Macros are a tool to help educate you on the categories of foods that make up a well-balanced meal. Tracking macros is not meant to be a lifestyle, it’s meant to help educate you on the nutritional components of the foods you eat, portion sizes, and understanding how much of each macronutrient is optimal for you to reach your personal goals.
One of the biggest complaints I see about macro tracking is that it’s hard to stick with them. Many people find it hard to adhere to the macronutrient parameters calculated for them simply because they don’t have the right tools to make the process easy, convenient, and enjoyable. This is especially true for those just starting out with macro tracking.
I get this, I’ve been there, which is why I’m going to share my top 10 tips for sticking to your macros with you. These tips and tricks are ones that I’ve learned on the way and I believe they will help you gain the confidence you need to make healthy, sustainable changes in your diet and create lasting results.
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How Do You Stick to a Macro Diet?
Sticking to a macro diet comes down to having the knowledge, education, and resources to properly execute your plan. These resources include a set of custom macronutrient targets, a realistic mindset, a healthy relationship with food, and a clear goal in mind.
Your ability to adhere to your macros will hinge on your understanding of the fact that it will never be perfect, and that’s ok. The goal of macros is to progressively work towards becoming adept at understanding foods and food quantities to properly fuel your body - this will take time and practice.
The following 10 tips on how to stick to your macros will help you build your confidence and ability to hit your macros and make incredible progress toward your macro-tracking goals.
How to Stick to Macros: 10 Tips From a Nutritionist & Macro Coach
The following 10 tips will help you stay on track with your macros, build your confidence when it comes to nutrition, and understand how to properly fuel your body to achieve whatever goal you have in mind.
1. Make a Plan
My number one tip for sticking with your macros is to plan ahead. I cannot emphasize enough the value of having a plan here. Planning can involve meal prepping, meal planning, and pre-logging your days in your favorite macro tracking app. While time-consuming at first, you will quickly begin to appreciate the benefits of being prepared.
When you take the time to pre-plan your meals and to pre-log them into your preferred macro tracking app, you will be setting yourself up for success for the whole day. At the beginning of the week, take some time to pursue macro-friendly recipes, make your macro grocery list, and pre-log your meals into your tracking app. Yes, things might change a bit as the week comes and life inevitably changes, but having this solid place to start will give you the foundation for a successful week of sticking with your macros.
2. Keep it Simple
You can’t expect to stick with your macros consistently when you’re over-complicating it. When choosing macro-friendly meals to eat, stick with the easy, few-ingredient options as opposed to the intricate meals that require a ton of ingredients, time, and planning - this is a surefire way to burn out and quit.
Personally, I love simple, healthy recipes that include a handful of ingredients that I know I can throw together at any point. Eating a macro-balanced lifestyle does NOT need to be complicated. Once you learn how to build your plate with a healthy serving of protein, carbs, and fats at every meal, the rest will fall into place. Save the crazy, intricate meals for farther down the road when you’re a seasoned macro-tracking vet.
3. Eat the Same Meals/Foods Consistently
This tip plays off of my last tip; once you find the recipes/meals/foods that you enjoy, eat them on repeat! You’ll start to know what meals and foods “fit your macros,” and if you enjoy them, don’t be afraid to keep them on a permanent rotation in your nutrition plan. Plus, this makes tracking your macros an absolute breeze.
Most macro tracking apps allow you to copy/paste foods and meals from one day to the next, so if you’re eating the same things for multiple meals or days, sticking with your macros becomes incredibly simple. The key here is to find the foods that you love and that are convenient for you. The beauty of macros is that nothing is off-limits, so find what works for you and keep eating it.
4. Do Some Macro Math
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of food that you need to eat each day to hit your macros, simplify it by planning how many meals and snacks you plan to have and dividing your day up that way.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you like to eat 3 meals and 2 snacks per day and your total daily calorie allowance is 1500 calories and 130g of protein. You could divide your day up like this:
- 1500 calories/5 meals = 300 calories per meal
- 130g protein/5 meals = 26g per meal
Personally, I like to keep my main meals heavier and my snacks lighter, so I would calculate it this way, counting my 2 snacks as 1 meal:
- 1500 calories /4 meals = 375 calories per meal
- 130g protein /4 meals = 32.5g per meal
- 375 calories / 2 snacks = 187 calories per snack
- 32.5g protein/ 2 snacks = 16.25g per snack
So, you would be eating 3 meals at around 375 calories each with 32.5g of protein each and 2 snacks at around 187 calories each and 16.25g of protein each.
Having these meal-by-meal targets laid out for you always you to plan and prepare better so that sticking with your macros is easier and more manageable.
5. Make Sure Your Meals Are Satiating!
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to macros is not building their meals in a way that’s satiating. Instead, they are spreading their macros out throughout the day by eating little nibbles and snacks here and there which not only add up to a lot of calories at the end of the day but that way of eating can lead to overeating because you have deprived yourself of enough nutrients and calories at your meal times.
I recommend deciding how many main meals you want to eat per day and making sure that those meals are filling. Enough so that you should be able to go a few hours afterward before feeling hungry again. Instead of having 2-3 small snacky items in the afternoon, plan out a full lunch that has ample protein, carbs, and fats to keep you from reaching for the handful of chips or raiding the office candy bin. Don’t be afraid to consume a hearty meal - more than likely the result will be that you’ll do much less snacky which leads to more adherence and consistency with your macros.
6. Don’t Assign Any Foods as Off Limits
Depriving yourself of foods that you love is a surefire way to fall off track and not stick with your macros. Deprivation leads to binging and overeating. Instead, make sure that you’re scheduling in a “treat” or a food that you love or look forward to every day. The best way to do this is to pre-log your treat into your day so that you can work the rest of your day around it and not feel like you're depriving yourself of the foods you enjoy.
Macro tracking is a flexible diet that allows a place for all foods in sensible portions. There’s no need to add a good or bad label to any food. Anything that you love can be incorporated into your day so long as you plan ahead and make adjustments to stick with your macros.
7. Try Calorie Cycling
Calorie cycling allows you to manipulate your macros so that you’re eating lower calories on some days to allow for a couple of higher-calorie days in your week. Typically, this works well for those who like to go out or enjoy extras on the weekends. To do this, you would simply cut back on your macros slightly during the week (or whenever is best for your schedule) and “save: those extra calories for the weekend of the special occasions where you’ll want more leeway with your macro targets. Many people also do this by carb cycling macros, which is where you eat higher carbs on some days and lower carbs on others. Both methods can work really well and can help ensure you’re sticking to your macros.
8. Check Restaurant Menus Before You Go Out
Eating out is one of the biggest downfalls of macro trackers because they tend to feel disoriented and need clarification on what to order. Whether you’re trying to get some fast food that's macro friendly or you’re heading out to your favorite restaurant for a nice dinner, it’s wise to look up the menu online beforehand and make a plan. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail, and that rings true with sticking to your macros as well.
By taking a couple of minutes to take a peek at the menu, you can get an idea of what you’re going to order, or even narrow it down to a couple of top options, and then pre-log so that you can work the rest of your day around it. Taking this extra step helps ensure you’re prepared and ready to stick with your macros while still enjoying going out.
9. Stay Hydrated!
I can’t tell you how many people are shocked when they start drinking enough water at how hungry and less snacky they are. We often confuse the sensation of hunger with thirst. Before you reach for that snack that you know is going to put you over on your macros for the day, check in with yourself to make sure that you’re not just thirsty. Better yet, go ahead and drink a glass of water and then re-evaluate your situation - are you truly hungry? If yes, go ahead and choose a snack that’s appropriate. If not, keep that in mind for next time.
I recommend that people drink at least 100oz of water per day. If this number feels extreme to you right now, you can work up to it! Start from where you are and progressively add more and more water to your day. I think you’ll notice that you’re not only less hungry but that your overall energy level improves.
10. Give Yourself Grace and Don’t Give Up
This is probably the most important tip I can offer. If you’re putting unrealistic expectations on yourself to hit your macros perfectly every single day, you’re setting yourself up for an epic failure. Macro tracking will never be perfect, so there’s no need to try. The majority of us aren’t training and eating to go step on a stage at our leanest body weight - we’re average folks who want to have a handle on our nutrition and wellness.
Cut yourself some slack. Some days you might go over your macros - it’s normal and expected! Instead of beating yourself up and feeling bad about it, move on and get right back on track the next day. Sticking to your macros is much easier when you take away the need to be perfect. Do the best you can, recognize areas where you can improve, and keep going.
Final Thoughts For Sticking With Your Macros
When working towards adhering to your personal macro targets, it’s important to remember that you’re unlikely to nail it all at once. Give yourself grace, learn as you go, and use these 10 tips on how to stick to your macros as a guide for optimizing your nutrition and macro experience.
Think about learning macros as building out your tool belt - you need multiple tools in your belt to accomplish your goals and you won’t be able to take them all on at once. Start with the smallest, most realistic goals for yourself and add more on as you build your macro counting confidence.
Honestly, your ability to stick to macros comes down to your knowledge of how to properly fuel your body so that you aren’t getting to the point where you feel like you need to go off the rails. If you’re in a calorie deficit, you will experience some hunger, and that’s normal, however, these tips and strategies will help minimize any discomforts and allow you to stick with it for your specified period of time and then transition out and move to a more sustainable macro goal. At this point, you’ll want to have a solid reverse diet plan to ease into higher macros.
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