This week we’ve got a guest post from Mike, Jonny stumbled across his work a few months back on Elite FTS, he also runs an awesome blog and has some really sound ideas on training and nutrition. He suggested a post on tracking macros while eating out, something that even the most seasoned dieters struggle with and he’s offered some fantastic solutions to frequent problems.
Mike Samuels works as a writer, online coach, and personal trainer and is based in Southampton, England. He is a former fat boy turned competitive powerlifter who preaches flexible dieting and loves lifting heavy stuff.
Flexible dieting while eating out
Flexible dieters are awesome at tracking food intake, making small changes in macronutrients to sustain progress, and keeping diligent with weighing and measuring.
But when it comes to eating out, we suck.
There are generally two groups of people; those who think “screw it, I’m going out for a meal, I’ll just eat whatever I like” and the other guys and girls who are petrified at the very notion of eating a non home cooked meal. “Shit, how am I going to be able to put this into My Fitness Pal?!” is generally their first thought.
This is where people have got flexible dieting all wrong. Think about it for a second, the clue is in the name – FLEXIBLE. The idea of this kind of eating is that you can go out to eat without wrecking progress.
The all or nothing approaches just don’t fit with the ethos of flexible.
I used to be in the first camp when I was a clean eater:
“A meal out? Well, there’s no way I’ll be able to dictate exactly how the food is cooked, and what restaurants serve brown rice and grass-fed beef anyway? This is a chance to go to town.”
I’d eat whatever the hell I wanted in unlimited quantities, without caring for the after effects.
Then I switched to IIFYM, and for the first 6 months I tracked everything to an absolute tee. I’d avoid going out for fear of overshooting my macros, or if I did go out, I’d automatically pick whatever salad was on the menu, so I knew there was no way I was going to go over on my calories.
I was pretty stupid looking back.
Over the last 18 months or so though, I’ve eaten out probably an average of twice a week, in all different kinds of restaurant, and not once have I reverted to either of the above approaches. In fact, I’d almost go so far to say I’m damn good at factoring meals out and social event into my flexible diet, and have managed to eat out while prepping for a photo shoot, peaking for powerlifting contests, and just generally bulking, cutting and maintaining.
Here are my key tips to eating out when flexible dieting.
1. Decide how strict you want to be
The ball is entirely in your court when it comes to getting food on the go. Want to go nuts, disregard macros completely and be a pig? You go right ahead, just don’t bitch about your epic food baby belly, and the fact you had to get up eight times in the night to pee due to your sky high levels of water retention.
Same thing if you want to be strict – don’t let others tell you that you HAVE to have foods that don’t fit with your plan.
Generally, if you’re coming to the end of a diet, or prepping for a show or shoot, I’d say you want to keep things tight. If your metabolism’s used to a lower calorie intake, suddenly eating an huge feast isn’t going to do you much good at all. If you’re mid-way through a bulk, and eating 600grams of carbs per day however, you can probably get away with chips AND onion rings.
For me, this would constitute a fairly strict meal out. I believe this was the night after my last photoshoot, and having dieted for around five months, I decided to keep things sensible, opting for some chicken, veg and a gargantuan amount of salad. (Only one of four bowls pictured – hey, it was all you can eat.)
2. Have a guess
Whatever option you take, it’s worth having a guess at what’s contained in your meal.
If you’re a seasoned macro counter, you’ll know roughly how much protein is in a chicken breast, what 50 grams of rice looks like, or how much cheese you need for 20 grams of fat. One great tip I learned from my friend and fellow nutrition coach Gordon Greenhorn is that a fist worth of meat is roughly 120 grams. Have a go at home with weighing certain foods and comparing them in size to different body parts to get an idea of rough serving sizes.
Warning: Using this method when ordering sausages in a restaurant is likely to get you thrown out.
3. Realise you’re never going to be 100% right
No matter how good a macronutrient master you are, you’re never going to get spot on with your numbers. For a start, unless you’re an eagle-eyed guesstimating ninja, there’s no way you can tell if you’ve got 60 or 70 grams of pasta on your plate. Plus, you never know exactly how the chef’s cooked it. (More on that in point 4)
Oh, and if I ever catch you bringing your scales to a restaurant and you’re not less than a month away from a contest, I will find you, bitch slap you, and kick you out of the IIFYM club. No one needs to be that anal about tracking.
4. Add some fat
Chefs love oil, so the first thing I do when I put my meal into MFP when I get home is to add a tablespoon of oil.
You could also create 3 meals in Myfitnesspal, “fat”, “carbs” and “protein”, each with 1g of the respective macro. When you eat a meal that is likely to contain more fat (for example), add 10-20g of of fat to this meal.
This is a typical example of where you definitely need to add in extra fat. A seafood curry with white rice, mango chutney, jerk spices and flat bread sounds pretty lean, but by the time I’d finished it, there was a good helping of oil left over at the bottom of the – whatever it is, for some reason the restaurant decided to serve me my food in some sort of china potty?
5. Eat for the Occasion
Why are you going out to eat? If it’s just a quick lunch with some friends, be boring and get something you know you can track easily and plan into your day without too much effort.
Something like this would be ideal. A tortilla burger with mixed Mexican veggies and a side salad courtesy of Chimichanga.
However, if it’s a special occasion, like a family gathering, reunion, or your birthday, relax a bit more. You’re there to enjoy yourself, so forget about those macros for a minute and just have something you can enjoy.
6. Pick before you go
I’m a stickler for browsing restaurant menus online. In fact, I’m so sad I’d say it’s one of my hobbies. This does give me a good idea of dishes I want to try at local restaurants however, and also means I can plan ahead on the day of eating out.
7. Choose simple foods
This is my downfall. I always look for the most complicated dish on the menu, as it’s something I generally wouldn’t cook at home.
It comes down to choosing your occasion and deciding how strict you want to be though.
An 8oz steak with some new potatoes and green beans? Easy to track.
This delectable Spanish tapas extravaganza? Not so much. (It was so worth it though, and, it was my birthday!)
8. Find Your Favourites
Once you’ve found a restaurant you like going to and know how they cook the food, or even a particular dish you like, make it one of your go-to places. For me, Wagamamas is the one chain I know I can get something that tastes seriously good, but that I can roughly track and get a good idea of what’s in it.
My kryptonite? Their grilled fish ramen.
9. Get There Fast(ed)
While I don’t practice intermittent fasting, I am a fan of fasting in the morning if you’re going out for lunch, or just eating protein and veg meals throughout the day if it’s an evening outing.
I like to make the most of my meals out, so if that means restricting myself to between 25 and 50% of my day’s calorie intake beforehand, or even leaving the majority of my carbs and fats for the restaurant, I’m all for it.
The Wrap Up
I’m going to wrap this up by referring back to my first point:
What you decide to do when you go out for a meal is completely up to you. Only you can control what you eat. If you want to disregard your goals and macros for a night, all power to you. On the other hand, if you want to keep things as strict and tight as possible, that’s equally fine.
Just remember that life isn’t all about dieting. It’s about enjoyment, balance and flexibility. Plus, you can still eat out regularly and look freaking awesome.