What Are Macros?
“Macro” is short for “macronutrient.” Macronutrients are necessary substances found in foods that are needed for growth, metabolism, and other body functions. There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
To “count your macros” means that you track the total number of grams of proteins, carbs, and fats you ingest over the course of a day. Macro counting is typically associated not with simply tracking your intake, but tracking them with the intention of meeting said prescribed numbers.
To do this most accurately, food should be weighed or measured, when possible. Purchasing an inexpensive food scale will do the trick -- they sell them at places like Target or GNC. Liquids can be measured with traditional measuring cups. If you’re unable to measure your food exactly, you can make do with estimations. For example, 4oz of chicken is approximately the size of your closed fist.
Macros vs. Meal Plans
I like to argue that providing my clients with prescribed macronutrient intakes is superior to giving them meal plans. Meal plans are based off of macronutrient intakes, but they’re very strict. There’s no budge room for unplanned dinners, parties, birthday cakes, or anything. I’ve found that meal plans are great for the short term, but macros are better for the long term. Once a client understands macros, they can use that knowledge to live their life without someone telling them exactly what to eat every day.
Now that we’ve talked about the what and the why, let’s cover the how. MyFitnessPal is a great free tool that you can use to track your macro intake without having to do a ton of math. The database contains all foods you can buy at the grocery store, and contains a lot of meals from larger, more well-known restaurants. It’s easy to search and find what you need and add it to your daily log.
Once you’ve downloaded the app to your phone and created your account, you’re ready to set your goals. Whether you’ve used an online tool to calculate a starting place for macros, or you have a coach who is helping you set your intake goals, you can easily enter them into this tool.
From the home screen:
- Click “More” on the bottom right
- Click “Goals"
- Click “Calorie & Macronutrient Goals"
- Enter your goals
Note: the free app will not let you set by specific grams, only by percentages. This is annoying that they do this, but manageable. I do not recommend purchasing the monthly fee paid app. So when you get started, just set by percentages. We will talk about making adjustments later.
From the home screen:
- Click “Diary”
You can add food to a specific meal by clicking the “+Add Food” beneath the meal, or you can click the big “+” at the bottom of the screen. Once you’ve done that, you can search for the food, or scan the barcode.
Set the correct portion that you are going to eat, and then click the check mark at the top. Now you’ve added the food to your diary.
To see how you’re doing with your goals, scroll down to the bottom of the Diary page and click “Nutrition.” This should take you to a screen where you can see how many grams of each macro you have planned/consumed so far, what your goal is, and how many you have left for the day.
When you’re not cooking for yourself, it’s more difficult to be exact, so you kind of have to guess. If I’m at a restaurant, I usually enter one part of the meal at a time. For example, instead of entering “Chicken Baked Ziti,” I would enter the amount of chicken I guessed was in the dish, the amount of pasta, and the amount of sauce/veggies/toppings. I do this because every restaurant portions their meals differently, and I want to be as accurate as possible. Same thing if I’m eating at a friend’s house.
Drinks have calories and macros. Be sure to enter these to your Diary as well. Alcohol is actually not a macronutrient, but it does have calories. Whereas protein and carbs are 4 calories per gram and fat is 9 calories per gram, alcohol is 7 calories per gram.
I recommend taking it easy on alcohol because it’s not filling or useful calories, but just like cupcakes, sometimes you need to indulge so that you don’t end up binging. Fit it into your goals and plan accordingly.
Planning for Splurges
Personally, I’m a huge fan of pizza and ice cream. I like to fit that into my macros every once in a while. For me, that basically means that I’ll be on what I like to call “poverty macros” for the rest of the day. I’ll have egg whites for breakfast and be really cautious with any carbs/fat in preparation for consuming a lot of those in my pizza.
Hope all of this info is helpful. If you're interested in a customized macronutrient plan with weekly check-ins from me, head over to my Coaching page!