Nutrition

A Beginner’s Guide To Tracking Macros [Explained in 4 Simple Steps]

Ready to change how you eat?

Story Highlights

  • 4 Simple Steps
  • 2 Great Tips

Ready to change how you eat? This is a comprehensive guide that details how to count macronutrients. It is best suited for beginners, so if you have not tracked macros before, you came to the right place.

What you are about to learn is “aware eating’. In other words, knowing what the food you are consuming is made of. The best way to gain this valuable skill is to start tracking your macronutrients. Let’s tackle this step by step.

STEP 1: CALCULATE YOUR MACRONUTRIENT RATIO

In our previous post, we taught you how to calculate your ideal macronutrient intake. The ratios depend on your fitness goal, body type and more.

If you haven’t done so yet, follow the link below and calculate your macronutrient ratio that matches your fitness goals.

CRAFT YOUR MACRONUTRIENT RATIO

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STEP 2: GET A TRACKING LOG

The next step to tracking your macros is to get a log where you can track every meal, every snack and record any food that entered your body on a daily basis.

We name quite a few methods in our Ultimate Tracking Guide! Definitely worth checking out.

Many people think they know exactly what they eat every day and even can guess the number of calories they are consuming. If that’s you, you’re fooling yourself.  The reality is, as our busy lives go one, we tend to eat more than we think we do.

The problem is that often we fail to consider the portion size ( usually much bigger than what we think), snacking and fluid calories (yes, your morning vanilla latte has 250 calories). When you keep a food log, the guesswork goes out of the equation. You get an objective feedback and know exactly how you are eating. This kind of a “reality check” can, in turn, inspire positive change.  

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There are hundreds of tracking  apps available. I suggest you experiment with a few of them and pick one that works best for you.

CHECK OUT OUR FAVOURITE APPS TO TRACK CALORIES AND MACROS

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KEEPING A FOOD JOURNAL

You can also go old school and use a notebook. Since you carry your phone with you everywhere you go, it is much easier to get a good macro tracking app. However, there are benefits to food journaling.

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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. 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. 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 after you stop doing it.

7 SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN TIPS TO BUILD HABITS THAT STICK

CHOOSE YOUR FORMAT

The basic elements I would recommend to include in your food journal are the following:

  • Time
  • Food
  • Amount/portion size
  • Degree of hunger
  • Feelings/emotions before & after

Many people realize that physical hunger is not the trigger but rather it is because they are bored, sad or angry. You might notice that you eat out of habit, such as always snacking while watching TV. By taking a 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.

EXAMPLE OF A FOOD DIARY

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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 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 actually consume. The goal is to come as close to your macro targets as possible each and every day.

STEP 3: FIND AN ACCURATE DIGITAL SCALE

For maximum results, if you really want to track your calories and macros precisely then you need to be using a food scale. It is cheap, absurdly simple to use and it is your best diet tool.

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.

Take 1 tablespoon of peanut butter as an example. 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.

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A slip here and there won’t sabotage your goals, but add these inaccurate measurements over a whole week or a month and they can have a serious negative effect on your results.

Weighing your food before it is eaten will help you recognize the correct serving size and how many calories exactly you’re taking in.

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 few weeks or months, you’ll know what 100g of steak looks like without weighing.

HOW TO WEIGH YOUR FOOD

  1. Place your scale on a flat surface and turn it on. It will take a few seconds to turn on and you will see 0 displayed along with the unit of measurement.
  2. Place your plate or bowl on the scale. The scale will now read a new weight. You don’t want to weigh your food and the weight of the dish so you must tare the scale.
  3. This means the scale will subtract the weight that is currently displayed. This will eliminate the weight of your plate/bowl, so that you are only measuring the food you place on the dish.

TIP 1 – USE THE TARE/NEGATIVE TECHNIQUE

You don’t have to drizzle pea-sized morsels of peanut butter onto the plate until you hit 30g exactly. Instead, place the jar on the scale, zero it out (tare), then just scoop it out until it reads -30g.

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TRACKING FOOD WITH NO 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 are NutritionData.com and the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. A growing number of mobile apps also utilize either the USDA or restaurant nutritional info that allow for easy calculations when you don’t have access to a computer.

TIP:

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STEP 4: FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH YOU HAVE LEFT TO EAT

You now know how much you can eat each day and you know how to measure how much you are actually eating. The difference between the two tells you how much you have left to eat.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of tracking macros is that with it, you gain this new power. You can start to squeeze in a serving or two of your favorite treats without any guilt or stress as you know that at the end of the day you hit your calorie target.

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WHAT ABOUT CALORIES? DO I HAVE TO TRACK CALORIES TOO?

No! Crazy enough, 1 gram of carbs always equals 4 calories ( whether it’s a gram of sweet potato or a gram of white sugar), 1 gram of protein always equals 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat always equals 9 calories. Therefore if you are tracking your macros and if you’re hitting your target every day, you will also be reaching your calorie goals.

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DON’T WORRY ABOUT HITTING YOUR CALORIES AND MACRONUTRIENTS EXACTLY

You don’t need to be a dieting nazi when it comes to meeting your daily macros to see results. Do stay disciplined, but also realize that it is okay to fall short or go a little over on your macros. For best results, try your best to stay within a range of +/- 5-10 macros of each daily goal for each macronutrient.

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Trying to be 100% exact is not only ridiculous but also impossible since even food labels are not 100% accurate nor are your food measurements. You can’t possibly be 100% accurate so relax and aim to be within a shooting distance.

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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.

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