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!

If you haven't read about calculating your caloric intake, you can do so here.

What Are Macronutrients?

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:

  • Proteins are broken down into amino acids.
  • Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar or saccharides.
  • Fats can be broken down into various types of fatty acids.

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.

Proteins

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.

Protein Recommendations

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.

You can read more about Protein Quality in our post here.

    Fats

    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.

    Fat Recommendations

    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:

    • Saturated Fats: Eat in moderation.
    • Trans Fats: Try to avoid at all times.
    • Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats: Should be more of a focus in your diet as they have a high correlation to overall health.
    • To get your Omega-3's in:consume fish, fish oil, and plant sources like flax. Make sure you're getting enough Omega-3's, and supplement with Fish Oil.
    • Have a diverse palate of fats: from nuts, dairy, eggs, poultry, beef, olive oil, fish, avocados, and more.

    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).

    Carbohydrates

    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.

    Micronutrients & Fiber

    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.

    Carb Recommendations

    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:

    • The remainder of your calories should go into carbohydrates. Strength athletes (powerlifters, weightlifters) should consume ~1.5-2.5g of carbs per pound of body weight. If following our macronutrient recommendations, you should be in this ballpark.
    • If you train intensely with weights and cardiovascular exercise, we recommend staying on the higher end with carbohydrates.
    • Prioritize Whole Foods. Most whole foods consist of complex carbohydrates, which aid in keeping us full for longer periods of time. They also contain micronutrients and fiber.
    • Eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day at MINIMUM. 1 cup of leafy greens (spinach) is 1 serving. 1/2 cup of stalky greens (broccoli) is 1 serving. 1/2 cup of fruits is 1 serving. This will help you get a good amount of micronutrients and fiber in.
    • Consume your fruit servings pre and post-workout. This will provide you the quick energy you need to crush your workout sessions, and aid in muscle protein synthesis post-workout.
    • Fiber Recommendations:a simple recommendation is 25g for women and 38g for men (under the age of 50, above 50 should consume a little less fiber). You should be able to get close to this if you consume the recommended fruit and vegetable serving size.
    • Monitor how you feel when you consume carbs. If you find yourself sleepy after consuming a lot of carbs, consider prioritizing your carb intake towards the evening. If you find yourself energized by consuming a lot of carbs, consider limiting your carb intake in the evening.
    • With Intermittent Fasting, consider having more of your carbs pre and post-workout.

      Setting Up Your Macronutrients

      I. Define Your Goals

      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.

        II. Set Your Energy Needs

        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.

        Step One: Get your “Base Calories”.

        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.

        Step Two: Find the “Activity Multiplier”. 

        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:

        • Very low activity (ie. light cardio): 1.3-1.4
        • Active (ie. weight training 3-5 days weekly): 1.5-1.8
        • Super Active (ie. high intensity; genetic outlier): 1.8-2.2

        Step Three: Take your base calories and multiply them by your multiplier to get your “Maintenance Calories”. 

        This will determine the calories you can eat to maintain your current physique.

        • Example: Me at 175. 175 x 10 = 1750 (base calories). I am active (1.5), so 1750 x 1.5 = 2625 (maintenance calories)

        Step Four: Determine your phase (whether fat loss or gaining), then add/subtract from “maintenance calories”.

        If Fat Loss is the goal:

        • Ideally, a 0.5-1% loss of bodyweight per week is easiest to adhere to.
        • The sweet spot would be 300-500 calories subtracted from maintenance.
        • My example: My maintenance calories are 2625. For fat loss, I will subtract 400 calories. 2625-400 = 2225 calories for fat loss

        If Weight Gain is the goal:

        • This is determined by years of consistent training experience.
        • If a Beginner (first year of training): add 300-500 calories to maintenance.
        • If Intermediate (2-5 consistent years of training): add 150-300 calories to maintenance.
        • If Advanced (5+ consistent years): add 60-150 calories to maintenance.
        • With weight gain, expect to track progress monthly.

        The reason why the calories decrease with training experience is that it becomes harder to build muscle the more advanced you get with exercise.

        Example

        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:

        • Base Calories: 200 x 10 = 2000 base calories
        • Activity Multiplier: 2000 x 1.5 (fairly active) = 3000 "Maintenance" calories
        • Fat Loss Calories: 3000 (maintenance calories) - 500 = 2500 calorie goal.
        • Chris will consume 2500 calories daily. This should ideally get him to a 1% loss of body weight per week.

        Considerations

        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).

        III. Calculate Your Macronutrient Needs

        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:

        • Protein: For Intermittent Fasting, it has been recommended to sit around 30% of total calories in Protein. You can get close to this if you consume 0.8-1.2g per pound of body weight in protein.
        • Fats: 20-30% of total calories should go into fats. Some people prefer staying on the higher end (or going over 30%) during Intermittent Fasting.
        • Carbs: The remainder of your calories go into carbs. Consider having a higher carb intake if you train hard.

        Example

        Now that Chris' goal is 2500 calories, here's how we would break down his intake:

        • Protein: Chris trains hard and prefers staying on the higher end with protein. 1.2g x 200 = 240g in protein. 240g = 960 calories in Protein.
        • Fats: Chris prefers carbs more than fats, so he is going to shoot for 25% of total calories in fats. 25% x 2500 calories = 625 calories in fats. 625/9 = ~70g of fats.
        • Carbs: Remainder of calories go into carbs. 2500 - 960 (calories in protein) - 625 (calories in fats) = 915 calories in carbs. 915/4 = ~230g carbs.

        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.

        IV. Set The Foundation For Intermittent Fasting

        Since you're fasting, we recommend the following:

        • A higher protein intake may benefit you if you choose not to consume BCAAs when you fast.
        • Consider having lean proteins (chicken, red meat, etc) for a more quality source of protein (in regards to amino acid availability and digestion).
        • Having your fat intake on the higher end may benefit you when you fast.
        • Consider consuming a good amount of Omega-3's (fish oils, fish, nuts). Most of us consume more Omega-6's than 3's. Omega-3's are the more "anti-inflammatory" fats.
        • Carbohydrates should be prioritized primarily pre and post-workout.
        • Fruits may benefit you the most pre and post workout.
        • If you are just starting to fast, understand that it's ok to be hungry not eating at your regular time. Most of us will notice that the hunger may subside.

        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.

        Macronutrient Consistency

        When tracking macronutrients, it's important to prioritize consistency over pin-point accuracy.

        • +/- 50-150 calories from the goal you have.If your calorie goal is 2300, you might sometimes have a 2400 day and that’s ok.
        • +/- 5g of Protein. Always strive to hit your protein goal regardless.
        • +/- 20-25g of Carbohydrates. Carbs can be a little more flexible, and can be where most of the calories can come from.
        • +/- 5g of Fats. Fats should also be in a close ballpark.

        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.

        V. Monitor Your Progress

        Monitor how you feel and perform when you eat your caloric intake and specific macronutrient intake.

        Here are some things to consider:

        • If you feel under-recovered, take a look at your overall calorie intake, or modify your carb/protein intake. You may need to eat more calories.
        • If you feel super sleepy or lethargic, you might want to lower your carbohydrate intake, or prioritize your carb intake in the evening.
        • If you find discomfort in your diet where you don't feel good, take a look at the foods you eat or the macronutrient intake that causes you discomfort. For example, if I typically have over 100g+ in fats (with respect to my bodyweight), I feel super gassy and bloated. 25% of my total calories in fats is a good ballpark for myself. Experiment.
        • Be consistent, not pin-point accurate.

        We will explore more Performance and Progress Indicators in a future post!

        Tracking Macronutrients: Food Labels, Scales, and More

        In this final section, we are going to help you monitor macronutrients with a few tools that we can utilize.

        Food Label

        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.

        I. Serving Information

        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.

          II. Calories

          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). 

            III. Nutrients

            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.

              IV. Percent Daily Value

              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 Scale

              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.

              Macronutrient Tracking App

              As we mentioned in our previous post on calories, here are two apps that we can use to track Macronutrients and Calories:

              • MyFitnessPal: allows users to add their own meals, save recipes, and connect with a host of other apps and wearables. MFP has the biggest database when it comes to nutritional facts. The downside to MFP is that you need to pay for the premium app to track macros more accurately on there.
              • 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.

              Onwards

              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 support@reforgedperformance.com, or direct message us on Instagram.

              Until next time, Reforged Warrior!

              Tony Gjokaj
              Tony Gjokaj

              Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.



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