8 Helpful Macro-Tracking Tips and Tricks
Changing eating habits and focusing on nutrition can be intimidating. So much conscious effort is required, especially in the beginning. You have to consider your menu plan in advance, prepare a grocery list, and get your shopping done before you’re tempted to hit the drive-thru. You have to find, make, and set aside the time to prepare and/or pack healthy snacks and meals when you’re busy or on-the-go.
It’s WORK. But thankfully it gets easier with time and, I can assure you, you are completely, 100% worth the effort it takes to get your health sorted out. There’s a learning curve involved with macros, but once you discover macro-friendly grocery staples and how to prepare food to fit your nutritional goals it really becomes second nature. Hopefully this list of macro-tracking tips and tricks can save you from crying into cans of tuna and protein shakes at 9 pm. Been there, done that. Did not enjoy, do not recommend.
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Macro-Tracking Tip #1: Use a Food Scale
Food scales are inexpensive, yet invaluable to a macro-tracker. None of this willy-nilly, haphazard cups-and-tablespoon BS – grams is where it’s at, baby. It’s more accurate, and cuts down on dirty dishes. No one needs more dirty dishes in their life, especially this girl.
Greater accuracy means increased confidence in your numbers, and a faster track to your fitness goals. Here are some examples to highlight the importance of measurement accuracy:
A serving of rice is listed as ¼ cup by volume and 45 grams by weight. I scooped out ¼ cup of rice and weighed it.
It came out to 56 grams. 56g – 45g = 11g. That extra 11 grams of rice takes you from 160 calories of rice to 199 calories – increasing the total calorie count of your meal by nearly 40 calories.
Now let’s look at peanut butter. One serving is listed as 2 tbsp by volume and 32 grams by weight. I dished out 1 tbsp (a half serving) and weighed it.
It came out to 18 grams. Doubling that gives you a total of 36 grams in a 2 tbsp serving. You might think, that’s only 4 grams more than is listed on the jar, big whoop. But a measly 4 grams of peanut butter yields an extra 22 calories and 2 whole grams of fat. I leveled my tablespoon pretty good – imagine the discrepancy in a more rounded, packed tablespoon.
Take the guesswork out of how empty or full your measuring cup/spoon should be and get yourself a scale.
Macro-Tracking Tip #2: Make Your Own “Serving Size”
How many times have you taken a quick glance at the nutrition facts and immediately discounted the food you were considering as inedible because of its calorie, fat, or carbohydrate content? Like, damn, guess I’ll never eat chips or chocolate again! First, BITE YOUR TONGUE. Then, bite into those crunchy chips and that life-saving chocolate, because you are in charge of your serving size, not the damn package.
Half a chocolate bar, for example, is 190 calories and 13g of fat. That’s a hefty macro price to pay, especially if you don’t have calories and fat to spare at the end of the day. But, what if you really want some chocolate? Well, instead of eating a whole serving, or half of the candy bar, try having 2 squares (or a quarter of a serving) for 50 calories and 3 grams of fat instead. You satisfy your cravings in moderation, and don’t break the macro bank.
This applies to anything. Oftentimes I make myself 30 grams of rice instead of a full 45 gram serving. This is ⅔ of a serving of rice, is plenty of rice to accompany the rest of my dish, and cuts calories from 160 to 107. That’s a pretty significant difference. This is another great example of why a food scale is such a handy appliance to have. You try figuring out which measuring cups and spoons to use to get two-thirds of one-quarter cup of rice. My head hurts just thinking about it.
Macro-Tracking Tip #3: Keep a Record of the Weights of your Food Prep Dishes
Keep a note in your phone or taped to the inside of your kitchen cabinet with a list of your pots, pans, skillets, mixing bowls, casserole dishes, meal prep containers, etc and how much they weigh clean and empty. This way if your food scale times out on you while you’re dicing food, or you want to weigh the entirety of your finished meal, you can simply weigh the whole, full pot/pan/bowl of food and then subtract the weight of the empty pot/pan/bowl that it’s in.
You can definitely do this each time when you start prepping and cooking, but sometimes we forget stuff, ya know? At least I do. Keeping a log of your prep dish weights saves you from having to pour your food into another bowl zeroed out on the food scale when you need to weigh it. Fewer dirty dishes = good.
When I cook in my crockpot I run into the unfortunate issue of the crock insert being too heavy for my food scale. Bummer! My solution in this case is to use a crockpot liner when I use my slow cooker, then carefully transfer and set the whole liner bag full of finished product inside a bowl I’ve zeroed out on my scale. Subtract the weight of the crockpot liner (the ones I use weigh 10 grams), and boom – I’ve got my total weight of food without having to maneuver holding the hot, heavy-ass crock with slippery pot holders, while pouring and scraping my food out while drips, spills, and spatter fly about. Then I put the liner right back into the slow cooker to keep the food warm.
Macro-Tracking Tip #4: Prioritize Protein and High-Volume Foods
“Hitting” your macros can be difficult if you’re not eating the right foods to get you there. It’s easier to spread out your protein and calories over the span of a whole day, rather than try to cram 100 grams of protein for under 100 calories right before bed.
Each meal and snack you eat, figure out how to get more bang for your protein buck, meaning how can you increase the protein content of your food without drastically increasing calories, fat, or carbs? Let’s say you’re making a sandwich or wrap, for example. Two ounces of turkey deli meat contains 9 grams of protein for just 50 calories, 2 carbs, and 1 gram of fat. Double that shit. Putting shrimp or chicken on your pasta? Double it. Having a bowl of nonfat/light Greek yogurt or cottage cheese? Dish out twice as much. Topping a salad or pizza with fat-free shredded cheese? Add another handful.
Macro-Tracking Tip #5: Weigh and Log Foods Raw
There’s always a lot of confusion with tracking when it comes to weighing food raw vs cooked. Preferably, you will weigh your food raw for the most accurate calorie and macronutrient tracking. When food is cooked it loses moisture and the end product weighs less, but it retains its macronutrient content.
For example, a steak in its raw state will weigh more than when it’s cooked, but its macro profile will be the same. Some fat will cook out, but for the most part the macronutrients will remain unchanged. If the steak is cooked to medium-rare it will weigh more than if it’s prepared well-done, which further supports the case to weigh and log the raw weight for the most accurate numbers.
Vegetables lose water weight when heated and cooked, as well, so I weigh veggies both raw (A) and cooked (B), then divide the cooked weight (B) by the raw weight (A) and multiply by 100 to get the percentage difference (C). After I dish out and weigh my portion (D), I divide it by the percentage (C) to get the raw weight of my portion (E).
- total weight of raw zucchini = 436g
- Total weight of cooked zucchini = 366g
- 366g cooked/436g raw = 0.84 x 100 = 84%
- 200g cooked zucchini (200g is just a random number I chose to represent how much cooked zucchini I dish out for my meal, for example purposes)
- 200g / 84% = 238g raw zucchini. This is the weight I would log in my food tracker app.
I understand that 238 vs 200 grams of zucchini is only about a 6 calorie difference, but this calculation also works for raw vs cooked meats, and dry vs cooked pasta or rice. The calorie and macro differences for these items will have a greater impact on your totals.
Macro-Tracking Tip #6: Create Recipes in MyFitnessPal for Home-Cooked Food
This seems obvious for recipes with lots of ingredients mixed together that yield multiple servings like stir fry, casseroles, stews, baked goods, pasta/chicken/tuna/egg salads, egg roll or wrap filling mixtures, etc. But…would you have thought of creating MFP recipes for things like 2-ingredient seasoned taco meat, a pre-seasoned pork tenderloin, or 3-ingredient French fries? If not, you should, and I’ll explain why.
Creating recipes in your tracker app makes logging much simpler, whether the meal is complicated with a long list of ingredients, or is simple and requires very few ingredients.
How to create a recipe in MFP (Android):
- Click the menu button to the top left and choose “Recipes, Meals, and Foods” from the drop down menu
- Click the “Create a Recipe” button near the bottom of the screen
- Choose to Enter Ingredients Manually
- Give your Recipe a name (I typically include a date, as well. I’ll explain why later.)
- If you’ve already finished cooking and weighing your completed recipe, enter the total number of grams into the Servings line. If your food isn’t done cooking yet, just enter “1” and come back to edit it later.
- Toggle the Bulk Import button to On
- Enter your ingredients. You can either be specific with amounts, product brands, and descriptions now, or type in vague descriptions with the plan to scan your ingredients’ barcodes in the next step.
- Click next at upper right
- Review the propagated ingredient list, AND CORRECT AS NEEDED. Go down the list and verify for each ingredient listed that the food, amount, and calorie/macro information is accurate. Click on an ingredient to view its detailed listing. If an ingredient is correct, there is no need to make changes and you can click the back arrow to return to the full list. If an ingredient needs changed, click Replace Ingredient at the bottom of the screen. You can now either scroll & choose a new listing, enter new search criteria into the search bar at the top and scroll & choose a resulting listing, or click the barcode icon at the top right and scan the barcode from the ingredient’s packaging. Note: results from scanning a barcode must still be checked for accuracy! A MFP entry is similar to Wikipedia information – it’s only as good as the person who entered it.
- Once all your ingredients have been added to your recipe and you’ve verified the information, click Next at the bottom of the screen.
- Here is the summary of your calories and macros per serving. If your serving size is still listed as “1”, you’re looking at the calories/macros for the entire recipe. If you’ve entered the final weight of the food you cooked, you’re looking at calories/macros for each individual gram and the numbers may seem wrong because they’re close to zero. This is fine, because you’ll be having multiple grams when you actually eat the food and the numbers will look appropriate again. Click Save.
- Once your food is cooked, weigh the entire finished product in grams if you haven’t already. Go back into Recipes, Meals, and Foods, search for and select your previously created recipe, click the 3 dots at the upper right, select edit recipe from the drop down menu, and change your servings from “1” to whatever your total number of grams is. Aka, every single gram equals one serving, purely for the ease of weighing and tracking. Click Save.
- Now simply weigh your portion as you dish it out, and log however many grams you get as the number of servings.
Again, this may seem like a lot of work, but it gets faster and easier as time goes on. Pro Tip: if you’re making the same/similar recipe as one you created in the past, save yourself some time by simply editing the previously created recipe to reflect the current recipe’s ingredients and amounts, and the new total servings/grams. As mentioned above, I add a date to the end of my Recipe name so I can easily determine which recipe I want to edit or modify if I know I used the same ingredients the last time I made it. I then update the recipe name date to today, as well.
But Rachelle, why would I need to create a recipe for a 1-ingredient, pre-seasoned pork tenderloin?, you might ask. Because, you’ll save yourself from doing math and having scraps of paper with weights and calculations listed on them floating around the kitchen and getting lost between cooking the meal and when all the leftovers are gone.
Say your pork tenderloin weighs 25 oz raw. Create a recipe as outlined above with the only ingredient being your 25 oz pork tenderloin. Once it’s cooked, say it weighs 20 oz (567g). You can either enter 20 or 567 as your number of servings, then weigh out your individual portion in ounces or grams, respectively. MFP does the math for you.
Alternatively, you could divide 20 oz by 25 oz and remember to divide the weight of any portions you dish out for yourself down the road by 80%, but I think creating the recipe is less of a headache.
I always update my 2-ingredient taco meat recipe when I make tacos to save myself the math every time I eat it and its leftovers, as well. 1 pound of ground turkey will weigh less once it’s browned and drained, then you simmer it in water with taco seasoning, so putting the info into MFP will save you time and math – particularly if you will be enjoying the leftovers down the road.
Macro-Tracking Tip #7: Make Macro-Friendly Swaps
Eventually you’ll become a nutritional ninja when it comes to lightening up recipes and making them more macro-friendly, but it can take time to earn your black belt in chopping boards (& fat content!) in half. When I started tracking I literally had no clue that fat-free cheese even existed. Seriously. I stumbled upon that info on another macro-tracker’s Instagram page. If the idea of fat-free cheese makes you cringe, fine…sprinkle it in along with reduced fat or regular stuff to drastically cut fat and calories without sacrificing protein.
There are light and fat-free versions of just about every dairy product out there – find out which brands and items are your favorites and start swapping those into your meals and recipes in place of full-fat or lower-protein options.
- Eat nonfat Greek yogurt instead of regular Greek or non-Greek yogurt
- Use nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream when cooking or topping dishes
- Use light, reduced fat, or fat-free cheeses when cooking or topping dishes – use half regular/half fat-free if preferred, or simply use less cheese than a recipe calls for
- Eat low-fat or nonfat cottage cheese instead of full fat (if you’ve never tried cottage cheese mixed with salsa to dip your chips and veggies in, DO IT NOW. I’ll wait. Delicious…check! Creamy…check! Protein boost…check!)
- Use/drink skim, 1%, or 2% milk rather than whole
- Use half a tablespoon of sugar-free or fat-free creamer in your coffee rather than full (or multiple!) servings of regular stuff, heavy cream, or half and half. Make up the difference with Skinny Mixes flavored syrups – my favorites are the vanilla caramel, cookie dough, salted dark chocolate espresso, and peanut butter cup, but they have hundreds of flavors! They help sweeten regular coffee, cold brew, lattes, cappuccino, etc. And FYI, the zero-calorie, zero-carb cherry syrup is PERFECT to replace grenadine in cocktails and soft drinks. Shop with this link for $5 off your first order.
BUTTERS, OILS, & FATS
When it comes to things like butter and oil, particularly when it’s purely to saute or cook food in, either drastically reduce the amount a recipe calls for, or cut it out altogether. I give my pan a quick spritz of non-stick spray and throw in the meat or veggies I’m cooking – they typically have a high enough moisture content to keep from drying out, and adding a bit of salt will draw the water out faster. Rarely, I’ll add a teeny bit of water to cook in. Oftentimes I’m using jarred minced garlic which adds some moisture, as well.
When you’re making dressings or marinades, again, severely reduce the amount of oil the recipe calls for. I typically make up the difference with things like red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Similarly, when a recipe calls for things like nuts, nut butters, eggs, hummus, or avocado, I typically reduce the amounts to save calories and fat. Yes, even “healthy” fats need to be monitored when it comes to successful calorie- and macro-tracking. Everything will still taste amazing and you’ll get all the same flavors, and the macros will be much more manageable to fit into your day.
Sub in mashed banana, canned 100% pumpkin puree, greek yogurt, egg whites, and/or unsweetened applesauce for whole eggs and oil when making baked goods. This can take a little bit of trial and error to see which subs are best in which recipes, but figuring it out will pay some good macro dividends. Plus, once you figure it out, you’ll have a delicious, macro-friendly and dessert in your recipe arsonal. Worth it.
MEAT & SEAFOOD
Opt for lean meats when given the option:
- Chicken or turkey sausage rather than pork sausage
- Chicken, turkey, or ham deli meats instead of pastrami and salami
- Chicken apple sausages instead of traditional pork brats
- Turkey pepperoni instead of regular
- CHOMPS meat sticks vs your typical beef snack sticks
- Canadian bacon
- Turkey bacon rather than pork (I don’t 100% agree here…I’d rather have less real bacon. #sorrynotsorry. But this is still an option)
- Shrimp, cod, crab, tilapia, scallops, lobster, flounder, tuna
BREAD, RICE, & PASTA
- Use higher-protein pastas like red lentil, chickpea, or Barilla Protein+.
- Use lower-calorie, higher-protein tortillas, wraps, and lavashes.
- Use mini-bagels and mini-croissants instead of regular-size.
- Eat open-faced sandwiches or cut 1 slice in half for your sandwich instead of using 2 whole slices
- Use less than a full serving of rice or pasta in your dishes to lower calorie and carb content. Make up the volume difference with cauliflower rice or zoodles, or simply add any and all the veggies to your meal.
Macro-Tracking Tip #8: Pobody’s Nerfect
Channeling my inner Pam Beasley-Halpert with that header. All of these tips I’ve listed might make it seem like leaving any gram unturned will be detrimental to your macro journey. It will not. So don’t sweat it when you get yourself a ladle of chili and notice maybe you have more black beans in your bowl than red, or there’s a particularly large hunk of chicken in your portion of stir fry. The beauty of it is, with time and consistency it all evens out. Some days you might have a few extra grains of rice in your bowl and other days you’ll have a bit more cheese. But on the other side of the coin, there will be days your plate has less pasta or dressing on it and it’ll all come out in the wash.
Nothing will be exact, but it will be close. Close enough is more than good enough to see results. Estimates work. Using random, yet probable, myfitnesspal entries for things you aren’t able to track is fine. You know why? All these things keep you consistent, which keeps your head in the game. Being in this mindset will propel you forward toward your goals instead of throwing your hands up and figuring you may as well throw some cheese fries and a dozen donuts on the fire since you were unable to track your last meal.
Give yourself grace when you don’t hit your numbers, because you won’t hit your numbers, hun. Be prepared to be low on protein, over calorie, high on fat, and blow past your carbs from time to time. And, man, just listing out all those stats is stressing me out a little here. Focus on calories and protein and the others will fall into place – or at least close enough. Especially if you’re just starting out with macros, or tracking anything in general – keep your focus selective and strong. Too many irons in the fire can be overwhelming and counter-productive. When I started tracking, and even still, my primary focus is calories and protein. If I have to pick one of those two numbers to hit in a day, it’s calories.
Little Tip Tidbits…Tipbits, if you will…
- Set your jar or container of food on your food scale, zero out the scale, then scoop out your portion until the desired number of grams/ounces you want shows on the scale. The number shown on the scale will be negative because that’s the weight of what you removed from the scale.
- You can count individual pieces of pasta like penne or bowties as you weigh them out dry and make note of how many pieces will be in your desired serving. This way you can count them out after they’re cooked from a big pot of pasta and still have an accurate serving. As mentioned above, however, the % calculation works in this scenario, as well. Also, as a rule of thumb, cooked pasta weighs roughly 2x as much as dry pasta.
- An apple core is roughly 30-35 grams, a banana peel is about 40-50 grams, sweet and russet potatoes weigh roughly the same raw and cooked. Make note of these types of things for foods you eat often, so if you’re on-the-go or just forget to weigh something before trashing it, you’ve got a rough, close-enough estimate
- Weighing hot vs cold…this one is a toughy. As your prepared, fresh, baked, cooked food cools it slowly decreases in weight as the moisture within it evaporates. But who da fuq gonna wait for banana bread to fully cool before having a slice? And there’s no way I’m going to make a hot, fresh meal then not weigh or eat my dinner until it’s ice cold. So, I typically just weigh it as soon as it’s done cooking, subtract the weight of the pan/pot it’s in, then dish myself out some food and enjoy. I use the same total weight in grams as my number of servings from this point forward. If this is a wee bit inaccurate when it comes to eating and reheating leftovers, so be it. I lost 10 pounds above and beyond what I never dreamed I’d lose while doing this the whole time, so…as long as you do what you do with consistency, it’ll all work out.
- Give yourself grace when you have off or overboard days. Because it’s gonna happen, folks. You’ll think you’ve faltered, screwed up, messed up, ruined your progress, blah blah blah. It’s a total farce, because there’s no way to screw this up as long as you keep going, but there’s gonna be times when you struggle and feel low. During those times, you can remind yourself of how amazing you are by looking back and recognizing 1) weight you’ve lost, 2) healthy habits you’ve established, 3) mental strides you’ve made, 4) effort you’ve put forth, and 5) strengths you’ve gained.
At a loss for what to eat tonight (or any night!) and need a fast, yet satisfying macro-friendly meal? Here’s a quick and filling dinner trick to send you merrily on your macro way:
Use your handy-dandy food scale to weigh out half a serving of noodles, and prepare it with a ridiculous amount of high-volume veggies like steamed broccoli, sautéed zucchini, microwaved cubed pumpkin, etc. If it works out, throw the veggies into the boiling water to cook with the pasta, but preparing it separately while the pasta cooks is fine, too. When it’s all cooked, top it with lots of lean protein. I like to cook shrimp in the boiling pasta water at the tail-end of the cook time, but cooked or canned chicken breast, browned lean ground beef or turkey, or apple chicken sausages are great in pasta, too. Finish off the dish with a lower-calorie alfredo or red sauce. I just use jarred stuff, and typically find that about half a serving is not only macro-friendly, but also more than enough. The veggies are rich in nutrients, easily palatable all sauced-up along with the rest of the dish, and will keep you full for a fraction of the calories of an extra half serving of pasta. You get the best of both worlds.
Macros can sound complicated, and maybe even seem complicated, but with time it gets easier. These tips can help your macro-tracking journey get off on the right food – I mean, foot! Save this post to Pinterest so you can easily refer back to it as you begin your macro-tracking journey.
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