Fit Club: How to Track Macros

CATEGORIES: Health and Fitness

The most requested topic in our Fit Club and Fit Club instagram over the past months has been about counting macros.  If you’ve heard this term and wondered what the deal is, this post is for you!  I like to think of macro tracking as kind of advanced calorie counting.  Instead of focusing on the total number of calories you consume, you track the specific amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  I started doing this about a year ago (on and off, let’s be honest- I eat a lot of baked goods and “start over on Monday” alllll the time) and it’s made such a huge impact for me.  I’ve lost about 20 pounds and put on a significant amount of muscle.  People ask me about counting macros all the time, but I don’t feel qualified to “teach” it.  So I’ve invited someone more than qualified to step in: my very knowledgeable friend Amber!  She’s not only a rising star on Instagram (@biceps.after.babies) but also a popular fitness instructor, Registered Nurse and Macro Coach.  In fact, one of YOU could actually win a free 6 WEEK coaching session with Amber.  Keep reading to the end to see how!  And if you have questions about anything in this post, make sure to leave a comment and Amber and I will be sure to answer everyone.   I’m going to turn it over to her, now!

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Hi Everyone!  I’m Amber.  Every few years there seems to be a new diet trend that everyone jumps to try out. “You want to lose weight? Just eat low-fat!” “Or maybe high-fat, low carb?” “No, really you should just eat like a caveman.” “Or at least eat like a caveman for 30 days.” “But really, if you just cut out sugar, and don’t eat after 7pm, you will lose weight!”

What's the Secret to Weight LossThe novelty of these diet trends makes them tantalizing, but let me tell you a surprisingly simple secret – the way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit over time. That means, you need to consume fewer calories than you use. That’s it! That is the secret. You can lose weight eating low-fat, or Paleo, or Whole30, or no-sugar, or even nothing but Twinkies and Oreos. If you eat fewer calories than your body burns on any of those diets you will lose weight. Crazy, right? It’s true.

oreo

For all you skeptics, Mark Haub, professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, decided to test this theory. For 10 weeks all he ate was processed Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and sugar cereals. The catch? He only ate those foods, but limited them so that he was still in a caloric deficit. The result? He lost 27 pounds. It is all about science – calories in versus calories out. If all you want to do is lose weight, calculate the number of calories you burn every day, eat 20% less calories and voila, you will lose weight regardless of the quality of food you are putting into your body.

So Why Track your Macros


If losing weight is all about calories in versus calories out why bother with tracking your macros? Because, while being in a caloric deficit will result in weight loss, the quality of weight loss is very different depending on what type of calories you eat.

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Instead of just counting calories, knowing how much of each macro to eat results in more fat loss.  Because, while being in a caloric deficit will result in weight loss, the quality of weight loss is very different depending on what type of calories you eat.

 

What is a macro

Macro is an abbreviation of the word “macronutrient” which is any of the nutritional parts of food that are required in relatively large amounts for good heath: protein, carbohydrate, fat, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. When you hear about someone “counting their macros,” though, it usually refers to tracking the amount of carbs, protein, and fat they consume – because those are the macronutrients that provide calories.

IIFYM

This approach to eating is also known as “flexible dieting” or “If It Fits Your Macros” or just simply “IIFYM.” IIFYM, is a method of dieting that revolves around you eating a set number grams of daily carb, protein, and fat each day. It is essentially a form of guided calorie counting.

How does Knowing

Most people say that they want to “lose weight,” but what they REALLY mean is they want to lose fat. Very few people actually have in their minds that they want to lose muscle or organ tissue or water weight. Those factors also make up weight on the scale, but that’s not what people want to get rid of. They want to decrease the amount of fat on their bodies while also maintaining as much lean muscle as possible. To do that, you need to have a balanced macronutrient intake.

Why is it important to pay attention to macro intake

If your macro intake isn’t balanced, the quality of your weight loss suffers. For example, if you aren’t eating enough protein during a calorie deficit, your body will break down muscles to use for energy. If you aren’t getting enough carbohydrates you can feel weak and unable to perform well during workouts, because carbs are fuel! Lastly, not getting enough fat into your diet can mess with your hormones and make your weight loss stall or make it more difficult for you to put on muscle, because fats increase your growth hormones.  While you can drop weight by counting calories, we aren’t just interested in losing weight.  We want to drop fat and we want a toned, healthy body.  For that, counting calories isn’t enough.  You need to count your macros.

You need to count your macros

One problem with many diets is that they encourage you to eat fewer calories by cutting out entire food groups. “Don’t eat gluten! Don’t eat sugar! Low carb is best! Only eat clean foods!” All of these diets will tell you that certain foods are off-limits. Some people are able to cut out dairy or grains or sugar 100% and never crave another donut for as long as they live. However, many more people – myself included – shudder at the thought of never being able to eat another bowl of ice cream, or slice of pizza, or fresh baked donut again.

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In contrast, with IIFYM nothing is off-limits. There aren’t “good” and “bad” foods, it’s all just food. Food is made up of certain macronutrients and you have a daily goal of how many of each macronutrient to hit. So if you want ice cream for dessert you can have it! You just have to make sure that you don’t go over your daily allotment of carbs or fat. If you fit it into your macros then it’s not a cheat, it’s not bad – it fits! If it fits your macros you can eat it without any guilt or feeling like you “cheated” on your diet. This is a sustainable way of eating.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard to eat processed junk food all day long and still fit your macros. Most of the food you consume is going to need to be traditionally healthy food like lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. 80-90% of the food I eat on a daily basis is nutrient dense “healthy” food. But the beauty of IIFYM is that you can easily make room for the treats that you want AND still hit your weight loss goal.  It’s a moderate, healthy way to approach eating.

Healthy Meal

You may be asking yourself, “Does tracking macros take up a lot of time and energy?”  The short answer is yes and no.  I won’t lie.  Because getting an accurate read on your macro intake requires weighing and logging everything you eat, the first couple of weeks can be fairly time intensive. However, after the first 2 weeks or so, it get much easier and faster.  I can log my whole day of eating within a matter of 5 minutes now.  So, no, it is not difficult to do once you get the hang of it.  And for me, once I started seeing the results, the counting and tracking was 100% worth it.

Worth It

If I have convinced you that IIFYM is a sensible and effective way to lose weight your next question should be,

How do I start

First purchase a food scale so you can weigh your food in grams. It’s really the only purchase you have to make, and it is required. Yes, you can scoop out ½ cup of oatmeal but sometimes that ½ scoop will be 35g and sometimes it may be 60g and that makes a big difference when you are tracking your macros. Weighing your food may seem like a pain at first, but I promise it becomes a habit and it really doesn’t take that much extra time.

Second, start logging what you eat normally. There are many apps to use for this, but the one that I know and love is MyFitnessPal. It’s free and you can use it on any phone or computer and it’s pretty intuitive to use. Try not to change the way you are eating and log your foods for 1 week. You aren’t trying to hit any macros or calories – just learning how to weigh and log foods and getting an idea of how many calories and what ratio of macros you are currently eating.

Last, calculate your macros. Now, there is a whole science behind setting macros so the easiest way to set your macros accurately is to hire a coach (like me!) to do it for you.  This is especially helpful if you don’t want to mess with finding the numbers for your body, you are not confident in your understanding of macros, or if you are unique in your goals, activity level, or weight loss history. But, if you want to do it for free (I get it! I am a budget-conscious momma myself!) I would start with using an online calculator. I find that the calculator on IIFYM.com is a good place to start. The calculator will ask you about your age and height and exercise routine and will give you a macronutrient breakdown to follow. For many people this will be an accurate breakdown, but if you find that the numbers aren’t working, or if you need more one-on-one help in figuring out how to hit your goals, your best bet will be to hire a coach who can walk you through everything.

The bottom line for me is living a lifestyle that is maintainable for the long haul. IIFYM isn’t a crash diet. You don’t have to commit to never having another fresh baked cookie ever again.  

IIFYM isn't a crash diet

You can find moderation in eating AND lose fat at the same time. And for me, THAT’S the beauty of IIFYM.

GIVEAWAY

 Amber has been kind enough to offer one of YOU a free 6-week coaching session!  She’ll help you set your macros and offer personal coaching to help you reach your goals.  It’s worth $150 and it will be given away on our Fit Club Instagram today, so make sure to follow us there so you don’t miss it!


Amber Bio

 

 

 

58 comments

  1. Okay so what about if you’re cooking a meal like casserole or a pasta dish or something? Or do you just only eat one ingredient things? Adding up all the ingredients and then guessing a serving size seems tedious and inaccurate

    1. In MFP you can upload the recipe and the servings and it will calculate it for you. Then it saves the recipe so you can just click on it next time you make it!

    2. Amber has a post about this on her Instagram. It is super helpful! She explains how you log each weighed ingredient into MFP and then you enter your recipe and put the amount the whole casserole/dish weighed in grams as the number of servings and then you weigh your serving amount in grams…

      1. Yes! Just like Chrissy said! If it still doesn’t make sense to you shoot me an email and I can walk you through it. Let’s pretend you made a cake. You would weigh the pan before you cooked it, then weigh the cake and pan after you cooked it, and subtract out the weight of the pan so you know how much it weighs. Then you enter your recipe into MFP and when it asks for the number of servings the recipe makes you put the weight of the cake in grams (ie 3,000g). Then when you log it in your diary you weigh out your slice – let’s say it weighed 200 grams, then you would log it as 200 servings of cake.

    3. You definitely don’t guess on the serving size, you just have to do the math. I will admit it can be rather tedious, so you do have to put the time into doing it! Like someone else mentioned, Amber has shared a great tip about calculating a whole recipe. I’ll have her come share it because I just tried to write it out several times and deleted because I’m not making sense, haha!

  2. Hello ! as a blogger (a french one) I find that article brilliant: well written, easy to understand (and it’s always hard to simplify nutrition, I know it) and full of great insights. I was wondering if you would mind if I translated it in french and reposting it (OBVIOUSLY linking to your website, of course). let me know if you would agree 😀 (i’d rather ask, cause I don’t want to steal content from you, that would be disrespectful.)

    1. I’ve never tracked macros while nursing. I started right after I stopped nursing my last baby. But with all my babies, I found I could find the “sweet spot” in a calorie range where my milk supply was staying healthy and I also could lose weight and then I tried to just stick in that area. I feel like everyone is different when nursing and you kind of have to try adjusting things until everyone is happy (mom, baby, and tummy! haha)

    2. This is a question I get asked a lot, and obviously it is different for every woman. But I coach a lot of nursing moms and I have found that with a modest caloric deficit of 20% from their TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) most moms still have no problem with milk production. If the baby is really little (like 6 weeks – 4 months old) I will sometimes add in 200 calories, but most times I don’t have problems with women losing their milk supply. High protein is REALLY great for moms and especially for nursing moms, so I find that with the extra protein the lower calories don’t seem to impact milk supply.

  3. i have been counting macros for a few months and I LOVE IT! Now my question is, how would I continue if I get pregnant? I am planning on this in the next few months and would love to retain my results that I’ve had so far! How does it work with nursing too?

    1. I’m obviously not a doctor (stress on the obviously), but honestly you don’t need a massive calorie adjustment when pregnant. As long as you are active and healthy, you can continue exercising and tracking your macros. I would just be careful of ever cutting too low in any one area. It’s not a time to try and lose pounds necessarily, but tracking macros is a great way to keep a healthy diet maintained and continue to build muscle (which you will need to tote the belly around!)

    2. I echo what Sara said. You can very safely count macros while your pregnant – in fact the emphasis on protein is GREAT for pregnant moms who tend to not get enough protein. The difference is your goals change and instead of trying to lose fat you are trying to experience healthy weight gain. But tracking your macros and adjusting them based on your weight gain can really help you not gain too much fat during your pregnancy which is good for your body and for your baby.

  4. I’ve been counting calories on My Fitness Pal for a few years now. Is this the program you recommend as a macro counter? If so, is it easier to track if you upgrade to premium? Or do you just track them from the nutrients option on you daily log?

    1. Yes, I use My Fitness Pal and just keep an eye on the numbers in the nutrients option as you mentioned. MFP doesn’t let you always set the numbers EXACTLY, which was frustrating to me, so I actually did upgrade and pay the monthly fee eventually but it is totally not necessary. Amber also found a hack you can use with a 3rd party extension that is totally free. I was just a little worried about spyware so I just upgraded to MFP. But you can scroll through her instagram (or google!) to find it!

    2. I love MFP and you definitely don’t need to pay for the upgraded version. The hack that I posted about actually has been not working lately – I think MFP caught whiff of it and shut it down. 🙁 But you can still set your macros pretty close by hitting goals, setting your calories and then adjusting the percentages. If you want to pay for the upgrade that’s an easy way to be able to set your macro goals to the gram. But either way to see the macros you have eaten for the day you can either go to the “nutrition” tab or if you are on your phone just turn your phone sideways and scroll to the bottom and your macros for the day show up there.

  5. Ok so question, when I’m in MFP it tends to give me a calorie goal that is too little. I noticed that I need to eat more for energy, but pick the foods well so I am not eating too many carbs. I love my bread! If I combine that with strength training and weights I am able to lose weight at a normal pace. How can I make sure I get the right macros and calorie goals for me since online calculators aren’t the best indicator necessarily for what you personally need. I guess my question is how do I find out what the best goals are for me?

    1. I calculated my macros on the website she listed above. It gave me a calorie number that was higher than MFP. So I just went into MFP and manually enter then calories given from IIFIYM. Then adjusted the macros to fit my goals. Worked out nicely.

    2. There is definitely some trial and error involved. Online calculators only take you so far, sometimes what you really need is to mess around with the macros to find the best ratio for you. So I would try setting your calories in MFP to what you feel like is an appropriate level for you and then adjust your macro percentages to find a good spot for you and your body.

  6. My current weight is what it was when I was in high school and ran track/cross country but my body shape is very different. After 3 kids (youngest is almost 4) my muffin top looks more like me when I am 5 months pregnant. I ran a half marathon about a month ago but I still look very pregnant. Will counting macros keeping my calories at a deficit cause me to loose weight? I’m really more interested in loosing fat and not weight. Do I want calories in = calories out?

    1. I am so glad that you understand the difference between weight loss and fat loss! And muffin tops are a COMMON complaint I hear from my clients. When you have a muffin top it is usually fat, which means that you do need fat loss to occur. For that to happen you need to be in a caloric deficit. What I would recommend is incorporating resistance training or weight lifting into your routine while you are in your caloric deficit. That will help you build muscle while you are losing fat so your weight will most likely not change much but the way your body looks will change as you lose fat and tighten everything up.

      1. Yes, the muffin top is absolutely fat. According to the myfitness app my macros are 50 carb, 30 fat, 20 protein. The IIFYM calculator gave me similar numbers. Is that right? I need more fat than protein?

  7. Thank you for this intoduction to macros. I’ve had a rough few months and been at a total loss of what to do. My weight continues to slowly climb and I’ve been totally freaked out by it. This feels like a much more approachable way to handle the ins and outs of a diet. Though also very terrifying for someone who has tried to eat healthy and exercise and I just keep failing. Any way to stay motivated until you start to see progress?

    1. That’s so frustrating, isn’t it?? Sometimes I have a hard time staying motivated myself. For me, I just have to continually remind myself of the end game and that it’s worth it to keep pressing on and stick with it because results are not often immediate! Totally just a mental thing, but sometimes I take something like a pair of pants I want to fit into or an older picture when I was super fit and put them somewhere I see often as a reminder of what I’m working for. Also, as cheesy as it sounds: one day at a time. This is a big one for me. I get frustrated when I feel like I have to be doing this forever and get overwhelmed thinking of how long it might take to reach a goal. So honestly, I work on things one day at a time. TODAY I am going to hit these macros. And then the next day. And then I try for a 7 day streak. Ya know? After that, look toward the next goal, but small baby steps are so much more attainable and keep me going!

    2. I think you will find that after you get over the initial hump of learning how to track your macros this style of eating will be very helpful for you because when weight loss stalls or when you gain weight you can very easily look at your macros and adjust them to keep fat loss going. When you are just eating “healthy” it’s hard to “eat healthier” when your weight loss isn’t occurring. But when you track macros now you have definite numbers that you can tweak until you find your sweet spot. And Sara has some GREAT ideas for motivation. Another thing I try to help my clients find out is their “WHY.” Why are they trying to lose fat? When you can really tease out your WHY and your motivation you can pull that out when times get hard.

  8. My question is about sugar. If the main macros people count are carbs, fat and protein, is it just assumed that in order to reach those you will be eating foods that aren’t tons of sugar?

    1. Sugar is a carb, so it’s tracked as a carb. But yes, it is very hard to hit your macros if you are eating junk food all day. Most processed food has A LOT of carbs and fat and not a lot of protein. So in order to hit your protein goals WITHOUT going over your fat and carb goals you have to eat mostly healthy nutrient-dense food with the fun treat thrown in every now and again 😉

  9. Thanks for this! I’m 3 months postpartum, and I’m just now jumping back into a fitness routine. Do you have any resources for calculating macros while both breastfeeding and engaging in a much higher activity level? I’m concerned about my milk supply, so I don’t want to dive into this without some information ahead of time. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    1. I talked about this in a comment above, but I have found with the higher protein goals that IIFYM requires most mommas don’t have any problem with their milk supply even when in a caloric deficit. If you are really concerned about it you can add on 200 calories and see how your body responds and then lower your calories if you don’t have a problem with your milk.

  10. I am excited to start tracking macros after I have my baby in a little less than a month! I have a hard time getting enough protein as it is, though, and IIFYM seems to focus a lot on protein. Any advice on getting my protein in would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    1. My go-to protein sources are Greek yogurt, egg whites, tilapia, shrimp, chicken, protein powder, and lean ground turkey. Focus on getting 20-30g at each meal and snack.

  11. This was a great article. I’ve been a big fan of Amber for months now, so have already tried out macro counting but am having one big quandry. I know there isn’t an “answer” for this, but just wanted to throw this out and get thoughts.

    I counted my macros for about a month pretty consistently. What I loved most about macro counting was not classifying food as good or bad and getting into that whole mind game. What I hated about it was the obsessiveness that it started to cause in me. I really hated weighing every little thing that went into my mouth. It was when my two year old built something with legos and said, “Look Mommy, it’s my scale” that I started to feel funny about it. Maybe I am overly sensitive, but I have two sisters who have had pretty severe eating disorders and I do NOT want my kids to see any kind of disordered eating modeled. Do you struggle with this at all? Anyway, just musing and looking for thoughts. I do want to start doing it again though because I feel like it is a good method.

    Thanks!

    1. That’s a really important thing to discuss, and I have talked about this a bit on IG, but we have lots of conversations with our kids about why mom and dad weigh their food and why at they don’t have to. We focus on talking about our goals (to build muscle) and don’t talk about weight. And we keep a very open discussion about food, how to fuel your body and we don’t label food bad or good but rather talk about “always” foods and “sometimes” foods.

  12. I have been trying to track macros on and off for several months. My biggest problem is trying to figure out servings in a recipe. Your reply to the question at the top of this post helped me understand. It sound like you weigh everything and then enter those amounts into MFP. So if you continue to make the same recipe, you just need to make sure you make it with the same weighed ingredients. Right? Also I have a really hard time figuring out what to eat when I go out to eat and then try to track my meal. Obviously, I don’t have any idea what the cook did to prepare the meal. Most chain restaurants are easy to find on MFP, but what about others that might not be list. Any trick on how to figure your meal out?

    One more question. I do mostly HIIT workouts with weights and bodyweight. It looks like to loose more weight I need to look at those as my cardio and not strength. Is that correct? And maybe focus more on lifting?

    1. Tracking at a restaurant is challenging. Some restarants have macros online, but many do not. In those cases I would stick to single ingredient foods that you can estimate (i.e. Grilled chicken vs lasagna). And correct – body weight work with HIIT is great, but for muscle growth you will get better results with heavier weights.

  13. Can you please explain a little more about how to weight the food? So you don’t count the amounts from the nutritional fact on the package? And if you are weighting everything, how do you know exactly how to categorize the food? Sorry, maybe this is a stupid question 😊 Thanks for your help!

    1. Good question, it would help if you just start playing around with My Fitness Pal because it would make more sense. But yes, you use nutritional labels, but instead of measuring out 2Tbsp of peanut butter like it says on the label for a serving you weigh out 32g (also listed on the label). In MFP you can also use the scanner on your phone to scan labels and MFP logs it for you, you just adjust the servings. It will make more sense if you just start messing with it.

  14. This isn’t exactly carb cycling is it? But from what I understand, you can’t really carb cycle without tracking macros? I don’t really need to lose weight and have relatively low body fat but I feel like I’m not being a good enough steward over my diet. I eat cleanly and exercise 5x a week but from the little bit I’ve read about carb cycling, it sounds like I’d be tailoring my macros to the intensity of my workouts each day. Therefore reaping better results from my efforts. Do you think this would be beneficial? I’ve just started reading about all of this and it’s kind of blending together in my mind.
    Thank you for taking the time to inform us!

    1. You can carb cycle while you track macros, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. Some people really like carb cycling, but I have found with clients that consistent macros work just as well and is a lot less mentally challenging. Low carb days can really make you feel like crap and make working out hard. You can change your macros depending on if you train that day, but again I find that consistent macros work just as well.

  15. So my questions is- what if I don’t eat as much as my calculator says? Should I be eating more- if I don’t will my muscle gains suffer? Or am I okay as long as the ratios are correct?
    My main focus right now is fat loss- but I don’t want to be hurting my muscle gains as I go. Does that make sense?

    1. The whole reason that IIFYM came into practice was for bodybuilders who wanted to drop fat without losing muscle – thus the higher protein requirements. With more protein in your diet the body uses those amino acids instead of breaking down your muscles and instead using fat. If you are in a moderate caloric deficit (around 20%) and getting enough protein that will minimize muscle loss during your fat loss.

  16. I’m confused. Sugar is a carb but on My Fitness Pal sugar is in its own column, so do I ignore that column? Or do I need to add that column and the carb column together? I just started taking thyroid medication and am hoping to finally lose that last 10 – 12 pounds and maybe macros will help.

    1. Yep, ignore it. You can actually adjust your settings on MFP and I have fiber instead in that column.

  17. There are so many fad diets around, it’s hard to decide what works for me. Counting Macros makes sense. Thanks for getting me started.

  18. Oooohh!! Lightbulb moment! 💡Thanks OBB and Amber for ‘splaining this in a way that’s easy to understand.

  19. I’ve done a couple challenges where it’s about the macros but everything is tracked for you. I’d love to learn how to do this for myself!

  20. This post was sooo helpful! Thank you! so diving right into macros I heard you have to eat super clean for 4 weeks then you can start incorporating a treat here or there?…. I’ve been macro counting for a little bit and I do really well for a week and then I get discouraged and throw in the towel. A few days later I try it again and it seems to be a repeat. From reading this post it sounds like I can add in my treat from day 1 and it shouldn’t hinder any progress as long as I stay consistent right? And one more question… if you aren’t able to hit your macros perfectly is it okay to be over in a category (like carbs or fats) a little bit? Or how do you hit them all perfectly?

    1. Oh ya, incorporate treats! As long as you hit those numbers you’re good. And it’s super hard to get them EXACTLY, so I try to get within 5g. If I get that close I call it a win 🙂

    1. Sara is right – you want to hit them (within 5g each macro) without going way over your calorie goal. So if you accidentally go 20g over in fat, you would want to not hit your carb goal that day to balance the calories out. Hope that makes sense!

  21. How can we contact amber for paid coaching? I don’t have a Facebook account or instagram… Thank you so much!!!

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