Understanding and Tracking Macros
Macros, the buzzword name for micronutrients is a term which you will have no doubt heard in your gym, online or on social media and even looked into if you're wanting to lose weight or gain muscle mass.
Scitec Nutrition Athlete Emi Roberti - I am writing this article as very often people ask me about MACROS. These are macronutrient profiles to follow for a diet that you/or your dietitian feels is best depending on your goals. The ratio is not set in stone, and they are strategies to follow over a set period whether you are in a training, maintenance or weight loss phase.
For example, a muscle building diet will have a higher Macro content of protein, with a lower ratio of fats compared to a pure KETO diet for weight loss or medical reasons.
Your coach may have designed some MACRO profiles for sports performances but you may also have a set of MACROs for post-event or general life you go back to. MACRO profiles are different for everyone and a good coach will understand your goals, requirements, body composition and your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) before compiling a profile.
Macros are expressed in ratio format of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats, which can be tailored to an individual, goals and training schedules to maximise nutrient intake.
These numbers will make up your daily intake of food and therefore calories. The most important consideration to think of with MACROs is the nutritional value of what you eat, rather than simply saying as long as I consume 2000 calories I am ok, because 2000 calories from a greasy food and beer does not have the same effect on the body as from 2000 calories of Nutritional rich food that your body can use.
Here are some tips on tracking macros:
TRACK MACROS STEP 1
This image below shows some Macro strategies that are common templates which can be used as a guide to creating your own Macro profiles.
TRACK MACROS STEP 2
The next step in tracking your macros is to start a journal where you can log down everything that you consume on a daily basis. This can be a physical or digital journal, whatever you prefer. There are also a number of apps on the market that you can use to track what you eat and drink; they are easy to use and give you a clear idea of the MACROs and other nutrients you consume daily.
Many people think they know exactly what they eat every day and even guess the number of calories they are consuming. If that’s you, you’re fooling yourself. The reality is, as our busy lives go on, we tend to eat more than we think.
There are a couple of common problems here. One is that those portion sizes are tricky to estimate. Moreover, most of the time we tend to underestimate rather than overestimate. Secondly, snacking throughout the day or having the odd biscuit with your cup of tea might seem like nothing, but can easily add up to a couple of hundred calories. Lastly, we often forget about the calories we drink, believe it or not, but your innocent little vanilla latte costs your body 250 calories.
When you track accurately and keep a food log, the guesswork is taken out of the equation. You get objective feedback and know exactly how much you are eating. This kind of a “reality check” can, in turn, inspire some positive diet change and can help you keep on track with your personal goals.
KEEPING A FOOD JOURNAL
As we mentioned before, you can always go old school and use a notebook. However, since you carry your phone with you everywhere, it is much easier to get a good macro tracking app, however, there are benefits to food journaling.
A good food journal does more than just tracking food and portion sizes. If you record the time of day that you eat and the context surrounding your eating habits, your journal will help you identify consistent patterns in your eating. For instance, you may identify when you start to crave certain foods.
Once you are aware of these habits you can then try to identify the trigger that initiates the habit, and the reward that reinforces it. This knowledge is incredibly valuable for both creating new habits and reprogramming those that are holding you back. Please take a look at our best tips for preventing cravings. By focusing on habits instead of solely looking at numbers, food journaling continues to bring value even in the digital age.
CHOOSE YOUR FORMAT FOR YOUR FOOD JOURNAL
The basic elements I would recommend to include in your food journal are the following:
Many people realise that physical hunger is not the trigger but rather is their emotional state, like boredom, sadness or anger. You might notice that you eat out of habit, such as always snacking while watching TV. By taking note of the context in which you reach out for food, you can identify the “whys” of your choices and systematically work on forming new habits.
TIP #1: For better accuracy I recommend you record your food straight after eating rather than at the end of the day.
TIP # 2: It’s important to record everything – even if it seems painful.
Now that you’ve calculated your macro targets and have your tracking log ready, your next step is to record how many grams of protein, fats and carbs you consume. The goal here is to come as close to your macro targets as possible every day.
TRACK MACROS STEP 3
FIND AN ACCURATE DIGITAL FOOD SCALE
For best results, to track your calories and macros precisely, you will need a food scale. These are relatively cheap, simple to use and will become your best food logging buddy.
If you’re using cups or spoons, or worse, you’re merely estimating, there is a good chance that you’re missing the mark and don’t even know about it. Here’s an example of why.
Take one tablespoon of peanut butter. It should provide 15 grams of total weight and about 100 calories. However, the idea of what constitutes a “tablespoon” can vary greatly from person to person and so does the calories you think you’re consuming. A slip here and there won’t sabotage your goals, but adding up these inaccurate measurements over a whole week or a month can have a serious negative effect on your results.
Weighing your food before it is eaten will help you recognise the correct serving size and what your exact calorie intake is. You probably think weighing your food will be incredibly tedious but using a scale will help you learn what common serving sizes look like over time. In a month, you’ll know what 100g of steak looks like without weighing.
TRACKING FOOD LABELS
If your food comes with a label, that’s a good place to start. However, if you prefer whole foods that come without labels, there are countless calorie-counting online resources.
Two of the most prominent ones are “NutritionData.com” and the “USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference”.
A growing number of mobile apps also utilise either the USDA or restaurant nutritional info that allow for easy calculations when you don’t have access to a computer.
TRACK MACROS STEP 4
FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH YOU HAVE LEFT TO EAT
You now know how much you can eat each day and how to measure what you are eating. The difference between the two tells you how much you have left to eat. Perhaps the greatest advantage of tracking macros is gaining this new power. You can start to squeeze in a serving or two of your favourite treats without any guilt or stress as you know that at the end of the day you hit your calorie target.
SHOULD I TRACK CALORIES TOO?
Yes, calories matter as well. Especially if you’re on a weight loss or a bulking journey. However, by tracking your macros, you can easily work out how many calories you consumed that day. All you need to remember is that 1 gram of carbs equals four calories, 1 gram of protein equals four calories, and 1 gram of fat always equals nine calories — easy peasy lemon squeezy.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT HITTING YOUR CALORIES & MACROS EXACTLY
You don’t need to be a dieting machine when it comes to meeting your daily macros to see results. Stay disciplined, but also realise that it’s fine to occasionally fall short or go a little over on your macros. To maximise the results, try your best to stay within a range of +/- 5-10 macros of each daily goal for each macronutrient.
Trying to be 100% right is not only hard work but is also impossible since even food labels are not 100% accurate nor are your food measurements. So our best advice is to relax and aim to be within shooting distance.