How to Track Macros (+ How-To Video!)
In this post you will find:
• How to Track Food at Home
• The Truth About Eating Out and Tracking
• A How-To Track Video by Yours Truly!
(If you're asking yourself, "What the F are macros?", then you need to go and read this post first.)
Quick rundown: Macronutrients are the 3 types of food that make up most of our diet—protein, carbohydrates, and fat. For every 1 gram of protein consumed, that's 4 calories. For every 1 gram of carbohydrates consumed, that's 4 calories. For every 1 gram of fat consumed, that's 9 calories.
Tracking macros means you're adding up all the protein, carbs, and fats in everything you eat to calculate how many calories you're consuming.
Again, check out this post if you'd like to learn more.
But otherwise, let's move on to how to track.
Have you ever been told to keep a food diary? Tracking your macros is essentially that—but with an added bonus. Not only will you be keeping track of what you food eat, but you'll be keeping track of how many calories you're having every day.
for eating at home
You'll need: a kitchen scale, a macros app, a calculator (aka your phone), pen, & paper
Step 1 - weigh each item & take note
You will place your plate on the scale and tare the weight (change it to zero), and then weigh your first item of food. Write down the weight of it in grams. Tare the weight, and repeat with the rest of your items.
Now, if you want to be really serious about weighing your food, don't forget to track ketchup, salad dressing, or oil. Cooking oil and butter will get you because they're almost entirely fat! I.e. 1 gram of oil is 1 gram of fat and 9 calories. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot but when you start to measure how much oil you drizzle over your salad, you'll notice how quickly the calories add up. This is why it's hard to track when you eat out—restaurants add a lot of salt, oil, and butter because it makes food taste better.
Step 2 - math
The glorious part about UK nutrition labels is that they'll give you the macros for 100 grams, instead of in the States where you get the "serving size" and the grams for that serving size in parentheses. (Make sure to check how much is a serving verses how much is in the container. I've been eating Cadbury Chocolate Buttons thinking the little bag was 1-serving but really, it was 2. So I thought I was eating 105 calories but I was actually eating 210 calories.)
This makes life harder for people like me, who suck at math, but alas . . . a little calculation and you've got it.
If you know what the macros are for 100 grams of your food, it's easy to do the math. What the label gives you in grams for each macro is essentially 100%, so you need to find out how many grams are in the percentage of food you have.
For example, 76 grams of chicken. We know that 100 grams of chicken is 23 grams of protein. To find X grams of protein for 76 grams of chicken, it's 0.76 x 23 = 17.48 grams of protein per 76 grams of chicken. I can't believe I'm teaching math right now.
If you have more than 100 grams of chicken, the math look likes this: (We'll use 146 grams of chicken). (146/100) x 23 = 33.58 grams of protein.
If you're in the States and stuck with "serving sizes", take the serving size and figure out what 100% of that number is. For example: A serving size of M&Ms is 48 grams. You measure out 80 grams to put on your vanilla ice cream because the more M&Ms the better.
So, if a serving of M&Ms has 34 grams of carbs, how many carbs are in 80 grams of M&MS?
- Figure out how many carbs are in 100 grams first by finding out how many times 48 goes into 100. 100/48 grams of M&Ms serving size = 2.08 times.
- Multiply this number by 34 grams of carbs per serving size: 2.08 x 34 = 70 grams of carbs per 100 grams of M&Ms.
- Now figure out how much is in 80 grams of M&Ms. .8 x 70 = 56 grams of carbs of M&Ms on your ice cream.
Step 3 - write it down
Hopefully you have a smartphone to plug all of this into an app. If not, you'll be doing a shit-ton of math to figure out how many calories you've eaten.
Remember: there are 4 calories per 1 gram of carbs and protein, and 9 calories per 1 gram of fat.
But if you have an app, it does the math for you. Mike's app even has pre-saved foods. Oh joy!
Step 4 - consult your macros
Always check your macros before eating. See what foods you can fit in and which you can't. If I want to eat Smarties before bedtime, I know a tube is 2 protein, 28 carb, and 8 fat . . . and since I'm a fiend, I'll want at least 3 tubes of Smarties so I need to factor that in for the rest of the day. (AKA, avoid eating a lot of carbs so I can enjoy Smarties later.)
for eating out
(more on this linked below)
This is when things get tricky. Try to think of eating out as an indulgence to be enjoyed once or twice a week, not every night. You can't accurately track what's in the food you eat, no matter how good you've gotten at eyeing the portion sizes of french fries.
You can't know how much butter and oil is being used to cook your food or how little protein you're getting. It's very difficult to get adequate protein when you're eating out without the carb and fat hang-ons. The hard truth is that lean food doesn't always taste as good, so why would restaurants serve skinless chicken breast when they can serve a crispy chicken thigh coated in delicious mushroom sauce instead?
Some places, like Starbucks and Chipotle, will give you the nutrition facts online but you still can't know for sure. Every plate of food will be cooked slightly differently. By the way, if you ever look at the Starbucks nutrition information for a cookie or muffin, be prepared to cry.
The best way to figure out macros for eating out is to Google it and find something remotely similar to whatever it is you're eating. The reason why I don't like MyFitnessPal is because their information is unreliable, and many times the nutritional information for items do not include the macros, just the calories—so it'll say 90 calories but 0 protein, 0 carbs, 0 fat.
Click here for my post on how to track when you eat out
Check the backs of your food for the nutrition labels or do a quick Google search to see what's in everything you eat. Trust me, it gets easier with time and it starts becoming second-nature.