Tracking Macros vs. Counting Calories

tracking macros vs. counting calories

Six years ago I downloaded Lose It, an app similar to MyFitnessPal, to log my food and track my calories. I’ve tracked on and off since, but regardless if I stay within my calorie budget or not, tracking has helped keep me accountable and aware of the foods I consume.

While tracking calories is a good starting point, at the end of the day nutrition is more than just calories in vs. calories out. Fast forward to present day, and I’m no longer just tracking calories. Nowadays I’m also tracking macros.

What are macros, and why should I track them?

Macros (short for macronutrients) are the protein, carbs, and fat that build up our caloric intake. Calculating macros is different for everyone based on activity level, body type, and your fitness goals, whether you’re looking to gain muscle, maintain, or lose fat.

Similar to the Paleo diet, a macro-focused diet emphasizes the value of whole foods, though counting macros isn’t a diet. It’s dialing in on your nutrition to optimize your results. It’s not the work you put in the gym that’s going to give you chiseled abs; it’s not about calories in vs. calories out; it’s the work you put into the kitchen and fueling your body with the proper nutrients that are going to give you abs.

It wasn’t until I purchased an nutrition e-book (formerly $19.99, now free) that I learned how to calculate macros to fit me

My goal is to lose fat. Based on my sedentary lifestyle and a 1,550 calorie diet (250 calorie deficit), my macro ratio calculated out to 35% protein, 40% carbs, and 25% fat. I’m to aim for 140g protein, 150g carbs, and 45g fat each day.

35 40 25 macros

I’ve calculated my macros; now what?

I’m honestly still very new to tracking my macros; however, the more consistent I am with logging my food via LoseIt, the more self-aware I am with the macro breakdown of my meals.

My typical meal plan as it currently stands does not meet my macros; however, I’m taking a slow approach in adjusting my diet to get closer to these numbers.

485 calories. 16g fat. 520mg sodium. 55g carbs. 4g fiber. 32g sugar. 33g protein.

I start my morning with a home brewed latte with 2% milk, sugar, and cinnamon. When I get to work I typically have a cup of Greek yogurt with crushed pineapple mixed in as my protein and two slices of buttered whole grain toast for my carbs.

175 calories. 3g fat. 680mg sodium. 14g carbs. 4g fiber. 9g sugar. 25g protein.

My typical lunch at work is 3 slices of low sodium, nitrate free organic turkey breast lunch meat, 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese, cucumber slices, and baby carrots.

Dinner is the most challenging meal for me. I can eat the same breakfast and lunch all work week, but meals at home are a different story. I always strive to eat the same meal I serve my husband and two toddlers. Sometimes I’m prepared, or dinner was a fail, and we resort to ordering a pizza as a quick fix.

Typical Healthy Meal
272 calories. 5g fat. 320mg sodium. 35g carbs. 6.5g fiber. 11g sugar. 24g protein.

If I’m prepared, one of my favorite healthy dinners is 3 oz of baked, seasoned chicken, 1/2 cup mashed potatoes with a dab of butter, and a cup of broccoli.

Typical Unhealthy Meal
950 calories. 24g fat. 1060mg sodium. 148g carbs. 4g fiber. 56g sugar. 35g protein.

If we’re too tired to cook or we have no food in the house, we typically order a pepperoni pizza. It’s not uncommon for me to eat four slices plus two large glasses of pop.

Based off these meals, on a good day with a healthy dinner, I’m bringing in 930 calories, 24g fat, 1520mg sodium, 104g carbs, 14.5g fiber, 52g sugar, and 82g protein. It’s rare I have this “clean” of a day, but if I did I’d be too low in calories (yes, there’s such a thing), too low in fat, and too low in protein.

On a day with a bad dinner, I’d be at 1610 calories, 43g fat, 2260mg sodium, 218g carbs, 12g fiber, 97g sugar, and 93g protein. I’d be over my calories. My fat intake would be fine. I’d be too high in sodium and carbs, too low in fiber, too high in sugar, and while my protein would still be too low, at least I’d be closer to 100g.

Looking ahead

Although I haven’t mastered macros with my mean plan yet, tracking has allowed me to realize my patterns and where I can start tweaking. Like I said, I can eat the same breakfast and lunch day in and day out during the work week, but dinner is where the curve ball comes in. But even if I eat a super clean dinner, I’d still be too low in calories, too low in fat, and too low in protein. Perhaps I could look into adding a protein snack either mid-morning or mid-afternoon?

The point is…

Taking control of your nutrition happens in baby steps. If you aren’t already, I’d recommend logging your food. You could start as simple as writing it down, or you can use an app which will also allow you to track your calories. I’d since once you understand where your calorie intake is then, I’d analyze your typical food log and its macros. Are you eating too much fat? Too high or too low in carbs? Protein? Small adjustments will lead to big results.

I think it’s also important to add each meal or even each day doesn’t need to match up to your macro ratio. I would look at your week as a whole. This approach will allow flexibility in your meals. So perhaps one day you have a cheat day that maybe’s a little too high in fat? Well then maybe the next day you have a lower fat intake to help balance it out. This also ties into your workout schedule. Perhaps you intentionally carb load on a Wednesday to fuel your Thursday workout. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the smaller analysis and more or less look at your week as a whole.

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