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How and Why to Track Your Macros: A Nutritionist’s Guide

As the second part of my guide on macros (check out Part 1 here), I wanted to talk about how and why you would want to track macros.  Short for Macronutrients, macros are the main nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) that provide the body with the energy needed to think, move, and re-build muscle. 

Tracking the quantity of each macros you eat is essentially counting calories in a more specific way. Macro counting can help you understand more about the calories you’re eating, and how they affect your body. One important benefit of macro counting is knowing that you’re eating enough protein.

Eating the right amount of protein helps to build lean muscle, lose fat, and keep your body satisfied. I have my clients do what’s called “flexible tracking,” which means they track overall calorie and protein intake only.

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, the key to a successful diet is consistency. The best way to reach consistency is through accurate food tracking and an understanding of nutrition. 

While the method you use is up to you, I recommend a blend of nutrition labels and food tracking software to ensure you are getting the most accurate information possible on all your foods for the day. This includes small snacks and mindless handfuls of popcorn you might be picking up in the breakroom. 

When viewed together through a tracking app such as My Fitness Pal, you can see your daily nutrition in one place. This allows you to see your macros and make educated adjustments when needed. 

Without further ado, let’s dive into tracking your macros!

Calculating Calories 

I believe in educating individuals to give them agency over their weight loss goals. As such, I like to teach people how nutrition labels work, especially the relationship between macros and calories. 

For this, we are going to need an example:


Calories on the New Nutrition Facts Label | FDA

If we look at the nutrition label included, we will easily be able to find our main macros of Fat, Carbs, and Protein. Each of these macronutrients contains a certain amount of calories per gram, meaning that by tracking our macros, we can get the total number of calories in a serving. 

Protein contains 4 calories per gram

Carbs contain 4 calories per gram

Fat contains 9 calories per gram

Keeping this in mind, some quick multiplication brings us to the following:

  • Protein = 3 x 4 = 12
  • Carbohydrates: 37 x 4 = 148
  • Fat: 8 x 9 = 72

12+148+72 = 232 calories. As you can see, this is the same amount of calories listed on the label, minus the slight rounding. 

This simple math goes to show that tracking macros and tracking calories go hand in hand. Fill your diet with too much fat and you could run into a situation where you are above your calorie count, but under-nourished. Similarly, carbs will get you calories without satiety, so you have to be mindful to include adequate protein intake. 

Servings

In order to track your macros effectively, you need to track what you are actually eating. Unfortunately, many packaged products have multiple servings per package, making it easy to misrepresent how much you’ve eaten. In fact, depending on how each company lists a serving on their label, you may unwittingly be eating 3-4 helpings at a time.

As such, take a moment to be mindful of how many servings you actually consume to ensure you are keeping your numbers as accurate as possible.

Food without Nutrition Label

Counting macros in food with a nutrition label is straightforward, but there are many times when your food will not have a label, such as produce and meat. For these foods, you are going to need to do a bit of research.

The easiest ways to become familiar with the nutritional content of unlabeled foods is through search engines and food databases like MyFitnessPal.

While using a search engine for this purpose is pretty straight forward, using a food database is a bit more involved. This is because you must be relatively specific about the food you are describing. 

For instance, let’s say you wanted to search the nutritional content of an apple. In apps like MyFitnessPal, include the descriptors such as “USDA” and “gala.” When looking for proteins, such as chicken, use the same process and make note of descriptors such as, “boneless,” “skinless,” “breast,” and other specifiers. 

All this allows for you to get the most accurate information on the food you are consuming. 

Weigh Your Portions

Another consideration to make when working with unlabeled food is how to measure what you’re eating. For this, most people believe eyeballing their portions is accurate enough, but this simply isn’t the case. 

When you’re tracking calories, consistency and specificity determine your success. As such, you want to be as precise as possible with how you track your portions. I recommend using a food scale for this. 

Scales may seem intimidating, but they are an amazingly useful tool that will bring a whole new level of awareness into your nutrition plan. 

Furthermore, over time, you will become skilled at knowing what certain quantities look like, meaning you are helping train your mind to be more accurate at assessing your meals even when a scale isn’t available. This new awareness fosters the understanding we need to make the right changes for the results we desire. 

Tracking creates awareness. As we gain awareness, we have the understanding and information to reach our goals.

Other Considerations: Micronutrients and More

From the article above, it might feel like we are not addressing the vast variety of nutrients that are in your diet. This is simply because most other nutrients simply aren’t “macronutrients.”

Allow me to explain.

Vitamins and minerals: Anything in this category is known as a micronutrient. They are important for our health and wellbeing, but ultimately don’t contain calories. 

Fiber: While fiber is a carbohydrate, it’s one of the beneficial ones to keep in your diet. It This is because fiber has many benefits, improves digestion, decreases blood cholesterol and increases feelings of fullness.  

Good sources of fiber include raspberries, apples, peas, broccoli, potatoes with skin, quinoa, popcorn, and black beans.  Shoot for about 25-30 grams per day.

Sugar:  Many people I work with carry the common misconception that sugar is bad. While sugar is still a carb, there are many healthy sources of sugar such as those found in fruits and vegetables. 

However, know that it’s okay to eat processed sugars on occasion too– after all, what is life without a little dessert here and there? As long as you are eating healthy most of the time (80% or more), then treating yourself here and there is perfectly fine.

How Long Should I Track Macros?

Many individuals believe that once you start tracking macros, you can’t stop without risking your weightloss journey. This is absolutely untrue. 

See, tracking macros, calories, and exercise are simply tools to have in your tool belt. They are most helpful in the beginning of your journey to help build awareness around what is in your diet and what you need to change. 

As time goes on and your awareness builds, you will develop a better understanding for what you should be eating on any given day. Good nutrition becomes second nature and you can begin the gradual shift toward more intuitive eating patterns. 

Where and How to Begin

Macro counting can help you understand more about the calories you’re eating, how they affect your body, and ensure that you’re eating enough protein. My clients use a “flexible tracking” method to track their overall calorie and protein intake.

No matter what kind of change you are looking to make for your body, working with information on the internet can get tricky. Even the best information might leave you with added questions, not cover a specific dietary need, or simply not offer you the accountability needed to take your weight loss seriously. In cases like these, I recommend nutrition coaching. 

By working with a nutrition coach, you will receive a customized calorie and protein diet plan that fits your lifestyle and your goals. Having a real person to work with on the other end also offers support and accountability to help you through the ups and downs that usually come with any major life change.

As a nutrition coach, I want to offer my own help and advice to get you started. This is why I offer free educational materials through my 5-Day Challenge in addition to regular blogs on all things nutrition. 

If you have a more specific question about macros or would like to work together, don’t hesitate to message me and reach out! I will be in touch as soon as possible!

How to track your macros: a nutritionists guide | Short for Macronutrients, macros are the main nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) that provide the body with the energy needed to think, move, and re-build muscle. | emiliehansennutrition.com

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