Stress-Free Macro Tracking
If you want to learn how to calculate and track macros, this post is for you!
“Macros” is short for “macronutrients,” and refers to the proteins, carbs, and fats that make up our foods. Macros are the different building blocks that make up our calories. It matters how many calories we eat in a day, but the makeup of those calories is important, too.
Most people have no quantifiable data on how much food they’re eating, so it can be hard to effectively work toward their goals. By using a food tracking app to track macros, we can quickly and easily see exactly how much protein, carb, fat, fiber, and calories we eat in a day.
That way, we have clear and concise data that we can manipulate to elicit our desired outcome (whether that’s improving our health, maintaining our current bodyweight, muscle gain, fat loss, etc).
Tracking macros doesn’t have to be time-consuming or stressful, but it certainly *can* be depending on how you approach it.
This is why we are big advocates for Flexible Tracking: we aim for specific protein and calorie goals, letting carb and fat goals shake out where they may. To learn more about how to track macros and flexible tracking, keep reading!
To track macros, you want to track your food. If you haven’t been tracking your food, start by weighing, measuring, and recording everything you eat for 5-7 days. Then assess the averages of how much protein, carb, fat, and calories you’ve been eating.
Next, estimate what your maintenance needs might be via TDEE Calculator or the Precision Nutrition Calculator (select ‘Improve Health’ as your goal). The TDEE option is usually a better estimate for those with higher body fat, while the Precision Nutrition calculator may be more accurate for leaner or super active individuals.
Compare your average tracked calorie averages to the potential maintenance calorie estimations. If you’re eating drastically under that estimation, consider slowly increase how much you’re eating by about ~100 calories every 2-4 weeks, until you find your maintenance calorie threshold .
Your mileage may vary, but ~1,200-1,600 calories likely isn’t enough for most active women to support their activity and exercise. If I used myself as a personal example: I’m 5’3 and my maintenance calories are around ~2,200-2,300 calories per day to support 4-5 days of lifting.
To Lose Fat: You will need to be in a calorie deficit. This will likely be anywhere from ~10-30% below your maintenance calorie needs. We recommend you try to spend at least 3-6 months at maintenance before trying to diet.
To Easily Gain Muscle: You will need to be calorie surplus beyond maintenance needs. This will likely be about ~5-20% above your maintenance calorie needs. Those with more body fat, less muscle, and/or newer to lifting will likely require a bigger surplus. The longer you’ve been training and more muscle you have, the less of a surplus you
Whether your goal is to gain muscle, lose body fat, improve performance, gain strength, or just look your best, getting enough protein each day is key to getting there. Protein helps us build muscle, carry good body composition, and keeps us satiated and full (among tons of other important things).
Current recommendations for protein are ~0.7-1.0 grams per lb body weight.
Leaner individuals might aim closer to body weight in grams of protein, and those with more body fat might aim closer to 0.7 or 0.8 grams.
For example, a 130 lb individual might aim for ~130g protein (~1.0g), while the same height individual at 180 lb might aim for ~125g protein (~0.7).
If falling short on protein goals, you could supplement and consume 1-2 protein shakes each day as needed. It may also help to aim for bigger meat portions throughout the day.
If uninterested in tracking your macros, a good rule of thumb might be for women to aim for portion sizes of at least ~4-6 ounces per meal, while men might aim for ~6-8 ounces per meal.
Dietary Fat Goals
Eating foods that are high in fat does NOT make you fat.
Not getting enough healthy fats in your diet can contribute to numerous symptoms, including dry skin, hair loss, hormone, and menstrual cycle issues, joint pain, fatigue, depression, and more.
Fats are also an important source of energy, can help make food taste better, help keep us feeling satiated and full between meals, and are crucial for absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The current minimum recommendation for dietary fat is 0.7 grams per kilogram body weight, which is ~0.32 grams per lb of body weight (or target body weight).
Meaning a 120 lb person might aim for a minimum of ~38 grams of fat per day. The minimum proposal here seems a little low for my personal liking, as what I’ve personally seen with coaching thousands of women over the past 15+ years, it can sometimes be common to see hormone or period problems if consistently eating super low fat (this might look something like ~35-50 grams of fat per day).
As a proposed better rule of thumb, we might aim to get no less than 20-25% of daily calories from healthy fats each day. For example:20% of 2000 calories would mean we consume no less than ~44 grams of fat per day.
Carbs taste damn good and are super beneficial for supporting an active lifestyle, supporting recovery from workouts, and building muscle. Eating too little carbs may negatively impact workouts and recovery.
In addition to carbs, we like to make sure to get a minimum of ~25-30 grams of fiber and lots of water daily. Fiber helps support digestion, heart health, blood sugar regulation, hormone health, and healthy cholesterol levels.
Carb needs will vary greatly person-to-person depending on activity. The more active you are = the more carbs you’ll likely need! Most people will likely land within something like ~ 3-5 grams per kilogram bodyweight. For example, 150 lbs / 2.2 = 68 kg = 205-340 grams of carbs per day.
Potential Signs You Aren’t Eating Enough Carbs:
- feeling light-headed + dizzy during workouts
- not feeling powerful during your lifts
- feeling like you’re “running on empty”
- low energy / excessive fatigue
- cold hands and feet and/or feeling cold all the time
- feeling excessively sore from workouts
- you’re always feeling hungry and/or experiencing food cravings
- mood swings
As mentioned previously, there is no “perfect” macro split and we don’t need to sweat having specific protein/carb/fat/calorie goals.
To track macros with ease, consider Flexible Tracking: you track all your food, but ONLY aim for specific protein and calorie goals. We then let carb and fat totals shake out where they may.
If you want to aim for some minimums, make sure to get at least ~20% of your calories from healthy fats. And if you’re super active, you probably want to lean into eating lots of carbs!
Example of Flexible Tracking:
- Maintenance needs are around ~2300-2400 calories per day
- Prioritize ~130g protein and no less than 2,300 calories each day
- Macro splits might look like ~130p 300c 75f or ~130p 200c 120f
There’s no skipping trial and error here! See where YOU feel best!
Why We Love The Cronometer App to Track Macros
- You can scan bar codes on food in the free version
- Food entries tend to be more accurate than other tracking apps
- You can customize your daily goals, and you don’t HAVE to set goals for all the macros (you could set goals for just protein and calories!)
- Easily record body weight, body temperature (to track menstrual cycle), blood glucose levels, etc
- Can “star” food entries for quick and easy logging in the future
- Can copy and paste from previously logged days for super speedy and quick food tracking
- Monitor vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, etc (iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B12…)
If you’re a nutrition coach, you can create graphs of your clients’ data to show their consistency in hitting their macro goals over time. Nutrition coaches can also hide data from clients, meaning a client could log their food, but only the coach would see macro totals, calorie totals, food data, and so on.
Setting Up Cronometer
- Enter gender, height, weight, and date of birth.
- Select Maintain on the next screen. Enter email. Verify account.
- Click Settings” in the lower corner.
- Select Targets. Then select Energy Settings:
- BMR = 0. Activity Level = 0. Weight Goal = 0.
- Imported Activity = uncheck the box
- Variable Calories Burned = uncheck the box
- Click Settings in the lower corner.
- Under Targets, now click Macronutrient Targets:
- Set macros using = Fixed Values
- Track carbs = Total Carbs
- The pre-generated macro/calorie goals are trash. Delete them.
- This is where you can set macro and/or calorie goals.
- Go back to the Settings page. Click Display:
- Unselect Show Energy Summary
- Select Show Macronutrient Breakdown
- Unselect Show Highlighted Targets & Show Weight Goal
We do NOT recommend connecting your Apple Watch, Garmin, etc as it will automatically change your nutrition goals and food tracking data. “Calories Burned” = inaccurate / fake news. Please don’t ever pay attention to this from a wearable!
How To Log Your Food
- Weigh and measure your food as much as possible in grams or ounces on a food scale. Try to avoid measuring spoons or measuring cups.
- In Cronometer, use the Orange (+) button at the bottom. Then click “Add Food.” Scan the bar code on your food or search for the food.
Let’s say you are logging blueberries. Search, select entry, then change the amount / serving size (ex: 100 grams). Feel free to “star” the entry (top left corner) if you plan to use this entry regularly.
To Copy Foods From a Previous Day:
- Change the date to whichever day you want to copy from. Then click the 3 vertical dots in the upper right corner.
- Hit (+) Multi-Select and then click the food entries you wish to copy over to today.
- Click the 3 vertical dots in the upper right corner again.
- Select Copy. Click back to today’s date. Three vertical dots. Then hit Paste. Ta daaaa!
Need More Help?
I hope this helped you better understand how to to track macros! If you need more help, you can always check out LCK’s e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Nutrition, Muscle Gain, & Fat Loss if you want to get more details about supporting your nutrition and fitness goals (:
Also, we’re always posting workout and nutrition tips on our Paragon Training Methods Instagram page. Follow along for some free workouts and tips for enhancing your routine!