Let’s start from the beginning. What is a macronutrient? It sounds much more complicated than it really is.
Macronutrients are simply substances required by your body in large amounts. They are nutrients that provide calories or energy.
There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates (carbs), proteins, and fats. Carbohydrate and protein both provide 4 calories per gram, fat provides 9 calories per gram. Our bodies need certain amounts of all three macronutrients (as well as micronutrients and water) to keep it functioning at an optimal level.
It’s not as simple as how many calories you consume in a day. The source of the calorie counts.
For example, let’s say you stay within your recommended amount of calories per day, but you are consuming the majority of your calories from fats, yet are deficient in your carbs and/or protein intake. You may struggle to reach your health and fitness goals- even if you are exercising regularly - unless you adjust your macronutrient intake.
Where to start? How many grams of carbs, proteins and fats should you be consuming? There are numerous macronutrient calculators out there. They gives you an ideal range for your macronutrient intake, based on your current weight.
This gives you a great starting point. If you have more specific goals like building muscle, or need a nutrition plan to support endurance training, etc. you may want to consult a personal trainer or specialist to give you more specific numbers to hit.
Once you know the macro range you should be eating within, it’s time to figure out a way to track them. This is the part most people assume is too tedious, but today, there are numerous tools available that make this task so much easier than the old pen and paper method.
I use My Fitness Pal to track my macros. They make it super simple. All you have to do is enter in what you ate, and it pulls up all the nutritional information for that food item.
It even has an option to “add a food”, so you can enter in the nutritional content of a food item not listed, in order to be as accurate as possible. It tells you how many calories you’ve had for the day as well as how many you have left according to your target goal. It also breaks down your macros for the day, letting you know how many grams of carbs, proteins, and fats you have consumed.
Tracking your macros also makes you aware of what and how much you are truly eating. If you ask people how their diet is, most people will tell you they eat “pretty healthy”. But if you asked them to write down everything they eat, you can usually pinpoint why they may be struggling with their health and fitness goals.
Nutrition is so important. You can’t expect your body to perform a specific task (lose weight, build muscle, etc.) if you don’t provide it with the tools needed (nutrition and exercise) to complete the task.
Give it a try! Once you get a feel for what and how much you should be eating, it’s no longer necessary to track your macros unless you want to.
To be honest, unless I am training for a competition, I don’t track my macros anymore. I’ve done it enough in the past that I can eyeball all my meals and stay within my ideal macro range. However, if I find that I’m feeling extra tired or there is a sudden weight fluctuation, I will go right back to tracking them for a few days until things return back to normal.
One final benefit of tracking your macros - you may notice that by focusing on what you ARE supposed to eat, you may spend less time thinking about what you shouldn’t eat. When I track my macros for a competition, I’m always thinking about the nutrients in the food, rather than the actual food. I don’t have time to think “mmm I want cake” because I’m too busy thinking “I need another 20 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs (to fuel my body to do what I want it to do), what are my choices that fit those nutritional requirements?
Give it a try, but don’t get too hung up on it. You’re not going to hit your numbers perfectly every day. I don’t. It’s a trial and error process.
But you know what’s great about tracking your macros? Instead of sitting around feeling guilty for eating a brownie, you can do something about it instead - make room for it in your diet that day.
Enter that brownie into your fitness tracker. Take a look at how many calories, sugar and carbs it’ll put into your system and make the necessary adjustments so that you’re still within (or at least close to) your targeted macros for the day. Bam! Brownie. No guilt.
It’s a valuable tool that is free and always available. Even the resources I listed above (the macro calculator and nutritional tracker) are both FREE!
You’d be a fool not to utilize it. Go on! Track your macros and knock some goals out of the park! See more here.