Tracking the nutrition in your food has been pretty easy for some time now. But being able to design meals that meet your nutrition intake targets has always been a little tougher.
In this article, you’ll quickly learn exactly how you can do this using a pre-made Excel spreadsheet and a free online calculator.
Macronutrients are types of food that provide calories. Carbs, proteins, fats, fiber. Each food item you eat is a mixture of these types. And each diet, whether proven or fad, recommends different ratios of these macronutrients. As one example, the Atkins Diet requires that you eat very few carbs, and to replace the calories you lose with certain proteins and fats.
To succeed with these diets, you obviously need to be able to do three things.
- Calculate the macronutrients you’re allowed to eat.
- Track the macronutrients you consume.
- Design meals that meet those macronutrient quotas.
To tackle the first of these requirements, the IIFYM Calculator is a fantastic tool. IIFYM stands for If It Fits Your Macros. It’s a flexible fitness tool, that calculates the macronutrients you are able to consume based on your inputs, including your body composition and the type of diet you want to follow.
Discover Your BME and TDEE
First head to the online IIFYM calculator, and enter the details required. This is information about your sex, age, height, weight, activity, and exercise. At the bottom of the form click “Calculate Your TDEE”. Based on your entries, you’ll be shown your BME and your TDEE.
BME is your Base Metabolic Rate. This is the number of calories your body burns every 24 hours while at rest.
TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This is the approximate calories your body burns, taking into account the amount of activity and exercise you do, each day.
Select a Goal
The goal you select alters how many calories you will be able to consume each day. You can select between fat loss, maintaining your current weight, increasing your weight (bulking), or adding a custom calorific intake. If you choose to reduce or increase your weight, select how aggressively you’re prepared to do this.
Select Your Nutritional Plan
Since this is the IIFYM site, their suggested plan is naturally IIFYM. But you can usefully choose from several others. Select the plan you would like to live by for the next few months.
Once selected, you’ll be shown the macronutrient ratios you should be aiming for. If needed, you can alter these yourself. For example, on the Low Carb diet, it suggested I consume 25% carbs. If I wanted to, I could manually override this and change it to something different.
For the sake of this article, I will continue with the IIFYM diet.
Scroll down, and you’ll be shown your results. Take note of these numbers, else you’ll have to complete the form again to access them.
These are the macronutrients you’ll be aiming to hit, as close as possible, each day. You’ll achieve this by designing meals that meet these macronutrient quotas in the spreadsheet mentioned below.
Preparing Your Spreadsheet
After scouring the web, we found the best pre-made Excel spreadsheet that can be used with the IIFYM calculator is the Excel Calorie Counter With Recipe Calculator which can be found on this page (direct download). This is for three main reasons:
- It’s pre-populated with the nutritional information of over 1000 food items.
- All relevant macronutrients for each food item are stored: calories, protein, fat, carbs, and fiber.
- It’s extremely easy to use
Once you’ve opened the spreadsheet, you’ll be asked to give permission for the spreadsheet to run Macros. Agree with this, and it’ll help your spreadsheet run a few more advanced functions such as archiving data about your past meals. You can still use the main functions if you don’t allow the macros.
Within the spreadsheet, there are eight tabs. The two necessary for designing perfect meals based on macronutrients are FoodEntry, and FoodList. The others could come in handy, but these two are the most important for our purposes of designing meals.
Preparing the FoodEntry Tab (2 mins)
The FoodEntry tab is where you can log what you’ve eaten during an entire day. If you’re simply looking to design meals, this is the best place to do it.
Underneath the Daily Total section on this tab, enter your daily targets, and individual meal targets. The daily targets are the recommendations you were given by the IIFYM calculator. For the meal targets, you can either enter this manually, or keep things simple with a basic formula to divide the daily target by three, showing you the macronutrients you want to achieve in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Finally, you should also add a row showing your “remaining” macronutrients so you can see how your data is looking. To calculate the “remaining” figures, you should subtract the Daily Total from the Daily Target. This shows you how many macronutrients you have left for the day.
If you’re using the spreadsheet to its full potential, be sure to enter the date and target calories at the top of the tab. At the end of each day (of after each meal), click Save Daily Data and Clear, and the data will be saved to the DailyRecord tab for you to look back on.
After these simple edits. We’re ready to begin.
Planning Your Meals
Let’s take the example of designing a simple cooked breakfast Add the constituent parts of the breakfast to the FoodEntry tab. For each item of food, you’re now able to play around with the portion sizes to try to match your target macronutrients as closely as possible.
In the example below, I selected different kinds of bread to see which would give me the highest fiber, and figured that 2.5 slices would enable me to reach my Meal Target as closely as possible. As you can see, I got pretty close
You can use this tab to design meals as complex as you like, entering the exact weights of carrots in a pie, or the type and weight of beef in your hotpot.
The point is that as you do this, you can alter the weights of each ingredient to ensure you’re achieving the macronutrients you need. If you’re struggling to reach your fiber targets, simply look out for ingredients with a higher fiber content, and add more of these to your recipe.
Once you’ve finished with planning a meal, you can either clear the data manually, or, if you would like to save the data to the meal log that’s included in the spreadsheet, click the Save Daily Data And Clear, either after each meal or at the end of the day, depending on how you would like to use the spreadsheet. If you do decide to save your meals to the MealLog, you should read about the importance of Smart Feedback, and how the data you save can be used to help you more efficiently reach your health goals.
Other Points of Interest
- You can design and save a recipe for a later date so you can select it again in the future. To do this, add all of the ingredients to the RecipeCalc tab (not the FoodEntry tab), and copy the highlighted cells in that tab (B6-J6 by default) into the FoodList tab. Save the spreadsheet. You can now easily retrieve that recipe for future meals.
- If an item of food is not in the food list, use a site like Nutritional Data to find the information, then add it manually to the FoodList tab
Planning the Perfect Meal Every Time
Using the IIFYM Calculator in conjunction with this Excel spreadsheet, you’ll be able to design meals that provide you with the right amount of macronutrients each time. If designing three healthy meals each day is too much, however, you could always create your own daily smoothie, which promises to contain everything you need.
Using Excel for this purpose allows you to keep full ownership of your data, and you can manipulate that data any way you like. Some people may prefer to use other alternatives, however. In this case, you could check out Eat This Much (our review), or MyFitnessPal (our review).
Would you go to the effort of measuring and tracking the macronutrients in each of your meals? Have you found another spreadsheet that does the job just as well (or better)? And do you have any other tips for designing healthy meals?
Image Credits: vegetables and kitchen scales by Evgenyi via Shutterstock