Of all the hyped-up health & fitness practices trending through the FitFam community (*cough teatoxes and waist trainers cough*), tracking macros is one that I can whole-bellied (I’d say whole-heartedly, but my belly is bigger 😉 ) get behind.
Mentions of macros have been appearing more frequently on my Instagram, whether it’s hashtags in captions or stickers on stories. With this comes a whole lotta FAQs slidin’ into my DMs. With the disclaimer that I am not a Registered Dietitian, I’m breaking down what I’ve learned over the past 6 months of tracking macronutrient intake.
Everything we eat, from Big Macs to kale bowls, is comprised of a combination of three core macros, short for macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. My fave? The ultimate macro trifecta: NUT BUTTAH! 😉 The human body processes and applies each macronutrient differently – from energy, to growth, to hormone production and organ health.
So, how do macros relate to fitness? When portioned strategically and combined with a regimented workout plan, macronutrient intake plays a major role in body composition – from fat loss to muscle gain. Everybody (read, literally: every body) is different – if ya don’t know, now ya knowwww – and so an ideal macronutrient breakdown is unique to every individual, which is why you won’t catch me sharing the specifics of my personal macro intake. The c/p/f split is based on your body’s caloric needs as it pertains to your goals (simply put: losing, gaining, or maintaining).
Macros are an indicator of quantity (how much of a specific nutrient to consume), but not necessarily a guideline for quality (where to source those nutrients). (Hello, micronutrients! But, we’ll save that for another time.) In short, I believe that not all calories and macronutrients are created equal. For example, a 100 calorie portioned pack of Oreo cookies is not the same as 100 calories worth of raspberries. An Oreo’s carb source (added sugar) is not the same as a raspberry’s carb source (the Supreme Queen of fiber).
Why Do You Track?
Eating intuitively is a valuable skillset, and a practice that I believe forms a healthy relationship with food. When I began my Fitness Journey, I overhauled my dietary habits with the help of the Tone It Up Nutrition program and began to intuitively eat carefully selected food pairings sans any form of tracking (caloric or macro). In fact, I practiced intuitive eating for longer than I have practiced a macro-based meal plan, and saw my most visible physical transformation on an intuitive eating plan. So why’d I make the switch? I hit the dreaded plateau. I was WORKIN’ IT (probably too much, in hindsight – live, lift, n’ learn!) in the gym and my diet was squeaky lean, clean, and green… and yet I did not feel that my body composition was reflecting my efforts. My lower belly region was as stubborn as ever, and where I wanted to look muscular, I felt I was thinning out. That, sweat sisters, can get pretty damn frustrating. But, like I say in this blog: when the goal is not met, change the means, not the goal. (Yes, I do practice what I write 😉 ). After some self-propelled research and connecting with other fit chicks, I came to the conclusion that while the quality of my food consumption was on point, the quantity was imbalanced. I was eating way too little to sustain my activity level, and my fluctuating macro ratio was such that my body was not able to break down and translate the nutrients I was consuming in a way that supported my goals. Dear Fat: It’s me, Al. I’m sorry for neglecting you so.
Although I was overall pleased with the results of my lifestyle choices, I had highly specific goals for my physique (resting flex arm) that required a more regimented, strategic approach to eating. Knowing that I am doing all I can to support my goals prevents me from getting frustrated in my Fitness Journey and reassures me that I am making the best decisions for me.
How Did You Start?
Truth be told, I was hesitant to track my food intake. I knew, based on actual factual science, that meeting a predetermined caloric and macro breakdown would be the means to my goals, but I also wanted to maintain a healthy, positive relationship with food and my lifestyle. I think this is where intuitive eating played a key role in my transition. Since I had already become accustomed to eating in a specific way and had established the foundation of a healthy relationship with my dietary habits, I was able to be more patient and flexible with myself in the beginning stages of tracking (more on that later). After researching all corners of the internet and social media, I made the decision that I wanted to give a macros-based diet a shot. I contacted my local women’s wellness center where I made an appointment with a Registered Dietitian specializing in Sports Nutrition. We discussed my goals, my fitness and nutrition routine, and my preferences, and we developed a plan.
But, What Really Goes Into Tracking Macros?
(See related: Is it time consuming? Is it difficult?)
Meet your new best friends, the non-negotiable necessities for macro tracking:
- Food Scale
- MyFitnessPal (or similar tracking app)
And the somewhat optional but totally-will-make-your-life-easier crew:
- Fully stocked fridge, freezer, and pantry
- Patience and flexibility
I’ll be completely upfront with you. While not necessarily complicated, tracking macros is time consuming and requires a certain level of dedication. In order to accurately meet your macro breakdown, you will need to weigh every morsel of food that you plan to consume – down to the tbsp of peanut butter – and log it into a tracking app. Seriously, imagine my face when I scooped “1 tbsp” of nut butter out of the jar with a measuring spoon and plopped it into my greek yogurt parfait only to see the number on the scale skyrocket well above the suggested “2 tbsp” (30g) serving size. Referring to serving sizes by weight (most commonly gram and ounce) is paramount to macronutrient success. I know it doesn’t sound entirely glamorous (it might sound down right awful to you), but like anything in life, you find your groove over time!
What Changes Have You Seen From Tracking Macros?
Let it be known that like any sustainable lifestyle, tracking nutrient intake does not work it’s macro-magic overnight – however, I found it worked pretty damn quickly. Within a week of adjusting my caloric and macronutrient intake my stomach leaned out more than ever. The aforementioned lower belly “pooch”? See ya never! JK, see ya after I eat 5 lbs of green veggies 😉 Science, people. Since adopting a macro-based diet, my muscles are slowly but surely growing (booty + biceps poppin’!) and performing at a higher level (more reps and more weight). But something I didn’t expect as a result of macro tracking is the effect it has had on my satiety levels and cravings. Since feeding my body the exact balance of nutrients it needs to function, I am fuller longer and my post-dinner sweet snack attacks have dwindled (but not totally disappeared 😉 ).
Why Should I Track?
Maybe you should track, maybe you shouldn’t. Health & fitness practices are extremely unique to every individual, and it’s something to be celebrated. A few points to consider: Have you hit a plateau? Do you have hyper-specific aesthetic (resting flex arm) or performance (speed, pull up, agility) goals? Do you feel that your energy levels are inconsistent? Do you struggle with satiety or cravings? Do you have a healthy relationship with food? Then, tracking macros may just be for you! Does the thought of weighing maple syrup by the gram sound worse than a 10-miler on a treadmill? Have you had negative or disordered relationships with food in the past? Do you feel that your goals are being met with your current routine? Then, tracking macros may not be for you.
How Should I Start?
Master an intuitive eating plan. Research. Consult a professional. In that order.
Bonus Question: You Can Never Have Enough Protein, Right?
Wrong! The body can only process so much protein at a time before, like any other macronutrient, storing excess intake as fat.
UP NEXT: MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MACROS featuring first hand experience, tips, advice, and how I make macros work for me.