I remember being so confused when I first starting counting macros, I wish I had a super basic guide telling me what to do, how to set up apps to use it (I'm going to use MyFitnessPal here because that's what I use), how to measure food and the basic maths behind it all. Hopefully this blog is super helpful for you to get started on your macro journey!
If you're wondering what macros are, they're basically just what your food is made up of - nutrients, broken into Fats, Carbs and Proteins. I've written a bigger post on it here if you're still not too sure.
Calculating your macros
There are 4 ways you can calculate your macros that I'm aware of:
- Having a nutritionist, nutrition coach, PT calculate them for you
- Use an online calculator (like iifym.com)
- Subscribe to a website like avatar nutrition
- Learn how to calculate them yourself (surprisingly not so hard)
Initially I had them calculated for me, then I used an online calculator (I tried heaps of different ones to see which I got closest to the numbers that had been calculated for me, iifym.com seemed to be the closest), I also subscribed to Avatar and then taught myself how to calculate them!
A quick one on the maths (if you don't care about the maths behind it feel free to skip this part!):
When any sites, you or someone else calculates your macros basically what they're figuring out is your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) which is what you burn just from existing as a human (breathing, sleeping etc) based on your gender, age, height, weight + some maths.
Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is then calculated - the amount of calories you burn in a day taking into account your lifestyle (sedentary job but active life, sedentary job + inactive life, super active job etc..). Once you've got your TDEE you figure out your goal (fat loss, maintenance or muscle gain) and deduct, leave the same or add a certain % to this to get your total daily calories.
Next part focusses on breaking this down into grams of fats, carbs and proteins you should be consuming each day. Some sights use the same split i.e 40% Carbs, 40% Protein, 20% fats but you'll get the best results once you start tailoring it specific to your lifestyle and preferences. Keep in mind 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories.
Macro starter kit essentials
- An app to track your food (I use MyFitnessPal) but there are other apps like mymacros that are also good. I recommend MFP because it has the largest database of food in their library already.
- A set of scales (digital is much easier for accuracy and saving time)
- Food storage containers for any meal prep you're doing - get some that are microwave friendly
- Zip lock bags for food storage too
- Measuring cups (more for baking and will also give you a good idea of the reality of how much 1 cup actually weighs)
- A pen and paper that lives in the kitchen to write as you cook
- A calculator (I use my phone) instead of resetting my scales after everything I add to a bowl I just add more food to it and deduct the existing from the total to get the weight of the newly added food (and maths off the top of my head has never been my strong suit)
Now for the how-to's, setting up MFP. I've got the paid version, I started with the free version but as I was adjusting my macros I wanted to me accurate, and you can only set your goals with the % rather than grams with the unpaid version so I upgraded. You don't need to have the paid version, this was just my preference.
- Go to the app store or Google Play to download MyFitnessPal (iTunes store link + Google play link)
- Sign up, set up your profile, weight height etc
- Set your macro goals
- Save any recipes or meals you use frequently
- Start logging!
How-to screen shots:
Everything you want lives in the 'diary' section (second icon from the left at the bottom navigation panel) aside from when you're setting things up (this lives in 'more').
Set your macro goals:
More > Goals > Calorie + Macronutrient Goals > tap anywhere on carbs, fats or proteins) > adjust and hit the tick > go back to diary.
Use when you frequently eat the same meal. I use meals for random things I put together for dinner, and then know I'll be eating leftovers the next day for lunch. Rather than entering all of the ingredients individually, its saves as a meal (you can edit portions if need be) and you can add it to any day. I use recipes when I create something I need to portion out - such as my gluten free pancakes that I eat as snacks. I make an entire batch and enter the total grams into the recipe section, then after I've made them I add the servings and it splits up 1 portion for me.
Hit 'add food' under whichever meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks), you can enter by searching your food, or by using the barcode to scan the code if it's packaged food. Once you've added via barcode MFP will remember it. You can then adjust the measurement under 'serving size' I always make it 1ml/ gram and then weigh my food and enter the food weight in 'number of servings'. MFP then calculates the calories, carbs, proteins and fats for you. Hit the tick (top right corner) and it'll be in your diary. Do this for each individual food, and then either save as a meal if you're going to be eating that meal again at another stage.
Track your macros:
To track your macros DO NOT focus on the macronutrient part in percentages % because this adjusts to give you the average as you progress. It'll average out your meals, so if you've not added all meals for the day it can give you a shock and make you think you're off your targets. Use it once you've entered all of your meals if you'd like, but I only use the 'nutrition' tab at the bottom of the diary page. You can check in to see how many grams you've got left of each macronutrient to hit your targets.
- Aim to hit your macros spot on, but if you're under or over try to stick to the +/- 5 grams rule. 5 grams over or under is ok, but no more (less for fat because there are more calories per gram of fat so stick to 3 grams max over)
- Protein is the most important one to hit!
- Don't track your exercise - your macros have been set up to factor in your exercise
- It's up to you if you want to eat 20% less carbs on rest days - I don't do this but some people do
- Give yourself days off 1 week or more if you need, bring too restrictive and consumed by hitting your macros can cause you to miss out on living!
- When eating out I track for the day and hit them as closely as possible, then when I eat out I try to be conscious of hitting my remaining macros by guessing, but it's not the end of the world if I go over or eat dessert
- Don't feel shit if you don't hit your macros everyday - I don't and I've still had amazing results from tracking them
- A note on alcohol, I don't drink alcohol often, if I do I treat it as a treat and don't track it, if you're drinking some win with dinner each night you can divide the number of alcohol calories by 4kcal to determine the number of “grams” of carbs. For instance if you drink a 100 calories of wine, simply divide 100 by 4 to get 25 grams of carbs
- MFP will determine your sugar and fibre levels, try to stick to those
- Foods that I consume if I'm under for the day - fats: peanut butter, avocado, cheese, nuts; carbs: rolled oats, frozen mixed berries heated up; protein: a protein shake (Women's Best), protein balls
I could talk about this all day long, and I know there is so much info I have missed out - ultimately these are the basics, and once you get started you'll get the hang of it, but please do ask any questions in the comments below! I'm working on bringing out a free ebook of recipes and meals/ meal plans that I use myself. You'll be able to adapt them to fit your macros too! Can't wait to share it, don't forget to subscribe below if you want to receive these kinda of things :)