Macro Tracking Tips and Free Macros Cheat Sheet
So you wanna track macros
Do you have what it takes to be a macro tracker? Take the quick survey below to find out!
- Do you like to eat? YES or NO
- Do you have a mouth? YES or NO
If you answered YES to the above questions, then you’re in luck – you are macro tracker material. Congratulations!
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The magic of macros
Tracking calories and/or macros can potentially prove to be beneficial for repairing your outlook on food and how dieting should look and feel. Macro tracking is also referred to as “flexible dieting,” meaning you can eat whatever the hell you want, if it fits your macros. #IIFYM
There are NO “bad” foods. Nothing is “off-limits.” No need to cut carbs, go keto, eat clean, do Whole30, be paleo, blah blah blah. Just eat.
Macro tracking, when done with you and your unique personality and body in mind, is not about restriction. It’s about growth. And I don’t mean your goal has to be weight or muscle gain. You can lose weight, gain weight, or change your body composition while maintaining weight with macros. It just depends on what your personal goals are.
But no matter which direction you take, you will grow an appreciation for food as fuel (eventually). You will gain an acceptance for foods previously seen as “bad,” and allow them into your diet without guilt. Macros will expand your mind outside the diet culture box, which is where the magic happens.
If you’re not sold on macros yet, here’s a brief overview of my personal macro tracking experience. Within six months, I saw a 10 pound weight loss and huge changes in my body composition. 10 pounds may not seem like much, and 6 months may seem like a long time. But I’d been more or less maintaining a 20 pound weight loss with very few changes in muscle tone and overall body composition for about a year up to that point. I was thrilled with the changes I was seeing as a result of tracking macros!
Check out I Started Tracking Macros at My “Happy” Weight, and Here’s What Happened for how I got started with tracking and determined my personal macro target goals.
What to eat to “hit” your macros
I’ve discovered a number of foods that I can eat – and enjoy – that also align with my fitness and nutrition goals. Here is a list of items, some I eat regularly, some I eat rarely (*cough* tuna *cough*), some I eat with a keen eye on portion sizes (*cough* fats *cough*).
Some foods fall under more than one category, but I’ve dropped them where I consider them to primarily fall. For example, peanut butter, bacon, and hummus may contain protein, but it’s a paltry amount when you consider the fat content!
I mix and match the foods below for my daily meals and snacks. I base my choices on what sounds good, what I have on hand, my schedule, and of course, my macro goals.
If you find yourself in a food rut, browse the list below. I’ve been eating all the yummy things from this list, either on their own or combined with others for well-rounded, delicious, dishes. And by doing this consistently, I’ve achieved long-term macro tracking success! Click HERE to receive a free printable Macros Cheat Sheet! It’ll be super handy to have when you’re menu planning, meal prepping, need snack ideas, and making grocery shopping lists!
MACROS CHEAT SHEET
- Fruit (fresh or frozen)
- Vegetables (fresh, canned, or frozen)
- Low-cal/carb tortillas (La Banderita, Xtreme Wellness, Mission)
- Mini bagels (Thomas)
- Light English muffins (Thomas 100 calorie multigrain)
- Bread (Sara Lee Artesano, Nature’s Own Brioche, or low-cal varieties like Sara ee Delightful 45-cal Multigrain or Nature’s Harvest Light 40-cal Multigrain)
- Beans (Black, Red, Chickpea, etc, plus Low Fat or Fat Free Refried Beans)
- Pasta (Red Lentil, Chickpea, or Barilla Protein+ will provide more protein. For the price I typically use regular and load up a partial serving with veggies and lean protein.)
- Fat Free Pretzel Sticks (Great Value)
- Low Fat Tortilla Chips (La Favorita)
- Egg Roll Wrappers
- Low-cal/personal pizza crusts or 2-ingredient dough crusts (I’ll use Lavash Wraps for pizza crusts)
- Red pizza/pasta sauces
- Reduced fat crackers (watch fat! Ritz, Trader Joe’s 12-grain)
- Animal crackers
- Light Whipped Topping
- Fruity Candies (Skittles, Jelly Beans, Cotton Candy, etc.)
Fats (Keep portions in check!)
- Light Butter/Margarine/Vegetable Oil Spread (I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter Light or Country Crock Light)
- Nut Butter
- Whole Eggs (also protein, but watch fat!)
- Creamy Salad Dressings & Dips (I prefer light mayo and Bolthouse Farms dressings)
- Granola (also carbs, but watch fat!)
- Ice Cream (I prefer Yasso, Enlightened, Archer Farms light, and Scandal-less for the protein content and overall macros. Watch carbs.)
- Creamy Pasta Sauces (I typically dish out partial servings of lighter Alfredo sauces like Classico and Great Value)
- Frosting (my favorite is Duncan Hines Whipped Fluffy White, but I’ve never met a frosting I didn’t like unless it’s made from Greek yogurt, Jell-o pudding mix, and my tears. Watch carbs.)
- Cookie Butter
- Caramel/chocolate candy (Snickers, Twix, Reese’s, Milky Way, etc. Watch carbs!)
- Egg Whites
- Deli Ham, Turkey, and Chicken
- Beef or Turkey Jerky/Sticks (Chomps)
- Canadian Bacon
- Turkey Pepperoni
- Turkey or Chicken Sausage
- Lean Ground Turkey, Beef, or Chicken
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
- Breaded Frozen Chicken Tenderloins (Trader Joe’s, Tyson’s)
- Grilled Frozen Chicken Strips
- Canned Chicken in Water
- Canned Tuna in Water
- Salmon or Tuna Packs
- Cod (and other white fish)
- Salmon (watch fat!)
- Light or Fat Free Cheese (Babybel Light, Fat Free Kraft Cheddar and Mozzarella Shreds, Reduced Fat and Fat Free American Singles, Velveeta singles and shreds, Sargento Ultra Thin Cheese)
- Low Fat or Fat Free Cottage Cheese
- Low Fat or Fat Free Greek Yogurt (Dannon light and fit, Oikos Zero, Fage Total 0%)
- Lavash Bread/Pita/Wraps (Joseph’s Lavash. Watch carbs.)
- Skim Milk
- Protein Bars (BUILT Bars are the closest thing to candy bars with the best macros. Barebells and Grenade are yummy, too, but higher in calories and fat)
- Protein Shakes (PEScience, Premier, Fairlife)
- Powdered Nut Butter (PB2, PBFit)
- Protein Pancakes/Mix (Kodiak Cakes, Krusteaz)
Basically “Free” Stuff
- 0 calorie Spray Butter
- 0 calorie Chocolate, Caramel (Walden Farms International – great for ice cream, smoothies, lattes, pancakes, etc)
- 0 calorie Pancake Syrup (Walden Farms International – great for pancakes, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, and waffles)
- Red Wine/Balsamic Vinegars (great for salads)
- Sriracha (great to spice up Asian dishes and eggs)
- Mustard (ground or dijon can be a nice touch in marinades or for dips)
- Popcorn seasoning salt (Kernel Seasons – great for eggs and raw or cooked veggies)
- Water Flavor (Crystal Light – makes hydrating tastier)
- Black Coffee
- Sugar Free Coffee Syrup (Skinny Mixes – makes black coffee palatable, great for smoothies and yogurt)
- Salsa (great for veggies, tortilla chips, eggs. Mix with cottage cheese for a delicious protein boost. Trust me.)
- Hot/Buffalo Sauce (Frank’s. Some brands have carbs and fats, so read labels)
- Diet Soft Drinks
Putting it all together
Mix and match your favorite foods from above, within your calorie budget while aiming for your protein target. If you do this, along with loading up meals with low calorie, high volume foods (aka fruits and veggies), you will be amazed by how full and satisfied you can be while eating “healthy food.”
I am not suggesting you eat plain chicken breast with bland steamed veggies for every meal! Or any meal for that matter. Marinades, sauces, dips, and spices are your friends. With the right ingredients and mindful choices, these things easily fit in a macro-friendly diet.
Ideas for putting it all deliciously together
- Chop up veggies and throw them into pasta sauce.
- Add veggies and cheese with turkey sausage and egg whites into a low-carb tortilla for a filling and delicious breakfast burrito.
- Pile berries onto Greek yogurt with some granola and honey.
- Make a BBQ or buffalo chicken pizza on a crispy lavash wrap crust loaded with veggies and flavor.
- Season ground turkey for a bomb taco salad with veggies, salsa, avocado, and fat free cheese, Greek yogurt, and refried beans.
- Air fry sliced, seasoned potatoes for French fries.
- Make fluffy protein French toast.
- Whip up some “fried” rice stir fry with drizzles of sriracha and hot mustard.
- Mix fat free cottage cheese with salsa, and serve with veggies and chips (or crisped lavash wrap chips). Add fat free refried beans and cheese, and heat it up for a yummy queso bean dip! Fair warning, it’s gonna look like vomit. But I assure you it tastes amazing.
Your options are endless! Not only are these dishes (and others!) tasty but, if you’re mindful about it, they leave plenty of room in your calorie and macro budget for the “junk” food we all know and love.
Now you have some great ideas you can run with and tweak based on your personal tastes and goals. Here are 8 things to keep in mind as you continue, or embark, on your macro tracking adventure.
- Tracking isn’t a life sentence
You don’t have to track forever…unless you want to. I’ve been tracking macros for over a year and a half now, and honestly have no intention of stopping in the near (or even far) future. Whether or not that’s typical, I’m not sure. I do know that weighing and logging food isn’t for everyone, so just coming back to it for 4-7 days every few months can be a sustainable way to continue to see results without tracking 24/7.
It’s sort of like continuing education. A temporary measure/weigh/log stint is a good refresher on serving sizes, and can help you keep portions in check when you aren’t formally tracking. It’s a nice tactic to use in order to get a feel for how much of each macronutrient (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) you’re typically eating. If necessary, you can adjust your eating habits accordingly to better align with your goals. This is particularly helpful if your weight loss or fitness progress has stalled.
- There is a learning curve
The trick is finding and making delicious dishes work for your macros, rather than settling on food for the sole purpose of macros. Whenever possible. That’s right, there will be times when you do have to settle. That’s the cold, hard truth. When weight loss and fitness goals are involved, from time to time, you’re going to have to eat something that might be a tad underwhelming. But folks, it can’t all be Doritos and cupcakes.
Knowing what foods to buy and how to prepare them in ways that are fitness goal-supporting is crucial to a fitness journey, whether you’re tracking macros, counting calories, or none of the above. You. Must. Learn. Nutrition is key. Consistency is key. Consistency with nutrition is key. What’s the best way to achieve nutritional consistency? Eat foods that satisfy your macro goals and your taste buds, alike. Only eat foods that you like! That sounds easy enough, right?
3. It’s a balancing act
You might have to make sacrifices here and there to make certain foods, treats, or indulgences work with your numbers and goals. These “sacrifices” are really just adjustments in disguise. Like a lettuce “bun” on your burger, fruit instead of fries, or skipping your fancy specialty coffee that day. The beauty of it is those things are right back in play the next day. Hallelujah!
Luckily, things like the aforementioned Doritos and cupcakes totally have their place in a healthy diet. From time to time. Flexible dieting for the win! I don’t know about you, but I’ll take Doritos and cupcakes every now and then over never. A life without Doritos and cupcakes isn’t worth living, in my opinion. Through macros, mindfulness, and moderation, these things can easily fit into your day.
4. You need to shift your mindset
The thought of only eating ONE cookie or ONE doughnut might seem impossible to you right now. Especially if you’re just starting out down the path to health and wellness. I get it. In the past when I ate one, I figured what the hell! I’ve already screwed up, wrote the day off as a loss, and kept the junk food train going.
Eventually, even before I started tracking, I realized this rationale was silly and, quite frankly, hindering my progress. My weight loss progress suffered, but that’s not all. My mental progress suffered, as well. I feel better when I feel like I’ve got my shit together.
I’m in control when I make the conscious effort to respect myself and my goals. And it gives me an unparalleled sense of pride. Having my act together when it comes to my eating makes me physically and mentally feel good.
That being said, I don’t beat myself up after overindulging, either. It took me a long time to get to this place, by the way! I used to let myself give up, at least temporarily, after overeating. Now I give myself grace and move the frick on.
5. Willpower is trained
Junk food is very much a part of my life, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Why torture myself by not allowing myself to eat it? Why treat myself like garbage if I do eat it? No good can come from shaming myself for not adhering to unrealistic expectations. Instead, I chose to scale back the amount of junk I ate and how often. I get to enjoy junk, treats, and dessert in moderation, without feelings of deprivation or guilt.
Making foods work with your numbers, and fitting things into your macros is, essentially, willpower. Each time you decide to eat one Oreo instead of two, weigh out a partial serving of hummus instead of a full one, or go half and half with tortilla chips and veggies on your plate instead of all chips, you are exercising your willpower. These mindful choices get easier to make through time and experience with tracking. Just like with muscle, the more consistently you train your willpower, the stronger it gets.
6. You can indulge some of the time
I eat sweets every day. Sometimes they’re spread out throughout the day, sometimes it’s my nightly dessert, and sometimes it’s both. I am fully capable of eating just one chocolate or measuring out one serving of ice cream. The “how much” part doesn’t really matter to me, so long as I’m having them, period.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to eat sleeves of cookies, spoonfuls of frosting, heaping bowls of ice cream, or fun size candy bars with reckless abandon once the floodgates opened. As if it would be the last time or something. *eyeroll* The “if it fits your macros” mindset is so incredibly freeing. If I want it, I eat it. Maybe I don’t have multiple servings or more than one treat, but I get to eat it. Typically that’s enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, and it typically aligns with my macro goals. Win-win!
7. You have to be flexible
As the day goes on, I adjust my meals accordingly depending on what my macros are looking like. For example, if I end up eating a random doughnut mid-day, extra snack, or spend some calories on a spontaneous Starbucks coffee, I might balance it out by having a taco salad for dinner instead of using tortillas and chips.
Or, if I know it’s Friday and I’ll be having a few glasses of wine that night, I’ll pre-log the wine and go about my day knowing what calories and carbs I have left. Perhaps instead of my usual breakfast sandwich on a mini bagel or light english muffin, I’ll have the egg whites, cheese, and meat as a breakfast platter. This saves a solid 100-150 calories and about 25 carbs. That’s a glass of wine, folks.
If you keep the right foods on-hand, you’ll almost always be able to balance out unanticipated snacks or drinks. At least mostly. A cupcake or beer here and there is one thing, but counterbalancing a rack of ribs or a bottle of eggnog is quite another. At that point, just stop the bleeding, cut your losses, and move on as usual. It’s not worth the effort it’s gonna take, unless you’re super determined and spread it out over the next week or two.
Over the holidays I divvied up 2 months worth of calories accordingly so I could splurge on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s. It’s doable. Calorie cycling is a beautiful thing if you have special events, occasions, or just Fridays you want to spend indulging.
Here are my Top 10 Macro-Friendly Grocery Staples:
- Nonfat Greek Yogurt
- Fat Free Cottage Cheese
- Lean Deli/Lunchmeat
- Beef/Turkey Jerky or Sticks
- Protein Bars and Shakes (pre-made or powder)
- Egg Whites
- Chicken (canned and frozen pre-cooked are super convenient)
- Fat Free Cheeses
- Shrimp (frozen raw or cooked)
- Low cal/carb tortillas or lavash wraps
- (Bonus Staple!) Allllll the veggies to pair with everything else (cucumbers, peppers, and celery are great for dipping and mixing in, and super low-cal).
The above items have saved my ass, and macros, a number of times after overindulging! Again, there’s lots you can do with these macro-friendly grocery staples:
- Dip veggies in canned chicken mixed with Frank’s hot sauce, fat free cream cheese, and dry ranch seasoning for a low-cal, protein packed redemption!
- Scramble egg whites (this can be done in the microwave, FYI!) with some fat free cheddar and veggies, and top with greek yogurt and salsa for a light, filling meal.
- Saute shrimp or chicken in a light spritz of non-stick cooking spray with whatever veggies and spices you want and dig in!
- Roll lean meat and fat free cheese in a light wrap with a side of cottage cheese.
8. It all comes out in the wash
I don’t consider myself a loose macro tracker, but I am a forgiving macro tracker. I’m pretty meticulous with my weighing and tracking when I’m able, and I take all 4 numbers into consideration. I keep an eye on calories, carbs, fats, and proteins, however, my primary concerns are calories and protein. Calories always win the head-to-head between the two. I subscribe to a “close enough” mentality and it has served me well.
I estimate when I need to, like when I dine out or have to eyeball portions. I look at my macro targets in terms of ranges rather than hitting numbers exactly. If carbs or fats are a bit high, that’s fine because other times they’ll be a bit low. If protein is a little low, that’s okay because sometimes I’m over. It all comes out in the wash.
For more macro-friendly meal and snack ideas, follow me and my food diary story highlights on Instagram. I post what I eat every day, and other aspects of my fitness journey and 30 pound weight loss.
So, go forth and macro! Enjoy your flexible diet, allow yourself to eat all the foods, and watch your body and mind transform.
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