Macronutrient Basics: “Do you NEED to track your macros?”

“Grandma no I can’t have anymore dessert. I’m down to two grams of carbs for the day and my gains are in jeopardy.” – Desperate Gym Bro

Macros are ubiquitous in the lifting world. Doesn’t matter what style of lifting you train, what current goal you have, or what gym you train at. Macros will follow you everywhere.

In fact, I’m sure some of you could rattle off your current macros right now without even having to look. For many tracking has become a way of life. For other’s they begrudgingly log their daily numbers into myfitnesspal out of fear of disappointing their coach.

Regardless of where you stand on the matter, I want to help you understand why tracking macros is such a popular method associated with both losing and gaining weight. As well as answer the question, “Do you NEED to track your macros?”

(For more on weight loss check out this article!)

WHAT ARE MACROS?

Macronutrient’s are the nutrients that our body needs in a substantial quantity in order to function. Hence, “macro-” (big). Compare this to vitamins and minerals which are needed in much smaller quantities for survival and you have our micronutrients. “micro-” (small).

When it comes to fitness this means we are concerning ourselves with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats as our main 3 macronutrient’s. Alcohol is technically considered it’s own macronutrient, but might not exactly be what we call “essential for our survial” now would it?

Each macronutrient is required in our body to perform a specific task, and despite what many media outlets will try and tell you none of them are inherently “evil”.

Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source. It’s simply much easier for our body to convert carbohydrates into usable energy than it is with proteins and fats. In addition, carbohydrates can also assist in digestive health.

Proteins are well known in the fitness community for their role in repairing muscle fibers, but are also useful for building many other structures in the human body (proteins are often referred to as “building-blocks” for this reason).

Finally, fats are useful in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, provide essential fatty acids to our body, and are a means of ample energy supply (useful especially in cases of starvation).

Each serves its role in our bodies survival and should not be demonized.

When recorded each macro is counted in grams, with a gram of each macro holding a different calorie cost. Carbs and Proteins both come in at 4 calories per gram, with fats coming in at 9 calories per gram. For those of you wanting to know, alcohol comes in at a close second to fats at 7 calories per gram.

You use the amount of grams consumed of each macro for the day along with their associated calorie value to figure out your total calorie intake for the day.

WHY DO WE TRACK MACROS?

Macros provide us with data.

When it comes to most things related to fitness the more data we have available to us the better.

Constantly tracking data allows us to see what does work when we try new things, and what definitely does NOT work. Because the individual variability between humans is so high, this is really the only way we can figure out what works specifically for YOU.

Every single human will be different from one another in how they respond to certain diets, exercises, training programs, you name it. It’s really hard to say with 100% certainty that something is going to work for you, which is really where tracking comes in.

When it comes to macros, tracking how many macros you’re eating, along with associated weight gain or weight loss with those macros can help you figure out what macronutrient balance may best lead you to success. Likewise, it can tell you when you need to come back to the drawing board.

From a coaching standpoint this is just built in accountability. If you know you have to log your macros to a coach, you’re much more likely to be on your best behavior (or deal with the guilt of lying to your coach one of the two). Even if you aren’t exactly relaying these numbers to a coach, and are solely tracking for yourself, it’s still enough motivation to keep you in line. Having to see your eating habits on paper is a different experience than blindly going throughout the day.

DO WE ACTUALLY NEED TO TRACK MACROS?

No. Of course not. You don’t NEED to do anything. To be honest, I’m currently writing this article in favor of tracking your macros…but…I don’t actually track them myself.

*Surprise* 

Individual’s can definitely reach a level where they are good enough at “eyeballing” their diet so to speak that they can lose weight or gain weight at will without having to track every single number. This is actually a point I’d like to see more people reach as it gives you a much healthier perception and relationship with food knowing you won’t have to jot everything down in myfitness pal after a night out with your friends.

You’ll see this style of diet referred to in the industry as “intuitive dieting” which I’m not entirely sure how I feel about. Like, it’s just eating without tracking, I don’t really think simply being human needs a label, but that is how this industry goes.

While it is possible to reach a point of not tracking your food and still hitting goals, I ironically believe tracking your macros in the first place is what get’s you to that point.

Having to track your macros gives you a much better realization of the calorie cost of food (for many it can be a wake up call to see how many calories are in their favorite dishes), and it helps you figure out what macronutrient balance works best for you.

By tracking your macros you will know what balance of carbs, proteins, and fats in your life leads to you feeling best, as well as what balance may lead to you feeling a bit sluggish.

What you NEED to understand, however, is that your macronutrient balance DOES NOT MATTER FOR WEIGHTLOSS. This is a common misconception. The only factor that matters for weightloss is that you are able to get yourself into an overall calorie deficit each day. It does not matter what percentage of carbs, proteins, and fats you are eating, if you are in a calorie deficit you will lose weight. Simple as that.

So yes, you could have a diet that was completely fats, if you were in a calorie deficit you’d lose weight. That being said, you certainly wouldn’t feel very good. Andddd, the lack of carbs and protein would put you at a severe health risk. Understand that macronutrient balance is important for how your body functions and how you feel, but does not impact weight loss.

ADVANTAGES OF TRACKING YOUR MACROS

As I mentioned above tracking your macros first and foremost is accountability. So long as you are honest with your tracking you are going to have to look at your calorie totals for the day, where you may have strayed from your goal, and where you may have done well. This will impact your eating habits.

Likewise, you now have data to work with. If something isn’t working, take note of it and try out something new. Rinse and repeat until you do figure out what works for you.

Tracking your macros also helps with basic education on the calorie cost of food. Most individuals who are unaware of macros in general will tend to underestimate how many calories they are truly consuming. Tracking your macros forces you to “lift the veil” and face the reality of how surprisingly calorically dense some foods can be.

Another benefit is tracking your macros can set you into a steady routine with eating. You will slowly find more and more foods that work well for you, that fit your macros well, or that just make you feel good overall overtime. Likewise, for some people they just don’t want to deal with logging a new item into my fitness pal and will stick with eating a healthier option they already have in their database.

Finally, tracking your macros like I stated is ironically what can release you from tracking your macros in the first place. Educating yourself with tracking macros is what will give you the experience to more effectively “eyeball” your diet, and understand what you need to eat over the course of the day to hit your goal, without actually having to officially track it.

I understand it can be tedious, but if you are having troubles with either a weight loss or weight gain fitness goal, I highly recommend giving tracking your macros a solid try (that means more than just a week) and see if it doesn’t help you along your way.

(Check out how exercise may be impacting your weight loss here!) 

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.

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