You’ve probably heard of counting calories, but what about counting your macros? With any nutrition or diet goal, calories are king, but calories are only one measurement of the food you’re eating. The other measurement to consider is where those calories come from. Filling your daily calories by eating fast food and ice cream is not equal to filling up on whole, unprocessed foods like grass-fed meats and veggies. If you have performance or body composition goals, you will benefit from breaking your calories into macronutrients, AKA protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Don’t think you need to track your macros because you’re Paleo? Or you’re on the bro meal plan of chicken, broccoli, and rice all day every day so why worry about macros?
Before you say there’s no way you would ever weigh and measure your food, hear me out. No matter how or what you eat right now, tracking your macros can give you some major insight into your diet. Knowing how many calories you are consuming can be valuable info to know for sure if you’re fueling your lifestyle or workouts properly. And taking that a step further, wouldn’t you want to know if you’re eating enough protein to maximize your strength training? Do you know what “enough” protein is for you? And, I’m sorry to say, that no, peanut butter is not a protein source.
No, Regina. Butter is a fat source.
Tracking your macros may seem daunting at first, but the benefits far exceed the small learning curve.
Here are my favorite benefits of macro counting:
Know What You’re Eating
Tracking your macros is the only way to know exactly what’s going into your body and it can be seriously empowering! You will be able to see exactly where your calories are coming from and how different foods affect you. What foods cause you to feel bloated? What foods give you the most energy for your workout? What foods lead to an afternoon slump? Tracking macros also helps you learn which foods are a combination of macronutrients and which foods are more entirely just one macro. For example, lean protein sources like chicken breast have just trace amounts of carbs and fats whereas whole eggs contain almost equal amounts of protein and fat. If you see that you’re high in fats for the day, then you would reach for chicken as your next protein source.
Any paleo dieters out there wondering why you’re not leaning out? Tracking your macros will show that while you’re likely under eating carbohydrates, you’re overeating fats. No matter how healthy the source, fats still pack a punch of 9 calories per gram. Dialing in how many fats, carbs, and protein to eat each day will take out any guesswork and help get to your goals faster. By tracking your macros, you will learn about the contents of the food you’re eating and how your body responds to all different types of foods, which will empower you to feel and perform your best.
Find Holes In Your Diet
When you track your macros, you will discover any holes or missing vitamins/minerals/food groups in your diet. Is your diet is balanced with different types of fats (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated)? Do you get your calories from a variety of carbs, fats, and protein? Are you getting fiber from eating vegetables throughout the day? If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, macro counting can also ensure you’re getting adequate protein from plant-based sources. Overall, hitting your daily macronutrient recommendations will lead you to make more balanced food choices. Keep in mind the big picture of health and wellness and fill up your macros with a variety of whole, unprocessed foods.
Want to watch your waistline while still being able to go to happy hour with friends? Macro counting is sustainable because it can be so flexible. Personally, I couldn’t stick with other diets I tried in the past because there were too many foods I felt like I wasn’t “allowed” to eat. With macros, there is always a way to make tracking work for your lifestyle. Depending on the timeline of your goals, you can track macros and eat any food you want as long as you count it towards your daily totals. So, yes, you can have that scoop of ice cream or slice of pizza, just log whatever you eat and drink and count it towards your daily macro goals.
Tracking macros is not only flexible in terms of what you can eat, but also with how strict you want to be. If you don’t think you can handle logging your food every single day, try tracking just Monday through Friday and give yourself a break on the weekends. Before you get too excited, this does NOT mean you should eat shit all weekend. Stay conscious of what you’re consuming, reach for lean meats and veggies, but don’t worry about recording everything. Work with a coach to come up with a tracking schedule that lets you live your life while also reaching your goals and developing a healthy nutrition protocol.
Better Performance In The Gym
If your goals are focused on your performance in the gym, dialing in your macros can be a game changer. Need to find your second gear in a high intensity work out? You’ll likely need more carbohydrates to fuel that extra push. Want to make gainz? Bumping up your macros to get you to a calorie surplus will help you build more muscle. Since macro tracking makes you aware of how your body responds to food, you will quickly learn that the better you eat, the better you feel in and out of the gym. Knowing what mix of protein, fat, and carbs fuels your fitness goals will give you the extra edge in your workouts. Tracking macros will therefore set you up for some PRs as well as longevity in your fitness and health.
Personalized Weight Loss Plan
If you’re trying to lose fat, tracking your macros can help you see where you might be eating excess calories and where to make changes. Also, reallocating your calories between macros can help you reach your nutrition goals without necessarily cutting down those calories. And we always want to keep calories as high as possible during a cut so your body resists metabolic adaptation. For example, increasing your protein intake during a fat loss phase can help keep you satiated as you drop carbs and/or fats. Manipulating macros like this will aid fat loss without trashing your biofeedback (sleep, energy, hunger, etc.), which can help maintain muscle and make fat loss phases suck a lot less!
Hopefully after reading all of the benefits above you are at least a little tempted to dip your toes into the refreshing waters of macro counting. Here’s a breakdown of how to get started tracking your macros to get you one step closer to your goals:
- Download My Fitness Pal or a different macro tracking app on your smartphone
- Grab a Food Scale from a local store or order one on Amazon (I have this one)
- Without making any changes to your current eating habits, record what you eat and drink every day for at least five days
- If you are unable to measure a food, use your best estimate on the serving size in MFP
- Pro tip: use the barcode scanning feature on MFP to save time or if you have trouble finding a specific food
- Practice Your Patience skills and get in the groove of measuring your food and logging it into your app every day
- After You Have a Week of Dietary Data, take a look at your nutrition summary and make adjustments to your protein first.
- Are you eating about 1 * your bodyweight in grams of protein each day? Start to work up to that amount with a little extra protein in each meal.
- Once Your Protein is Consistent at that level (between .8 – 1.2 * bodyweight), you can start to modify your fat consumption. Are you getting a mix of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats from healthy sources?
- Saturated: animal fats (eggs, dairy, meats, butter, cheeses, etc), coconut oil, palm oil
- Monounsaturated: macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, avocado
- Polyunsaturated: fish oil, hemp seeds, algae oils, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds
- Next, Decide if You are a High Carb or Low Carb Type of Person.
- Are you completing high intensity workouts (I’m looking at you, CrossFitters)? You probably need at least half of your calories coming from carbohydrates.
- Do you have some insulin sensitivity and prefer to fuel with protein and fats? Great, go for a low carb/keto style nutrition plan.
- Feeling Solid With Your Protein, Fats, and Carbs? Give yourself a pat on the back because that means you’ve already got the basics down 🙂 Now start to check your food consumption for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and any potential holes in your diet. Make sure you’re consuming the following:
- Fiber (aim for 35g for men, 25g for women daily)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The above steps should set you up for success as you start your macro counting journey. Macro counting is flexible, empowering, and sustainable and I urge you to try tracking your macronutrients at least once in your life. No matter if your goals are to lose fat, build muscle, or just to learn healthy eating habits, macro counting can be of use to you! You will learn exactly what you’re putting into your body, how you respond to different foods, and how to best fuel your individual fitness and nutrition goals.
This is a guest blog written by Caroline Ofenstein. Caroline is Certified With Precision Nutrition Coach, NCI, CrossFit, and also a Boom-Boom Performance Nutrition Coach. Caroline is our go-to source for CrossFit Nutrition AND bridging the gap between Aesthetics and Performance, which is where she has recently pushed her focus into learning exactly how you can achieve both performance and the lean physique we all strive for.