by: Stephanie Rossler, RD, MS -
By now you’ve probably heard of the phrase “macro tracking” but what is it and should
you do it? Macro tracking is a form of tracking your food but takes it a step further and
can be used for any fitness goal: weight loss, muscle gain, performance goals, etc. To
really understand macro tracking, you must know what a macro is.
What is a Macro?
Macro is short for “macronutrient.” Macronutrients are nutrients your body needs the most of and make up your total calorie count: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Alcohol is considered its own macronutrient as it contains calories but is not essential for everyday life. Before you start tracking macros, it is important to understand what each macronutrient does for the body.
Carbohydrates provide your body with 4 calories per 1 gram. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, help regulate blood sugar and insulin control, and aid in triglyceride and cholesterol management (1,2). There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are easily digested for quick energy (1) and are found in sugar, candy, syrups, fruits, honey, and milk.
Complex carbohydrates are made of more complex chains and take longer to digest and cause a steady increase in blood sugar. These carbohydrates include starches and fiber. Foods that are complex carbohydrates are potatoes, whole grains, beans, legumes, lentils, oats, some fruits, and starchy vegetables (1).
The acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) for carbohydrates is between 45-65% of your daily caloric intake (1).
Like carbohydrates, protein provides 4 calories per gram. Protein is considered the building blocks of the body and are important for building muscle, tendons, and skin, to repair damaged tissues, aid in hormone regulation, and help create enzymes. The AMDR for protein is 10-35% of your daily caloric intake (3).
Unlike carbohydrates and protein, fats contain 9 calories per gram. Fats aid in the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, hormone production, and body temperature regulation (4). The AMDR for fat is 20-35% of your daily caloric intake (4).
How Much of Each Macro Do You Need?
Short answer: It depends, not everyone will need the same amount! The amount of each macronutrient needs depends on your height, weight, age, activity level, and your goal. To get an estimate, you need to first start off by determining your caloric needs. There are online calculators that you can use like this calculator by The National Institute of Health. The next step is going to require some math.
For carbohydrates: You will take your total number of calories and multiply by 45-65% depending on your goal. You will take that number and divide it by 4 to get the total number of grams needed from carbohydrates. Example: 2,000 calories x .50=1,000calories from carbohydrates. 1,000/4= 250g of carbohydrates.
For protein: You will take the total number of calories and multiply by 10-35% and take that number and divide it by 4 to get the total number of grams from protein. Example: 2,000x 0.30= 600 calories from protein. 600/4= 150g of protein.
For fat: You will take the total number of calories and multiply by 20-35% and take that number and divide it by 9. Example: 2000 x 0.20= 400 calories from fat. 400/9 ~ 44g of fat.
How to Track Macros
There are a few ways you can start tracking your macros. Apps like MyFitnessPal, LoseIt!, etc. are most commonly used to track macros and are convenient. They have an extensive database of food and allow you to scan barcode labels. Just don’t let the apps calculate your calorie and macronutrient breakdown for you! They tend to underestimate your caloric needs. This is where working with a nutrition professional can help.
You can also use pen and paper to track. This way may be a little harder and take a little bit more work and research, especially if the food is a whole food without a nutritional label.
Pros and Cons of Tracking Macros
Just like everything in life, there are some pros and cons of tracking macros.
First and foremost, the main benefit of tracking macros is that it helps raise awareness of your eating habits. It allows you to see where changes can be made and if you are eating enough of a certain macronutrient. By being aware of your current eating habits, you can easily adjust and not have to revamp your whole diet.
It can also show you what an actual serving size looks like. Test it out with peanut butter. Most people scoop peanut butter out with a knife or spoon and don’t pay attention to how much the serving size is. Compare an actual tablespoon of peanut butter to how you normally scoop out peanut butter and see the difference in serving size!
Tracking macros easily allows you to incorporate your favorite foods while still hitting your goals. It is a good tool to be able to see your favorite foods into your day and not go overboard on them.
Now onto the cons. Tracking macros is time consuming. Not only are you logging everything you eat into an app, you will also be weighing and measuring food to ensure accuracy and effectiveness of tracking macros.
Tracking macros can lead to added stress. Some people feel stressed having to log their food day in and day out, so tracking here’s no one-size-fits-all macronutrient breakdowns.
There’s no one-size-fits-all macronutrient breakdowns. With AFT Nutrition Coaching, we offer customized macronutrient breakdowns that meet your body’s needs and your fitness goals. Our experienced team of fitness and nutrition experts are ready to help you learn the best way to optimize your nutrition using the strategy that will help you best to reach your goals.
Stephanie Rossler, RD, MS
ACSM-CPT, PN-L1, B.S Food and Nutrition, Grad Student at Logan University
Holesh JE, Aslam S, Martin A (2021 Jul 26). Physiology, Carbohydrates. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459280/
Slavin, J., & Carlson, J. (2014). Carbohydrates. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 5(6), 760–761. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.114.006163
Wolfe, R. R., Cifelli, A. M., Kostas, G., & Kim, I. Y. (2017). Optimizing Protein Intake in Adults: Interpretation and Application of the Recommended Dietary Allowance Compared with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 8(2), 266–275. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.116.013821
Carreiro, A. L., Dhillon, J., Gordon, S., Higgins, K. A., Jacobs, A. G., McArthur, B. M., Redan, B. W., Rivera, R. L., Schmidt, L. R., & Mattes, R. D. (2016). The Macronutrients, Appetite, and Energy Intake. Annual review of nutrition, 36, 73–103. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-nutr-121415-112624