As an athlete you’re probably familiar with the term “macros” and the concept of “counting macros”. “Macros” (short for macronutrients) encompass the three primary building blocks of your diet, and understanding how to optimize your intake of protein, fat, and carbohydrates within the context of your nutritional goals can be a game-changer. Optimizing your macro ratios starts with keeping track of what you’re eating and understanding how and where you can adjust for maximum benefit. While the sheer number of fitness & nutrition tracking options available can be daunting, we’re going to break down the basics of counting macros and offer insight into some of the best ways to track your nutrition.
What are macros?
Before we start counting, let’s begin with a bit about what macros are and why they’re important. Put simply, macronutrients are the “fuel” (aka calories) your body uses for energy to power every system, function and activity; from internal functions like your metabolism to exercise and muscle recovery. The three macros are: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. While you’ve no doubt heard of them, understanding how they work together to fuel your body is an important part of developing an optimal nutrition plan to help you achieve your goals. Furthermore, tracking your intake of macros and calories is an important part of many diet and nutrition programs. We did a deep-dive on macros in a previous article, so if you’re looking to start with some background on the basics, which you can check out here.
How To Track Macros
Counting macronutrients is a regimented form of tracking what you eat that focuses on counting grams of the three macro categories that provide calories: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. The particular breakdown you should target depends on your fitness goals, both at a high level (gains, endurance, diet type, activity level), and a specific level (caloric threshold, macro ratios). To begin tracking your macros, start with a few simple steps:
Determine your caloric needs - Picking your target starts with determining your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) and Non-Resting Energy Expenditure (NREE). REE refers to the number of calories a person burns at rest, while NREE is the number burned during activity and digestion. Adding REE and NREE gives you the total number of calories burned in a day, also known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). We recommend using an online tool to easily calculate these figures.
Determine your goals - Are you trying to build size? Looking to lose weight? Are you looking to maintain strength as you train for endurance? All of these factors will affect how you choose what caloric threshold and macro breakdown you choose.
Pick your macro ratio - After determining how many calories to consume each day, the next step is to decide what macronutrient ratio works best for you. Your specific macro ratio is highly dependent on your fitness and nutrition goals. Additionally, the ratio can be fine-tuned to achieve specific objectives. For example, a base ratio for general health could be 40% Carbs, 30% Fat, and 30% Protein. If you’re looking to lose weight or meet higher fitness goals, more protein and less carbs could be adjusted. Someone on a keto diet requires a high ratio of fat, while an endurance athlete would likely require a high ratio of carbs. It’s all about setting goals and experimenting with the right ratio for you.
Choose a macro tracker - Now that you have your goals in mind, it’s time to start tracking what you eat and drink. Tracking your macros has never been easier thanks to apps which make it simple, easy, and customizable. Whether you just want the basics through an easy-to-use iphone app or are looking for as much data as you can get your hands on to fine tune your performance, there’s a tracking solution for you.
The Best Nutrition Trackers
The sheer number of tracking apps available can be overwhelming. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered with a few of our favorites, which have been tested by our team of athletes. Take some time to experiment with a few, as it may take some trial and error to find the right one for you. Our favorites are easy to use and integrate into your life, even for the busiest of athletes, making it easy to stick to your goals, even on the go.
MyFitnessPal - MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular and comprehensive apps, MyFitnessPal offers a massive database for tracking and a range of easy integrations with your tech.
FatSecret - The FatSecret app is lean, simple to use and includes smart integrations with your existing tech ecosystems like the Apple watch and Health app. It also includes a great food diary feature and is 100% free.
My Macros+ - Popular because of its specific focus on counting macros, My Macros+ app offers detailed breakdowns and a comprehensive range of tracking features.
The Best Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers now come in all shapes and sizes and offer a variety of tracking options. When learning about options, you need to consider the following options:
- Tracker Style - do you want to wear it on your wrist which is definitely the most popular style, clip-on or ring. Our preference is for bracelet style that you wear on your wrist.
- Heart Rate Tracking - all trackers offer this option but some do it better than others. Within this category you should read up and learn about Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HRV which is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by a primitive part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It works regardless of our desire and regulates, among other things, our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.
- Sleep Tracking - while there are some dedicated sleep trackers, most fitness trackers also do track sleep and they focus on movement during sleep as a measure of sleep quality. HRV, as mentioned above is also a very useful metric in assessing sleep quality.
- Sport Specific - some trackers have a real focus on endurance/running sports, while most are focused on general activity and fitness.
Now, here is a list of our favorite Fitness Trackers:
Apple Watch - there can't be a list without mention of the Apple Watch. Definitely the most versatile, popular, and offers many other smart watch features. It's many integrations such as automatic syncing with your Peloton equipment is another plus.
Whoop Strap - The Whoop Strap is a monthly membership tracker that is built around measurement of HRV as the basis for tracking sleep, recovery and body strain. It has become very popular amongst the CrossFit community.
BioStrap - The BioStrap EVO is a bracelet format product that measures and analyzes sleep, heart rate, HRV, blood oxygen and respiratory rate. Little added feature, they also measure snoring through integration with your phone’s microphone.
Oura - The Oura Ring claims that it is the most accurate tool to measure sleep, readiness and activity. This ring wearable form is very small and discreet as long as you don't mind wearing a ring all
No matter what your fitness and nutrition goals may be, taking ownership of your macros and diving into the world of tracking can give you that much-needed edge you’re looking for as you seek to elevate your training and performance.