Counting calories can help ensure you get the right amount of energy as you work towards your goal, but not all calories are created equal. Tracking macros such as protein, fat, and carbohydrates, will help you make smart diet choices that will boost your health in the long run. Learn how to use a food tracker to make sure your optimal macro levels are met.
Macronutrients are the three main components of every healthy diet. These are the building blocks of your food, and most items you eat provide two or even three macros. The term macro means “large” and refers to the fact that your bodies require big amounts of these nutrients in order to function optimally (1). Macros also contribute energy in the form of calories.
Each macronutrient has its own special job in your body:
Counting calories is important for reaching a goal such as weight loss or muscle gain, but when it's done with macro tracking, you’ll get better results.
Overall calorie intake versus calories burned definitely helps determine success in reaching goals, but only focusing on calories won’t promote long-term health. One of the leading problems with calorie counting is that it doesn’t take into account what type of food you’re eating. If you’re only counting calories, you could let yourself indulge in only sugary treats and then not be able to fit disease-preventing fresh fruits and vegetables into your daily calorie count (2).
Keeping track of macronutrients helps understand where calories are coming from and how they are affecting your body. Aiming for certain macronutrient levels can help you reach your goals such as weight loss. For example, some people have been shown to lose more weight and maintain more muscle mass on higher-protein diets (3).
It’s important to have a balance of macronutrients but also understand that not everyone needs the same macro ratio. There is no one-size-fits-all ratio because we all have different bodies and life factors that impact our needs. Some people may feel better and more energized on lower carbohydrates while you may do your best incorporating lots of healthy carbs.
Note that macronutrient ratios also don’t take into account the quality of the foods and nutrients. For instance, a food may have the same amount of fat, but one may be full of harmful trans-fat, while the other is rich in heart healthy fats such as monounsaturated or omega-3.
For weight maintenance, most people opt to eat a moderate amount of carbs with a nearly equal balance of protein and fat. But this can vary depending on what makes you feel your personal best.
For optimal health, The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) recommends the average healthy adult needs about 45 to 65 percent carbs, 10 to 35 percent protein, and 20 to 35 percent fat (4).
To burn fat and lose weight, most people do better on increased protein intake. Studies have shown that increasing your protein intake can help you feel full while lowering your daily calorie intake (5).
In this case, your macro breakdown might include 30 to 40 percent protein, 20 to 30 percent fat, and 30 to 50 percent carbs, although the exact ratio will depend on your unique needs. There are some great healthy whole food based diet plans, such as Scandanavian and Paleo, on the Lifesum app.
To build lean muscle while burning fat, you’ll typically need to work more healthy carbs in your macro ratio. Carbohydrates help provide enough energy to muscles to get you through weightlifting sessions and enough protein to build muscle (6).
In this case, your macros might include 50 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. If you’re looking to build some serious muscle, such as bodybuilding, it's recommended to aim for about 55 to 60 percent carbohydrate, 25 to 30 percent protein, and 15 to 20 percent of fat (7).
You’ll typically increase your carb intake after a workout to help your muscles make the most of the protein you consume. Most fitness experts recommend having a carb-heavy snack within an hour of your workout for best results.
Prioritizing nutrients over energy can help you make healthier food choices while giving your body the fuel it needs to meet your goals.
Tracking macros can be challenging at first, as the process involves a series of math equations. Fortunately, there’s an easier way to tackle tracking macros. You can use a health tracker to do the heavy lifting for you.
Want an easy, effective, and personalized approach to tracking both calories and macros? Download the Lifesum app today!
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.