Dieting in today’s world is pretty normal, though, you wouldn’t know it as not many people are still chasing after their dream bodies. Tracking macros is a great tool to lose weight without giving up your favorite foods or depriving yourself.
What is macro tracking?
Macro is short for macronutrient, which is made up of three main sources of energy found in food protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Tracking macros is when you consume a predetermined amount of protein, carbs, and fat to help reach your goals. That’s another wonderful thing about macros is that it can be used to lose weight, maintain weight or gain weight. It can also be helpful in balancing hormones and helping fertility in women (but that’s a post for a later date, will update).
It doesn’t matter too much what you actually eat in those three categories, only that you stay within your limits. There are youtube videos dedicated to an entire day of “junk” food while tracking macros though I don’t recommend you do this all day, everyday. While you can definitely enjoy dessert every day the bulk of your macros should come from whole foods like meat, veggies, fruit, and whole grains.
Tracking macros is also known as If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) or flexible dieting for this reason. If you love reese’s peanut butter cups, you can eat it everyday and still hit your macro targets. Maybe candy isn’t your thing but you love your daily sugary coffee from the local coffee shop. Guess what? You can still get that everyday and lose weight. “Junk” food is no longer the enemy! You can work with it and still be a healthy and active person.
How do you lose weight?
Most diets work temporarily because they put you in a calorie deficit. But don’t work long term because they aren’t sustainable for more than the six or twelve week diet. They eliminate or severely restrict macros and demonize your favorite foods; baked goods, fried foods, candy, ect.
No matter what you’re eating, if you’re in a calorie deficit you will lose weight. And no matter what you’re eating, if you’re in a calorie surplus you will gain weight. That’s the basic principle of calories in vs calories out.
There are other factors that affect weight loss such as stress management, sleep habits, and activity level.
Why you should be tracking macros instead of calories?
We often hear of people counting calories or significantly restricting a food group (looking at you keto), losing a bunch of weight, then unfortunately gaining it all back again after their “diet” is over. This is very common among people trying to lose weight. It can make you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel and you’re never getting off.
Now imagine instead, you are able to eat cake at your nephews birthday party without any guilt attached. On a date with your spouse you eat hot wings and have a beer (or a sweet tea like me!). And you eat bread, potatoes, and cheese everyday. While still losing weight!! Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not.
The beauty of macro tracking is that it’s a very balanced way to eat. There’s room for the fun stuff while also getting in all those healthy foods the majority of the time. It puts guardrails around meal time almost like the bumpers at the bowling alley. Yes, it is restrictive to a degree but it helps you get closer to your goal than you could on your own while still being able to enjoy life and make your diet fit around your needs (vacations, birthdays, ect).
Now, let’s get into some of the basics.
Protein: 4 calories per gram of protein
Protein aids in muscle recovery, and growth which is what we want and need when losing weight. This macro helps to fend of infection and it’s also responsible for beautifully strong hair and nails thanks to amino acids collagen, elastin and keratin. Protein is made up of 20 total amino acids, nine of which are considered essential, meaning your body cannot make them on your own. You have to get them from food.
Foods high in protein are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products as well as lentils, peas, legumes, and nuts for plant-based sources.
Carb: 4 calories per gram of carbs
Carbohydrates give your body quick energy that your body converts to glucose (sugar) and either uses it right away or stores it (as glycogen) for a later time like workouts or between meals. Carbs boost your mood and make you feel good so don’t skimp on these. It’s especially important for women to eat adequate carbs (and fat) for hormonal reasons.
Foods high in carbs are starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, carrots as well as whole grains.
Fat: 9 calories per gram of fat
Fat gets a bad rap. But it is absolutely essential to a healthy body! Fat helps your body absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, K and E) and it protects vital organs, supports nerve growth, and induces hormone production. Again, very good for the female body!
Foods high in fat are vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and dairy products.
Alcohol: 7 calories per gram of alcohol. Alcohol is considered a nonessential nutrient and is not a major energy source. I’ve put it here because it is important to know if you do drink alcohol as you should be calculating it in your macros.
Determining how many macros you need
Everyone’s macros are different. There is no cookie cutter answer to this as it is determined on a person’s activity level, age, current weight, gender, and the goal they want to reach. Ideally you would reach out to a qualified coach (I offer nutrition coaching) to help you figure this out and to help you tweak your targets as you progress.
If coaching is not suitable for you at the moment, I will give you a basic breakdown of figuring out your macros here in this article.
For starters, you must determine your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). These are the calories your body uses to do involuntary daily actions; keeping your heart beating, breathing, organ processes, ect. You find this number by following the formulas below:
BMR Formula for Men:
Bodyweight x 10
BMR Formula for Women:
Bodyweight x 9
The BMR for a woman who weighs 150 lbs would be 150 x 9 = 1350. This would be considered her basic survival calories.
But I’m pretty sure most of you aren’t laying around all day everyday doing absolutely nothing. So now we need to factor in Activity Factor (AF) to get our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Calculating your AF to determine your TDEE is the next step.
Light activity: 1-3 workouts per week – x 1.375
Active: 4-5 workouts per week – x 1.55
Very Active: 6 workouts per week – x 1.725
Athlete: Double days – x 1.9
The women from our previous step has a BMR 1350 and she workouts three times a week. So we would take 1350 x 1.375 = 1,856.25 . Let’s round that to 1,855 calories for her TDEE.
Calculating calories for workout days looks like this:
Maintenance: BMR x AF
Weight loss: BMR x AF – ideal calorie deficit (100-500 cal)
Weight gain: BMR x AF + ideal calorie surplus (100-500 cal)
Our case example would be as follows -> [(1350 (BMR) x 1.375 (AF)) – 300] = 1,556.25 total calories
Our lady who works out 3 times a week and weighs 150 lbs should consume about 1,555 calories on workout days to lose weight.
Note: You only calculate TDEE on workout days. On non workout days, your calories are BMR-ideal calorie deficit for weight loss.
The next step is to determine your macro percentage breakdowns. There are general percentage ranges that work for different goals; weight loss, muscle gain, and maintenance. Follow the graph above for your breakdowns.
How to track your macros
You’ve finally made it! Now, for the fun part…eating! Haha but really, it is fun to start tracking macros. It’s like a puzzle but with food. Okay, just me? Well, I am a weird fitness person so I guess I’ll take it.
For tracking macros you can use a few different tools.
There’s always the good ol’ fashioned way of writing everything down and then tallying it up. But most people prefer the common apps.
What tools you’ll need for tracking macros
1.Meal prep containers
It’s often helpful to prep meals you know will fit your macros. This helps if you work every day at an office because you won’t be tempted to grab take out which usually leads to going over (usually on fat). Don’t hear this wrong, it is possible to stay within your macros when eating out but most often you’ll want to stick to homemade meals as you know exactly what’s in it!
A scale is necessary for being precise with your intake. Often as americans, we don’t really understand portion sizes. A scale helps you see how much you’re actually eating insteading of guessing that you ate “one serving”. Be prepared for your eyes to be opened! It’s shocking what you’ll start to discover in your favorite foods.
Happy tracking! Do you plan to start tracking macros or are you a long time macro veteran? Let me know in the comments below.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.