Tracking Your Macros – The Ultimate Guide
This is part two of a series on Flexible dieting. If you missed part 1, check it out here. My hopes are that through this series you learn the basics that make up flexible dieting, why I believe in it, and how you can make it work for you (tips and tricks included!). Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on the upcoming posts in the series!
In the first post of this series, I described to you what Flexible Dieting is, what it is NOT, along with what we mean when we refer to Macro and Micro-nutrients. In this post, I am going to give you some advice on how to track your macronutrients.
Counting your macros may be the hardest part of flexible dieting. But with some direction, along with a little time and practice it will become second nature before you know it!
First things first. You need a place to actually track all of your macronutrients. Lucky for you, we live in an amazing technological age and..well…there’s an app for that!
There are a multitude of free online nutrition trackers that are not only available online, but also as an app on your phone. It’s so easy to track the food you eat whether you’re at your desk at work or eating on the go, you really have no excuse not to do it!
If you’re not very technologically inclined, or just want to be old-school, you can still count your macros and keep up with a healthy diet. A simple notebook and a pen should do the trick just fine!
Here’s a list of some of the more popular nutrition trackers available for free online:
My suggestion would be to browse them all and see which one you feel most comfortable with. I’ve seen the most success with My Fitness Pal or Spark People, simply due to the vast amount of foods included in the database. I’ll refer to those most often, but any of them will do!
Once you’ve downloaded the nutrition tracker of your choice, the tracker will take it upon itself to ask you a bunch questions regarding your current height, weight, and activity level in order to calculate what it thinks your macronutrient numbers should be. There’s only one problem. In my experience, the numbers you’ll get straight from the tracker aren’t very accurate. So, once you’ve entered your information pretend you never saw the numbers it suggested!
Now, you’ll need to play around with the settings a bit to get things set up the right way. Go into your program settings and do two things. Include Fiber as a nutrient to be tracked, and change the recommended numbers to the numbers you’ve calculated (we’ll get to how in just a second)
On My Fitness Pal you will go to the “Goals” tab and change your numbers to your individualized daily numbers. Although we base our macronutrient number off of total calories, there is no reason to track your calories. If you are hitting your macronutrient numbers then you’ll already be eating the correct amount of calories. That’s the beauty of how this all works!
Next, under the Food tab – click settings, and add Fiber as a nutrient to be tracked. Now your tracker is set up specifically to you and it will be very simple to see how your numbers fall each day. There are lots of other cool features which I won’t get into or this post will be 5000 words long, but I suggest you just spend a bit of time navigating around whichever application you choose.
How To Calculate Your Macros
So where do you get your macronutrient numbers from? Well like I said in the first post, it relies a lot on your age, height, weight, sex, body fat percentage, activity level, and goals to really determine what’s best for you.
A very general starting point is to first determine your baseline caloric intake. Before you try to calculate your macros and make changes to your diet, it’s best to track out a typical week of your normal eating habits. From there we can determine if your current caloric intake is causing you to gain or lose weight and work from there.
Calories: Typically, depending on your body type we will multiply your body weight by 12-15 to determine your ideal amount of calories. For example, Let’s look at “Amy”. Amy weighs 150lbs, has a naturally fit/athletic build, but still wants to lose some weight.
To determine how many calories Amy should be eating we’ll multiply her weight by 15.
150 lbs x 15= 2,250 calories
This is an estimate of the number of calories Amy needs to consume in order to maintain her current weight.
Because Amy is looking to lose weight she’ll need to lower her calorie intake. We want to lose 1 lb a week through diet, so we will want to drop about 500 calories per day from Amy’s diet: 2,250-500= 1,750 calories per day should be her goal.
Protein: Next, we want to determine our Protein needs. Typically we want 1-1.2 grams of protein for each pound of body weight, but this number can be higher when dieting to help maintain lean mass. Again, using our example Amy:
150 lbs x 1-1.2g= 150- 180g protein daily; Protein contains 4 calories per gram; therefore consuming 150-180g means that 600-720 of our daily calories will come from protein!
20-25% of Amy’s caloric intake would mean that she should consume between 38 and 48 grams of fat per day. I recommend aiming for somewhere in the middle of the range. So let’s say 43g of Fat daily for our friend Amy. Fat contains 9 calories per gram so 43g = 387 calories from Fat.
Carbohydrates: Lastly, we’ll fill Amy’s remaining calories with carbohydrates:
Take her 1750 original calories minus the 720 calories from protein and the 387 calories from fat, and that leaves 643 calories remaining for carbs. Like protein, there are 4 calories to every gram of carbohydrate. So Amy’s daily intake of carbs should be 160 grams (643 divided by 4).
Fiber: Fiber should always be at least 25-35 grams. The reason we make sure to track fiber is to ensure we get our carbohydrates from the proper sources. By tracking fiber we make sure that Amy’s carbs come from fibrous fruits and veggies instead of junk foods like potato chips or french fries.
As stated above, this is just an example and may not be the appropriate break down for everyone. It is important to consistently track your diet with your nutrition journal or app to see how your body is responding to the macronutrient levels you have set and make small adjustments as you go. These calculations should be a good starting point for most people however.
Along with your nutrition tracker, I highly suggest that you invest in a food scale that measures in grams, ounces, and also does a negative measure (I will explain why this is awesome in my tips and tricks post later on!) Measuring cups and spoons are great, and you will use them, but they are not an exact form of measuring. Here’s what I mean:
When we look at the nutrition label on oatmeal, we see this:
One serving is ½ cup, or 40 grams. So if I take my measuring cup and measure out half a cup I am sure I have the correct serving right? Well not quite. When I actually weigh my oatmeal out on my food scale, you can see in the picture below that the half-cup I measured in my measuring cup is actually 50 grams on the scale! (Don’t worry, I accounted for the weight of the measuring cup!)
But you might think that doesn’t seem like a big deal, I mean its only ten grams. Well when we calculate that out, the extra ten grams adds: roughly 40 calories, an extra gram of fat, 7 grams of carbs, and a gram of protein. Continually doing that throughout your day will quickly add up to a lot of extra calories and macronutrients that are not being accounted for and may be the difference in your progress.
Now you have all of the tools you need to accurately track your food and you can get started counting your macros!
Tips To Help You Succeed
I always suggest taking 10-15 minutes the night before to plan out what you are going to eat for the day. This way you can play around with different foods and numbers to reach your macronutrient goals for the day.
From my own experience, and what I see over and over again from my clients – is that if you try to plan your day as you go or try the “eat and then track” method, you inevitably leave yourself in trouble at the end of the day. What usually happens is you will either go over or hit two macro numbers, but still have one lagging behind with no way to make it up. It’s really difficult to eat an entire meal that is just protein because you’ve already hit your fat and carb numbers for the day!
It is important to note that foods tend to be primarily one macronutrient, but they usually contain multiple macronutrients and these need to be counted. For example: Peanut butter is mainly a fat source, but it also has carbs and proteins in it that need to be accounted for in your daily numbers.
It usually takes people a few weeks to get used to tracking food, planning out their days, and actually being able to reach ALL of their macronutrient goals. In the first few weeks most people can hit one or two of their numbers, but always struggle to hit all three until they have a few weeks practice.
Your ultimate goal is to hit all of your numbers exact, but sticking within 5-10 grams of each number will be sufficient. Like anything else, the more consistent you are in hitting your numbers, the better progress you’ll see towards your goals. I won’t sugar coat it and tell you that this is an easy process to learn. In the beginning it is time-consuming and you should be aware of that. Don’t get discouraged or fed up! Once you get the hang of it though, it will take you no more than ten minutes to plan your day and maybe 5 minutes to weigh each meal out.
Take Away Points:
- Sign up for a nutrition tracking site
- Invest in a food scale
- PLAN, PLAN, PLAN your day ahead of time
- Give yourself some time to get used to the lifestyle
- Try to hit your goal numbers within 5-10 grams
Counting your macros can be a bit daunting at first. If you have any questions about it, please leave them in the comments so I can respond and help you out as much as possible!