by Tony Gjokaj June 21, 2021 13 min read
Macronutrient tracking is one of the methods I have found to be the best method in nutrition tracking, primarily because I prefer to train like an athlete in every aspect of my life.
This applies not only to physical exercise, but to cognitive performance, recovery, wellbeing, and more.
In this post, we are going to dive into macronutrients, the major nutrients that provide us energy to operate and function.
Let's get after it!
Macronutrients are molecules that we eat that can be divided up into three major nutrients: Fats, Carbs, and Proteins. Each of these macronutrients contain energy (or calories) and are broken down individually:
Recall from our previous post that energy balance is the most important thing when it comes to Body Composition.
For example, if you expend more energy (calories) than you take in, you will lose body weight.
Likewise, If you take in more energy (calories) than you expend, you will gain body weight.
Each macronutrient contains a different amount of calories and provides our body the nutrients we need through different processes. We will discuss this in the following sections.
When it comes to tracking macros, the following people may benefit the most from it:
People who want to monitor their food intake for exercise performance and energy
Athletes or Aspiring Athletes
Very analytical people might benefit from macronutrient tracking.
You enjoy "gamifying" or "budgeting" your nutrition.
Protein is an essential macronutrient that helps repair and develop new cells in our bodies. It aids in muscular development, nutrient transport, synthesis of neurotransmitters and a plethora of other processes.
This means that protein is involved in many important tasks in our bodies, and we need a decent supply to consume daily.
Proteins are made up of various amino acids, and the amount of amino acids is dependent on the foods you consume. When these amino acids are broken down, they then are used to aid in various bodily processes.
Our bodies are constantly building up and breaking down proteins in a process known as Protein Turnover.
Protein also helps repair broken down muscles as a result of intense exercise and helps fight fatigue. This is especially important when it comes to dieting for fat loss, in which your calories are restricted.
1 gram of Protein will equate to around ~4 calories. This excludes the diet-induced thermogenic effect (DIT) that protein has.
The recommended daily amount for protein for someone who regularly exercises is around 0.8-1.2 grams per pound of body weight. Intermittent Fasters might want to stay on the higher end.
In methods like Lean Gains, it is said you should consume around 50-60% of total calories in protein.
In my opinion, 25-30% of total calories is a reasonable amount, and easy to adhere to when you're starting.
We also recommend you consume more quality proteins (in regards to amino acid profile and digestibility) like chicken, red meat, fish, and Whey Protein.
Fats help regulate our hormones, health, and overall skin. They also aid in providing support to our brain and nervous system. Fats will also provide you new cells and aid in nutrient absorption, making it essential to consume.
Fats transport Vitamins such as A, D, E, and K through the body.
There are four types of fats: saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated and trans fats are typically deemed as "bad" fats, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the "good" fats.
Trans Fats should be avoided entirely.
Saturated Fats should be considered more of a neutral fat (if you don't have underlying health conditions).
We should always prioritize Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats for our overall health. Just like essential amino acids, polyunsaturated fats consist of essential fatty acids like Omega-3's and Omega-6's.
Most of the US population consumes more than 10x the amount of Omega-6's with respect to Omega-3's, so we should consider prioritizing foods with Omega-3's or supplementing with them.
Fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient with 1 gram of Fat equating to ~9 calories.
The recommended daily amount of fats that should be consumed is 20-30% of your total calories. Intermittent Fasters may want to stay on the higher end if they find it easier to stick with.
When it comes to specific fat consumption, here's what we recommend:
One of the last things we recommend is to get "in-tune" with your body. If you prefer fats and they don't discomfort you, stay on the higher end (or more if you prefer).
Carbs are our body's main source of energy. They are easily transferred in processes that transfer energy within our bodies.
Our body typically turns all of the food we consume into glucose, making it a "nonessential" macronutrient. This is why Ketogenic diets can potentially work, as our body turns all of our foods into energy.
Carbohydrates can also aid in muscular development (in combination with protein) and exercise performance. This means that most athletes or lifters will perform and recover better with carb consumption.
Carbohydrates are made up of long chains of small saccharides or sugars. Simple Carbohydrate molecules (Simple Sugars) are saccharides, disaccharides and oligosaccharides that contain a few rings of chains of sugars. Polysaccharides (or complex carbohydrates) typically consist of many or hundreds of sugars rings in one chain.
When eating complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, rice, potatoes, etc), you'll notice that many nutrient-dense foods consist primarily of carbohydrates. This is why we believe you should have some sort of carbohydrate consumption in your diets.
When eating most nutrient-dense carbohydrates, they will contain micronutrients and fiber that benefit your body in various ways.
Micronutrients consist of the vitamins and minerals we need for a plethora of processes like brain, bone, and body health.
Some of the most common deficiencies in micronutrients are Vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin A, etc. These aid in processes like immune health, sleep quality, wellbeing, and more.
You can get most of these from sunlight (Vitamin D), eating a diverse palate of fruits and vegetables, and eating meat.
When it comes to Dietary Fiber, consumption helps us with bowel movements and helps us stay fuller for longer periods of time. They can bind to cholesterol, helping us get rid of excess amounts in our body (thereby lowering cholesterol). They can also aid in the synthesis of B Vitamins, leading to improved immune system function.
Carbohydrates are typically the last source of focus, so people typically put the remainder of their calories into carbohydrates after handling proteins and fats. 1 gram of carbs equates to ~4 calories.
When it comes to additional carb recommendations, here's what we recommend:
Before you start diving into macronutrient calculations, you should ask yourself the following:
What are you trying to do? Are you trying to lose fat or gain muscle? Are you trying to improve performance? These will play a part in your calculations.
What's your current body weight? Body composition? Your body fat percentage can play a large part in what macronutrients you should eat. For example, people with a higher than average body fat percentage might not necessarily need 1.2g of protein per pound of body weight.
What's your sex? Men may benefit more from a higher carbohydrate diet than women.Age and Training Experience? You might prefer more carbohydrates in your diet based on performance and recovery.
As we mentioned previously, calories (energy balance) will determine the rate of weight gain and weight loss.
While we wrote a post on setting your caloric goal here, here's a simple rundown of calculating your calories:
Alternatively, if you prefer, you can get your caloric goal from the Precision Nutrition Calculator here.
Take your body weight and multiply it by 10.
This will give you a base calorie intake.
The base calorie intake is what you technically burn through daily without any sort of physical activity.
The activity multiplier is a generic estimation; you might need to adjust depending on how much energy you expend. This is determined by the following:
This will determine the calories you can eat to maintain your current physique.
If Fat Loss is the goal:
If Weight Gain is the goal:
The reason why the calories decrease with training experience is that it becomes harder to build muscle the more advanced you get with exercise.
Chris is 200lbs and is trying to lose 10lbs of body fat. The goal is to drop 1% of body weight per week to limit muscle loss. This equates to around 10-12 weeks of dieting. He is fairly active with about 4-5 days of week of exercise (training ~1 hour per day).
Here's how we would calculate his calorie goal in regards to fat loss:
You should always consider that people with a higher body fat percentage than average can modify their caloric intake by eating a lot less. However, these are great recommendations to follow when it comes to limiting fat gain (if your intention is gaining muscle mass), or limiting muscle loss (if your intention is to lose body fat).
Now that we have our calorie goal, we can now dive in directly into our Macronutrients.
Here's how we would break down our macronutrient intake:
Now that Chris' goal is 2500 calories, here's how we would break down his intake:
Now that he has his macronutrient intake down, he will monitor his progress on this intake. The intake may change throughout the week because he is shooting for consistency over precision.
Since you're fasting, we recommend the following:
Lastly as mentioned in the previous steps example: your macronutrient and calorie intake will not be precise or 100% every time.
Pursue consistency over pin-point accuracy.
When tracking macronutrients, it's important to prioritize consistency over pin-point accuracy.
This nutritional flexibility allows us to ingest more or less calories depending on your goals.
Don't obsess over your diet if you're tracking calories. Make it flexible.
Monitor how you feel and perform when you eat your caloric intake and specific macronutrient intake.
Here are some things to consider:
We will explore more Performance and Progress Indicators in a future post!
In this final section, we are going to help you monitor macronutrients with a few tools that we can utilize.
Here is a sample label obtained from the FDA's website:
In looking at this label, we can break down the label in a simple way.
Serving information will provide you how many servings are in the container, and serving size.
Serving size will be measured by cup and/or by grams.
Flexible Dieters will usually use a food scale to track grams per serving if they're in a deep dieting phase.
Calories on the label will be determined by the specific serving size.
However, you should understand this: the calories per serving is not always accurate, and labels can be drastically off by number of calories per serving.
One more "accurate" way to track calories is by the macronutrients (Protein, Carbs, and Fats).
Nutrients consist both of macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the Proteins, Carbs, and Fats. Micronutrients are Vitamins and Minerals (we will include fiber, cholesterol, sodium, and potassium in here as well).
Flexible Dieters will track macronutrients in order to get an accurate calorie intake and reach their fitness goals.
The percent daily value is based on how much of a food serving size you are getting from a 2000 calorie diet.
This is only with respect to someone that can maintain or lose weight on this specific amount of calories. We have to take into account the average maintenance calories of most people - sometimes it's more and sometimes is less than 2000 calories. For active individuals, they will be needing to eat more calories and have a higher % daily value.
Food Scales are used in Flexible Dieting to accurately track macronutrients (or calories) based on serving sizes.
As most of nutrition fact labels contain cup measurements (or measurements in grams), we can accurately track serving sizes.
If you look at the label example above, you will see that 227g of that food item is one serving. Using a food scale allows you to get an accurate intake of this.
As we mentioned in our previous post on calories, here are two apps that we can use to track Macronutrients and Calories:
My Macros+: displays its macro totals for each meal, rather than just summing them up for the day. This type of tracking can give its users instant feedback with how well they assembled their meals. The downside to MyMacros is that it doesn't have as big as a nutritional database like MyFitnessPal does.
While I primarily to use MyMacros, I would use MyFitnessPal to transfer information over to MyMacros if I am at a restaurant to "guesstimate" the calorie count or the macros of the food I am eating.
Now that we have our Macronutrients down, we can go into monitoring our progress and prioritize our training around Intermittent Fasting. This will be set up in a future post.
Until then, if you have any questions or comments about this particular post, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or direct message us on Instagram.
Until next time, Reforged Warrior!
Tony is the Owner of Reforged. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help millions exercise their way out of depression and anxiety.
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