Social media makes counting your macros seem so easy and stress free when in reality, getting the hang of this new lifestyle can be pretty overwhelming. Whether you’re just testing the waters or a few months in, here are a few tips to help get you started:
Get a head start
So you’ve found a coach that is going to set nutritional recommendations for you in the form of daily amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats. This is a great way to work towards any weight goal, whether your aim is to cut weight, maintain, or bulk.
Before getting started, you need to communicate with your coach, so they get an honest understanding of what your current meals look like. We all like to think we’re getting in two cups of veggies a day and six glasses of water, but if you break down your meals, are you actually?
Offer to track what you are eating for a few days prior to your coach creating your plan. This way, they will have a better understanding of the current status of your metabolism and what is required to get you started. As well, this will get you used to tracking what foods you eat and better understand what those foods are made up of. There’s a lot of misleading information about what we should and shouldn’t eat which can often lead to misconceptions about which macronutrients are prevalent in certain foods. Learning your current foods helps you to learn quickly where you’ll need to make some changes.
Failure to prepare = preparing to fail
Once your coach gives you your nutritional recommendations, the first step is to PLAN. Once this lifestyle becomes second nature to you, tracking as you go will likely be your method of choice. However, to ensure you stay on track from the beginning, plan each meal out in advance. There are apps you can download on your phone that allow you to plan out an entire day, or even week, in advance. MyMacros+ is a good go-to*. If this isn’t available to you or you prefer to use your computer, an Excel spreadsheet is the way to go.
*We are in no way affiliated with MyMacros+
Meals, not snacks
Each meal you plan out should be relatively equal in overall calories, and you should plan to eat every three to five hours. You will likely find that your recommended protein intake will be higher than you are used to, so you should aim to spread it out evenly among each meal (ideally 20 – 30g per meal). Carbohydrates and fats can be added as you see fit. You may find it stays fairly consistent from one day to another once you get going, but sometimes you might want to sneak in a fairly fatty treat and lower your fats for another meal. Totally okay! Tracking your macros allows for this type of flexibility.
Make the most of your macros
If you’re anything like me, and love food (as well as the entire process of cooking food and eating it) you’re going to want to plan your meals, so you have as much food as possible fit in your daily macros. Opt for products that don’t have added sugars or flavours and add your own. Plain greek yogurt has about ¼ of the amount of carbs the flavored options have and tastes just as good with some added stevia and/or fruit. Swap your regular pasta for spaghetti squash and you’ll literally be able to eat five times as much. It might not taste as good as pasta at first, but you’ll appreciate the volume and adapt.
Don’t rush yourself at the grocery store. There are so many different brands out there with completely different macros. Unsweetened almond milk is much more macro friendly than your regular skim milk. There are low fat/fat free options of just about anything, and even low carb alternatives to breads and wraps. You’ll even find yourself getting excited every time you find a better alternative than your last.
A kitchen scale will become your best friend
Measuring your foods with a scale in grams makes it much easier to create your own serving sizes and alter serving sizes, so that it’s easier to make things fit your macros perfectly. It’s also a great way to make sure you’re actually consuming the serving size listed. Often you’ll see “14 chips (20g)” or something of the like. You can risk it and count 14 chips or you can weigh it out and find out you can actually have 20 chips because you’re tracking based of the actual grams of the food. This is also common with meats.
Take chicken breasts for example. The nutritional information is based off the average chicken breast’s size and usually says about 110g. If you choose to measure it out, you may find a particular breast is actually 180g or the one you chose is only 75g so you’re missing out on valuable protein (and food)!
“Healthy” does not mean macro-friendly
Alternatively, macro-friendly does not necessarily mean healthy either. With an IIFYM lifestyle, you want to aim to have a diet composed of 75% healthy, clean foods. The best part about this lifestyle is utilizing that other 25% to include foods you love that may not be very nutritious, so that you never feel deprived.
Just because something is labeled as, or generally known as, being healthy doesn’t mean it will be macro-friendly. Fruit is full of nutrients and vitamins the body does need, but it is also loaded with natural sugars and carbs. You still need fruit in your daily diet, just be sure not to over do it. At the end of the day, your body will react to an overdose of carbohydrates regardless of whether they were healthy or not.
Track with a friend
Being the only one tracking a meal can suck. Everyone around you might be having pizza and beers every night, and you’ll probably get teased from time to time for being so disciplined. Try and find a friend who’s also tracking their macros. Someone who’s been doing it longer than you is great to serve as a “macro mentor” and help you when you’re struggling to plan a last meal that will hit your macros and taste yummy or even when you’re having a moment where you’ve lost motivation. You can also try to find someone who’s just getting started, so you can laugh together when you make mistakes and cry together when you’re missing some of your old eating habits.
While this probably still seems overwhelming to any just starting out or even considering tracking their macros, you will quickly adjust and learn to love it. Think of it as a game or a puzzle, and it becomes more enjoyable. Get your weekly donut in, but stay accountable and stay on track.
About the author
Maggie Morgan is a competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder, as well as a devoted macro-counter. She’s passionate about lifting and all things flexible dieting (mostly donuts). She is a nutrition and training coach at LiftHacks, and hopes to share her learned knowledge with as many people as possible.