Now that you know what are macronutrients, one of the logical follow-up questions to ask is why and how to count macros?
Why count macros
The number one reason why to count macros is because your dietitian spent a lot of time calculating your requirements. The least you can do is make sure you are eating as many protein, fat and carbs they told you to. Just kidding!
As I mentioned in my previous article on macros, recommended breakdowns at a population level are not incredibly useful. Instead, it is better to calculate estimated requirements individualised for your characteristics, preferences and circumstances. I think it is useful to know your usual energy and macronutrient intake. This will tell you if you are meeting or exceeding your requirements, and you can correct course accordingly.
You may benefit from counting macros if:
- You are physically active and want to improve your performance and/or recovery
- You want to improve your body composition (e.g. lose weight, lose fat, gain muscle)
- You have metabolic issues, such as insulin resistance
- You need to keep a particular macronutrient above or below a set limit to manage a health condition
- You have increased or decreased requirements due to your current circumstances (e.g. you are pregnant or lactating, you have an injury that prevents you from being active)
Why not to count macros
Not everyone needs to count macros, and not everyone benefits from counting macros. Below are a few situations where you should not (or don’t need to) count them:
- If you have a good grip on your nutrient intake. Counting macros can be a useful start but once you are good at eyeballing your food intake, you can relax and rely on your own estimates.
- If tracking your food intake makes you anxious or trigger obsessive-compulsive behaviour, because this can lead to an eating disorder
- If you are generally healthy and not concerned about body composition
How to count macros
For most people, I recommend tracking your food intake for a period of time until you can roughly estimate your nutrient intake. This will vary from person to person, but it should take around 4 to 8 weeks. You might continue tracking if you feel it’s useful for you and it’s not driving unhealthy eating behaviours.
What to track
You should include everything you eat and drink in a day, including supplements, snacks and alcoholic beverages. Depending on the tracking method you use, you might have to enter your food intake in cups, grams, ounces, etc. You can weigh and measure your food (this is easier if you cook it yourself) or just estimate the quantities. I would suggest to weigh and measure common foods once so that you know what 100 grams of carrots look like, for example. This will make your calculations more accurate.
Old school counting
You can use a nutrition information database or a ready reckoner (a table dietitians use with common foods and nutrient composition) and nutrition information panels in packaged products to manually calculate how many kilojoules and grams of protein, fat and carbohydrate are in a particular meal. This is often time-consuming and can be quite inaccurate.
These days there are lots of food tracking apps where you can input your food intake. However, they vary in regard to features and the nutrient databases they use. I like Easy Diet Diary because it’s free, it integrates with the software I use at my practice and it uses the official Australian nutrient database. It also gives you a total energy, protein, fat and carbs per day and allows you to enter recipes.
See some screenshots below.
Another option, popular in the US is Cronometer. It also shows a breakdown by macronutrient and some micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), provided you choose the version of the food that has micronutrient information.
See some screenshots below.
Note that, because different apps use different databases, energy and macros might vary.