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How to Track Macros for Beginners (Step-by-Step Guide)

Have you ever wanted to know how to track macros? You may have heard the term when trying to keep an eye on your diet, so we are here to explain exactly what they are and how you can use tracking to your advantage. 

Within this article, we will cover: 

But before we get stuck in, if you have a passion for nutrition and helping others, you may be interested in our level 4 course in advanced sports nutrition. Alternatively, you can browse our range of fitness courses here in our downloadable course prospectus. 

Don’t forget, you can also download your FREE food diary below to track your macros with ease.

What are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the nutrients that you need in large quantities to supply the body with energy, ultimately, you need macronutrients to maintain your body’s systems and functions.

Macro is a term derived from French and Medieval Latin meaning ‘large’, hence its meaning today in the context of nutrients, denoting that these are the nutrients we are to consume the most of. Many people tend to refer to macronutrients as ‘macros’ for short.

But what are macros in food? 

Macronutrients are made up of 3 main macro food groups that you’re likely to recognise: carbohydrates, fats and protein. These nutrients provide the body with energy that is measured in the form of calories.

Many count their macronutrients to help them lose weight or gain muscle mass by using food diaries or fitness apps to track what they’re fuelling their body with. Doing this ensures that you can eat in a calorie deficit if trying to lose weight, or a calorie surplus if aiming to gain weight - providing your body with the right amount of each macronutrient.

If you’re new to the world of fitness and macro counting, it may seem confusing to know what to do to begin with. But don’t worry, we’re here to teach you how to track your macros and show you that it isn't as scary as it seems! 

Now that we’ve covered the question of “what are macros in food” we’ll now touch on the difference between calories and macronutrients. We have plenty of nutrition resources here at OriGym, including our article on the best healthy high fat foods that you can read here.

Calories vs Macronutrients

Understanding macros is simple once you recognise the difference between macronutrients and calories. 

Macronutrients are foods that are made up of the carbohydrates, fats or proteins that your body needs for energy. This energy is measured in the form of calories. 

In other words, the calorie content of foods highlights how much energy that you’re supplying your body with. If you're wondering what each macros nutritional information is, allow us to explain. 

Each macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) corresponds to a specific calorie content per gram, this is:

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
  • Proteins: 4 calories per gram
  • Fats: 9 calories per gram

But, now you may be wondering - “when calculating my daily macros, how many grams should I have of each?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-amount-fits-all when it comes to dividing your diet by each macronutrient. However, according to the UK Government Dietary Recommendation documents, they suggest that the following is what men and women should aim for:

Males aged between 19-64 are to consume: 

  • At least 333g carbohydrates per day
  • No greater than 97g fat per day
  • 55.5g protein per day

Females aged between 19-64 are to consume:

  • At least 267g carbohydrates per day
  • No greater than 78g fat per day
  • 45g protein per day

If you’re curious as to how to calculate your own macros, the following section will outline this with information on how to track macros later on. 

How To Calculate Your Macros (step-by-step)

If you’re wondering how to calculate your macros, this section will provide you with all you need to know. There are some calculations involved in this section so it may be useful to have a pen and paper handy, as well as a calculator. 

Work Out Your BMR

The first step involved in how to track macros is to calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). 

Your BMR refers to the total number of calories that your body burns each day when performing basic functions. These functions include breathing, heart pumping, and temperature regulation just to name a few. 

Your body requires energy in order to operate efficiently, and this energy is obtained from the food and drink you consume. 

Your BMR makes up around 60-70% of the calories that you expend. The remaining percentage is made up of physical activity and digestion. You must consume more calories than your BMR in order to accommodate the additional physical activity.

There are various factors that determine your basal metabolic rate. These factors include sex, height, weight and age. 

To calculate your BMR, use the following formulae:

For Men:

10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) - 5 x age (years) + 5 = calories per day

Women: 

10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) - 5 x age (years) - 161 = calories per day

If you're curious as to how to track your macros while taking activity level into account, keep reading! 

Consider Your Activity Level

When calculating macros, BMR is of course important, but so is your activity level.

Exercise is a great way to increase your calorie expenditure to facilitate weight loss. 

Now, if you’re new to the concept of weight loss, it may seem counterproductive to consume more calories. However, if you consume too few calories while doing workouts, you will begin to feel overworked and dizzy, as your body simply isn’t being provided with adequate energy. 

This is not a sustainable approach to losing weight as your metabolism will slow down, more often than not resulting in an increased chance of weight gain after you achieve your goal weight. 

Furthermore, to accommodate for your workouts, you must multiply your BMR by one of the options below in accordance with how active your day to day life is.

Activity level:

  • Sedentary/very light exercise: BMR x 1.2 
  • Light exercise less than 3 times per week: BMR x 1.375
  • Moderate exercise 4-5 days a week: BMR x 1.55
  • Very active - hard exercise every day: BMR x 1.725
  • Extra active - strenuous exercise two or more times per day: BMR x 1.9

This will give you a new total calorie intake.

The next stage on how to track your macros is to decide on a macro split. The next section will highlight what this is and how you can do it. 

Decide on Your Macro Split 

If you’re wanting to learn more on how to count macros, deciding how you’re going to split them is the next step in the process.

Research suggests that the typical recommendations for splitting up your macros are as follows: 

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of total daily calories
  • Fats: 20-35% of total daily calories 
  • Proteins: 10-35% of total daily calories

Note: these are just recommendations and may be adjusted in order to accommodate your own goals.

An example of how you may wish to adjust these percentages to facilitate a certain goal is to opt for a 35% protein intake if you wish to gain muscle mass. A high protein diet alongside strength training is super important for gaining muscle. If you need some guidance or motivation to train hard and eat well, head over to our article on the benefits of strength training here.

The next stage in the process on how to track macros is figuring out how many grams of each macronutrient you allow yourself each day - read on to learn how to do this!

Calculate Grams of Each Macro

Want to know how to work out your macros and how many grams you need of each? 

As mentioned earlier, each macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat, and protein) corresponds to a specific calorie content per gram. 

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
  • Proteins: 4 calories per gram
  • Fats: 9 calories per gram

By taking these figures, your BMR, activity level and your macro split, you can establish how many grams of each macronutrient to implement into your diet.

An example of how to do this is as follows:

BMR: 1,300 calories

Activity level: Moderate exercise ( x 1.55)

Total Calorie Allowance = 2,015

Macro split: Carbohydrates 40%, fats 25%, protein 35%

CALCULATIONS: 

Carbohydrates: (4 calories per gram) 40% of 2,015 = 806 calories

806 calories / 4 = 201.5 grams

Fats: (9 calories per gram) 25% of 2,015 = 503 calories

503 / 9 = 56 grams 

Protein: (4 calories per gram) 35% of 2,015 = 705 calories

705 / 4 = 176 grams

Establishing how many grams of each macronutrient you need will enable you to keep track of what you’ve already fuelled your body with and what remaining macros you should include in your meals.

Now that we’ve answered the key question of ‘how to calculate your macros’, you’re probably wanting to know how to count your macros. Fortunately, the following section will outline how to track macronutrients, and share some tips that may benefit you along the way.

So, if you approached this article wondering how to track macronutrients, stick around for the next section.

How to Track Your Macros

Want to know how to track your macronutrients? Here we have some tips and tricks to ensure you’re tracking accurately and efficiently. 

Document your Macros

Those who count their macros opt for either keeping a food diary or using free apps, such as MyFitnessPal, to help with logging food and drink.

MyFitnessPal has a barcode scanning system, perfect to use when you’re on the go. This tool allows you to scan the code of a product with your phone camera, and the app presents all the nutritional information of that product. This saves you from having to manually note the macro and calorie content of each product.

The app also has information on general foods and drinks so you can search for something such as ‘chicken breast’ or ‘porridge oats’ and input the weight, and the app will show you the macros for that food item.  

Additionally, with MyFitnessPal you can create full ‘meals’ so that you don’t need to log each individual food item that makes up a meal. This eliminates the need for re-calculating macros with any meals that you eat regularly. 

Food diaries and apps are an extremely useful tool to use when starting out counting macros to adjust to the calculations.

It doesn’t end here either, in the next section we discuss the importance of correct measurements. 

Get The Right Measurements 

Tracking macros is easier when you have a set of measuring cups, spoons and food scales for cooking as your macros can be weighed with ease and precision. 

Most UK-based recipe authors may favour using measuring spoons while US-based recipe authors tend to use cup measurements. So you’re prepared for anything, it may be worth investing in both forms so that you’re not having to convert measurements when cooking. 

Using these measurements makes the recipe easy to remember in the future so you don’t need to be reliant upon a recipe each time that you cook.

Additionally, when counting macros, accuracy is super important. Accidentally using too much or little of a certain ingredient could hinder your progress. Make sure that you have all of the necessary tools to hand when cooking to optimize your macro counting efforts. 

Meal-Prep

Another tip for macro counting is to get into the habit of meal prepping. 

Meal prepping involves cooking meals in advance, and refrigerating or freezing them so that they can be reheated whenever you need them. A good way to meal-prep is to batch cook a large meal in advance and divide it up into separate containers, this is beneficial for a number of reasons, including: 

  1. You’re in the know: Calculating the macros in one large batch dish makes it much easier to know exactly how many macros you’re consuming with each portion. Simply divide the total number of macros by the total number of portions you have so then you know precisely what you’re fueling your body with each mealtime. 
  2. Easy for on the go: If you have a hectic lifestyle, then you may find that planning your meals, calculating the macros and then cooking can be time-consuming. So, opting for one large batch cook will save you a lot of time and effort. To prevent monotony with your meals, consider doing a few batch cooks so that you’re given some variety, if possible. 
  3. More likely to stick to your diet: If you’ve taken the time to shop, prepare, cook and calculate the macros of each portion of food, you may find that you’re less likely to want to eat something else. Moreover, if you have it ingrained in your mind of exactly what you need to eat that day, it’s so much easier to stick to it.
  4. Cost-effective: Batch cooking can be super cost-effective. If you go to the supermarket with a specific list of all foods to cook your meals with, there’s no need for you to go shopping again and again for each meal. You may find that shopping daily for food means that you have a greater amount of food waste as you’re not planning ahead enough. 

Track Alcohol Macros 

So far, we’ve covered a key question of “what are macros in food”, but you may also be curious as to macros in drinks - particularly, how to track your alcohol macros.  

Alcohol is a shadowed macronutrient. It provides the body with 7 calories per gram, however, isn’t thought of as an essential macronutrient like the others as it doesn’t provide the body with any necessary nutrients. Alcohol is commonly termed as “empty carbs” for this reason. 

However, that isn’t to say that you should completely rule it out of your diet. What you may be pleased to know is that most macro trackers count their alcohol intake towards either carbs or fat (or a combination of the two depending on your daily macro plan).

To do this, you can simply divide the drink’s calorie content by 9 if you’re wanting to contribute the macro content towards fats, or alternatively by 4 if you want to contribute it towards carbohydrates. 

For example:

A pint of beer has a total of 154 calories.

When divided by 9, you can track this as 17g of fat.

When divided by 4, you can track this as 39g of carbohydrates. 

It is noteworthy, however, that some alcoholic beverages are a lot more calorie dense than others. For example, beer has a greater calorie content than a gin with slimline tonic. 

You may wish to opt for the latter when counting your macros should you want to ensure room for other macronutrients in your diet. 

So, there we have a rundown of how to track alcohol macros so that you can still enjoy your time at the pub. 

For some beneficial articles on diet and nutrition, head over to our articles below:

Example Day of Tracking Macros

Now that we’ve covered some of the basic information on understanding macros, including how to track your macros and some information on macro nutrition, here we have an example day of tracking.

Writing the calorie content and macro information of each dish will make it easier for you to know what you have consumed each day, and what you need to implement into your diet. 

The following diet’s macro split accommodates for someone wanting to gain muscle mass so must be in a calorie surplus. 

Total calories: 3,000

Carbohydrates: 40% / 1,200 calories / 300 grams

Fats: 30% / 900 calories / 225 grams

Protein: 30% / 900 calories / 100 grams

BREAKFAST: Scrambled Egg on Toast 

555 calories

42g carbs

31g fat

30g protein

SNACK 1: 2 Scoop Whey Protein Shake

206 calories

11g carbs

2g fat

35g protein

LUNCH: Grilled Chicken and Salad Wrap

550 calories

45g carbs

28g fat

32g protein

SNACK 2: 2 Scoop Whey Protein, Low Fat Yoghurt with Granola

437 calories

52g carbs

5g fat

46g protein

DINNER: Salmon, Rice and Broccoli 

530 calories

60g carbs

14g fat

37g protein

DESSERT: Triple Chocolate Protein Baked Oats

Calories: 406

Carbs: 49g

Fat: 11g

Protein: 40g

SNACK 3: 2 Rice Cakes with Hummus

Calories: 316

Carbs: 41

Fat: 9g

Protein: 5g

If you landed on this article hoping to have macros explained to you and get an idea of how to calculate and track them, you should hopefully now be reasonably confident in your knowledge of these aspects. 

That said, we have one more question to answer, and that is ‘what are the benefits of macro tracking?’. Read on to find a full list of benefits!

Before we jump in, protein is one of the key focuses in macro tracking for those aiming to build muscle, so check out our article on the plant protein vs animal protein here to take your pick.

Benefits of Tracking Macros

#1 Reduces Under or Overeating 

First up on the list of benefits of calculating macros is that it reduces the chance of you mistakenly under or overeating. 

Depending on what your goals may be, whether it’s losing weight or gaining muscle mass, consuming the right amount of calories each day is really important in attaining your goals. 

For example, if you overeat when your goal is to lose weight, you will reduce or even eliminate the fat loss benefits of eating in a calorie deficit. Equally, if you’re consuming too few calories when you’re wanting to put on muscle, you won’t see results as quickly.

In a nutshell, macro tracking makes it easier for you to reach your goals successfully. 

#2 Promotes Portion Control

Counting macros also benefits you by teaching you about portion sizes. 

You may find that you begin to recognise what you consider to be a ‘normal’ portion size is actually a lot larger than the recommended portion size. 

Tracking macros means that even after you’ve achieved your goals, and maybe aren’t as reliant on tracking your macros, you’ll still have a sound idea of what an actual portion size looks like. 

This, of course, benefits you by preventing you from accidentally over consuming unnecessary extras, and under consuming nutritional necessities. Ultimately, allowing you to get to the bottom of your weight gain or loss.

#3 Prevents the Development of Certain Health Conditions 

How does tracking daily macros benefit you? Well, having more of an awareness of macronutrients can help reduce the risk of certain health conditions developing. 

A 2020 study discovered that middle-aged adults don’t consume enough protein. Interestingly, the findings suggest that they could even reduce the development of Alzheimer’s disease if they were to increase their protein intake to just 17%. 

It is encouraged, therefore, that middle-aged adults should adopt a more protein-rich diet that consists of foods such as eggs, chicken, beef, milk, tuna and lentils to help alleviate Alzheimer’s disease from developing. 

If you do need to try to incorporate more protein, read our article on whey protein: benefits, risks and dosages.

#4 Learn More About Nutrition 

If you’re wanting to achieve a better understanding of macros and nutrition, then getting into the habit of tracking your macros will certainly help with this. 

You may think that you currently have a healthy, balanced diet, but once you start tracking your macros, you’ll likely realise that you weren’t actually providing your body with a beneficial macro split. 

This is particularly common amongst those who believe that they’re consuming enough protein to increase muscle mass. Yes, chicken has a high protein content, but in order to gain muscle, you’ll need a lot more protein than a single chicken wrap for lunch each day. 

In summary, learning about nutrition is a great by-product of tracking daily macros, and awareness of macronutrients can help with this. 

#5 Will Help You Maintain Your Weight

Even once you have reached your goals, maintaining counting your macros will benefit you by assisting you in maintaining your weight. 

Many find that if they have restricted their diet to lose weight, once they achieve their goal and go back to eating normally, they put weight back on. This is down to their metabolic rate needing time to re-adjust to the additional calories in their diet, resulting in excess calories being stored as fat. 

Furthermore, carrying on tracking your macros may be beneficial even after you’ve achieved your goals to ensure that you don’t risk losing your efforts.

So, there we have an overview of some great benefits of macro tracking. If you need some more help with this, read our article - the best tips on how to maintain weight loss here.

Next up, we’ll give you some meal examples for each macronutrient so that you can get inspired to cook up some tasty meals regardless of what your goals may be. 

Healthy Meal Examples for Each Macronutrient

Now that we’ve covered how to count macros, track them, and discussed some of the amazing benefits of doing so, we thought we would provide some example meals that are rich in each macronutrient. 

Healthy, high-carb meals: 

  • Walnut, mushroom and broccoli brown rice
  • Banana, sourdough pancakes
  • Prawn and spinach pasta
  • Thai salmon with brown rice and corn
  • Sweet potato and lentil curry

Healthy, high-fat meals:

  • Smashed avocado and poached egg on toast
  • Coconut milk and chia seed rice pudding
  • Salmon stir fry with a sesame oil glaze 
  • Almond butter beef curry
  • Walnut and chocolate baked oats

Healthy, high-protein meals: 

  • Bean burgers
  • Thai chicken kebabs
  • Minced cajun turkey with quinoa 
  • Protein pancakes with fresh fruit
  • Spicy tuna mayonnaise on a sweet potato jacket 

There we have everything that you need to know about understanding macros. From learning how to work out macros to how to track your micronutrient diet, you’re now all prepared to begin your new diet. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How Can I Start Counting Macros for Weight Loss? 

If you’re wanting to be more mindful of the number on the scales, then you may be curious as to how counting macros for weight loss can benefit you. 

It is likely that you have considered either doing a low-fat or low-carb diet to facilitate your weight loss. However, research has been conducted over the years to evaluate the best way of counting macros for weight loss.

A 2018 investigation examined 609 adults aged 18-50 for 12-months, half of which followed a low-fat diet and the other a low-carb diet. Participants were to reduce their total calorie intake by an average of 500-600 calories per day. 

The results showed that after 1 year, neither group lost significantly more weight than the other. The average weight loss in the low-fat group was 5.3kg/11.7 pounds with the average weight loss in the low-carb group being 6kg/13.2 pounds. The difference in weight between either group was 0.7kg/1.5 pounds.

In summary, the research suggests that if you’re wanting to understand more about counting macros for weight loss, you should consider reducing your daily calorie intake by 500-600 calories while opting for a macro split as recommended by. The below percentages indicate a recommended macronutrient split. 

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of total daily calories
  • Fats: 20-35% of total daily calories 
  • Proteins: 10-35% of total daily calories

How Should I Track Macros When Eating Out? 

When starting out on your tracking journey, you may be curious about how to track macros when eating out.

It makes sense that you might feel a little apprehensive about accepting a dinner date offer with friends or a pub lunch with colleagues when there’s no information on restaurant menus that outlines the macronutrient content like with packaged goods.

But, this isn’t to say that you should decline all of these social opportunities, as you should never feel guilty about eating! Instead, here are some tips on how to track macros when eating out.

Firstly, you can look ahead at the restaurant's menu to see what the options are for you and estimate the macro content based upon what you can see. It may be easier to do this in advance if you’re new to macro counting so that you can estimate the content rather than being restricted to doing mental calculations at the restaurant. This may cause unnecessary stress, so it’s best to be prepared. 

Secondly, you could adapt your diet at other times of the day so that your macros and calorie intake are low for when you eat out, giving you more freedom over what you can choose whilst staying on track. 

For example, instead of having avocado and eggs for breakfast, consider having a bowl of fruit instead so that you have plenty of room to fuel your body with macros later in the day. 

Lastly, some chain restaurants publish their nutritional information online. It may be worth doing a little research beforehand to see whether you can attain some specific macro information rather than being reliant upon estimations. 

Ultimately, if you’re wondering how to track macros when eating out, try not to feel like you can’t go out just because you won’t have an exact macro split for that day. Enjoying social occasions is just as important as leading a healthy lifestyle. Over time and practice, you’ll begin to find such occasions easier to manage once you get a grip of macro tracking.  

Are Tracking Macros Worth It? 

If you’ve reached this point in the article, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the steps involved in tracking macros - but that’s okay. 

Those who are used to counting macros enjoy incorporating some structure to their diet to attain their health goals. You develop a sound awareness of calories, splitting of macros and nutrition which may be enough to view counting macros as ‘worth it’. 

Counting macros may also be a great place to start should you want to begin leading a low-fat or keto diet. So, start with some organisation and once you get into the swing of things, grab a notepad or download a tracking app to help you get stuck in!

Before You Go...

So, there we have everything that you need to know about how to track macronutrients. What are you waiting for? Start using a food diary or fitness app to calculate and track your macros and who knows, you might not even need them after a short while!

Just before you leave us, if you’re interested in becoming a part of the fitness industry and are passionate about food and nutrition, why not take the plunge into our level 4 course in advanced sports nutrition? This course opens up doors for a range of career prospects related to your passion! 

Alternatively, you can browse through all of the courses we have on offer in our downloadable prospectus here.

Written by Emily Evans

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Emily studied English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2021 with a 2:1 BA honours degree. Alongside her degree, she also gained experience in student publication as Forge Press’ Lifestyle Editor and Deputy Editor for Post-Production. This is where her love for content writing stemmed from, which also led her to OriGym. Outside of her work, Emily will either be found on a long hike, at the gym or making a mess trying new healthy recipes in her kitchen!

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