The 7-day guide to learning to track macros like a total pro
I received another frustrated email from my client.
I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight on these calories. Is there something wrong with my metabolism?
I reassured her again that there was nothing wrong, but I was starting to wonder what was up.
We’d been working together for some time. Although things went well at first, I’d slashed her calories since her initial weight loss. She still wasn’t losing at the rate I expected.
She was the type of client who enjoyed the control that tracking gave her. She had no issues getting out the food scale and her phone. She showed up every day, logged her food, and got it done.
Adherence was not the problem. It was something else.
I’d asked her to send me a food diary several times, and it all seemed on point. But my spidey sense was tingling. Something else was up.
This time, instead of writing down what she’d had, I asked her to send me a full day’s eating in MyFitnessPal.
And there was the answer.
Her tracking was off. To the tune of 400kcal per day.
One or two simple mistakes, repeated daily, resulted in fat loss completely stalling.
Not only was there a problem with her tracking, but me cutting her Calories further was affecting her psychologically too.
Eating a very low-calorie diet can be draining, even if it’s not true.
The above scenario has been repeated so many times I decided to write a guide for my clients.
This is how the guide you’re reading now came about.
Depending on who you talk to, tracking macros can be the most natural thing in the world. To others, it can feel foreign. It’s not for everyone long term, but you can learn a lot from at least two weeks of it, as long as you’re doing it right.
There are two main reasons my clients track macros.
- Awareness for you. Learning how many calories and macronutrients are in the food you eat gives you a skill for life. It’s also a form of self-monitoring which is an important component of fat loss or muscle gain.
- As a tool for me. If you can track what you eat, I can make changes to your diet with extreme precision. In the short term at least, this will give you better results.
And this is where we get to a key point right at the offset; what is the best way to do it? That’s what this guide is about.
Who should use this guide?
- If you’ve never tracked macros before but want to become a pro in a week
- If you have tried tracking macros before but it didn’t work the way you wanted it to
- If you’re not sure if you should weigh food raw or cooked, or how to count fibre
- If you already track but think you might be less accurate at it than you like and want to take it to pro-mode quickly
- If you’re not sure how much protein, fat, and carbs to eat
- If you want to eat a diet of pop tarts, whey protein, and peanut butter and still get shredded. Just kidding.
How to use this guide
See this guide as a roadmap to tracking macros like a total pro. Here’s how you’ll do it.
- Read the whole thing through twice
- Do the lessons in order
- Don’t skip bits or move forward faster than the guide takes you.
The lessons are as follows:
- Day 1 to 3: Tracking basics and building awareness
- Day 4 to 5: Hitting calorie and protein targets
- Day 6 to 7: Hitting macros within a range and how to track fibre
- Week 2 and beyond bonus lesson: Meal planning and creating recipes with MyFitnessPal
The following will take you through seven days of macro tracking. After which, you’ll be a pro for life.
As with most things, it starts with building Awareness
Step 1 – Day 1 to 3: Tracking basics and building awareness
Tools of the trade
- I recommend using the app MyFitnessPal, but MyMacros+ is a good second choice. Download it onto your phone.
- If you don’t have one, get a cheap digital food scale like this one.
Getting Started – very important
Please pay attention to this. Ignore all the stuff it says about how much you should eat, or what your goal weight should be. We’re using this as a tool to track how much you’re eating and nothing more.
Start to track
Start to track what you’re eating. Don’t worry about the amounts or numbers. Eat, and track as you go.
Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring things because you don’t think they shouldn’t be in your diet. That cheeky chocolate bar you ate at the petrol station, or the packet of M&M’s you engulfed on the way out the door.
Track it all, and track it without judgment.
Here’s how I want you to do it.
- Weigh food raw before cooking.
- Weigh food in grams.
- If you’re weighing fruit, weigh the bit your eating. Take the skin off the banana, and scoop the flesh out of the avocado.
- When you eat a food that comes from a packet, use your phone and the barcode scanner in the app to scan the food.
- Weigh ingredients one by one. Don’t try to make a lasagne and then search for “lasagne”. This will bring up a million different results, none of which will match what you’re about to eat. We’ll go through meal planning to make this way more simple in a later lesson.
Weighing things from a tub or jar
This seems simple I know. But the number of times I have seen people get this wrong means it requires special attention.
You put the jar/bowl or whatever food containing vessel on the scale
You switch the scale on, and the scale reads zero
You take out the things, and the scale reads minus the number of grams of the things you took out i.e. -20g
You keep going until you have taken the right amount of grams out
Feel free to lick the spoon. You’ve already measured it
How to search in MyFitnessPal
As you’re still building awareness at this point, I need to make one thing crystal clear.
MyFitnessPal has one major flaw, in that it allows people to add foods to it’s database. This is bad for a few reasons:
- People are not always that bright
- People make mistakes
- Thus, a lot of foods you search for in MyFitnessPal will be wrong.
Don’t panic. I’ve got a fix.
Using the USDA search term
USDA stands for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It features the most up to date and accurate food composition database.
Adding the term USDA to a food means that it’s on MyFitnessPal by way of the food database. That has improved the chances of it being accurate. Here’s how you do it.
- Use if the food is a non-packaged animal or plant product
- Search for the type of food then add USDA
- “chicken breast, raw, skinless, USDA”
- “Broccoli, raw, USDA”
- “Banana, raw, USDA”
Step 2 – Day 4 to 5: Hitting calorie and protein targets
You may have noticed that the app doesn’t just show you how many calories you ate. On top of that you’ve got grams of protein, fat, and carbs.
These are the “macros”.
Calories are by far the most important aspect of a diet, but macros are important too. How you recover, grow, and perform in the gym are important considerations. Macros play a large part.
It’s worth paying attention to them.
Let’s start with protein.
I want you to start aiming for a pre-determined calorie amount per day. Here’s how you’ll do it.
- Write down how many calories you ate over the first 3 days.
- Add the three numbers together.
- Divide by 3.
This is your average intake. Stick with this number for now.
I also want you to start eating a target amount of protein per meal every day. Here’s how.
- Take your bodyweight in kilograms and times by 2
- That number is how many grams of protein to eat.
e.g. 70kg x 2 = 140g protein
- Divide that number by how many meals you eat per day
e.g. 140g / 4 meals per day = 35g per meal
- Uncooked beef/ chicken/ pork/ lamb/ fish 100g = 20-25g of protein.
- One large egg = around 7-8g protein 5g fat.
- Egg whites = 4g protein.
- Low fat cottage cheese/ 0% fat Total Greek Yoghurt 100g = around 10g of protein.
- Beans/ lentils = will contain about 10g protein per 100g of cooked amount.
- Starches, vegetables, nuts and nut butters, all contain small amounts of protein too. These all count towards your protein target.
- Aim to hit most of your protein target per meal with quality protein.
This is can be where tracking stops for some people. Anything beyond this point is the nitty gritty.
Tracking total calories and protein is also your go-to option if you can’t track all the macros successfully in one day. This is often what a lot of people end up doing most often when they’ve been tracking for a while.
Don’t worry about perfection at this point. Try to get the numbers of calories within 100 of your target, and the protein within 5g per meal.
Step 3 – Day 6 to 7: Hitting macros within a range and how to track fibre
We’re now going to finish by going over the steps to full macro tracking.
We’ve got as far as total calories and protein, so let’s fill the rest in with carbs and fat.
The different macros contain different amounts of energy per gram. Instead of total calories and protein, you’re now going to track everything to see where it adds up.
- Protein = 4kcal/g
- Carbs = 4kcal/g
- Fat = 9kcal/g
- The majority of these will come from starches, fruit, and vegetables.
- Some dairy products also have a fair amount of carbs in them.
- You’re already hitting total calories, so at this stage you’re not trying to hit a specific amount.
- Track it all and take note of the total amount by the end of the day.
- Small amounts of fat will be in pretty much everything.
- If you’re tracking fatty meat, remember to weigh it raw first and use the search field with “USDA” to look it up.
Does fibre count towards my carb total?
Fibre doesn’t have quite as many calories as regular carbs due to how it’s digested.
This can be confusing for some people. My usual tip is to not worry about it.
You might look at the number of macronutrients you’ve hit, and wonder why the calories don’t quite add up.
This is because you’re counting total carbs. But, the plant foods you have eaten contain fibre.
Although they get counted as total carbs, the fibre has less energy. The calories in fibre add up to roughly 2kcal/g, so the numbers seem like don’t quite make sense.
- 300g of carbs should add up to 1,200kcal.
- If you’ve also eaten 38g of fibre, 300g of carbs in your app might add up to 1,124kcal.
Not that much difference, and not worth worrying about unless you eat a huge amount of fibre.
If you were getting 2g/kg of protein and hitting total Calories, how many grams of fat and carbs did you eat?
Now that you have those numbers, you can start to create a diet that suits your goals and the way you like to eat.
- Stick with 2g protein per kg of bodyweight
- Set fat somewhere between 20% – 40% of total Calories
- Make up the rest from carbs
- 70kg body weight, eating 2,350kcal
- 140g protein
- 52 to 104g fat
- 213g to 330g of carbs
How do those calculations work?
Example 1 – 20% fat
- 2,350 is your total amount of calories
- 140g protein * 4 = 560kcal
- 20% total Calories as fat is 2,350 * 0.2 = 470
- 470 / 9 = 52
- 560 + 470 = 1,030
- 2,350 – 1,030 = 1,320
- 1,320 / 4 = 330g carbs
Protein = 140g, Fat = 52g, Carbs = 330g, Kcal = 2,350
Example 2 – 40% fat
- 2,350 is your total amount of calories
- 140g protein * 4 = 560kcal
- 40% total Calories as fat is 2,350 * 0.4 = 940
- 940 / 9 = 104
- 560 + 940 = 1,500
- 2,350 – 1,500 = 850
- 850 / 4 = 213g carbs
Protein = 140g, Fat = 104g, Carbs = 213g, Kcal = 2,350
Tracking protein, carbs, and fat to the nearest gram is not needed or recommended. It’s much better to have target ranges.
These ranges will be more narrow or wide depending on your goals.
Don’t worry about getting it bang on.
Stay within the ranges, or fall back to total calories and protein if things don’t go quite to plan.
- Aim to get close to total Calories by the end of the day
- Hit protein, carbs, and fat within a range
2 ways to hit ranges
- Hit macros 5g, 10g, or 20g, above or below the target
- Hit total Calories
- Hit a minimum of 1.8g protein
- Hit a minimum of 20% of fat
- Hit total Calories
Bonus step: Meal planning and creating recipes with MyFitnessPal
Saving meals with MyFitnessPal
Let’s say you eat pretty much the same breakfast every day. Instead of adding the component ingredients every single time, you can save the foods as a meal.
- Start by adding the foods one by one.
- Save each addition in MyFitnessPal as a “meal”.
- Whenever you eat this meal, add it to the diary in the app and you’re all set.
- If you want to change one ingredient in a meal, change it in the diary once you’ve added the meal.
Creating recipes with MyFitnessPal
Batch cooking for the week or a few days is another great way to automate and simplify your diet.
This avoids common traps. Searching MyFitnessPal for “casserole” won’t cut it.
Although this might seem like a few steps, once you’ve done it you’re set.
- Go to the recipe section and give your recipe a name.
- Add ingredients raw and note the number of servings.
- Save the recipe.
What to do if the recipe needs to be cooked
Sometimes, your recipe needs to be cooked in one go. This means that it can be a different weight after it’s cooked due to water losses. No problem. Here’s what you should do.
- Batch cook it.
- Put a bowl or plate on a scale
- Switch the scale on so the reading is zero
- Transfer the food
- Divide the weight by the number of portions in your recipe.
- If it’s 10 portions and the final weight is 1,500g, then each portion is 150g.
Tracking macros is not a difficult process, it just takes a certain knack. If you followed the information in this guide you can now track macros like a total pro. You can choose to do it all of the time, some of the time, or only in special situations. Whatever you choose to do, you can be confident that you won’t be making any 400kcal slip-ups from now on.
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