what are macros and why would you track them

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I’m guessing you’ve heard the term “macros” before, and maybe even played around with tracking them, but you have more questions. If so, keep reading to find out exactly what the “macros” are and why you should bother tracking them in the first place.

WHAT ARE MACROS?

“Macros” is short for “macronutrients,” which refers to the three categories of energy-providing nutrients you need in large quantities: protein, fat and carbohydrates. There are 4 calories for 1 gram each of protein and carbohydrate. There are 9 calories for 1 gram of fat. Because the macronutrients contribute calories, by tracking macronutrients, you are essentially counting total calorie intake as well—but from the mindset that not all calories are created equally. This is important because 300 calories from protein, for example, feels different and does different things for the body than 300 calories from carbohydrates. So, if you want to improve health markers, change your body composition or strengthen your athletic performance, counting macros is a great way to meet your goals.

WHY YOU SHOULD TRACK MACROS

A macro tracking approach offers structure and guidance regarding how much you should eat, while allowing for choice and autonomy over which foods you would like to eat. This can be a superior strategy to traditional calorie counting, or simply providing a list of “allowed foods” or a rigid prescribed meal plan. By learning how to eat to your unique and individualized needs, gaining a basic understanding of nutrition and seeing how particular foods impact the way you feel, macro tracking can truly be a long-term approach to health and nutrition.

Tracking macros also puts you in the driver’s seat of how you want to feel, look and perform. By controlling the protein, fat and carbohydrate content of your food you’re giving your body gentle direction for how to function.

Put another way: If macros are like the language your body speaks, tracking macros is like using that language to give your body clear instructions.⁣ Contrast that with counting calories, which just affect the measure of gravity against your body, i.e. your weight.

Simply tracking your food (with or without regard to the amount of calories) increases awareness and influences your eating behaviors. Tracking macros does this and influences body weight, health markers, body composition and athletic performance. Tracking calories does not have this same impact. 

HOW TO GET STARTED TRACKING MACROS

By this point, you’re probably pretty interested in trying out macro tracking to improve your health, body composition and athletic performance (at least I hope you are!) Here are a few steps you can take when you first start macro tracking. 

  1. Download an app that you’re familiar with, understand, and/or like using and start logging your current eats. Don’t worry about changing how you eat – just start logging! My favorite app is Cronometer! 
  2. Take a look at the macronutrient breakdown of your meals at the end of the day while ignoring calories. This helps you get an understanding of your eating pattern and which macros you could potentially be over or under eating.
  3. Get your macro prescription and compare it to the averages you’ve seen in your diary. Hold tight – there’s more information at the bottom of this article on the best way to get your macro prescription so keep reading!
  4. After you know your macro prescription, pick one macronutrient to focus on first. Start making changes to your current eats to get closer to your macro prescription for that one macro, while still ignoring calories.
  5. Once you’ve got that down, it’s time to aim to get within +/- 5 grams of all your macro targets.
  6. Assess how you feel and make changes if necessary.

I would highly recommend following these steps in order if you are completely new to macro tracking rather than jumping to the end thinking that will be the best option. Remember, you gotta walk before you run.

HOW TO GET YOUR MACRO PRESCRIPTION

Going back to question number three, the common question you might be asking after learning about macros is, “how much is appropriate for me?” This is where a macro prescription comes into play! A macro prescription or macro breakdown is a set of protein, fat and carbohydrate gram targets that a person attempts to hit to influence various health factors. You can use the recommended targets from the tracking app that you downloaded, OR, for a more accurate set of macros check out my free DIY Macros Guide. And if you want to really take the guesswork out of how much you should be eating, my Personalize Macro Calculation service might be a perfect fit. My team and I will take a deep dive into your health picture, food preferences and specific goals and give you highly customized recommendations. 

IS IT HARD TO TRACK MACROS?

Tracking macros and successfully eating to your needs with well-rounded meals that you enjoy will include many of the habits that you already engage in each week, like grocery shopping or light food prep. Logging food in a food diary app will be the addition to your routine and, for some, this can be a big learning curve in the beginning. But, just like any new skill, it can feel like you’re directing a lot of time and focus towards it until, in just a few weeks, it’s like second nature to measure, weigh and track your food.

Remember, the goal of tracking macros is not to become a lifetime macro tracker, but rather recalibrate your understanding of how much food is appropriate for you. Usually, those who spend a significant time tracking macros can confidently dip in and out of the skill for specific periods. Many people can intuitively eat their needs without relying on a food diary if they are paying attention to how they feel while they are diligently tracking macros.

Here’s what I always say: “Watching what you eat” without keeping an eye on your macros makes about as much sense as “watching your budget” without keeping an eye on your bank accounts. If you’re serious about achieving some significant health, body composition or athletic performance goals in the most efficient way possible, track the macronutrients in your food and eat enough to support your body.

There might be some lies you’re telling yourself about tracking macros. I debunk a few myths here!

There you have it – the basics of macro tracking! If getting started with tracking still feels a little overwhelming, check out this blog, for a more in-depth look at getting started with tracking.