Macro Tricks: The 3-For-1

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I tend to look at things with a “big picture mentality”.  It’s the only way I can stay sane.

When I start to read lengthy and wordy articles about ATP release, I often find myself looking for the abstract —> the scientific version of the “tl;dr”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t because I don’t think the information is valid or interesting.  On the contrary.  Optimization should and does play a huge role in our time here on earth.  We should always be tinkering and adjusting – incorporating variables that work well and eliminating variables that don’t.


But we always need to be sure not to miss the forest for the trees.


While I’m an advocate of fasting, nothing will happen if your eating window is 9 hours instead of 8.

While higher protein generally leads to better dietary compliance and better muscle retention, your muscles will not fall off if you eat 50g under once in a while.

While creatine can help muscular gains, if you miss a day, all of those gains will not be lost.


We need to be sure we don’t get caught up in the minutiae.  We need to stay level-headed.  Be calm.  Be rational.  We shouldn’t freak out over unnecessary nonsense.


One of the best ways we can ensure sustainability over time and improve our consistency is to keep things as simple as possible.


Which is one of the reasons purposefully making errors in macronutrient calculations can be an extremely beneficial strategy for maintaining long-term dietary compliance.

There’s no need to track many items.  Green, fibrous veggies.  Sauces, assuming they are kept low calorie enough.  Gum.  A splash of milk with your coffee.

The caloric load of these items are so small, it’s not even worth tracking.  And as long as consistency is maintained, there’s no need to drive yourself crazy measuring your broccoli florets one-by-one.

I’ve talked about creating your own system for tracking food before, and I’ve shown you a small trick I like to share with clients called the Caloric Equivalent Trick.


In this post, I’m going to show you another one of my favorite tricks:  The 3-For-1.


When you’re tracking foods, you will generally find most foods have one macronutrient in a higher abundance than the others.

Sometimes, you literally have one macro to count.  These foods make life very easy for the IIFYM’er.  Examples:


Protein with no other macros:  lean chicken, lean turkey, tuna fish

Carbs with no other macros:  sorbets, sugary cereal, fruit (for the most part)

Fats with no other macros:  butters, oils


There are foods which are “combos” relatively close to a 1:1 ratio……….these are generally protein/fat combos.

Protein/Fat “1:1” ratio combos:   Eggs (roughly 5 g protein and 4 g f each), cured pork  (roughly 15 g p and 15 g fat each), cheese (5 g p and 4 g fat for one slice)


There’s a good amount of foods which are 2:1 ratio protein/fat combos as well.

Protein/Fat “2:1” ratio combos:  Sirloin beef  (90 g p and 45 g fat for 1 pound), salmon (19 g p and 10 g fat for 3 oz.), pork chops (20 g p and 10 g fat for 4 oz.)


You’ve got some foods which are 2:1 ratio, but in the other direction –>  fat/protein combos.

Fat/Protein “2:1” ratio combos:  Nuts (14 g fat and 8 g p for most varieties) and nut butters (same) quickly come to mind here.


When you have a food, and there’s a significant amount of two macronutrients, they both must be accounted for.  

This fact helps sabotage many dieters – as they go hog wild on the “nuts”.  (That’s what she said.)

Nuts are extolled for their health virtues and their “good fats”.  And there’s nothing inherently wrong about that comment.  But there’s nothing inherently right about it, either.  But the fact remains:  Nuts are freaking LOADED with calories.

Sit me down with a jar of mixed nuts, and 2k calories will be consumed in about 10 minutes and provide almost zero satiety and satisfaction.

I love me some nuts.  For sure.  I could eat almonds all day long.  And sometimes I do.  But we need to keep in mind the massively high fat (and therefore, caloric content) that nuts have.

Same is true with any of these protein/fat combos.  We need to be mindful of the fats in the dairy products and meat products as well.  Mix in some lean sources along with the fattier sources.  Our waistlines will thank us.


But this leads me to the actual “3-For-1” trick.

Even foods which have a much higher content of one macronutrient can often have traces of the other two.

So, what do we do?  Do we count up all the traces?  Or do we just ignore them?

Ignoring trace macros is an effective strategy, but sometimes that doesn’t work as well for the anal-retentive, OCD dieter.  After all, a trace calorie is still a calorie, right?


At the tip-top of the nutritional hierarchy for fat loss is your overall caloric deficit.  Without the deficit, the fat loss cannot occur.

And while we are setting our macronurients up intelligently and strategically to help curb hunger, optimize training sessions, etc., a large portion of macro setting relies on personal preference.


Whenever you want to ask the question, “Will these macros work?”  There’s a bit of a checklist……….

1. Does it create a caloric deficit?

2. Do you have around 1 gram of protein for each pound of LBM? (An estimation is fine.)

3. Do you have at least 20% of your calories from carbs and 20% of your calories coming from fat?  (The exact amount is mostly personal preference.)

4. Are your numbers sustainable?  Will you be able to consistently apply them to get the desired outcome?


If you can answer “Yes” to each of those questions, your macros will work just fine as far as fat loss is concerned.

You may do better with lower carbs vs. fats, or you may do better with lower fats vs. carbs.  Some personal experimentation will need to be done.  But as far as a blanket “one-size-fits-all” set of perfect macros?  They don’t really exist.

And the caloric deficit is the reason why the different percentages don’t matter as much as you’d think, other than being sure you’re hitting the minimum suggested amounts.


Let’s take a close look at the nutritional label from low-fat cottage cheese, one of my favorite foods:




There are four pieces of circled information……..

1.  Calories – 90 per half cup.

2.  Total Fat – 2.5 grams per half cup.

3.  Carbs – 4 grams per half cup.

4.  Protein – 14 grams per half cup.


These four items are the only pieces of information a macro-counter like yourself needs in order to make an intelligent choice.

So, how would we count this item towards our daily macro goals?  There’s a few options……..


Option 1:  Count everything and drive yourself bonkers trying to nail every macro…………  (A bit OCD, no?)

Option 2:  Count only protein…………..the other items are relatively small anyways.  2.5 grams of fat and 4 grams of carbs is around 39 calories.

Option 3:  Use the 3-for-1 Trick.


Here’s how this trick works.

This item is mostly protein with a few trace fat/carb macros.

So, instead of tracking everything and going crazy………..or eliminating the trace carbs and technically “overeating”…………….we take those 39 calories and call them “protein”.  We then use this number as our “single-macro number” to count the item.


In practice, this item has 14 protein/4 carbs /2.5 fat –  for each half cup.  As stated, the 4 carbs /2.5 fat  equals around 39 calories, considering there’s 4 calories for each carb gram and 9 calories for each fat gram.

IF those 39 “extra” calories were from protein, it would equal 9.75 grams (39 ÷ 4).  For counting ease, we will call this “10”.

So, instead of 14 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbs, and 2.5 grams of fat per half cup, we will raise our protein by 10 grams and shave off the carbs and fat.

Our new method for counting this brand of cottage cheese is 24 grams of protein.  And no other macros.


Now, let’s check our overall calories to see how on point this new “24 grams of protein” is to the overall caloric content of the cottage cheese.

24 grams of “protein” x 4 calories per gram = 96 calories.  The label says 90.  That’s pretty darn close.

If you’re extremely picky, shave off a protein gram so the numbers match up a bit more.  Call it “23” instead of “24”.  But now, you’re just being a perfectionist.


Taking these trace macros, accounting for them, and adding them to the dominant macronutrient takes food choices which consist of 3 macros and turns them into food choices which consist of 1 macro only.


One-macro items make our life easy.


There’s also another, slight variation of this trick:

1.  Since this food is mostly protein, we will call it “all” protein.

2.  There are 90 calories in one serving.

3.  There are 4 calories per gram of protein.

4.  90 ÷ 4 = 22.5.  Knock off the “.5” and call it 22 grams of protein.


Either of these variations will work extremely well and make your long-term compliance a piece of cake.


Now, before you send me nasty comments saying, “This will cause me to under-consume protein, which will lead to a loss of all gains………”………let me explain.

Will you actually consume exactly what your macros are?  Nope.

Will you sometimes under-report a certain macro?  Yep.

Will it matter?  Not unless you’re trying to hit the stage in the next few months.


We do set our protein with our bodyweight in mind.  It’s commonly accepted and recommended to aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of LBM.  But a quick word about that…………

The more time passes, the more the experts are beginning to question that number.  It’s probably more like 0.8 grams per pound.  It may be even lower than that.

And everyone underestimates their body fat – which causes their lean body mass to be overestimated.

Whatever you have chosen as your protein number, the ACTUAL amount of protein required is almost certainly quite less.


tl;dr:  You’ll be fine.


Let me use myself as an example.  When I began my Leangains journey, I set my own protein in accordance with the 1 gram per pound of LBM recommendation.  I set my protein number at 225.  At the time, I was 6’8″ and weighed 280.


Once I shed all the fat, I got a DEXA scan to see what my actual numbers looked like.  And I had 190 pounds of LBM.  Definitely not 225.

Not only that, but considering all that’s needed is about 0.8 grams per pound, at the most, I only needed 152 grams.  (190 x 0.8)

I had overestimated my protein requirements by 73 grams  (225 – 152)!   Uhhhhh, yeah.  I was a bit off.


Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit more protein than you need.  Protein helps your satiety, has a metabolic advantage, and is quite delicious.  But the point should still be made – if you’re 10 grams off of your protein consumption……… WILL be just fine.  No need to stress.


As you begin to create your own databases and systems for macro counting, keep the 3-For-1 trick in mind.  It’s quite useful when dealing with those annoying little trace macros.  And it ensures your caloric deficit will remain firmly in tact.

Which will keep that fat loss nice and steady.




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