How to Count Macros and Make Sense of Nutrition Data

Counting calories sucks. Can’t I just have a meal in peace without worrying about it? Unfortunately, if you’re trying to lean up or lose weight, and have a sedentary job like me, you’re going to be surprised at how much you overeat when you’re not consciously thinking about it, and how much easier it is to control bad eating habits when you can visualize what it’s doing to your body.

One reason I decided to get back on the health train in the first place is my newfound ability to comprehend data and transpose it into a visual format. After about the 300th spreadsheet you start to get a hang of it, and once I learned about tracking macronutrients (calories from carbohydrates, fat, and protein), I knew I could create a simple table to better assess my nutrition each week and guide my food decisions for each day.

While the estimated “macro” amounts you’ll find on an online calculator are probably not super-accurate, if you’ve been stuck on your goals lately, it’s a good idea to start looking at your respective carb, protein, and fat intake levels. That way you can grab an unexpectedly deserved protein-style In-N-Out Burger some nights after the gym.

The most important thing to remember in this process is to set tangible, attainable goals that work for you. It’s okay to make adjustments to your macro goals.

My Goal-Setting Rationale/How To Count Macros

If you check out my personal tracking spreadsheet, you’ll see that I’m tracking six variables daily, and using a formula to average amounts for each week:

  1. total calories (and percentage of total daily recommended goal/limit – found on MyFitnessPal)
  2. carbohydrates
  3. fat
  4. protein
  5. fiber
  6. sugar

I track day by day using MFP’s awesome database of foods, and then use formulas to average for each week to get a better picture of how I’m doing. The first week on my tracker looks pretty bad. I mean I was really trying to eat right, and had a couple of okay workout days. And I still didn’t meet any of my goals. It was an eye opener to say the least – I knew that late-night snacking on my rest days was to blame.

Click image to enlarge >>


I set my fat goal a little higher than recommended because of new research that has come out regarding fats. Apparently the “good fats” – like olive oil, avocado and even some saturated fats such as bacon – are super rich in nutrients and help with hormone regulation, organ function and immunity. Remember the food pyramid from the 90s?


The pyramid wants you to eat tons of bread and pasta, with dairy as a daily staple, while keeping sugars and fats to a minimum. Yeah, the food pyramid is almost 100% bullshit. Sugars and fats don’t even go in the same category. Sugars actually go with the carbohydrates. You know, the thing you’re supposed to eat the most of according to the pyramid. Carbs are important to sustain energy, but overall you want to set a “maximum” amount for carbs and stay under it unless you’re working out that day. Same goes for sugar – too much can really derail a good workout, and if you drink regular sodas, you’re almost for sure getting way too much. You’ll notice that during my first week I did just okay with my carb intake, and really bad with my sugar (blame cookies). Once that was revealed to me, I had a great second week by making solid dinner choices (read: not pizza) and avoiding desserts. That easy.

My protein goal is actually way lower than recommended. Protein is the most impossible of all the macros for me. Even though I eat meat, cheese, and peanut butter, I can never get enough protein. It seems to be the most expensive kind of food, too. If you partake in vigorous exercise you want to make sure you are shooting for at least a minimum amount of protein each day or you’ll literally be starving yourself. Easy way to figure this out: divide your body weight in half, and that’s how many grams of protein you should eat.

I also decided to track my fiber just for good health’s sake. Most people don’t think about their fiber intake, and you really should, as fiber aids in digestion and weight loss, including cholesterol and blood sugar control.

**REMEMBER: All of these “recommendations” as far as calories and macros go, are based on each individual’s height, weight, activity level and fitness goals. Don’t sue me or your online macro calculator for any choices you may make about what you eat.**

If you use a food diary app like MyFitnessPal, it will count your calories automatically based on your food entries, and will also automatically adjust your total calorie goal for the day as well as macro goals based on your height, weight, and any exercise you enter manually or via wearable tracker.

Hope this helps at least a couple people out there! Next week I’ll dip briefly into exercise – how little is too little, proper shoes and gear for your workout, setting concrete goals, and variations on some of the most hated workouts!

3 thoughts on “How to Count Macros and Make Sense of Nutrition Data

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