Macros, flexible eating, IIFYM (if it fits your macros) have been pretty trendy topics for a few years now, but is it the only way? Of course not!
Let’s explore 7 reasons why macro tracking might be a good option for you. But first, the basics:
What are macros?
To put it simply, all foods are broken down by the body into nutrients, i.e. building blocks it further transforms and uses to sustain itself.
Nutrients are placed into one of two categories:
Macronutrients, which are needed in large amounts, and are also called macros. There are three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat.
Micronutrients, which are needed in small amounts, and are mainly comprised of vitamins and minerals.
How do you track macros?
You can choose your own adventure, but generally people who track their macros have protein, carbs and fat targets to hit daily. The targets can be calculated with a coach or using an online calculator, based on their goals.
In theory, what you fill your macros with is up to you - but the importance of food quality cannot be overlooked (that’s a story for another time).
In order to be as accurate as possible, people who track their macros usually weigh their food precisely and enter it into a tracking app like My Fitness Pal daily.
The point of this post is not to explain how to track macros, but if you have questions around that, please get in touch! I’d be happy to give you some tips.
Tracking macros might be for you if…
You compete in a weight class sport
If you compete in a weight class sport and are set on a given weight class, then tracking your food intake for a certain period might be beneficial for you. For instance, if you are a weightlifter who typically weighs 63kg (about 138lb) and competing as a 61kg would give you a shot at making the podium or qualifying for an important meet, then tracking your food would be a valuable tool to help you reach your goal of making weight and competing.
You want to learn what is in food
Tracking your food can be an education tool if you don’t have a clear idea of what is in the foods you eat regularly. You might be surprised with the amount of sugar in your nightly ice cream, or how little protein is really in peanut butter.
Along the same lines, macro tracking can be useful to educate you about portion sizes. When you start weighing and tracking your food, you may be shocked to realize that your normal bowl of cereal is not one serving, but rather 3 or 4!
You want a reset
You may generally eat intuitively and feel pretty good about it, but a life event (a vacation, a move, crunch time at work, etc) causes your nutrition to start slipping. You suddenly notice that you don’t have as much energy as normal, and your jeans are fitting a little snug. This could be a good occasion for a little macro-counting reset, where you focus on food quality as well as portion sizes. Depending on the extent of the course corrections you want to make, a week or two of macro tracking might very well be enough.
You can’t stomach another meal plan
Along the same lines, tracking your macros can teach you how to build balanced meals. Once you have established your daily macro targets, you can reverse engineer macro targets for each meal. For example, if you goal is to consume 140g protein daily and that you typically eat 3 meals and 1 snack, you could decide to shoot for 30g protein per meal and 20g for your snack.
You are an athlete
If you practice a sport competitively, macro tracking might be something to consider,but ONLY IF you are also working to get the other parts of your lifestyle dialed. Indeed, getting your nutrition on point is not going to pay off if you are not sleeping and are a constant stress case.
That is to say that if you are a serious athlete there might be other low-hanging fruit for you to nail before considering macros (think sleep, recovery, stress, mindset, training…).
You are lean, but want to be leaner
If you are already relatively lean (either naturally or because you have been dieting on your own for some time), getting even leaner might require a more precise approach like macro tracking.
The precision that tracking affords you is really the golden ticket here. Indeed, when you are just starting a weight loss journey, keeping mindful of portion sizes and making more optimal food choices might be enough for you to start seeing results, but it might not get you 100% of the way “there”. Eventually you get to a point where the difference in terms of calories between 32g (i.e., 1 serving) and 50g (i.e., almost 2 servings) of peanut butter makes a big enough difference to stall your progress. Plateaus can be frustrating and discouraging, and counting your macros could help you pinpoint what you need to change.
You want to make body composition changes with as few side effects as possible
Macro tracking can also come in handy if you want to minimize the downsides of a bulk or cut.
If you are wanting to add mass, macro tracking could serve you because it would allow you to eat an appropriate amount of each macronutrient to promote muscle growth and minimize the inevitable fat gain. Not sure how to go about it? Talk to a coach (please reach out if you have questions!). They will be able to stir you in the right direction and align your nutrition with your current training regimen and objectives.
If you are in a cutting phase and are wanting to lose some mass, using macro tracking might come in handy as it will help you ensure you are getting adequate amounts of each macronutrient. This will help you not only preserve as much muscle mass as possible, but the benefits could extend even further. For instance, some people naturally eat very low fat when they are dieting, which can lead to dry skin, brittle nails, thinning hair and hormonal issues. Ensuring you consume an adequate amount of dietary fat by tracking macros could therefore be of great help! Once again, just talk to your coach (or reach out!) if you are unsure where to begin.
Still, macros are not forever.
For most people, macro tracking is not a sustainable way to live long-term. I strongly recommend that you put an exit strategy in place before you even begin. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish with macro tracking, and decide when you are going to return to eating more intuitively. Pro tip: talk to a coach! Please get in touch if you want to bounce ideas around.
Caution: Macros may not be for you if…
you have a history of disordered eating
you have an addictive personality
you are such a perfectionist and the perspective of not doing things “perfectly” gives you anxiety
you are just getting started with nutrition (there are lower hanging fruit that you should go for before macros)
you want to be healthy but don’t have aggressive athletic or esthetic goals in mind
We will dive deeper into when to consider quitting macros in the next post. Stay tuned!
Pssssstttt…. I developed a free program to help you make peace with macros. The Breaking Up with MyFitnessPal program is free and delivered straight to your inbox, weekly!