Should You Track Your Macros?

With summer just around the corner, it seems like everyone is hoping on the macro train and trying to lose weight.  So I thought it would be a good topic to address and explain what exactly macros are and if you should be tracking yours too.

Macros are short for macronutrients.  Macronutrients are comprised of 3 components, carbs, protein and fat, which are responsible for the amount of calories in an item.  Carbs & protein contain 4 calories per 1 gram whereas fat contains 9 calories per 1 gram.  For example, if you have a bag of chips that is 7g of fat, 20g of carbs and 2g of protein, the bag of chips would be 151 calories.  (7×9) + (20×4) + (2×4) = 151.  There are also micronutrients (sometimes called micros) in food which consist of vitamins and minerals; however, since these don’t have any calories attached to them, I won’t mention them in this post.

Why do people track macros?
There are various reasons that people track macros, but the main reason that I see most people doing it is to get a certain body composition.  By this I mean they either want to maintain their current muscle mass while losing weight, gain lean muscle or obtain some other body composition where it is extremely beneficial to track how many carbs, fat and protein you’re eating.  Because macros make up calories, this is essentially a more intricate way of counting calories.  To lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume and to gain weight you need to consume more calories than you burn which should be reflected in how many macros you are consuming.  Since individuals are trying to obtain a certain body composition, tracking macros instead of calories with help them get to their goal faster and more efficiently.  This is because the ratio of which you consume carbs, fat and protein has an effect on your overall build.  If you are trying to lose weight, you will lose a lot more muscle mass if you consume a higher amounts of carbs and fat as opposed to consumed a high amount of protein.  This is because protein is needed to build muscle and keep muscle.  This is the same reason why people who want to build lean muscle consume a high intake of protein because protein is needed to build muscle.  If you aren’t consuming enough protein, you won’t see as good of results as you want because your body isn’t getting the nutrient it needs most.

Another reason someone might track macros is because it’s more accurate that counting calories.  Even though macros make up the number of calories in a food item, this is often estimated on packaging and not an accurate representation.  Food labeling laws allow companies to round how many calories are in an item so if a serving of chips has 102 calories in it, the packaging will most likely say 100.  These 2 calories aren’t a huge difference but they can add up if you’re eating a lot of packaged food.  Companies are also allowed to use net carbs when figuring out the calorie count which creates a big discrepancy between calories and macros.  Net carbs are the amount of carbs in a product after the fiber is taken into account.  For example, if a product has 22g of carbs and 10g of fiber, the calories will only reflect 12g of carbs.  This is seen frequently in high fiber foods like protein bars.  Tracking macros ensures that you’re accounting for all the calories representing in a food and not just using the calories on the package which could be off.

Is it necessary?
On to the question that you all want to know: is tracking macros necessary/should you do it?  Well, that depends.  Like most things in fitness, it depends on your goals and what works for you.  Tracking macros is great because it makes you aware of what you’re putting into your body and no food is off limits.  While you should get the majority of your calories from whole, plant-based foods, if you want a candy bar and can fit it into your macros for the day well go ahead and eat that candy bar!  This is why I personally love IIFYM (If It Fits My Macros).  As someone who struggled with unhealthy eating in the past and was afraid of “unhealthy” foods when I started to eat better, I restricted myself from everything I deemed unhealthy only to binge on it all a few days later.  Learning how to track my macros made me realize that I could fit certain foods (candy, chips, burgers, pizza) into my diet and still make progress which made it easier to stick with it.  Tracking macros also helps ensure that you are eating enough protein, calories, etc. to achieve your goal.  A lot of times we think we’re eating enough but in reality we should be eating more to gain lean muscle.  This works the opposite way too.  A lot of people don’t understand why they seem to be eating less but not losing weight.  If you track what you’re eating you may find out that you’re eating more than you thought and that you’re not actually in a calorie deficit.  This is why tracking macros or counting calories can be very helpful.

Who shouldn’t track macros?
Just like lifting weights, yoga, or spin isn’t for everyone; tracking macros isn’t for everyone either.  To accurately track your macros, you have to weigh everything out and essentially limit how much you eat out if you want to be accurate.  Because of this, it isn’t for everyone.  Tracking macros is a great tool to help you reach your fitness goals but I see that all too often people use them too strictly.  Unless you’re competing for a fitness competition or have another goal that you have to be super strict with what you eat, most people can get away with estimating their macros a few days if they want to go out to eat, eat at a friends house who provided food, etc.  If you don’t want to weigh out your food and keep track of everything that you’re putting into your body, I would not suggest tracking macros.  If you know you would get obsessive over it or get upset if you went over or under your macros for the day, I would also suggest really thinking about if it’s right for you.

Comment below your thoughts on tracking macros, I’d love to hear them!

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