For bodybuilders, extreme athletes or just those gym goers who are willing to do anything to look their best, “tracking their macros” often becomes something they do on autopilot. They don’t think twice about tracking their food intake, even if it means living by their food scale or stopping to calculate every crumb that goes into their mouth. For those who might be new to the crazy world of nutrition, the question is what is a macro anyway?
Let’s get the facts out of the way before entering into the world of pros and cons. “To macro” means to track the number of grams of carbohydrates, protein and fats that you consume on a daily basis. When it comes to weight management you need to consider the concept of calories in and calories out. When you take in more calories than you expend through exercise you will gain weight, and when your intake is less than calories out, you will lose weight. This is a pretty common rule that most diets are based on.
The method of “tracking macros” is based on the intense desire to optimize body weight, and the belief that keeping exact tabs on the food you eat will enable you to meet success. For those who are competing, this attention to detail can be critical in terms of results. While it may seem tedious to many people, for those who are looking for a specific outcome, counting macros have become a common practice.
Pro: Understanding Intake
By tracking your macros over a period of time, or even keeping a record of daily intake for a week or two, you can understand exactly what you are eating. This can then be useful in understanding any changes in weight or performance. By comparing this information you can better evaluate your results and make changes to enhance success. Without doing this, you may not understand where you went wrong, what macro balance works best for your body, or how to improve your results.
Con: Stressful Thinking
It takes a lot of note-taking, along with a lot of time to measure and weigh your food, to do this accurately. It can be very stressful to have to stop and think about what you are eating, as well as track its content before you can even eat it. For those who are not making all of their food from scratch or are just eating at home, this also can be an extra stressor when it comes to figuring out how to calculate foods you may not be preparing yourself.
Pro: You Are What You Eat
By using this method you will better educate yourself about what you are eating. The old saying “you are what you eat” can teach you a lesson or two. By tracking macros you will be able to gain a greater education about what nutrients you are feeding your body, and where you might be lacking. As you learn to recognize portion sizes, understand measurements and read labels, you may eventually find foods you no longer desire and more nutrient dense favourites all at the same time.
Con: Quality Versus Quantity
When one is focused on tracking macros they are often more consumed with calculations and meeting certain goals for caloric intake, rather than on the actual food. This may cause someone to choose a food solely based on meeting their caloric or macro-nutrient needs rather than choosing one based on nutritional value. Often this results in a caloric intake based on a diet that contains more junk and less nutrient-dense foods.
When tracking macros it often has you more tuned into the food choices you make, how often you eat and what food is most satisfying. While you are measuring and calculating your intake, there tends to be a greater awareness of what you are eating. For this reason, people tend to learn about their hunger and fullness cues. This often leads to a greater recognition of how to feed your body so that you feel satisfied, and not over full.
Con: Eating Disorders
For some people, knowing too much can be stressful. As you become more and more focused on calorie counting, exact measurements, weights, and reading labels, eating disorders and unhealthy obsessive thinking can develop. What starts out as a method to reach a health-driven goal, can lead to obsessive thoughts and habits.
Although I only tried tracking my macros for about a month or so, that was all it took for me to realize that it just wasn’t for me. I started off my journey by downloading ‘MyFitnessPall’ a free app that breaks down everything you eat: calories, fat, carbs, vitamins, etc. I will say the app is extremely user-friendly, but I found myself eating more packaged food (like protein bars and ready-made freezer meals) than I ever had before. Why? Because it was way easier to just scan a boxes barcode, then it was to plug in a meal that I made myself and every single ingredient that I put in it. My breakfast in the morning, went from oatmeal, natural nut butter and a banana every day to a cliff bar, a trail mix or something from McDonald’s.
Near the end of my trial, I felt myself feeling deprived and almost always hungry. This may also have something to do with the fact that old habits die hard and when I was a teenager I was slightly obsessed with my food and calorie intake. This started to come back when I would look at my daily numbers on the screen and always feel like the next day I needed to do better. I started looking further into the vitamin and mineral option on the app and noticed that my sodium and saturated fat intake was through the roof!
Let’s just say this experience left me binging and bloated but I know plenty of people who use macro tracking every day and love it, they get great results and feel amazing. This just shows that every person is different and you won’t know if a ‘diet’ will work for you unless you try it!
If you tried tracking your macros, let me know your experience in the comments below!