Getting Started With Macros

What Are Macros?

Welcome to the wonderful world of macros, which can be overwhelming at first. But don’t worry, I’m here to help guide you while you learn the ropes, and it becomes really easy once you get the hang of it. Macro counting is also sometimes referred to as “flexible dieting” because once you figure out your goals, the plan allows you to choose the foods that you want, as long as it fits within your macronutrient needs.

Flexible dieting, or macro counting is simply the counting and tracking of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) to achieve a body composition goal. When you get started, you figure out your “target” macros, which is basically the balance of protein, fat, and carbs (in grams) that are optimal for you. Your goal could be to lose weight/fat, maintain your current body composition, or to gain weight/muscle.


How do I get my personalized macros?

Getting your target calories and macros is completely individualized. It’s based on:

  • Height and weight
  • Age
  • Current level of fitness activity and intensity
  • BMR (basal metabolic rate), the amount of energy your body burns at rest
  • Your goal (lose weight/fat, maintenance, gain weight/bulk)
  • The way your body feels with more or less of each macro (which we personalize based on your body if you sign up for 1-1 coaching)

If you don’t already have your macro goals, you can fill out my GET YOUR MACROS form here, and I will email your macros to you within 3-5 days. I use a formula based on the Mifflin-St Jeor equation for BMR and your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

Tracking Your Macros

Once you have your target macros, you can use a food app to record your daily food, create meal plans, and track them against your goals. I use My Fitness Pal  because it has the most extensive database of food and it’s completely free. They do have a premium paid upgrade, but I’ve been using the free version for years now and it’s worked just fine. Here are some tips on getting started and entering your first meal!

Opening My Fitness Pal for the First Time

  1. Once you download the app, from the home screen, click on the “More” button at the bottom of the screen. Then click on the “Goals” heading.
    The macros that I’ve given you already account for exercise, so change your activity Level to sedentary so that the app doesn’t add any calories for exercise.
  2. Under the heading Nutrition Goals click on “Calorie, Carbs, Protein, and Fat Goals“. Now enter your calorie amount that I gave you and adjust carbohydrates, protein, and fat by percentages that I gave you. Note: You’ll have to round to the nearest 5% increment unless you have the Premium Version of MFP. This allows you to adjust your macros at 1% increments or just enter the gram amount.
  3. Turn off activity tracking under the “More” button. Select “Steps”
    Then select “Don’t track Steps”

Once you have your goals, you can search for a food that you ate or plan to prep, weigh it, and input it in the app. The app then tells you the amount of calories and all of the macros in that food or meal! Easy enough right?

How to Enter Food and Track Your Macros

  1. To get started, click on the diary button at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Then click the “+ add food” below the appropriate meal.
  3. You then can search for a food, enter it manually, or scan the barcode of the food you are eating with your device’s camera.
  4. Adjust serving size as necessary and then click the check mark at the top of the screen.
  5. The more you do this, the easier it gets as MyFitnessPal remembers foods and you can create custom foods/recipes for a quick add later.

An Example:

I decided to make this meal pictured below. I measured out the measurable ingredients using measuring cups. There isn’t any meat here, but usually if I cook meat, I weigh it on a food scale before cooking. If you need a scale or other mealprep tools, check out the deals I have on my site here.

From there, I input the ingredients from my recipes into myfitness pal individually. After entering all of the information in, this meal below came out to the following:

As I mealprep, I add each meal into my app, under the categories Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Snacks.

If you are recording an entire day of food but not mealprepping, just continue adding your meals and snacks into the app as you go along with your day!

Remember that you don’t have to be extremely strict and rigid with the calories and macro counts; just keep them in mind and make sure they don’t fall too far out of range of your target goals.


Lessons Learned

And now… for the lessons learned.

1 // My Fitness Pal Contains Some Incorrect Information

Here are some reasons why some of the information in MFP might be incorrect

  • User Generated Errors – MFP contains foods that are generated by users, meaning that anyone can enter information and it might not be correct. If you search for and find these incorrect entries and add them to your meal plan, this incorrect information will throw off your totals. I made the mistake of looking for a complete meal and found this “Western Omlette.” I recreated it not knowing that the user who input this was incorrect!

photo-jan-03-8-52-13-pm

  • My Fitness Pal generated errors – MFP has “verified” foods, noted by a little green check mark as seen below. Sometimes the calories/macros don’t add up however, because the app tends to round up or down for decimals, sometimes account for fiber, or just be generally a bit off. For this reason, it’s best to focus on the macros. You can also calculate the total calories using macros and simple math.

mfp

2 // Verify the Calories Based On the Macros

fat has 9 calories per gram

carbs and protein both have 4 calories per gram

To show how this works, let’s look at a nutrition label for gluten free pasta.

gf_pasta_nutritionlabel_r

If use the basic formula here, Fat (1 x 9) + Carbs (42 x 4) + Protein (5 x 4) = 9 + 168 + 20 = 197. That’s pretty close to the 200 total calories (which has been rounded up).

3 // Scan Your Food

My Fitness Pal has a scanner feature, where you can scan the barcodes of most foods and it will show the information without you having to enter it directly! This saves me lots of time!

photo-jan-08-3-44-10-pm

4 // Getting Your Totals

If you turn My Fitness Pal to landscape format, it gives you your total macros per meal and for the day! Being a person who keeps the rotating feature on my iPhone currently on lock (so that it doesn’t rotate), I had no idea and was adding things up manually! But look no further to modern technology!

photo-jan-07-11-11-42-pm


A Huge Variety of Apps

There are a lot of tracker apps for this, and MFP is not the only one you can choose from, such as Lifesum (pictured below.) However based upon my own research, most of these apps are about the same in accuracy, but MFP has a larger database of food. But you can feel free to use any app that you like, as long as you’re putting in the effort to track your food!

lifesum_1000

To Sum It All Up

My current daily totals are approximately: 1969 total calories, 153g protein, 105g fat, and 103g carbs.

Here is a sample meal schedule, where my totals are 1982 calories, 149g protein, 105.5g fat, and 110g carbs. I came pretty close, and generally try to stay within a close range for optimal results!

Photo Jan 09, 3 20 05 PM.jpg

Well that’s all, folks! I hope you enjoyed this informational post about macros, and hope it helps you get started if you haven’t already. For more information about mealprepping, macros, and general food tips, head over to my Instagram page @caligirlgetsfit. I love helping people get healthy and strong, so please let me know if you have questions and I am always happy to answer them!

5 Comments

  1. Hi Shannon,
    thank you for this article. I’ve thought about starting macro tracking for the new year but haven’t quite found time to calculate everything but did some research and I also was referred to the MFP app. I’m looking forward to see your meals & progress using IIFYM 🙂
    Xoxo from snowy Germany,
    Lisa

  2. MyMacros+ is my tool of choice for counting macros! I do tend to have to manually enter my food or scan a bar code, but it keeps your totals for every meal and day. It’s very user friendly and sends you an email at the end of the week with your summary!

    Love your meal planning and the pictures you post! You’re definitely an inspiration for my meals!

    Megha

  3. Pingback: It’s #turkeytuesday and Taco Tuesday! – Cali Girl Gets Fit

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