how to track macros

How to Track Macros

Tracking macros can be a daunting task.


When I first started tracking, there wasn’t any such thing as phone apps. Every time I ate something, I would have to look up the ingredients, measure (or estimate) the food amounts, calculate the macros in each food and then log this all in an excel sheet on my computer.


It sucked.

Luckily, I at least had a computer to do the math. Imagine how terrible it was for Dorian Yates, Lee Haney, and Frank Zane. If they wanted to track macros (which I’m sure they tried), they would have to measure each food, reference the macros in a book, write it down, and do the math by hand.

We’ve come a long way since then. Now, anyone can get jacked. Just go on Instagram and search the hashtag, #bodybuilding. Because of technology, never has it been easier to lose fat, build muscle, and look incredible.

This means you can get jacked, and it’s easier than you think.

If you want to use flexible dieting, but you don’t know how to track macros, it can seem like it’s a pain in the ass. But it’s no different than any other skill. It’s just a small battle, and you can win it. It’s no different than getting an A on a test, hitting a baseball for the first time, setting a PR in the bench press, or losing your first 10 lbs. All of these things take time and practice to achieve, but I can guarantee that you have accomplished something in your life. You’ve already done it!  If you can accomplish one thing, it means you can accomplish another thing, even something as simple as tracking macros.

I have good news for you though; if you don’t know how to track macros, it’s easier than you think. Just use the steps in this article.

Step 1: Get in the habit of tracking your macros

Ashley wanted me to help her lose the weight. I told her to do one thing to start: get in the habit of tracking what you eat. Eat like you normally would, but record everything in the app, MyFitnessPal. It doesn’t need to be accurate at all, you just need to use it as a way to document what you’re eating. If you can get in the habit of tracking your macros daily, it’ll be easier for you to track them once you actually start zoning in on amounts of Calories, carbs, proteins, and fats.

how to track macros

We wanted the art of tracking macros to be a habit for Ashley. Habits don’t feel work and they don’t cause stress (usually), they’re just something we do without thinking.

Basically, we were laying down the groundwork for more things to come. It’s kind of like someone who wants to learn how to do 10 pullups, but can’t even hold onto the bar at a dead hang for longer than 5 seconds. If you can’t hold onto the bar long enough to do 10 pullups, then what makes you think you can even do 10 pullups?

Oh, and Ashley? She lost 2 lbs in one week. All she did was get in the habit of tracking her macros. It wasn’t even accurate, but she lost 2 lbs because she second guessed every food she was about to eat; so that’s a bonus.

Step 2: Get in the habit of measuring your food

When you input the food you ate into MyFitnessPal, you need to say the amount of food you ate.

In order to do this, you need to measure it. This means getting a kitchen scale and weighing foods, and/or using measuring cups. This can seem like a ridiculous task on its own.

After all, who wants to weigh and measure everything they eat? Well, after a few months of measuring, you will be able to estimate (with accuracy) how much food you’re eating. If you start estimating your food intake right off the bat, then it’s not going to be accurate at all. If it’s not accurate, then tracking macros is sort of pointless. Don’t half ass it.

When you do start measuring your food, you need to look at a few things: whether it’s cooked or raw, if it has bones, if it has skin (you can tell that I eat a lot of meat).

For example, let’s say you want to track a BBQ’d chicken leg. You’ve already grilled it, so it’s cooked, it’s on its bone, and you plan on eating the delicious skin. You weigh it, and it’s 225 grams.

Next, you’ll search MyFitnessPal for “chicken leg cooked with skin bone-in”. Go through the results until you find something that states that it is cooked, on the bone, and has skin. This will give you the most accurate reading. (Alternatively, if you weighed your chicken leg raw, you’d have to find the version that states that it’s “raw”.)

Once you find this, you will add the weight of the chicken leg. Generally, this means changing the units to grams, and then physically typing, “225”. Hit save, and boom, you’ve accurately tracked your chicken leg. Well done.

how to track macros

I knew this guy, Eric, who started flexible dieting for fat loss. He jumped right in, calculated his macros, and started weighing and tracking everything he ate. Three weeks later and he gained 10 lbs of fat.  He came to me for help.

Eventually, I figured out that he was measuring all of his meat cooked, but tracking it in MyFitnessPal as raw. 100g of raw chicken has fewer calories than 100g of cooked chicken.  On top of this, if he ate the skin, sometimes he’d track it as “skinless” in MyFitnessPal, or if he ate lean ground beef, he’d track it as “extra lean ground beef”. This added up for him so much that he ended up gaining major weight.

This is where many people screw up tracking macros. Make sure you’re accurate and make sure the food you eat matches the reading in MyFitnessPal. Before ever trying to hit your calculated macros, get in the habit of measuring your food for at least a week.

The good news is that you won’t need to weigh everything. Some foods you eat will have a bar code. If it does, all you need to do is figure out how much you’ve eaten, scan the barcode, and adjust the amount to match what you’ve eaten.

I think this is why Quest Bars are so popular with the fitness crowd. Not only do they taste great, but they’re super easy to track.  All you do is take a picture of the barcode in MyFitnessPal, and boom, instant Quest Bar. If only they tattooed chicken breasts with barcodes, life would be so much easier.

Step 3: Calories

After tracking macros and measuring food is a habit, it’s time to calculate your calories.

As a general rule, if you want to lose fat, use bodyweight (lbs) x 10-12. So if you’re 200 lbs, you’ll eat 2000 – 2400 calories per day in order to lose weight.

If you want to build muscle, use Bodyweight (lbs) x 16-18.

The main goal is to be within 5% of your calorie target by the end of the day. So if your calorie target is 2000 calories per day, then you need to be within 1900 – 2100 calories by the end of the day in order for it to be a success.

Since this is tricky on its own, you need to first practice hitting your calories regularly. After you’ve hit accurately for 3-days straight, you can graduate onto Step 4.

Most people screw up tracking macros due to not being within their calorie range. The most common mistake I see people make is adding calories burned via exercise. For instance, they go to the gym and burn 300 calories, so they add 300 calories onto their total calories for the day. Those 2000 calories turns into 2300 calories. Don’t do this.

The calorie target you calculated includes your exercise. On top of this, just because the treadmill says you burned 300 calories, you probably didn’t. It’s not accurate. Introducing this adds too many variables to the equation. We want this to be simple for you.

Step 4: Protein

Tracking macros is now a habit for you. You’re measuring all your food like it’s second nature.  You’ve been hitting your calories daily. By now, you should already see some results, and we’re not even done. Oh no! Now it’s time to introduce protein targets.

As a general rule, you can’t go wrong with Bodyweight (lbs) x 1. So if you’re 200 lbs, your goal should be to get at least 200 g of protein per day. This 200 g of protein is included in your calorie target for the day. You still need to be within 5% of your calories per day, but now you will also need to hit your minimum protein requirement.

For some people, this protein target may seem high. If this is the case, start low, and week by week, work your way up to your protein target minimum. You’ve already built a great foundation of tracking macros, measuring food, and hitting your calories, so now it’s a matter of building up to the minimum protein. The hard part is over, now you’re just putting the cherry on top.

I’ve found it easiest to get protein by eating high protein foods (thanks, Captain Obvious). By high protein foods, I mean, protein dense foods. Meaning that the majority of the food’s calories come from protein.

how to track macros

Here are some of my favorite options:

  • Extra-lean beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Turkey breast
  • Egg whites
  • Lean pork
  • White fish
  • Rabbit
  • Lean cuts of wild game
  • Whey Isolate Powder

If you stick to these options, hitting your protein targets by the end of the day will be easy.

Step 5: Fiber

If you’re not getting enough fiber, then the food you eat will inevitably become stinky diarrhea.

Diarrhea sucks.

On top of this, it means your food isn’t being absorbed properly. Those 200g of protein you ate?  More like 140g of protein and 60g of pure brown slush.

Luckily, getting fiber is super easy, and it’s probably not how you think.

One of the greatest sources of fiber is vegetables. After all, do you think our ancestors were eating All Bran cereal every morning so they could have solid poops?

Your aim should be to get 3 cups of non-starchy vegetables per day (minimum). You’ll get the fiber you need to have solid poops, and you’ll get the added bonus of vitamins and minerals.

When I say non-starchy vegetables, think of things like:

  • Leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomatoes (technically a fruit, but who cares?)
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Stringbeans
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Sprouts

…you get the picture.

how to track macros

This is the picture.

What about carbs and fats?

As long as you’re within 5% of your calories and hit your minimum protein targets, then you will reach your goal. Carbs and fats will naturally come from the rest of your calories that aren’t protein.

For example, if you eat a grilled chicken leg with a baked potato and a salad, this meal will have protein, carbs, and fats.

I find that once you introduce counting carbs and fats per day, it makes things more difficult.  Stick to the goal of consistently hitting your calories and protein, and results will happen.


If you want to learn how to track macros, it’s best to split it up into small habits and set yourself up for success. This means first taking a week or two just getting in the habit of tracking everything you eat (even if it’s not accurate). Once you’ve nailed this, it’s time to start measuring your food and inputting it. After you’re the King (or Queen) of measuring, it’s time to start consistently hitting your calories (and being within 5%). Lastly, you’ll need to work your way up to hitting your minimum protein requirement, as well as getting at least 3 cups of non-starchy vegetables per day into your diet (for fiber and micronutrients).

Remember, you’re setting yourself up for long-term success. If you can make tracking macros into something that’s second nature, then it won’t stress you out, you’ll be able to stick with it, and you can finally be a flexible dieter.

Where to Go From Here

If you’re looking to build muscle, lose fat, and/or get stronger, then you’ll need a plan to get there.

If you want some help, I recommend applying for personalized 1-on-1 online coaching with myself.  I’ve helped over 41,000 guys build muscle, and I know I could definitely help you as well.

Fill out an application here to see if you’re a good fit for the program:

>>>Click here to apply for coaching<<<

About the Author

Jason Maxwell, of J Max Fitness, is a Certified Personal Trainer under the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a certified FMS practitioner. Helping people lose fat, gain muscle, and learn about intermittent fasting is his passion. Sometimes, it's just way too much fun helping people to look better naked.