A common question that we receive fairly often from clients is, “do I have to track calories and macronutrients (macros) to make a goal-focused change with body composition?”
The short answer is no, and we recommend that most beginners who have never dabbled with changing their nutritional habits to start small and make acute changes that can then be easily scaled as they progress through their journey.
If you fall into the categories below, then we’d recommend using the beginner macronutrient tools provided in this article to help you make slightly more educated nutritional changes when selecting and composing daily meals.
- Anyone that is brand new to adjusting their dietary choices/habits.
- Anyone that wants to be a bit more mindful of their eating, but not necessarily track calories and macronutrients meticulously to make changes and see progress.
- Anyone that has a higher body fat that wants to make regular dietary changes.
The reason we like to draw attention to the categories above is that you don’t necessarily need to track every single detail of your diet to make progress. This is especially true for anyone that simply wants to live a healthier lifestyle without diving into the details of calorie and macronutrient tracking.
In this article, we’re going to discuss multiple beginner-friendly macronutrients topics including:
- What Are Macronutrients?
- Why Each Macronutrient Matters
- How to Track Macronutrients for Beginners
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What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are nutrients that our body needs and uses in large quantities, as “macro” means large. These nutrients provide our body with energy and help maintain multiple structures and systems. In our food, macronutrients are measured in grams which then equate to a set amount of calories. The three primary macronutrients include:
- Fat (9 calories per gram)
- Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
- Protein (4 calories per gram)
Other macronutrients include alcohol (7 calories per gram), water, and fiber. Water and fiber are two macronutrients that do not provide the body with energy.
Why Each Macronutrient Matters
Our body requires every macronutrient in various amounts. Now, it’s worth noting that context matters and there are exceptions to how much of each macronutrient we need based on our dietary needs, daily activities, and much more. For example, our body can convert certain macronutrients into energy, so we use “requires” here sparingly.
We dive into this topic in further detail in our Nutrition Course, so if you’re interested in learning more about the specifics check out what the Course has to offer.
Why Fat Is Important
Dietary fat plays a very important role in our lives, and its consumption is important to support many processes in the body, including:
- Supporting Metabolism and reduce our appetite (helps manage fullness/hunger)
- Supporting Healthy Cell Signaling
- Assisting Various Organs In the Body
- Supporting Healthy Hormone + Brain Function
- Assisting With Nutrient Absorption (Vitamins A and D are two of the bigger ones!)
Note, the above is only really scratching the surface of fat’s importance in the body.
Why Carbohydrates Are Important
In terms of survival, carbohydrates are the least important macronutrient, meaning that we could live without consuming even a single carbohydrate because our body is well capable of converting other nutrients into glucose (which is an important energy source in living organisms), through different pathways.
Despite this though, consuming carbohydrates still has ample importance in our day-to-day functioning. Some primary functions that carbohydrates play a role in include:
- Provide the Body With Energy
- Help the Body Store Energy
- Spare Fat/Protein Usage for Other Processes
Carbohydrates are interesting because there’s often a debate about their consumption, we cover multiple carbohydrate myths in our Nutrition Course!
Why Protein Is Important
Protein is the most important macronutrient because literally, every cell in the human body contains protein. Protein is needed for countless functions in the body such as:
- Build Tissues (muscle, organs, skin, nails, etc.)
- Allow for Multiple Metabolic Reactions to Take Place
- Assist With the Creation of Antibodies/Hormones
- Provide the Body With Additional Energy (if stored)
In terms of a macronutrient that needs amply attention, protein is at the helm of the hierarchy. It plays a vital role in so many daily functions.
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How to Track Macronutrients for Beginners
A great first step for beginners who want to be a bit more cognizant of their food choices is to utilize their hands more when creating meals. Wait, the hands? Yup!
The hand can be a useful tool for helping to suggest “how much” of each macronutrient, we’re likely getting at each meal. It’s easy to do and can be incredibly powerful for building habits and providing a baseline idea of every meal’s macronutrient breakdown.
Author’s Note: Hand sizes will always vary, so keep that in mind when using the recommendations below!
Use Your Thumb to Track Fat
Fat intake in diets is generally lower due to its high caloric value of 9 calories per gram, therefore we’re going to use our thumb to measure it. One thumb usually equates to about 10-20g of fat depending on the fat source and the size of your thumb.
- For men, 2 thumbs per meal can be a good starting point.
- For women, 1 thumb per meal can be a good starting point.
Fat Rich Foods: Avocado, butter, egg yolks, oils, olives, flax seeds, chia seeds, pesto, mayo, almonds, nuts, whole nuts, coconut, coconut oil, fatty cuts of meat, peanuts, peanut butter, and most cheeses.
Use a Cupped Palm to Track Carbohydrates
To determine carbohydrate intake, we’re going to use cupped-hand sized portions. A cupped-hand will equate to about 20-35g of carbohydrates. We say “about” because hand sizes and carb sources matter here!
- Men will require a minimum of 2ish cupped-hand-sized portions of carbohydrates per meal.
- Women can start with 1 cupped-hand-sized portion of carbohydrate per meal.
Carbohydrate Rich Foods: Bread, rice, grains, cereals, couscous, pasta, oats, corn, potatoes, fruits, dried fruits, quinoa, ice cream, peas, legumes, and things like pancakes.
Use Your Palm to Track Protein
When it comes to calculating protein requirements, we can start eye-balling our protein intake by using our own palms. Of course, palm sizes are different and you? re likely not cutting pieces of meat the exact same every time you have a piece of meat, but the palm can still provide you with an idea and estimate.
A palm-sized portion can provide you around 20-30g of protein, give or take: based on your daily protein requirements, calculated for your goal, you can start eyeballing how much protein you’ll need within a day. For example, if you have to consume around 180g of protein, that will mean eating around 6-9 palms of protein-rich foods per day.
- For men, a good starting point is to eat 1-2 palms of protein for each meal.
- For women, eating around 1 palm of protein per meal suffices.
Protein Rich Foods: Protein powders, low/non-fat greek yogurt, sirloin, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, bison, lean cuts of fish, egg whites, eggs, tuna, low-fat dairy products, seafood, low/non-fat cottage cheese, beans, legumes, tofu, and tempeh.
Use Your Fist to Track Vegetables
Vegetables fall into carbohydrates when it comes to macronutrients, however, since they contain much more than carbohydrates, it’s important to give them their own section. Vegetables are rich in micronutrients, known as vitamins and minerals but also phytonutrients, which are essential for human health.
- For men, aim to consume about two fists of vegetables per meal.
- For women, aim to consume one fist of vegetables per meal.
Vegetables: Cabbage, eggplants, carrots, courgettes, artichokes, beet, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, leek, lettuce, mushroom, onions, peas, peppers, radish, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, celery, and kale to name a few!
Beginner Macro “Tracking” Takeaways
You don’t have to meticulously track macronutrients and calories to make positive dietary changes. By using our hand to suggest macronutrient composition when creating meals, we can start to passively build meals that provide us with a nutrient breakdown that we’re trying to consume.
These macronutrient tips are also fantastic for anyone that is out and about who wants to keep a baseline idea of “how much of what” they’re consuming!