Nutrition Essentials Pt 3: How to Track Calories and Macros

Learning how to track your calories and macros is the best way to understand nutrition, so you can achieve your body composition goals and live a balanced lifestyle. It is the most efficient way to achieve your body composition goals, meaning you will get quicker and better results for the work you put in. For some, the idea of tracking may seem exhausting, but with the right approach it can be both simple and effective.

Why should I track my calories and macros?

If you are not tracking your calories and macros, it is difficult to know if you are eating the right foods, in the right amounts. One of the most common diet mistakes we see people make is not accurately understanding how many calories and what nutrients are in different foods. For example, some people may not be eating very much, but what they consume is high calorie, therefore making it difficult for them to lose weight. Similarly, some people eat large amounts of nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, but without enough protein they are unable to build muscle. To track your nutrition, you should firstly understand the different types of nutrients and how your body uses them and then find out how to use these nutrients to achieve your personal goals.

The next piece of the nutrition puzzle is knowing how to practically track your calories and your macros. Tracking will help you to understand the nutritional content of different foods. This means you can make more informed decisions, build healthy habits, and make a sustainable change. Rather than track forever, the goal is to understand nutrition so you can eat intuitively.

MyFitnessPal: the best app for tracking nutrition

The diet tracking app we recommend is MyFitnessPal. Using this app, you can scan barcodes or manually enter in different foods and meals. It then breaks these into calories, macronutrients and micronutrients.

Using MyFitnessPal is the easiest way to manage your nutrition, however it’s only useful if you track your foods accurately. This means using a food scale when you are preparing your meals to ensure your portion sizes are precise.

In addition, you need to make sure you are entering the correct foods. Many of the foods added in the MyFitnessPal database have been created by users, which can lead to inaccuracies. For this reason, it’s important to look for foods which have a green tick. This indicates MyFitnessPal believes a food listing has complete nutrition information [1]. For greater accuracy, you should cross reference the information with the Australian Food Composition Database. This database, created by Food Standards Australia & New Zealand, contains nutrient data for 1,534 foods available in Australia and up to 256 nutrients per food [2]. Consider using this where a barcode is not available, such as for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.

Tips for tracking nutrition

Tracking your nutrition is only useful if you stick to it long enough to better understand what you are eating, and to see results. These five tips will help you get started and stay on track.

1. Get started, tweak later

Before you dive into how many calories and macros you should be eating, you first need to know what you are eating. At Plexus, we recommend that our clients track a normal week of eating before they make adjustments to their diet. This will reveal eating habits and provide a baseline from which to make small, but maintainable changes. For example, it may show that you are not eating enough protein or fibre, leading to low satiety. This means you feel hungrier and are more likely to reach for a calorie-dense snack between meals [3].

2. Focus on calories and protein

Unless you are a high-performance athlete, you will be able to reach your goals if you are hitting your daily calorie and protein goals and eating a balanced diet. It’s easy to get hung up on all the nitty gritty of nutrition, which can be overwhelming. Channel your efforts firstly into getting enough protein and calories. Then “eat a rainbow”, which means incorporating plenty of different coloured fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet. It is a great and simple way to eat a wide variety of foods, so your body gets all the essential nutrients it needs [4].

3. Build better eating habits

The more you track, the easier it gets. Using MyFitnessPal you can save or copy your frequently logged meals. This means if you eat the same thing for breakfast a few times a week, or if you plan to eat leftovers the following day you won’t have to manually re-enter all the ingredients.

4. Plan ahead

Planning ahead can help set you up for success. Your willpower works like a muscle and after a bit day, it can get fatigued. Researchers commonly refer to this as decision fatigue. This means if you have a decision-heavy day at work, when you come home you will find it harder to decide to eat a healthy dinner which fits in with your macros. But this can be overcome by planning your daily decisions the night before [5]. Where possible, enter in your meals into MyFitnessPal the night before. This reduces the number of decisions you need to make the following day, effectively automating your eating. It also allows you to assess your meals in advance, so you can identify if there is an imbalance, or plan ahead to create room for a few squares of chocolate after dinner.

5. Build in variety

Automating your eating is a great way to consistently hit your nutrient requirements, but it can get boring. To keep it simple but interesting, look for ways to vary you types of foods. For example, if you know you need 30g of protein at lunch to hit your target, you could swap your protein sources regularly.

Tracking your nutrition is an effective way to build healthier habits which you can maintain in the long run. Remember, your diet should not feel restrictive. Nutrition is a tool you can use to fuel your body, feel better and build a lifestyle that you love.

References

[1] https://support.myfitnesspal.com/hc/en-us/articles/360032273292-What-does-the-check-mark-mean-

[2] https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/afcd/pages/default.aspx

[3] https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/fuller/understanding-satiety-feeling-full-after-a-meal.html?start=1

[4] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/blog/blogcollectionpage/eat-a-rainbow

[5] https://jamesclear.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/ABriefGuidetoDecisionMaking.pdf