You’ve probably come across numerous nutritional recommendations for building muscle and losing fat as a skinny fat person.
From the popular ketogenic diet to the somewhat obscure paleo approach, everyone has their unique take on how we should eat.
In today’s post, I’d like to discuss one relatively popular approach and how you might apply it to your life: tracking macronutrients.
Let’s dive in to see what it is, why it works, and how to start in three simple steps.
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What Are ‘Macros’ And What Does It Mean to Track Them?
Macros, short for macronutrients, are the components that make up the food we eat. Each of the three macronutrients carries an energetic value. Proteins and carbs offer four calories per gram, whereas fats provide nine. For example, if you consume a meal consisting of 42 grams of protein, 67 grams of carbs, and 28 grams of fats, you would ingest 688 calories.
Tracking your macros is a form of progress monitoring where you pay attention to how many grams of each nutrient you consume daily. Doing so is beneficial for ensuring nutritional accuracy while working toward your goals.
Each of the three macronutrients has unique functions inside the body, so consuming enough of them is vital for our health and well-being.
Proteins are organic molecules that consist of amino acids: the building blocks of life (1). Once ingested, the body breaks down each molecule, extracting and absorbing the amino acids which enter the bloodstream. From there, the building blocks travel around the body, lending themselves where needed.
The nutrient’s most notable functions relate to muscle growth, recovery, overall development, and the production of hormones, antibodies, neurotransmitters, enzymes, and more.
Carbohydrates are the second major nutrient we need and are the primary fuel source for the body (2). Despite having a mixed reputation among health-conscious folks, carbs serve numerous crucial functions, promote good health, and help us feel energized.
Once ingested, the body breaks down carbs into simple sugars that then suffer one of several fates. The most common ones are:
- Getting broken down for energy immediately
- Getting converted to glycogen, a complex carb form, for later use
Consuming enough carbs is also essential for our athletic performance, especially for endurance-based activities.
Like carbs, fats are a nutrient with a mixed reputation among people. Despite their many proven benefits, low-fat diets often advertise benefits, such as:
- Lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- Easier weight loss
But, despite the apparent benefits of low-fat diets, consuming the nutrients is vital for hormonal balance, brain function, cell creation, organ protection, and more (3).
How to Start Tracking Macros In 3 Simple Steps
1. Determine Your Caloric Needs (And Get Clear On Your Goal)
Begin by calculating your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) – the number of calories your body burns each day. Here’s a formula:
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) - (4.7 x age in years)
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)
BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) - (6.8 x age in years)
The above formulas will determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – how many calories your body burns at rest each day. To get your TDEE, you now have to multiply your BMR by one of the below values:
- Sedentary (little or no exercise): Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
- Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
- Extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training): Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
With a rough TDEE estimation, I recommend removing around 200 calories. Doing so will place you in an excellent position to do a body recomposition (build muscle and lose fat simultaneously). I recommend that approach for almost all skinny fat individuals because they are in a good position to take advantage.
2. Calculate Your Macronutrient Requirements
The next step in the process is calculating your macronutrient needs. You can use a split for this or follow these simple rules:
- 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight
- 0.3 to 0.5 grams of fat per lb of body weight
- Rest of your calories from carbs
For example, let’s say that your daily calorie intake should be 2,700 calories, and you weigh 175 lbs. Your macros might look like this:
- Protein - 140 to 175 grams daily
- Fats - 52 to 87 grams daily
- Carbs - 304 to 418 grams daily
I got the carbohydrate value by calculating the calories from proteins and fats and deducting them from the total (2,700). Here is how:
Protein: 140 * 4 = 560 calories; 175 * 4 = 700 calories
Fats: 52 * 9 = 468 calories; 87 * 9 = 783 calories
Minimum carb and fat intake is 560 + 468 = 1,028 calories (1672 calories left for carbs)
Maximum carb and fat intake is 700 + 783 = 1,483 calories (1217 calories left for carbs)
As you can see, the more protein and fats you consume, the fewer calories are left for carbs. In contrast, the less of the two nutrients you eat, the more you have for carbs. So long as you don’t consume too few or too many calories and get your protein and fats, your carb intake will sort itself out naturally.
3. Start Tracking What You Eat (Here’s How)
You’ll need two things:
- Kitchen scale
- An app or a notebook
A basic kitchen scale is crucial for ensuring accuracy with your food intake. You can learn to eyeball foods, but you need to spend some time weighing foods first. Don’t worry about being 100 percent accurate, but aim to be within a few grams of your targets.
Aside from a scale, I recommend downloading MyFitnessPal. Here are the steps:
1) Visit the Play or Apple store and download the app:
2) Sign up:
3) Follow the setup steps (you can’t skip those):
4) Click the green number representing your caloric needs:
You will then arrive at this page:
Click the digits in the ‘Goal’ window. A pop-up window will show up, allowing you to change your daily calories. Write your caloric needs from step #1, and you’re done.
Your other option is to grab a simple notebook or log and record food intakes there. You have to write everything by hand and calculate each food, but the method isn’t much more challenging or time-consuming. Plus, having a physical item that records your nutrition can be fulfilling.
Five Reasons Why You Should Track Macros As a Skinny Fat Person
1. The Approach Is Sustainable
Keto, paleo, Atkins, low-fat… what do all of these diets have in common? Sure, each is popular. That’s one thing. But here is another commonality:
None of them are sustainable in the long run. Sure, you can follow a diet for a few weeks or months. In fact, given the right motivation, most people feel pretty confident that they can continue to follow their diet of choice forever. Sadly, things don’t work that way, and most people give up eventually.
In contrast to that, macro tracking is a sustainable nutritional approach. Sure, it takes some time to get used to it, and you might find it tiresome initially. But, once you get started, you can leverage the approach for a long time because you can enjoy dietary flexibility to eat your favorite foods, have meals out with friends, and more.
2. Tracking Macros Can Be Good For Your Health
Basing your nutrition around whole and nutritious foods while also paying attention to your caloric intake is good for your health. For one, you’re at a lower risk of nutrient deficiencies that tend to be common with some diets, such as veganism (4, 5). Second, you’re better able to maintain a healthy weight and body fat percentage. Third, you ensure an adequate intake of all three macronutrients, each of which is essential for your health, well-being, and fitness progress.
3. You’re Much More Accurate With Your Nutrition
A common issue for people chasing specific fitness goals is their nutritional inaccuracy. For example, how often have you come across someone claiming they barely eat but can’t lose weight? Exactly.
The truth is, we are bad at estimating how much food we are consuming. More often than not, we underestimate our caloric intake because we eyeball meals inaccurately, forget to account for snacks, and never track the calories in drinks. As a result, we feel stuck and spin our wheels for months, sometimes years.
Tracking your macronutrients is beneficial precisely because it offers accuracy, ensuring that you’re consuming the number of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats you need to achieve a specific goal eventually. Sure, it takes work, but it works. Just as you would track your finances to get ahead, knowing your nutrition can help you reach your goals.
4. It Develops Life-Long Skills
People often frown at macronutrient tracking because they believe they have to do it forever, or it will stop working. While it might be the case for a small percentage of people, most can leverage macro tracking for a while, develop good skills, and go about their lives with a healthier relationship with food.
An important skill you develop by tracking macronutrients is to estimate the amount of food you’re eating. Weighing foods for months develops your understanding of how much food is on your plate, which allows you to remain mindful of your calories long after you stop opening MyFitnessPal. These skills apply whether you follow a normal eating pattern, do intermittent fasting, and more.
Another skill you develop by tracking macros is that you learn how much food your body needs for specific goals. Often, people consume too many calories to build muscle and too few when trying to lose fat. Understanding your body saves you that trouble and allows you to work toward different goals more methodically.
5. You Have More Dietary Freedom
A huge issue with most diets is the level of restriction they impose on us. Sure, a diet might help you reach your goals more quickly, but often at the expense of dietary enjoyability. The diet dictates what and how much you can eat and when, leaving little to no room for maneuvering.
Unsurprisingly, diets don’t work in the long run precisely because they aren’t sustainable. Sure, you can follow a diet for a while, but you will eventually give up and return to old behaviors.
Tracking macronutrients is excellent precisely because of its dietary freedom. You get to enjoy some flexibility while also working toward your goals.
A Few Words On Your Food Selection When Tracking Macronutrients
Before giving you some practical recommendations, I’d like to briefly share why I don’t like the term IIFYM – if it fits your macros. IIFYM has an incorrect connotation, and most people fall for the idea that, so long as they hit their calories and macros, food choices don’t matter. Sure, reaching your daily calorie and macro goals is essential, but it’s only one side of the coin. Your nutritional quality matters, too (6).
But isn’t flexible dieting another name for IIFYM? No, because where IIFYM follows the rule of ‘hit your macros for the day,’ flexible dieting is more nuanced. With it, your goal is to reach your macros for the day, but with a more balanced and adult approach to nutrition. The objective is to get 80 to 90 percent of your calories from whole and nutritious foods, leaving the remaining for your favorite treats.
Consuming enough whole and nutritious foods is vital for ingesting enough of the essential vitamins and minerals that support your health, help you maintain optimal testosterone levels, and promote feelings of well-being (7).
Simple Tips to Make Macronutrient Tracking More Pleasurable For Skinny Fat Beginners
I know. Tracking macronutrients might seem obsessive. But, just as one would track their finances to get rid of debt and accumulate some savings, one would also benefit from monitoring their nutrition to get in shape.
Tracking your macros will probably feel challenging initially, but there are simple things you can keep in mind to make the process more manageable. Here are some of them:
1. Aim For a Calorie Range
Most people would be better off aiming for a caloric range rather than a specific number. Having 100 to 200 calories of leeway helps you feel more relaxed. Instead of worrying about hitting a particular number, you have a small range that makes it easier to set up your nutrition and not stress out over every gram of food.
For example, if you have to consume 2,500 calories daily, go for a range of 2,400-2,600. That way, you might be over one day and under the next. But, so long as you’re within the range, your average should be around the calories you need.
2. Track Only Protein
I’ve tracked all three macronutrients in the past, and I’ve monitored only protein, too. I’ve found that tracking only protein brings the same results, but the approach is much more sustainable.
My logic is that your fats and carbs will sort themselves out so long as you eat a moderately-balanced diet, stay within your caloric range, and get enough protein.
3. Enjoy Some Dietary Flexibility
Regardless of your goals and what nutritional approach you follow, your diet should offer some dietary flexibility. This is the only way for you to stick with it in the long run, reach your goals, and maintain your results.
Because of that, I recommend exercising your right to enjoy some flexibility in the form of meals out with friends, dessert after dinner, some moderate alcohol intake (if you want), and such. So long as you’re still mindful, you will feel better and enjoy your diet more.
4. Drink More Water (And Less of Everything Else)
I’m sure you’ve read about the many benefits of water, so instead of boring you to death, I’m here to remind you to drink more water and less soda, juice, energy drinks, and such. One strategy that works for me is having a bottle full of water on my desk. The bottle serves as a constant visual reminder for me to drink as I work.
5. Learn to Cook
Cooking is an overlooked but incredibly effective strategy for saving money and controlling how each of your meals gets made. Not to mention that cooking means you can prepare each food precisely as you enjoy it.
Plus, cooking more of your meals makes it easier to estimate your calories. Of course, having meals out isn’t necessarily bad, and plenty of restaurants these days offer nutritional information for their meals. But, eating out makes it more challenging to track your calories, and you have to accept that you might overeat occasionally.
Fix the skinny fat look in 7 simple steps...
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6. Skerrett PJ, Willett WC. Essentials of healthy eating: a guide. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2010;55(6):492-501. doi:10.1016/j.jmwh.2010.06.019
7. Tardy AL, Pouteau E, Marquez D, Yilmaz C, Scholey A. Vitamins and Minerals for Energy, Fatigue and Cognition: A Narrative Review of the Biochemical and Clinical Evidence. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):228. Published 2020 Jan 16. doi:10.3390/nu12010228