Counting calories and tracking macronutrients are tools that can help you to keep track of your nutrition goals by becoming more aware of your daily food intake.
These methods are commonly used for bodybuilding and weight loss goals, however, they can also be used to assess food consumption for overall health purposes.
Counting calories and macronutrients can be an efficient way to assess if you are currently meeting your energy requirements or if there needs to be some modifications.
We are sure you have heard of these methods before, but you might be wondering how to actually do it.
Before we get into that, it's important to know what the macronutrients actually are.
This macronutrient plays the widest range of functions out of all of the macronutrients.
Protein provides the building blocks for the body to create connective tissue that makes up our hair, cartilage, bones, muscles, skin, and nails, produce enzymes for digestion, create antibodies for immunity, build hormones, and normalize fluid and acid-alkaline balance in the body.
Protein requirements will differ according to gender, age, activity levels, and other lifestyle factors. Though it is important to include enough protein on a daily basis into your diet, many people eating the typical American diet actually eat too much protein, which can promote acidity and inflammation in the body.
Protein provides 4 calories per gram. The recommended daily amount suggests 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults. However, this will differ from person to person.
Food sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains.
Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel and usually make up the largest portion of the diet. Carbohydrates are found in plant foods, and break down into glucose for your body to use as an immediate energy source or be stored for later use.
Not all carbohydrates get digested by us, though!
Instead of being broken down into sugar molecules, fiber passes into the digestive tract undigested to be then used as a fuel source for our microbiome.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps to regulate digestion, slow glucose absorption into the bloodstream, support a healthy weight, lower cholesterol, and regulate appetite. It is recommended to consume a minimum of 25-35 grams of fiber per day.
High fiber foods include unripe bananas, oats, asparagus, artichoke, onion, garlic, avocado, berries, apples, carrots, and beans and legumes.
Carbohydrates, like protein, provide 4 grams of calories per gram of food.
Fats have many functions in the body from providing fuel and insulation, making up cell membranes, supporting cell signaling and brain functioning, producing sex hormones, transporting and absorbing certain nutrients, and maintaining body temperature.
There are saturated, mainly found in animal products but also coconut, and unsaturated fats, which include the essential fatty acids.
Though fats are essential they are the most caloric dense, with 9 calories per gram of food, and tend to make up a large portion of the diet, especially the inflammatory types.
Healthier fats include extra virgin olive oil, coconut, raw nuts and seeds, avocado, olives, and wild fatty fish.
How to count calories and track macronutrients
Whether you have specific health goals or just want to check in with your current needs, tracking can be an informative way to gain more information about your current diet and if you are on track to reaching your goals.
If you are brand new to counting calories and tracking macros or just want a refresher, check out our tips below!
- The first step you need to take is to set your ideal caloric target so you know what you are aiming for. The estimated caloric range recommended for females is between 1,500-2,400 calories and for men 2,400-3,200 calories.
So how do you calculate your ideal calories? You can use a simple calculator to provide an approximate caloric intake suitable for you based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity levels.
If you are looking to lose weight, it is usually recommended to consume 250 to 500 calories less than your target calories. If you are looking to gain, it would be the opposite.
- Decide on your macronutrient break down. Protein usually makes up 10-35% of calories, fat 20-35%, and carbohydrates 45-65%. These will depend on several factors such as your activity levels and whether you are aiming to lose fat, gain muscle, or maintain your current body composition.
- Track your calories and macros. The easiest way to do this is by using an online tracker such as My Fitness Pal or Cronometer.
- Let us give you an example based off of a caloric range of 2,000 calories daily with 20% protein, 25% fat, and 55% carbohydrates:
2,000 calories x 20% protein = 400 calories from protein
2,000 calories x 25% fat = 500 calories from fat
2,000 calories x 55% = 1,100 calories from carbohydrates
Remember quality counts just as much as quantity when it comes to tracking so don't forget to include high-quality carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your meals. Many people may think that they can get away with any food as long as it fits into their numbers but this will only sabotage your health goals.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.