chance the place you are eating keeps nutrition data online.

Don’t always assume a restaurant has no good options based on its reputation; my go-to choice at Laguardia Airport is the Pecan Chicken Salad from Wendy’s.

But Mike, are the nutrition facts online really accurate??

First, I kind of hate you for asking this question.

Because you don’t really want the answer.

You want to use lack of perfection as an excuse not to get started.

The answer is it does not matter if the data is 100% accurate – it’s close enough.

Are you getting the exact same amount of grilled chicken every time?

No, of course not.

9.13 ounces or 8.85 ounces or 8.99 ounces.

It doesn’t matter.

We are not trying to be perfect.

We are trying to get close.

And unless you are in the final stages of prep for a competition (and even then) it just doesn’t matter.

If a restaurant publishes nutrition facts online, unless you have a very good reason not to trust that data, use it.

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When Nutrition Information Is Not Available

Now, let’s pretend you aren’t getting fast food or eating at the Cheesecake factory.

How do you calculate macros for a meal where nutrition information is non-existent?

First, let me tell you what NOT to do.

Do NOT look up the nutrition facts for “summer salad” on MyFitnessPal.

You are going to see over 440 different summer salads (at least, I stopped counting at 440), ranging from two calories (yes, two) up to 900+, none of which have the same ingredients as the one in front of you.

What you need to do is look up the nutrition information for each component of your meal.

UGGGGGHHHH you mean I have to google all five ingredients in my salad?!

Yes.

And if you aren’t willing to spend a 5 minutes doing this, stop reading now.

Seriously.

We have 24 hours in a day which means 5 minutes is one third of 1% of your day. This small amount of time will make a drastic change in your health and body and life. Get onboard.

Where was I.

Ah, yes, estimating salad macros.

Normally I source images from my instagram (@mikevacanti) but I am more of an ice cream than salad kind of guy, so I stole this from google images in hopes that I never get big enough to the point where someone wants to sue me.

Normally I source images from my instagram (@mikevacanti) but I am more of an ice cream than salad kind of guy, so I stole this from google images in hopes that I never get big enough for a lawsuit to be a worthwhile use of time.

  • Spinach
  • Blue Cheese Crumbles
  • Strawberries
  • Pecans
  • Vinegrette

You need to estimate the portion size of each component.

I know… you won’t be perfect. Maybe it looks like 1 tbsp of cheese but it’s actually 1.5 tbsp.

Oh well.

Do your best.

From there, look up the nutrition facts for that food. I like Google and Nutrition Data as my sources.

How much will these small errors, like 1T vs 1.5T, impact progress?

Let’s assume you eat at restaurants without published nutrition information one day per week. You are 25% off in your estimate of portion sizes. The meal makes up 50% of your total calories for the day.

I know you don’t want to do the math, so I did it for you.

Here are the results:

  • If you eat at restaurants, you will lose 23 pounds in 16 weeks
  • If you spend every night in a sleeping bag on your kitchen floor, you will lose 24 pounds in 16 weeks

The choice is yours.

I suggest enjoying you enjoy a steak from time to time.

Speaking of, let’s review a few common restaurant entrees.

Estimating Steak Macros

The first step is to identify which part of the cow you are eating.

Macros for different cuts of beef

Feel free to steal this so I can be karmatically even with the summer salad lady.

Next, how much meat are you eating? Most restaurants list the weight in ounces.

Lastly, go ahead and tack on 20g of fat for the dob of butter the chef used.

Estimating Chicken Macros

There are a few important things to recognize here:

  • Is the chicken breaded or grilled?
  • Is it on a bun and is that bun soggy (butter) or dry?
  • What are the other components of the sandwich (cheese, sauce, etc)?
  • Which part of the chicken are you eating?
Macros in different cuts of chicken

Skinless Drumstick isn’t right just FYI… the whole 4hww “outsource everything to india” isn’t *completely* fool proof.

The average grilled chicken on a sandwich (a bit larger than a deck of cards) will be 25-30g of protein.

An average bun will have ~35g of carbs with few tag along proteins and fats.

Frying or breading the meat will add 8-15g of fat.

Estimating Pizza Macros

How ya gonna do this one macro mike??

Estimate portions of yeast?!

Pizza is tough. It has proteins, carbs, and fats.

That’s why it sits in the middle of the macro venn diagram.

Look online first, if it isn’t there, look at comparable pizzas online: is it thin crust or deep dish or similar to the bland pizza you dipped in ranch sauce at lunch in high school?

Or, use other popular pizza parlors near you to form an estimate.

Just remember: it is consistency, not perfection, that is the majorest of keys. 

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What You Should Order At A Restaurant

Look, what you should do is order whatever the hell you want to order.

Estimate the macros if you care too. Don’t if you don’t.

But if you are brand new to this stuff, I know that having some “safe” options can help.

Let’s assume you are (1) trying to lose fat (2) eating a relatively high protein diet (0.6 – 1g per pound of bodyweight).

  • Salad with Grilled Chicken (watch the “extras” like nuts and dressing)
  • Salad with Grilled Shrimp
  • Salad with Game Meat
  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Egg White Omelette
  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich (watch the “extras”)
  • Fish Entree (white fish is a bit leaner than other types of fish)
  • Grilled Chicken Entree
  • Pork Loin
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Game Meat Burger

Obviously this is an in-comprehensive list, but I wanted to give you a few ideas.

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What If I Am A Vegetarian Or Vegan??

Respect.

When calculating your macros, I would set protein lower and carbs higher (and fats a bit higher) for you.

Obviously my restaurant suggestions don’t make a lot of sense for you, but the principles still apply.

Estimate the proteins, carbs, and fats in the individual food components of your meal.

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Watch Out For The Sneak Attack

Just a quick reminder that the following foods have a calorie density that might creep up and blow your macros wide open:

  • Nuts
  • Cheese
  • Dressing
  • Breading
  • Skin
  • Oil/butter
  • White sauces
  • Avocado / guac (omega 6s, in all their glory, can indeed make you fat)

Another incomplete list… so continue to be aware of every component in your meal.

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What About Spices, Sodium, And Marinades?

Spices and sodium don’t contain calories, so for the purposes of weight gain/weight loss, you don’t need to worry about them.

I wouldn’t worry too much about marinades either; while there may be a few grams of carbohydrates that cling to your chicken through the grilling process, it won’t be enough to materially impact your progress.

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Home Cooked Meals

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 2.18.33 PM

Back in minnesota for the best home cooked meal of all time. Those are my sisters. I will literally execute you if you try to date any of them.

If you are cooking the meal, you know the macros.

  • Step 1: calculate the nutrition facts for the total quantity of each ingredient in the dish
  • Step 2: weigh the finished product
  • Step 3: weigh your portion

Alternatively, if you don’t want to weigh your Christmas brunch, a desire for which I certainly do not blame you, go ahead and eyeball it.

Looks like one twelfth of the egg bake, good enough, and you get to skip a verbal jab from aunt Judy.

Everybody wins.

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Someone Cooks For You

Apply the same rule you use at restaurants: do your best to estimate.

Just assume grandma ain’t using 95/5 grass fed beef and pick the 80/20 option.

Eye ball portion sizes. Google nutrition facts.

Don’t stress; just try to get close.

Now, if you have someone cooking for you every single meal (like, a parent), it probably makes sense to get on the same page regarding your dietary preferences and lifestyle.

That way they can cook foods that align with your goals and you aren’t constantly struggling to make pizza and casseroles fit your intake for the day.

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Take A Night Off: No Counting

Sometimes the mental exhaustion of tracking is a bit overwhelming.

Everyone deserves a night off once in a while.

Whether you want to have a full blown cheat meal or just turn your brain off and enjoy what you are served, remember that moderation is a major key.

(Reminder: 7000 calories binges don’t fall under the moderation umbrella)

I probably wouldn’t do this in your first 60 days of a fat loss plan, but after that you can relax a bit. Having an off night or two per month makes dieting more sustainable in the long run.

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Be Smart: Plan Your Day

When we know we are going to drink our faces off on a given night, we plan ahead by keeping protein high and carbs/fats low during the day.

The same rule applies for a dining out.

Plan ahead.

Think about what you might be eating that night, and save some carbs and fats for your meal.

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Perfection Is The Enemy

I know I’ve mentioned it repeatedly, but it’s just that important.

You cannot know exactly how many grams of protein, carbs, and fats are in your food.

And guess what, it doesn’t matter.

Seeing progress while tracking your macros isn’t about hitting p/c/f perfectly every single day.

It is about consistently being pretty close, avoiding blow up days, and being patient.

If you go 15 grams over on fat and you are a bit short on protein and you have an extra drink before dinner because the cute bartender gave you a free pour and then your sibling makes you take a bite of flan even though you hate flan, that is negligible toward long run progress.

It’s one day.

Minimize damage.

Get on track the next day.

And go punch life in the throat 🙂

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Alright Team, That’s A Wrap

Leave your questions in the comment section.

And lastly, I want to give a big shoutout to anyone who ever called tracking food “obsessive” because I have been tracking for a decade and currently spend appx one minute per day logging food.

These are my training and rest day macros, those are pictures of my non-training day food choices, and that is my current physique:

different setup collage

Chronological Order: 2 eggs atop short ribs, bran muffin, chipotle bowl, Talenti pint, greek yogurt based protein pudding, 4 servings of Life cereal, and a grilled chicken mixed greens salad with cucumber/strawberries/oranges/beans/olive oil/balsamic.

Download my free macro tracking app for iPhone right here.

Use my custom equations to set up your intake right here.

Video chat me me for free advice and motivation right here.



Comments for This Entry

  • Stacey

    This is great Mike, as I get ready to start working with you this was something I was worried about. Glad to know it's something I can figure out with ease. I think it lends it self more to a lifestyle instead of a lifelong diet which sounds horrible to me.

    February 5, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Reply to this comment

  • David Lashbrook

    Great article as usual Mike! Way to keep trapped in your seat and get this published so we could read it. I got alot of value from this and recommending it to all of my friends! Have an awesome day man.

    February 5, 2016 at 8:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rebecca

    Great article ! As a 23 year old who goes out with friends to eat frequently and is new to tracking, I find the article incredibly insightful. Debating hiring you as a coach.... I have always been fit and have lifted for over a year but I'd like to get a bit more serious with my fitneas goals. I think you would get me! Good luck with your GV -so far you are killing it. Xx

    February 5, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Holly

      Rebecca you should absolutely hire Mike! As a past client I have nothing but good things to say about him and the experience. The program he created for me was excellent and the support I got was incredible. Even after we parted ways he has still been available to me when I need him for help. I reached all the goals I had set for myself with his help.

      February 6, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Sam Petrie

      Great article, Mike. I'm about to head away on a road trip, I'll be putting this into action for the next 3 weeks!!

      February 7, 2016 at 4:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Emily

    Oh. My. Gosh. This was amazing. I needed this article. When I first started counting macros (which wasn't long ago- thanksgiving day of all days) I was beating myself up for not hitting everything dead on. I'm a perfectionist. And the thought of a night out at a hometown pizza joint with the hubs would make me worry. I actually did what you suggested and tried to compare to get those macros as close as possible. Last weekend, I had a mini panic attack when we went home to visit my folks (mom loves to cook amazing macro blasting meals). But I ate how I wanted and they got it. Anyways....amazing article. Love the raw, no bs info.

    February 5, 2016 at 8:14 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Matthew Taber

    Fantastic article. As a lawyer precision counts but I need to remember it doesn't here. Sadly three days too late as have been in NY this week. But have been watching very carefully. The killer on business trips is always booze. But two gym trips have helped even that up. And in Nyc doing 6km of walking a day also helps!!!!

    February 5, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Nelson

    Another easy and informative read. With carefull planning you can successfully eat out quite a bit and lose weight at the same time. Myfitness pal has improved greatly in the last few years and is comparable to a Google search for most items. After some double checking you get the hang of it.

    February 5, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jordan A

    Trapped in the seat and killing it as always Mike. Thanks for the Article!

    February 5, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Lesley

    "It is about consistently being pretty close, avoiding blow up days, and being patient." This is the best advice! I'm a year into counting and being patient and consistent is key. Thanks for the article and keep snapping!

    February 5, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Reply to this comment

  • David

    Love it!! Especially that Greek yogurt pudding - what goes into making that?

    February 5, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • NerdyDani

    Already planned my meal out online for BJ's with friends tonight so I feel well prepared! Stay strong guys!

    February 5, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Dan Marzullo

    Loved the article Mike! Especially liked the diagrams of the chicken and beef macro breakdowns. Great stuff keep em coming!

    February 5, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Radley Cardente

    I've been waiting for this article and it was totally worth it! Loved it, and I feel that this will be super helpful for me in the next few days. I've got a family party for the Lunar New Year, and I was so worried about screwing it up with all the food that'll be there. Thanks Mike!!

    February 5, 2016 at 9:50 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Samantha Gonzalez

    Mike! Amazing! Seriously! I'm sharing it ASAP! This is great for those "beginners" who just started counting their macros! I know, I was there, I remember when I was training under you and asked you about what I can be eating at a restaurant and this just hits the nail on the head! You crushed it man! Keep 'em coming!

    February 5, 2016 at 10:00 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Amy Budd

    You did not oversell- this is a fantastic post. Great pointers, and very well-said about how being consistent is way more important than being perfect. Restaurant macro tracking does get easier once you get the hang of it, plus many restaurants will allow you to order off menu - my request for "Grilled chicken breast with sautéed mushrooms & onions, no sauce of any kind, please" is usually rewarded with a high protein, simple-but-yummy meal. Also, anyone who tries to shame me for logging my food gets a face full of me laughing at them, which is the proper response when in the presence of a fool. :)

    February 5, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Darryl

    Clear and to the point. Nice work Mike. Really comes down to common sense. If you've been tracking for a while eyeballing should be somewhat close. If you really need the night off its not that big a deal as long as its not a habit. Enjoy the process or nobody will want to hang around you anyways. Always good to read your stuff.

    February 5, 2016 at 10:06 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rebecca B

    "Feel free to steal this so I can be karmatically even with the summer salad lady." (HYSTERICAL!) Also, that diagram cow thing is awesome. As is the article. You win!

    February 5, 2016 at 10:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kati

    Always great to read a perspective based article & to be reminded that doing my best is good enough, not a total derailment if a day is screwed up. Thanks!

    February 6, 2016 at 7:19 am | Reply to this comment

  • Edwin Adams

    Actionable and doable. Thanks, Mike, for the consistent and authentic information you post up here. The Snaps during the day keep my feet on the ground and my butt in the seat. So keep on inspiring greatness in the world. You, sir, are a leader in a noisy world. #Props

    February 6, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kevin C

    Great article! Comes at the most appropriate time as I will be on a cruise in a couple weeks and was stressing and trying to strategize my eating.

    February 6, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Holly

    Awesome article! I've been waiting for this since I saw it on your snapchat. I'm not disappointed at all. I've been dying for this type of information. I have been semi avoiding going out to eat because it the info isn't posted I get anxious about not being able to track it. Now I'll be able to enjoy eating out or even ordering in more. So glad you're adding more content to the blog each week! Much love!

    February 6, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mendy Fried

    Great article. Very informative! Since you hope to never get too big that u should be sued for the Google picture. I don't think it makes sense to steal the Beef macro diagram here. Since that might get you famous and they might slap a law suit then;) Hahaha

    February 7, 2016 at 11:23 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steph

    Love you for this solid post (that I will share with everyone), hate you for being able to fit four (FOUR?!!?) servings of Life cereal in your rest days. Not even gonna mention that Talenti/Chipotle combo. In my dreams I am a dude with great genetics and a decade's worth of training on a bulk. For now, 5'7 chick living that poverty macros rest day life will have to do ;)

    February 7, 2016 at 11:39 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jon DeLange

    I ran into the same thing with images, trying to figure out what to use, not rip off etc. Here's a helpful list of sites with legit, high-quality content for free. http://www.inc.com/john-rampton/20-sites-with-free-images-for-your-blog-or-social-media-posts.html

    February 7, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Quan

    Bookmarked. This is hands down the most helpful article I've read on tracking macros while eating out. Especially the infographics on cuts of beef and chicken.

    February 7, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Max

    Awesome article Mike! Great information & awesome writing style. Looking forward to the next one

    February 8, 2016 at 9:46 am | Reply to this comment

  • Doug

    I love you! A pint of Talenti Caribbean Coconut is a staple of my grocery list and diet too! Unfortunately, it hasn't made my abs look like yours. Yet.

    February 9, 2016 at 11:52 am | Reply to this comment

  • Ty C

    Love this! I've been estimating, guesstimating and been totally wrong on many macro assumptions (I once thought beer really only had 3-10g carbz, oh me) and STILL made incredible progress. It's always about what you can control the majority of the time. Such as 5-6 days a week and the rest can be left to chance. My only addition is that restaurants without nutrition info don't give a shit about nutrition info, they care that the food tastes good. Chefs secret to making extra tasty food is extra oil/butter/fatz so I generally assume an extra tbsp of butter/oil if a professional chef is preparing this meal.

    February 9, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ashley

    Hi Mike! Definitely, one of my favorite blog posts/topics from you by far. You covered all of the mind racing topics I (most people too...) face when eating at restaurants during a fat loss period... or any time for the matter. Fear of social gatherings and restaurants meals because of food are huge setbacks in healthy lifestyle changes if you do not have the proper mindset and knowledge to fight through it, and like you said you get to a point where it isn't a fight! Great job in delivering this in such a relatable manner. Best, Ashley

    February 9, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jamie Vasquez

    Another successful blog to keep us in check! Those picture of the beef and chicken are EXTREMELY helpful, thank you. And your Greek yogurt protein pudding has saved my life! I'm down 7lbs, down 5% body fat and gained 4lbs of muscle. Soo much appreciation to you! Can't wait for the next post!

    February 9, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Fred Wszolek

    Obviously as a general rule, nobody should ever date someone's sister. Though how that works out for population replacement is unclear.

    February 9, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rob Y

    Awesome post, thanks Mike! Appreciate how you call out perfectionism for what it is—socially acceptable roadblock sabotaging our own progress.

    February 9, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Amy

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    February 9, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Anthony Surrette

    Excellent article with soooo much helpful content. It takes discipline to be mindful when out to eat. This is entertaining and educational. Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

    February 9, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Sherard

    Nice article! Hahahaha at the "I don't really feel like smiling, but I'm doing it anyway" picture. Lol!!!

    February 9, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Cam

    Crushed it, Mike! Nice post!

    February 9, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Patrick

    Great post Mike! Really needed this one as I find my self in this situation often.

    February 10, 2016 at 10:18 am | Reply to this comment

  • JillianQ

    Great article, Mike! I gotta say, as a vegetarian, after getting my mind around macros and hitting my stride, I eventually found it incredibly easy to hit my protein goals every day, with very little fake-meat-weird-impostor-food (but let's be real...some fake-meat-weird-impostor-food because delicious). I didn't adjust them down, either. On a vegan diet, I could see that being tougher, but with things like protein-bomb-Greek-yogurts carrying as much as 22g per little tiny baby serving, learning how much protein PEAS have for god's sake, finding whole wheat breads that have 6g/slice instead of pure-carb-bread...these things add up and make the daily goal pretty easy to nail once you've morphed into a protein-seeking missile like myself. Are there other reasons besides the basic (and legit) challenge that you lower protein goals for vegetarian clients?

    February 10, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Katy

    Hi Mike, Just found your site today. I've been trying to figure out macros and find it confusing. If I work from suggested grams per pound of total body weight the total calories are quite high, likely above maintenance for me. If I just enter protein/fat I'm still a bit over my total daily goal with no carbs at all. My current work around has been to set them based on lean body mass for protein and fat (109 per Navy tape method) then add roughed in the carbs so I'm around 30/40/30 which puts me in a reasonable spot on total calories. Good enough? Would it really be beneficial to lower carbs/up protein and fat? I have no trouble hitting fat but do have to really make an effort to hit protein (109 grams). Thanks P.S. Also, randomly, BMR calculations seem to be all over the map. From another post of yours I've got 1450.

    February 11, 2016 at 11:01 am | Reply to this comment

  • Niki B.

    GREAT article - as always! I find your information so very helpful in trying to move forward in my own personal goals. I also love your connection to MN being that I live there!

    February 11, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Andrew Colucci

    Solid post Mike. I took a lot of interest in the macros for the cuts of steak. I can never figure out the macros for a steak. I always get tons of different results for whatever cut of steak that I want to log. How did you come up with those calories and macros?

    May 6, 2016 at 11:16 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jessamy

    came across your blog the other day when i was doing some research on iifym (you gotta fellow health fitness enthusiast on ya hands) and dayumm you nailed it!!! this post was hilarious...highlights...your aunt judy and your sisters...legitimately every holiday there's always one comment + my sisters (love 'em dearly) at any family gathering where the booze is a flowin' will suddenly go into a commentary on how i don't drink like i used to. mike you are friggin awesome. thx for this post and now getting to enjoy your hilarious insta/snapchat...aka your rant on chipotle server overserving you to blow your macros....ummm yes happened to me last time i was there haha. thx so much!!!! Jess @indiakooki

    September 15, 2016 at 12:49 am | Reply to this comment

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