A Beginner’s Guide To Tracking Macros

Ready to change how you eat?

Story Highlights
  • 4 Simple Steps
  • 2 Great Tips

Ready to change how you eat? This comprehensive guide will help you with it by giving a detailed overview of how to count macronutrients. It’s 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 eating with awareness. 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 see how to do it step by step!

Track Macros 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 a lot more.

If you haven’t done it yet, follow the link below and calculate the macronutrients ratio that’s most suitable for you!


Track Macros Step 2: Get a Tracking Log

The next step in tracking your macros is to get a log where you can jot down everything that you put in your body on a daily basis. This can be a physical or digital, whatever you prefer. 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 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. And most of the times we tend to underestimate rather than over. Secondly, snacking on a little bit of this and that throughout the day might seem like nothing, but can easily add up to couple hundred calories. Lastly, we often forget about the calories we drink. And 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 an objective feedback and know exactly how you much are eating. This kind of a “reality check” can, in turn, inspire some positive diet change.

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


Keeping A Food Journal

As we mentioned before, you can always go old school and use a notebook. But 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. 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 realize that physical hunger is not the trigger but rather is their emotional state, like bored, sadness or anger. 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.

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.

Track Macros step 3: Find An Accurate Digital Food Scale

For maximum results, if you really want to track your calories and macros precisely, you will need a food scale. It is cheap, absurdly simple to use and is going to 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 to why.

Take 1 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 recognize the correct serving size and 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 months, you’ll know what 100g of steak looks like without weighing.

How To Weight 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 and set it to zero. You don’t want to weigh your bowl only your food, 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.
  4. Finally, it’s write down the number your scale shows and if you’re tracking manually, multiple the number by the amount of calories the given food has in 1 gram. (As calorie content is usually given per 100 grams, you might need to divide the number of calories/100 grams with 100 and then multiple by the weight of your food in grams).

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 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.

Track Macros 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 gaining 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.

Should I Track Calories Too?

Yes, calories matter as well. Especially if you’re on a weight loss or a bulking journey. But crazy enough by tracking your macros, you’ll easily be able to tell exactly how much calories you consumed that day.

All you need to remember is that 1 gram of carbs equals 4 calories, 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat always equals 9 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 realize that it’s fine to occasionally fall short or go a little over on your macros. To maximize 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 ridiculous but 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 a shooting distance.

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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.
Get the Ultimate Nutrition Guide
Use our free guide to design your very own personalized nutrition plan.
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Get the Ultimate Nutrition Guide
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