How to Track Macros: A Beginners Guide

how to track macros beginners guide

Stress-Free Guide to Tracking Macros 

Wondering how to track macros? Macros is short for “macronutrients,” and refers to the proteins, carbs, and fats that make up our foods. Macros are basically the different building blocks that make up our calories. 

It matters how many calories we eat in a day, but the makeup of those calories is important, too. 

Most people have no quantifiable data on how much food they’re eating. So it can be hard to effectively work toward their goals and make progress. By spending a little time using a food tracking app, we can quickly and easily see exactly how much protein, carb, fat, fiber, and calories we eat in a day. 

Then we have clear and concise data that we can manipulate much like a science experience to achieve goals like fat loss, muscle gain, improved performance, maintaining your weight, etc.

 

Let It Be Easy

Learning how to track your macros doesn’t have to be agonizing, time-consuming, or stressful, but it certainly can be, depending on how you approach it. This is why I’m a big advocate for Flexible Macro Tracking. 

With Flexible Macro Tracking, we still track all the food we eat. But rather than aiming for specific targets on protein, carbs, and fat each day, we’re only worrying about hitting 2 goals: protein and calories (and we let carb and fats shake out to where they may).

 

Example of Macro Tracking: Aiming for 130g protein, 250g carbs, and 85g fat daily

Example of Flexible Tracking: Aiming for 130g protein, 2400 calories daily (no specific carb/fat goals)

  • 130g protein 300g carbs 75g fat = 2395 cals
  • 130g protein 200g carbs 120g fat = 2400 cals
  • ^ both work and get the job done!

 

DO consider getting a minimum of 20-25% of your calories from healthy fats to support your skin, hair, hormone, and menstrual health. And DO try to prioritize more carbs if you’re someone who’s pretty active and working out a lot!

 

How To Track Your Macros: Set Calorie Goals

While online calculators are not perfect, they can be a great way to get started and provide a ballpark estimate of how many calories you might need to eat in a day. 

My two favorite ways to help estimate this are The Precision Nutrition Calculator and TDEE Calculators.

On the Precision Nutrition Calculator, make sure to select “Improve Health” as your goal to get a proper estimate on Maintenance Calories. TDEE is typically a better estimate and starting point for those with higher body fat, whereas the PN Calculator may be a more accurate starting place for leaner and/or super-activeindividuals.

Remember that you should be eating at Maintenance more than you do anything else. And that we can’t chronically be dieting all year round (:

If in a caloric deficit to lose fat, you will likely need to eat anywhere from ~10-30% below maintenance calorie needs. If in a caloric surplus to gain muscle, you will likely need to eat anywhere from ~5-20%+ above maintenance calorie needs.

When you track macros, keep this in mind! (:

 

Dietary Fat Needs

The fitness industry may have led you to believe otherwise, but there’s no superior way to eat (in terms of eating low carb, low fat, Keto, etc) regardless of your goals. There’s actually a LOT of room for flexibility in how many carbs and fats we eat. But we do need to consider activity levels, health needs, and most importantly: personal eating preferences. If you’re going to track macros, consider your goals.

Fat Goals:

  • Can be common to see menstrual cycle or hormone issues if consistently eating low fat.
  • Current research supports women to get at least 20% of daily calories from healthy fats.
  • If looking to maximize your performance, health, hormones, and well-being, an even safer bet might be to aim for at least~25% of daily calories from healthy fats per day.

Fat Goal Examples:

  • 2300 calories x 0.20 = 460 calories/ 9 = ~ 50 grams of fat per day 
  • 2300 calories x 0.25 = 575 calories/9 = ~65 grams of fat per day
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Carbohydrate Needs

Carbs can be super beneficial for supporting an active lifestyle, recovery, and building muscle. The more active you are, the more carbs you’ll likely need per day to fuel your activity and lifestyle. Thus eating too little carbs may negatively impact your workouts and recovery.

Chronic under-recovery, whether that’s working out too much, working out too hard, consistent under-eating, not taking enough rest days, etc is where we can begin to see a compromise in our health, hormones, and well-being. Our body likes being consistently well-fed and well-recovered!

Carb needs will vary greatly person-to-person, but will likely fall between something like ~3-6g/kg of carbs per day. But there is no “perfect” macro split. Carb and fat needs can and will vary greatly depending on quite a few factors.

Ultimately, you’ll need to test and see where you feel best, what you enjoy most, and what works best for you.

 

Guidelines from Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, & American College of Sports Medicine for athletes and endurance training are as follows:

  • Light Activity: 3-5 grams of carbs per kg bodyweight 
  • Moderate Activity (~1 hr/day): 5-7 of carbs per kg bodyweight 
  • High Activity (1-3 hours moderate to high intensity exercise): 6-10 grams of carbs per kg bodyweight 
  • Very High Activity (4-5 hrs per day): 8-12 grams of carbs per kg bodyweight 
My Favorite App To Track Macros = Cronometer
  • Food entries tend to be more accurate than MyFitnessPal or other tracking apps I’ve used
  • You can set as many or as few goals as you like for protein, carbs, fat, calories, etc
  • Ability to record glucose levels, body weight, body temp (to track menstrual cycle), etc
  • Can “favorite” food entries for quick and easy logging in the future
  • Ability to multi-select and copy from previously logged days for super quick food tracking
  • If you’re a coach, you can graph your client’s data and also restrict data from the client as desired. For example, a client could log their food, but only the coach would see macros, calorie totals, food data, etc

Setting Up Cronometer

    • Input gender, height, weight, date of birth.
    • Select Maintain on the next screen. Enter email, create a password, and then verify your account
    • Click Settings in the lower right corner. Under Targets, select Energy Settings:
      • Enter 0 for BMR, 0 for Activity Level, and 0 for Weight Goal, make sure box for Imported Activity & boxes for Variable Calories Burned are both unchecked.
    • Click Settings in lower right corner. Under Targets, click Macronutrient Targets:
      • Set macros using Fixed Values
      • Track carbs as Total Carbs
      • The pre-generated macro and calorie goals are trash. Delete them.
      • Manually set your goals (I recommend protein, calories, and leaving carbs and fat blank)
      • Go back to theSettings. Click Display:
        • Unselect Show Energy Summary.
        • Select Show Macronutrient Breakdown
        • Unselect Show Highlighted Targets & Show Weight Goal

Note: I personally do NOT recommend connecting your Apple Watch, Garmin, FitBit, etc as it will automatically change your calorie goals and food-tracking data. “Calories Burned” is also typically inaccurate and not usually worth paying attention to.

 

How To Log Your Food

Entering Food In Cronometer:

  • Aim to weigh + measure your food as much as possible in either grams or ounces. Try to avoid using measuring spoons or cups and opt for a food scale as much as possible
  • In Cronometer, use the Orange (+) button at the bottom and then click Add Food
  • Scan the barcode on your food or search for your food. Let’s say you are logging blueberries. Search, select the entry, then change the amount/serving size (ex: 100 grams)
  • Feel free to “star” the entry (top left corner) if you plan to use this food entry regularly

To Copy Foods From A Previous Day:

  • Change date to whichever day you want to copy from.
  • Then click the 3 vertical dots in the upper right corner
  • Click (+) Multi-Select and select the food entries you wish to copy over to today
  • Click the 3 vertical dots in the upper right corner again.
  • Select Copy. Click back to today’s date.
  • Three vertical dots. Hit Paste. Ta daaaa!
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Want More Information?

Check out my e-book, The Ultimate Guide To Nutrition, Muscle Gain, & Fat Loss!

Not everyone can afford a one-on-one nutrition coach (or has the desire for 1:1 coaching), so this e-book is my way of continuing to bridge the gap. This book will support you in your goal to love your body and find freedom in the way you eat, exercise, and live life.

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