IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) or a macro eating lifestyle, is a flexible dieting style that promotes fat loss and muscle gain. Tracking macros for beginners can feel a little overwhelming. I follow a macro lifestyle (including strength training) since October 2021, and boy was it a learning curve!
One question I get asked a lot is how to track macros. Here's what I've learned tracking macros for beginners.
What are Macros?
Macros are short for macronutrients, which mean the protein, carbohydrate, and fat that make up any type of food. Macronutrients are found on the nutrition label of packaged foods. Foods are made up of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Counting macros is a slightly different approach to counting daily calories because you are trying to hit certain protein, carb, and fat goals. They can be calculated using a food scale and macro calculator (like My Fitness Pal).
For example, a person counting calories wouldn't care if all of their total calories came from carbs or fat, they would just want to hit their calorie goal for the day. When tracking macro targets, you modify your eating based on the allotted carbs, fat, and protein.
Why Do People Track Macros?
Tracking macros seems like a lot of effort- why do people do it? I use macros, strength training, tracking body weight and measurements, and weekly photos to reach fitness goals.
My macronutrient intake and weekly activity are the inputs. My weight, photos, and body measurements are the outputs. By monitoring both the inputs and outputs, you can reach different goals.
Think of it like tracking your monthly budget to reach financial goals. If you didn't have data to understand how much you were spending each month, it would be hard to set realistic goals and make changes.
What is a "Macro Diet"?
A macro diet is an eating style that adheres to a particular macronutrient ratio to manipulate body composition. Macro diets are often used by bodybuilders or fitness competitors to monitor their nutritional inputs. Macros change depending on a person's specific goals.
👉🏼 Personally, I find a macro diet similar to the Mediterranean diet. Both eating styles eat a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, seafood, beans, and low-fat dairy. 👈🏼
Tracking macros helps with keeping my meals well-balanced (enough fat, carbs, and protein) and manipulating overall body mass.
What Are My Macros?
Every person's macros are different and can change over time depending on metabolism, hormones, or energy needs. So the short answer is: you won't know your macros until you start tracking them. The long answer is: your macros will change and you'll see patterns over time.
I hired a macro coach in October 2021 (the one and only Brittney Carbone!). I've increased my metabolism (and macros) over the last 16 months and reduced my body fat.
⭐️ When I first started my macro journey, my maintenance daily macros in October 2021 started at 175 grams of carbs, 170 grams of protein, and 50 grams of fat. My daily calorie intake was around 1830 calories. I weighed 172 lbs. ⭐️
Side note: I believe my body is beautiful at EVERY stage. I honor what it gives me including the ability to grow a human, climb a mountain, and eat yummy food! I hope this post doesn't trigger anyone, because beauty and embracing ourselves at every step of the journey is an act of true self-love.
⭐️ After a year, my maintenance macros changed to about 250 grams of carbs, 160 grams of protein, and 50 grams of fat. My daily calorie counts are at 2090 calories. I weigh 149 lbs. 🥳
I eat more than I have ever eaten in my entire life. This is a HUGE win considering how much I love to eat and my lifelong desire to break free from eating shame.
Disclaimer: I did not change my body composition by just tracking my macros. I do five hours of weight training a week and fifteen minutes on the elliptical five days a week (post-weight training).
How To Calculate Your Macros
There are many different ways to calculate your macros. Here are a few different options to start with.
#1 - Calculate By Hand
This is a more in-depth post on how to calculate your macros by hand. First, you calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) by using your weight, height, and age. Then you multiply your TDEE based on your daily activity level rating. After you have your total calorie, you allocate the calories into protein, fats, and carbs. That gives you maintenance calories without any added activity.
#2 - Use a Calculator
A second option is using a macros calculator. There are many macro calculators on the web and they all spit out different but close results. Macro calculators use similar inputs as calculating by hand- your weight, height, age, and activity level.
#3 - Track Your Normal Eating
A third option (and my favorite one) is to start tracking what you normally eat every day. After a few weeks, you can see a pattern and see where your body naturally is. It's easier to make modifications from where you are, rather than a knee-jerk reaction and flip your macro world upside down.
#4 - Hire a Coach
Calculating and tracking macros for beginners can be confusing. Hiring a macro coach helps. My coach started me off with certain macros, then changed the macros every week depending on how my body responded.
To understand macros, you really need to track them for some time and see how your body responds to any macro changes or activity level changes. This seems like a lot of work, but it's really not once you get the hang of things. Just like anything new, it's hard in the beginning but it gets easier as you do it more and more.
Benefits of Tracking Macros
When trying to build muscle mass, it's important to eat enough protein and carbs. Sometimes we don't know what we actually eat in a day, and without that information, it's hard to make changes. Tracking macros is one way of collecting data to understand your food intake.
👉🏼 Weight gain and weight loss might feel like magic, causing us to feel stuck and out of control. Macro counting begins to pull the curtain back. Tracking macros give you the data you need to make adjustments. 👈🏼
How To Track Macros
Tracking macros for beginners is like learning to ride a bike. You feel a little shaky at first, but over time, you start popping wheelies.
A good place to start tracking your macros accurately is by using a food scale and a macro calculator like MyFitnessPal. Packaged foods have food labels containing nutrition information. I find weighing foods are more accurate than volumetric measuring.
Step 1: Calculate and Input
Add your calculated macros in a tracking app, like MyFitnessPal. Many of the features are free, but some features may require a subscription. If you want to track what you are currently eating and use that as a starting point, skip this step.
Step 2: Log Food
Search for a food item in your macros tracking app. I searched for 2% milk and then adjusted the quantity.
Add the remaining food items for your breakfast or pre-workout meal. The benefit of eating the same kinds of foods is that everything is easy to pull up. I usually just copy from the previous day.
Step 3: Look at the Macro Split
Track the rest of your meals for the day. You can see your macro split at the end of the day. By looking at the data, you can start to make tweaks.
How To Make Tweaks
👉🏼 If you eat a western diet or an American diet, you are probably eating a diet high in fat and carbs and low in protein. 👈🏼
There is nothing wrong or bad about that, but fat can increase calories quickly. Think about it- one spoonful of olive oil is the same amount of calories as a whole banana. What will keep you fuller?
The best way to make tweaks to your existing diet is to find foods you LOVE to eat. Start with breakfast and brainstorm your favorite breakfasts. Some of my favorite breakfasts are protein oatmeal, egg white breakfast tacos, or fruit and greek yogurt granola.
I can turn just about anything into a macro-friendly version. Let me give you an example. I am a Chic-Fil-A fiend. To never have another chicken nugget, hurts me to my core. Here's an example of "tweaking" things at Chic-Fil-A:
|Rather Than This||Try This|
|8-count meal with fries and drink||8-count grilled nuggets + 8-count fried nuggets + a Cosmic Crisp Apple (no fries or drink)|
|cobb salad with a whole packet of dressing||southwest grilled chicken salad, hold the cheese, ⅓ the creamy salsa dressing|
|Chic-Fil-A chicken biscuit||Egg white grill|
|Chick-Fil-A sandwich||Grilled Chic-Fil-A sandwich, hold the cheese|
It's SO much easier to eat things that you like, which is why it helps to find some faves. If there's something I miss, like a Whataburger, I'll plan it into my day. That way I can have the burger, but be more conscientious in other meals.
Some other foods I eat on repeat are any type of lean turkey tacos, lean beef pho, poke bowls, taco salad, sushi, turkey chili, egg white scramble on buttered sourdough, homemade chicken noodle soup, grilled chicken thighs with epic fatoush, and the list goes on.
Why I Track Macros
I spent most of my life struggling with shame surrounding my body image and eating. Every day I thought about the perfect diet I was going to begin sometime in the near future, only to binge on a whole pizza and vow to start my perfect diet next week.
I have tried every "diet"- vegan, paleo, whole 30, ketogenic diet, weight watchers, gluten-free, dairy-free, fasting, intermittent fasting, etc. only to feel like a failure and something was wrong with me.
Foods were perceived as "good" or "bad". And I would be hard on myself if I didn't eat perfectly which in my mind consisted of a pile of lettuce leaves. My thought process was that lettuce leaves have to be good because they are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, whole 30, paleo, keto, AND all-natural. Oh, the hidden beliefs that shape our lives.
🔥 It's taken me several months of un-programming my mind into believing CARBS ARE NOT BAD. 🔥
God, the feeling of being able to eat a chocolate chip cookie without the GUILT is priceless. You can have your cake and eat it too- literally! Like this peach dump cake. It's all about balance.
Some tips I have for getting started are:
- Give yourself time and grace to learn something new. Progress, not perfection. I am continually learning new skills to improve. My current adherence rate is about 70%, so this is not all or nothing. Every little bit adds up.
- Possibly work with a coach to uncover hidden beliefs and learn new skills. In my experience, working with a macro coach, like my girl Brittney Carbone, was crucial to my success. I would never expect to learn to play tennis without a coach. Nor would I expect to teach myself another language fluently without the help of a tutor.
- Start small. Don't make any diet changes for a few weeks. Just learn how to track food using macros.
- Get curious. The data you are uncovering is not good or bad, it's just telling you information.
If you are curious about a macro lifestyle, jump in and don't look back!
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