What are Macros and Why You Should Track Them

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Editor’s note: This article by Nick Smoot originally appeared at Machine Muscle.

I want to start by making one thing absolutely clear; weight gain is a result of consistently (weeks, months, years) going over your macronutrient and caloric needs. It is not dairy, grains, processed foods, or Pop-tarts that make you fat. The problem is long-term overeating, which seems to plague many individuals.

Perhaps overeaters find the pleasure of food so great that their health or aesthetics don’t matter. Some simply use food to cope with boredom or to relieve stress. Others lack knowledge of proper nutrition and are clueless about the amount of food they are consuming on a daily basis. I think this last one is the leading culprit.

Related: How to Build Muscle Without Counting Calories or Macros

I want you to ask the next person you speak with to define a macronutrient. I am pretty confident that 75 percent of folks will look at you like you just busted gas on national television.

Most people have no idea what nutrient dense food looks like, what a proper serving size is, or how to track their nutrient intake. That changes today!

The Importance of Nutrient Dense Foods

MilkAs I have written in previous articles, the quantity of food determines body composition, not individual food choices. However, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) can’t be ignored if you want to maintain optimal health and performance.

Below is a list of my favorite nutrient dense food choices. I am not telling you to only eat these foods, nor am I telling you to eat them without any sauces or seasonings. This is simply a list of foods that form the foundation of my nutrition program in their most basic forms.

Protein: chicken breast, lean steak, lean red meet, eggs, whey protein, tuna, tilapia, salmon, turkey breast, milk.

Carbohydrates: sweet potato, russet potato, oatmeal, white rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat bagels, whole wheat pasta, any fruit (bananas and apples are top choices), any dark green veggie.

Fats: almonds, walnuts, peanuts, natural peanut butter, egg yolk, omega 3s, animal fat.

This list does not come close to the touching the surface of nutrient dense foods available. Figure out the foods that you enjoy eating and build your dietary intake around them.

Stop Guessing Your Macros, Start Reaching Your Goals

I have said it many times, but I am going to say it again; if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If you don’t know the amount of food you are taking in, it is impossible to make an adjustment necessary to keep you moving toward your goals.

We all know someone who claims they can’t gain weight despite eating tons of food, or they can’t lose fat despite eating less and less. What do they most likely have in common? They are guessing about how much food they are eating every day.

The guy who isn’t gaining weight may be eating more food than he was before, but he is still in a calorie deficit. The guy who isn’t losing any fat may be cutting down his portion sizes, but still ends the day over his macro and caloric needs.

Without a quantitative measurement from which to make an adjustment, both individuals are going to spin their wheels and go nowhere. That is why tracking food is so important. Once a person has tracked their food for a week and evaluated the results, they can increase or decrease their intake in order to keep making progress.

At the same time, tracking your dietary intake allows you to fit any food into your macros while still making progress. This allows you to balance your fitness goals with your social life while reducing the chances of developing an eating disorder.

Guessing about your daily macros and hoping to build a great physique is like curling in a squat rack and hoping you don’t get your ass beat. Do not be that guy. Track your nutrient intake, adjust based on your results, and watch your progress soar.
Fit couple

Tracking food is simple, quick, and extremely accurate. If you are serious about your physique goals and athletic performance, get tracking!

How to Track Your Macronutrient Intake

Tracking food is pretty straightforward; you keep a log what you are eating. The most common and accurate way to do this is to keep track of your macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) and calories. This can be done using a food journal (a real pain in the butt) or by using one of the free apps on your smart phone (myfitnesspal or daily burn).

There are various formulas you can use to determine your estimated macronutrient and caloric needs. Once you figure those numbers out, hit the targets for a week, and make adjustments accordingly.

When tracking your macros it is important to log the food BEFORE you eat it. Tracking a food after you eat it is an easy way to surpass your target numbers by the end of the day.

The one drawback to this form of tracking is that it can be mentally daunting to consistently stay within a set limit. If you are not training for a specific competition or event, I recommend tracking for two weeks, and then eyeball until you make a change to your macros and calories.

Follow up by tracking for another week or two, and then eyeball until the next adjustment. It is most important that you learn and fully understand how to track your nutrient intake. Once you have been doing it for a while, you will become pretty accurate by simply looking at a food item.

The other way to track your dietary intake is by quantifying the food items you eat every day. Our example is a guy who maintains his weight eating two cups of oats and six eggs for breakfast; three chicken sandwiches for lunch; and a large steak and three sweet potatoes for dinner.

If he wanted to lose weight, he could have removed a potato at dinner, a cup of oats at breakfast, a sandwich at lunch, etc. If he wanted to gain weight, he could have added an extra food item each week until he reached his goal.

Tracking your food like this works, but is not maintainable for most people because it requires consuming the same food items every day. Learn how to determine your macro and caloric targets, which foods are more caloric dense or nutrient rich than others, how to track your food, and then develop a system that you can sustain.

Final Thoughts

Learning to track your macronutrient intake is a fundamental skill that everyone should master. We would deal a major blow to the current obesity epidemic if public schools made nutritional education mandatory.

Tracking food is simple, quick, and extremely accurate. If you are serious about your physique goals and athletic performance, get tracking!

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