How to Track Macros: A Beginners Guide

By Tami Smith

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Tracking macros as part of a healthy, balanced nutrition plan is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reach your goals. But for those who are brand new to macros, it can feel both confusing and overwhelming to get started.

I get it, I was a beginner myself a couple of years ago and have since taken a full dive into macro counting and nutrition in general, and I’m here to help you get started on your own journey.

In this how-to guide, we’ll be walking you through the basics of how to track macros, what tools you need, and how you can get started today.

Why Track Macros?

why we should track macros

Here’s the deal, whether you’re tracking them or not, you’re consuming macros. If you have certain aesthetic goals, the key to reaching them is to optimize your macronutrient intake and dial it in to accommodate your specific needs.

Yes, calories in vs calories out are what will truly drive your results, however, what you will look like will be dependent on what those calories that you’re consuming look like. Not all calories are created equal. So taking a calorie-only approach to your diet might get you results, however, many people feel frustrated when their body still doesn’t appear the way they want.

For most of us, the goal is to lose body fat and build or maintain muscle mass so that we get the lean, toned look that we desire. This is where tracking macros will come into play.

Tracking Calories vs Tracking Macros

counting calories vs tracking macros

Let’s dig a little deeper into calories vs macros. Weight loss and fat loss often get used interchangeably, however, it’s important to understand the different variables that will determine your body composition. So we first need to understand the difference between weight loss and fat loss.

Weight loss is the result of eating in a caloric deficit (calories in < calories out). Weight loss can refer to both losing fat and losing muscle as your body looks to get the energy it needs. 

Fat loss is losing body fat, not muscle tissue. This can be accomplished by tracking your macronutrient intake because of the way your body responds to each of these key nutrients. Macros play a unique role in your diet, and optimizing your intake will help you lose fat, not just weight.

By taking a macro counting approach to fat loss, you can ensure that you’re fueling your body in a way that’s conducive to maintaining muscle while shedding fat and also fueling your workouts so that you can make gains in the gym.

A Simple Guide for How to Track Macros, Even for Beginners

process of tracking macros

Tracking macros can seem a little daunting at first. I get it, I was once a beginner, too. But if we break it down simply, you can begin to understand how it works and what it’s beneficial. Here’s your step-by-step guide for tracking your daily macros.

Step 1: Determine Your Goals

weight goals for tracking macros

Before you can get started tracking your macros, you first have to decide what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. There are three main goals:

  • Lose fat (calorie deficit)
  • Build muscle (calorie surplus)
  • Body recomposition (maintenance)

Step 2: Calculate Your Macros

calculate macros for tracking

There are multiple ways to go about calculating your macros. You can:

1. Go online and search for a macro calculator, which will ask you to input some basic information and will spit out a number for you. This is going to be the easiest and cheapest way to get some starting macros. Keep in mind that if you try several different calculators, you might get varied results, but nonetheless, it’s a good place to start if you just want to get going for free.

2. You can calculate your macros yourself. I really like this resource from Biceps After Babies, she takes you step-by-step through the calculation process. This method is a little more time-consuming but should get you more accurate results. 

3. Use an app to calculate your macros for you and then use it for tracking purposes as well. I really like the 1st Phorm App for this very reason. The app will set your macros for you and then you can track and log all of your meals right inside the app. As your weight goes down or up, your macros will automatically re-calculate to accommodate your goals and needs. Plus, you can get access to a coach inside the app for accountability purposes and education. I personally use this app to track my macros and love that it’s almost the best of both worlds between doing it on your own and hiring a coach. Plus, it’s only $12.99 per month.

4. Hire a macro coach. This is going to be the most expensive option, but also (hopefully) the most accurate option. You can either get a one-time macro count from a professional or you can find someone who offers 1:1 coaching. It’s a good idea to decide if you’re the type of person who wants to get a one-time count and then can take it from there or if you need the extra coaching and accountability. 

Step 3: Arm Yourself With the Right Tools

counting macros tools apps

The great news is that you don’t need much to get started counting macros! Here’s what I recommend:

  • Food scale (I have this one, but anyone will do fine)
  • Measuring cups and spoons (I use these)
  • Measurement tape (something like this)
  • An app or journal for food logging (I use 1st Phorm)

Step 4: Start logging

logging macro tracking

Once you have your macros set and your tools ready to go, you’re ready to start the process of logging your food. The most important thing to keep in mind is that successful macro tracking requires precision, which is why you have tools at your disposal. You will need to weigh, measure, and log everything that you eat every day, including those bites, licks, tastes, and sips. Although a nibble of something here or there seems small and innocent, it adds up and over time, it can hinder your ability to achieve the results you desire.

Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Pay attention to the serving size you’re actually eating. I think the most common example that we all use is peanut butter. Most of us are eating far more than 1 serving when we’re dipping our spoon into the peanut butter jar. This is why we weigh and measure. You will very quickly begin to see how much a true serving size is and what the nutritional value and macro breakdown are.
  • Make sure you’re logging everything! This includes things like the butter or oil your foods are cooked in, seasonings, toppings, etc. If you’re making your food at home, you can easily track and control what you’re putting into your meals, however, eating out can be a bit more tricky. In these cases, using your best estimate will suffice. 
  • If you’re using an app like the 1st Phorm app, take advantage of the tools that make tracking easy. Most of the food you’re eating is already loaded into the app, just be sure to make sure it matches with what you’re actually eating. Most apps also have the ability to scan the barcode of your food and load the nutrition information that way.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat the same meals and macro-friendly snacks day after day, it’ll make tracking and logging so much easier! For me, my breakfast, lunch, and snacks are all pretty much the same with the biggest variable being dinner. This makes it really easy to copy and paste my meals from day to day and then plan for my dinner accordingly.
  • Pre-log your meals each day! This will save you so much time and frustration. Make a plan and stick to it. Of course, some days will have some variables or a money wrench will get thrown into your day (like a surprise date night or work lunch) but consistently pre-logging and planning your meals will help so much with adherence.

Step 5: Calibrate, Adjust, and Keep Going

calibrate and adjust tracking macros

For those who are just beginning with macros, we often think that the macros calculated for us are set in stone, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our bodies are all unique and will respond to macros in different ways. So whether you got a macro count from a coach or you used a free online calculator, there’s a good chance that some adjustments will need to be made at some point. But here’s the thing, you have to give it time and consistency before you can make any adjustments. Here are a couple of points to consider before you make any adjustments to your macros:

  • Have you consistently met your macros for at least 3-to 4 weeks?
  • Are you tracking your macros accurately and honestly?
  • How are you feeling overall about your energy levels, workouts, digestion, sleep, etc.

Sometimes, a shift in your carbs and fats can make all the difference in your biofeedback and ability to adhere to your macros. But make sure you’ve been consistent for long enough to truly have the data you need to make changes.

Wrapping Up

tracking and counting macros

As a complete macro beginner, it can feel quite daunting to get started. At first, macros feel complicated and overly complex, but I promise you that with a little time, practice, and patience, you will start to find your macro-tracking stride and begin to love the process, both for its flexibility and what it can offer for your physical body.

This beginners guide should get you started with how to track macros, but there’s obviously a lot more that goes into the overall process. If you want to learn more, be sure to check out some of our other macro-tracking resources. We cover how long it will take to see results from tracking macros, setting your macros for fat loss and muscle gain, and more. And for even more, come join our FB Group, Fit Home Healthy Life where we’re always sharing our favorite macro-friendly meals, tips, and tricks for living our fittest, healthiest lives.

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About the author 

Tami Smith

Tami Smith is a certified Nutritionist and an ACE certified fitness trainer, specializing in pre and post-natal fitness. She studied business and earned her bachelor's degree in Business Economics. Tami is a mom of two and women's health advocate. Her passion is to help people live a fit, healthy life through proper nutrition and exercise!

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