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.

Soup

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

 

 

 

62 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 😉

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