Protein, carbohydrates, and fats. These are the macronutrient or macros, the three categories of nutrients you eat to provide your body with energy and substance for daily life. When we use the term ‘tracking macros, we are referring to counting Protein, carbs, and fats to fit the Calories needed throughout the day. At first, this can all sound complicated. The idea of even looking at the Calories on the labels of the foods we eat can even be hard at first.
Why is this an important skill to learn, even for someone not trying to gain muscle with a fitness goal? With foods dense in Calories, like sweets, it is easy to overeat over a long period. This is what causes most people to have their weight loss goal in the first place, long-term overeating. Food can also be used as a coping mechanism for boredom or to relieve stress. Add this with a lack of knowledge of proper nutrition and years of overconsuming daily needs. You can start to see how gaining weight can happen to so many.
Most people have no idea what a proper serving size is or how to track nutrient intake. Here are some easy ways to help your eating habits.
Why Are Nutrient-Dense Foods Important?
You might think a calorie is a calorie, and you would be right. However, not all foods with the same calories give the same nutritional benefits. Nutrient-dense foods are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories. They also contain vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. Eating healthy is more than just calories. Having nutrient-dense foods, we need micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to maintain optimal health and performance.
Below is a list of nutrient-dense food choices. You do not need only to eat one or only the food on the list. Instead, use this list as a tool for foods you can add to your daily eating habits.
Protein: chicken breast (white meat), lean steak, lean red meat, whole eggs, whey protein (powder or ready to drink), tuna, tilapia, salmon, turkey breast, and slim milk.
Carbs: potatoes (russet, sweet, and others), oatmeal, white rice, whole wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, fruit (orange and apples, for example), and any dark green veggie.
Fats: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, natural peanut butter (think of this as a fat source, not protein), egg yolk, omega 3s, and fat from meats (beef, for example).
These are shorts lists of foot options, and there are many examples of great nutrient-dense foods you can choose from.
Learn To Track Macros, Start Achieving Your Goals
Dieting can be hard when you go all in without a plan. It can be easy to want to do a crash diet, see weight loss results quickly, and focus only on the short-term effects. However, it can be hard to keep up with these diet fads in the long term. Focusing on macros that fit your nutrition needs throughout the day allows you to ensure that your body is getting suitable sources of macronutrients. If you are looking to excel at life and the gym, you need to be at the top of your game. Having one meal a day or going on the new TikTok juice cleanse will not give the energy boost you need to help bulk muscles and achieve your fitness goals long term.
Each marco has its calorie per gram: protein 4 kcal per 1g, carbs 4 kcal per 1g, and fats 9 kcal per 1g. Additionally, alcohol has 7 kcals per gram. Knowing these numbers helps you better understand how they fit within your daily needs. Using a Calorie Calculator, you can use a formula to know how many calories you need per day for your fitness goals. To keep it easy, remember to get your protein in each day. From there, you can eat carbs and fats as you like. High fat and high carb diets give the same results in fat loss (Golay, 1996), so eat how you feel comfortable.
The awesome part about learning how to track your macros is that it works with almost any diet style: Keto, Vegetarian, Calorie Shifting, and more all work. Eat for performance and energy though out the day. Not quick fat lost fads.
How to Track Your Macronutrient Intake
One of the first questions anyone has when learning about macros is, how do you even keep track? What is essential is to have an idea of what you eat. Unless you are prepping for a bodybuilding stage or looking to get a fitness model lean, consuming to the gram every day is not needed. If tracking your macros stresses you out, step back and think of it as a tool to better understand what works within your daily eating habits.
Tracking the foods you eat is what sounds hard at first. As you eat or drink, you keep a log. The old-school way is to keep a food journal, and yes, it is not easy to do. We now have fitness apps like myfitnesspal and Carbon that help make the old food journals obsolete.
A common way to look at macros is over the week. You track each day and then get the average throughout the week. From there, you can make adjustments accordingly. Just remember to track before you eat. After you eat or at the end of the day, it can be hard to remember what you ate.
Once you start to get an idea of the macros with the food you each, you can begin to make eyeball assumptions with food and not be as spot on with your food. So while it is important to be accurate, the drawback to macro tracking is that it can be mentally daunting to consistently stay within a set limit.
Another way to track the food you eat is to know your dietary intake is by quantifying the food items you eat every day. For example, two cups of oats and six eggs for breakfast would be easy to understand the macros. Or eating foods with nutrition labels, as they will have the macros on them. This is also less stressful than weighing your foods before eating or cooking them. Finding easy ways to make tracking macros less stressful is essential for long-term success.
Learning to track macronutrient intake is a skill that everyone should learn—eating foods. Without knowing what is inside, it can impact later on in life. In addition, having a basic understanding of your macros will help with weight loss and fitness gains. Learning to track macros is a great start if you are serious about your fitness goals and performance in and out of the gym.
Golay, A., Allaz, A. F., Morel, Y., de Tonnac, N., Tankova, S., & Reaven, G. (1996). Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 63(2), 174–178. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/63.2.174