If you’ve ever started a new hobby, sport, or musical instrument, you might be able to relate with macro tracking.
At first, there’s a surge of newfound excitement!
You’ve found something that works, that you like, and that you know will improve your quality of life. Depending on your personality, this surge might last a couple days or a month, but inevitably, you’ll hit the wall.
That newfound hobby, sport, or musical instrument involves work to get better and improve. Not the bad kind of work, but the kind that involves mastery.
Similarly, macro tracking isn’t hard, but it does take some practice and effort to get better and faster at it. Thankfully, this period of time is VERY short compared to getting better at a new sport or instrument.
In my experience, the adjustment period takes anywhere from 2 to 6 months to become proficient. That’s less time than an entire baseball season.
To start macro tracking, you just have to start with knowing what is in your food.
Understanding the Nutrition Label
Once you’re familiar with what proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are, simply read the nutrition label available on any food packaging.
- Serving Size
Serving sizes show a cup measurement and a weighted measurement (grams).
Always go with the weighted measurement if possible (especially when using a food scale. Grams keeps everything neat, orderly, and it’s internationally recognized which helps if you’re traveling.
NOTE: Companies want to make the overall calorie count seem low so that consumers buy the product, so they will deceptively cut the serving size in multiple ways in order to accomplish this. Always look at the Servings Per Container to get an idea of how much you’ll be eating.
- Total Fat
Always track the total fat content, even though you’ll see other fats such as Saturated or Trans.
- Total Carbohydrate
Like fat, always track the total carbohydrate number. However, be aware that carbohydrates also compose sugar and fiber. Always be on guard for products with over 10 grams of sugar if you’re in a caloric deficit, as this can impede your body composition goals.
The total protein amount will be listed here. Foods with over 10 grams of protein can be considered good protein sources. However, watch out for protein shakes and protein bars that have lots of sugar in them.
Understanding the Ingredient List of the Label
Now that you have scanned over the basics of the nutrition label, you’re going to go over the ingredient list like a detective. You’re going to ask What’s In My Food? and How Processed Or Natural Is My Food?
So, let’s take the example ingredient list on the right ->
The first ingredient listed will always be the major ingredient within the product, so in this case, it’s Whole Grain Wheat. The next major ingredient is sugar. All the highlighted ingredients are different ways of saying sugar. So this product, without even looking at the total sugar content, has a LOT of sugar. In fact, it’s primarily made of sugar.
You’ll notice that vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) are labeled next. If a product is primarily composed of sugar or junk food, many companies will inject micronutrients into them in order to make it appear more healthy. It’s not worth it. Get your micronutrients from real whole foods and skip this junk!
How Do I Begin Tracking?
1. Download MyFitnessPal (MFP)
It’s one of the most popular web-based exercise and fitness applications available. MFP helps you keep track of your daily food and beverage intake, calculating all your calories, macronutrients, nutrients, and vitamins. One of the best parts? Scanning in barcodes! MFP offers a free version and a premium version.
Get the premium version. People have no problem throwing down $50-90.00 USD for one night at a restaurant, but balk at the idea of paying the same price for an investment in their health, confidence, and body composition that will last them an entire year. Invest in yourself.
2. Purchase Your Measuring Tools.
- A body weight scale
- A food scale
- And a flexible measuring tape.
These tools will help us measure progress. If you are traveling or getting ready to deploy, buy the TriScale Folding Digital Scale. You can look around for better prices, but you’re paying no more than 50.00 for tools that will last a long time and help you immensely.
3. Get Your Macro Numbers.
You have three viable options to getting your numbers:
- If you have the premium version of MyFitnessPal, they can help get your a fairly accurate macronutrient ratio. I personally plug my own custom numbers into MFP and use the app for tracking, but it is definitely viable.
- You can hire a coach such as myself (shameless plug!) or choose from many coaches in the online space!
- And finally, you can use the macronutrient calculator on our site to play with and get your numbers there. It’s not as accurate as the tool’s coaches use, and it doesn’t account for your personal circumstances or life goals, but it will give you a rough estimate.
4. Plug Your Numbers Into MyFitnessPal.
Input your custom (if applicable) macronutrient numbers into the app and then record everything you’ve already eaten for the day. This might require a little bit of time depending on what time of the day or night you start. My recommendation is to begin in the morning and start tracking as you go, but either way works.
Most important: measure everything. Don’t guess-timate. If you are recording previous meals you ate in the day, you at least need to scan in the barcodes, search for the foods, and input the serving sizes. Otherwise, break out the food scale and measure everything. Food labels (and MFP) are fairly accurate, but I have had to make corrections before. And take note of the serving size on all labels.
5. Weigh Yourself and Take Your Biometrics.
Get on the scale in just your underwear and record the weight.
I recommend doing this in the morning right when you wake up and have had a chance to visit the bathroom for the most accurate reading. This step is important because you need to monitor your weight for the first 5-7 days to make sure your macronutrient numbers are accurate. If you haven’t lost or gained weight, good! This is your maintenance number and what we want right now.
If you have lost or gained weight, then you need to re-adjust your numbers. Once we know your maintenance level, we can safely subtract or add calories based on what your goal is.
And then using your measuring tape, record your body measurements. This step is important because math invalidates your feelings of not making progress. If you don’t think you’re gaining muscle, but your arms are bigger based on measurements, then you know that you actually have progressed. If the mirror doesn’t seem like it’s showing a new you, but your waistline has trimmed and your pants are loose, then you know for sure that progress has been made.
6. Commit To Your Workout Plan (Do it Today!)
There are a variety of workout plans that I have developed for my clients, elsewhere around the internet, and at your local gym. Whatever you choose, commit to it! This is especially important for two reasons:
- First, if you used the macro calculator or some other program to give you your numbers, and you said you workout a moderate or high amount per week, it gave you your numbers based upon an activity modifier. Thus, if you’re not actually working out, your numbers are going to be wrong, and you won’t make any progress.
- Second, you will reach your body composition goals faster and see more success with a regular, healthy workout routine.
7. Plan For Tomorrow, This Week, and This Month
I mentioned last month that you need to Develop a Roadmap for Success. I meant it! If you don’t plan ahead, you won’t have answers for roadblocks, pitfalls, fun night-out weekends, splurges, etc. You should plan your meals for tomorrow at a minimum, and come up with a plan for the rest of the week, month, and year. Write it down in your fitness log or notebook.
You also need to share this with someone. I am a firm believer that no one really hires a coach completely for their knowledge, but for their accountability and presence. If you know you need a coach to keep on track, then get one! Invest in yourself. Otherwise, find a friend or accountability partner with greater willpower than yourself, and let them know what you’re doing. If you trust them, ask them to keep you accountable during the week and the weekends.
The great thing about macro tracking is that it’s not an all or nothing proposition. It actually frees you, unlike diets, to live a sustainable life with enjoyable foods. As long as you have a flexible plan, you can live a flexible life, with flexible eating. Whatever you do, start today! Don’t put off something that will benefit your life, goals, and confidence.