How To Track Macros When Eating Out At A Restaurant
Posted by Michael Vacanti
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
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.
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.
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.
Does The Restaurant Publish Macros?
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.
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?!
And if you aren’t willing to spend a 5 minutes doing this, stop reading now.
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.
- Blue Cheese Crumbles
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.
Do your best.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
- Game Meat Burger
Obviously this is an in-comprehensive list, but I wanted to give you a few ideas.
What If I Am A Vegetarian Or Vegan??
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
Home Cooked Meals
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.
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.
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.
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.
Think about what you might be eating that night, and save some carbs and fats for your meal.
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.
Get on track the next day.
And go punch life in the throat 🙂
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:
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.