In this post, I answered your FAQs about all things macros – from WTF “CPF” is to the results I’ve seen from tracking. I mention how everyone’s ideal macronutrient ratio is unique to their preferences and goals, and just the same, everyone’s approach to a macro-based diet is all their own.
The first day of my macro tracking, I exceeded my goal protein intake by something like 43 grams (that’s a lot), overcompensating because I perceived protein intake to be difficult. Whoops. That night, planning my meals for the following day, I stood in the kitchen for two hours, sighing with frustration, cursing MyFitnessPal, adjusting and readjusting, calculating and recalculating, until I finally, finally got it right. 6 months later, I dance around my kitchen with my scale & MyFitnessPal (who I finally refer to as an actual pal) and a steadfast routine, have fun with the few & far between adjustments and calculations, and get hype when I hit my numbers with ease.
Tracking caloric/macronutrient intake is a microscopic look at every gram of food that enters and powers your body. It’s a truly fascinating process (#nutritionnerd) to learn what nutrients make up your fave ingredients, what actual serving sizes are, and how your body reacts to different dietary cycles. That said, tracking food intake raises a hyperawareness that, while educational and beneficial, can at times be frustrating… and maybe even lead to disordered thinking. I knew I wanted to track macros, but how was I going to approach analyzing my food intake? First things first, I identified my priorities.
- Maintaining a healthy relationship with food in which I do not have restrictions or food-related anxiety
- Performance and function
It’s this ranking that serves as the foundation of my personal relationship with macronutrients. If I were a competitive body builder or just beginning my fitness journey, this list would probably look much different (with aesthetics leading the pack) and there’s nothing wrong with that. Right now, I want my dietary habits to help me achieve a sustainable, maintainable lifestyle – ’cause I’m in it for the long haul, y’all.
Keep reading for more on me + my relationship with macros.
Disclaimer: all advice/tips are based upon my own personal experience. I encourage you to listen to your body and come up with a strategy founded on intuition that aligns with your priorities.
The Big Picture. Think of a macro-based meal plan as an edible puzzle where the final product is your daily allotment of macros, and the pieces are super-yummy carbs, protein, and fat. Unlike a traditional puzzle, how you choose to arrange those pieces is entirely up to you. We could both have the same macro breakdown, but my picture could be a blend of kale, chicken, and of course, peanut butter, while your masterpiece could include sweet potato, salmon, and sunflower seeds. There will be a lot of shucking & jiving and you will need to practice patience & flexibility (and I’m not just talking about your back bend, yogi 😉 ).
Focus on Amounts, Not Percentages. When you navigate to the nutrition tab in MyFitnessPal, the app automatically directs you to a pie chart view of your macro breakdown (labeled “Macros”). PSA: do not rely on this to determine your success in meeting your numbers. The pie chart does not account for your calorie goals, so your percentage could look spot-on without actually meeting your caloric needs (whether over or under). Percentages are based on the relationship between the total amount of your nutrients, and can be misleading. Instead, look at the “Nutrients” tab for a straight forward visual of your nutrient goal, intake, and remainder for the most accurate account.
Build-A-Meal. For the most accurate tracking, I find it easiest to create individualized meals that focus on how separate ingredients can come together as a whole. Buddha Bowls, Tray Dinners, Mix n’ Match bowls with quinoa or Banza, yogurt parfaits, and Everything But The Kitchen Sink Salads have become my staple meals. Comprised of protein, starch, veggies, and fat, these dishes are fully customizable, making it much simpler to fine-tune ingredients as needed. This B(build).Y.O.-style of cooking has encouraged me to experiment with new flavors and ingredients (curry, turmeric, paprika – oh my!). The combinations are seriously, satisfyingly endless. (Tip: When you do cook in bulk, use MyFitnessPal’s recipe tool for the most accurate nutrition facts. Be sure to weigh the final product so that you can determine an exact portion size).
Start Strategically. Do you eat a pre-workout snack every morning? (Yup!) Do you have produce or protein that you need to use up? Do you have a social salad date planned? Plug it into MyFitnessPal, and build your daily puzzle from there. For example, if I eat a larabar mini every morning before HIITing the gym, I know immediately that 110 calories broken into 10g carbs/3g protein/ 6g fat are accounted for in my total macro allotment. Plan your meals in advance in order to have the most balanced, easy to navigate experience sans surprises. I suggest starting by plugging in the main meals – M1, M3, and M5. (I always add my breakfast first because it’s typically my most caloric and macro dense meal of the day – all the proteins, all the carbs, and just enough of the fats for post workout muscle recovery!) Then, fill in the gaps with snacks. As you log your meals, navigate to the “Nutrition” panel often (like, really often) for a solid grasp on where your numbers are falling in relationship to your goals. I promise that over time your brain will learn and remember macro information, and the puzzle becomes easier!
This super caloric and macro dense M1 came after a suuuuper heavy leg day, and it dictated the rest of my meals.
Consider High Volume, Low Macro. A fitchick friend of mine gave me this piece of advice during a particularly hungry week of my macro counting at a time when I was strategically consuming in a caloric deficit. If you find that you are easily surpassing your macro goals, or perhaps meeting your macro goals but hungry – turn to high volume, low macro foods. For example, cauliflower rice is extremely low in macro values, meaning you can eat large, filling servings without compromising all your carbs. On the other spoon 😉 peanut butter (not knocking it ’cause I always make it work) is high macro/high calorie for a fairly small serving size. Opting for high volume options will keep you full and satisfied while leave wiggle room for treats or cravings – win, win!
Use a Food Scale. This is a MUST. If you want to accurately track macros, you can not rely on measuring tools like cups or spoons when portioning out ingredients. For example, a serving size of most peanut butters is 2 tbsp (30-32 grams). If you dig a tablespoon – one tablespoon – into your peanut butter jar and plop it on your scale, I can almost guarantee that it’s weight will exceed the two tablespoon suggested serving size. Can you tell I’m still salty (JK ’cause I buy unsalted PB) from this true life encounter? All products and ingredients will display a serving size in weight (most commonly ounces or grams) next to the standard measurement, use it! See the example below. A serving size of these organic dried figs (waddup TJs!!) reads “4 figs (40g)”. Well my friends, look what happens when I plop two average size figs onto my trusty food scale. At 1/2 the suggested number of figs, I’m already about to hit the weighted serving size. I could easily double the calories and macros (my precious carb count) on this ingredient if I didn’t use a scale to record it.
Stock Up. Keeping a well stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer will enhance your macro tracking game and make adjustments much easier. After all, we do want this to be sustainable and simple. Finding that you’re low on fat for the day? Good thing you have a bag of raw almonds in the pantry! Whoops – calculations went way over on carbs? Swap sweet potato for zucchini noodles. (Tip: Don’t worry about excess produce going to waste. Build a bounty of frozen veggies and dried fruit to fall back on.)
Track When It Works (and understand how this will affect your goals). Allow me to reiterate: it is very important to me to maintain a healthy, positive relationship with food and eating that is free of anxiety and stress. In order to achieve this, I limit my tracking on Saturday and Sunday, unless I have hyper-specific goals to meet in a set amount of time. I approach weekend vibes one of two ways: 1) track my main meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and let my intuition, belly, or cravings determine my snacks or 2) track my meals with the exception of one restaurant-based meal. *It doesn’t mean that I abandon my quality preferences (lean, clean, green and #TIUapproved), it just means that I allow for flexibility with the quantity.* Let it be known that if you take this approach, you will naturally have inconsistencies in your macro intake and should be aware of how this may affect your results. I recommend strictly adhering to your macro allotment until you have mastered the process before loosening the reigns – by priming your body in this way, your intuitive eating and cravings will most likely reflect what you need in your macros.
Which leads me to…
Tracking Out: So, you want to track a restaurant-based meal at an eatery that doesn’t provide nutrition breakdowns (see also: most restaurants)? First, understand and accept that your macro count won’t be 100% accurate in this scenario. Next, overshoot. When attempting to log chef-prepped meals, I generally try my best to overcompensate for my macros so that, if anything, I am hopefully falling short in my totals instead of grossly exceeding them. If you want to get detailed down to the morsel, consider that your food is probably cooked in more oil than necessary (hello fat content!). The more you track, the better judgment you will have when making estimates at protein portion sizes and prepping techniques.
Challenge Yourself. The more you track, the more your body responds intuitively. Try going a day tracking on paper only (or mentally) and avoid calculating any of your totals. Make attempts to keep your macros balanced, but don’t overthink it – allow your body to tell you what it wants and needs. At the end of the day, plug all your numbers into your tracking app and see how you did! I tested this method after several months of tracking, and came impressively close to my goals on intuition alone.
And after months of practice, that’s how I get along with macros 🙂 I’d love to hear your tips and tricks – if ya got ’em drop ’em below.