Macro Tracking 101 for CrossFitters
What are Macronutrients?
The calories you eat contain protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Each plays a different but essential role in fueling your CrossFit workouts and recovery. Macronutrients comprise of calories, so counting macros is a more effective way to reach specific performance and body composition goals.
How Many Calories Do You Need for CrossFit?
Calorie intake for CrossFit depends on many factors like age, sex, NEAT, exercise frequency and intensity, and your goals.
If your primary goal is performance-based, you likely need to eat at or above maintenance. If your goal is to drop fat while optimizing performance as much as possible, a calorie deficit will get you there.
Exact calorie needs are best managed by an experienced coach if you want to maximize performance (with or without body composition goals). But, WAG’s free Macro Calculation Cheat Sheet will give you a good starting place.
Protein Needs for CrossFit
Protein is responsible for many essential body processes—the most apparent to CrossFit are muscle growth, healing from illness, and cell recovery. Although important for everyone, athletes need to consider the quality and quantity of protein consumption even more closely.
At Working Against Gravity, we recommend that CrossFit athletes eat a minimum of 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight—potentially even higher if an athlete is looking for extreme leanness.
Stick to lean protein sources (or protein shakes) in your meals and snacks immediately before and after your workout to help your body utilize that protein more efficiently. Pair it with a quick digesting carb (more info below) for optimal results!
Dietary Fat and CrossFit
Dietary fat plays an essential role in the transport and absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Omega-3 fatty acids—found primarily in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and egg yolks—support joint health, digestion, brain function, and cardiovascular health. Fats also aid in healthy hormone production.
Regarding CrossFit, it is best to keep fat intake low around workouts and eat your highest-fat foods in meals farthest from your training sessions. This allows your body to utilize carbs and protein most quickly and efficiently as fat slows down the digestion of the foods you eat it with.
Fat should comprise around 25-30% of your total daily calories.
The Role of Carbs in CrossFit
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source for CrossFit. Although some athletes can perform optimally while following a low-carb or ketogenic diet, through coaching over 30,000 clients, we’ve found that those people are the exception to the carb rule.
Carbohydrates are stored and used in your liver to maintain blood sugar and in your muscles to fuel movement, exercise, and recovery. Right before and after workouts, we recommend focusing on quick-digesting, lower-fiber carbohydrate sources like sweet potato, rice and rice cakes, oats, bread, and fruit. Your body will utilize these carb sources quickly for energy and recovery.
Carbohydrate needs are best calculated after determining protein and fat needs.
Why Macro Tracking Matters for CrossFitters
It is common knowledge that tracking your workouts and following specific programming helps with performance. But, tracking your nutrition also directly impacts how you look and feel in the gym.
Macro tracking allows you to:
- Eat enough to support your performance and recovery
- Avoid eating too much as to put on body fat
- Lose fat and gain muscle at the same time
- Confidently adjust needs based on your current workout frequency and intensity
- Learn when to eat certain foods to optimize your performance and your recovery
- Make knowledgeable and repeatable changes to your plan during a CrossFit competition
- Change macros if injury occurs to ensure muscle maintenance and limit body fat accumulation
- Enjoy foods you love without wondering if they’re hurting or helping your goals
- So much more!
People tend to overestimate their exercise and underestimate their calorie intake, anywhere from 20% to 50%. Sometimes greater! Simply put, tracking your macros allows you to measure calorie intake accurately and adjust based on your specific goals and body.
Tracking Your CrossFit Macros
Now that we’ve tackled how many macros you need and the role they play in your body and CrossFit performance, let’s dig into how to count macros and some of the most common macro-tracking mistakes we see at WAG.
Tracking Apps and Food Scales
Food tracking apps like MyFitnessPal or MacrosFirst help you track what you’ve eaten and calculate the macros in your food. At WAG, our custom coaching software syncs directly with these popular tracking apps so your coach can see exactly what you’re eating and give you specific feedback and recommendations.
If you’re new to macro tracking, downloading and getting to know one of these apps is the first step. These tutorials will help you out:
Enter your daily macro goals in your app to personalize your experience—your app will tell you how many macros you have left as you enter your daily food intake.
Quick Tracking Tips
Here are a few getting-started macro tracking tips.
- Tracking requires you to measure the weight of your food. Get a food scale and use grams to weigh your food whenever possible for optimal results.
- Use the scan feature on your app to scan nutrition labels.
- Utilize the “create your own food” and “create a recipe” features to log your go-to meals and food sources.
- Track before you eat—this ensures you see how food impacts your daily macros before you’re “stuck” eating something that doesn’t fit or makes it tricky to hit daily macros.
- If you feel overwhelmed, start by just tracking one macro (we recommend starting with protein) and build from there.
- Hire a coach! This can expedite the learning process and ensure you see progress more quickly.
Consistency When Tracking Macros
You wouldn’t buy a CrossFit membership, skip the gym, and expect to get fitter. The same goes for nutrition—just having the numbers isn’t enough. You must follow a program consistently to see progress and achieve measurable results.
We consider optimal consistency ending within five grams of your protein and carb targets and within two grams of your fat target daily.
You don’t need to be perfect to see progress. But, to achieve the fastest, you need to hit macros most of the time. Are you curious about what level of consistency you need to reach your goals? Check out our article What it Takes to Get Lean.
Common Macro Tracking Mistakes to Avoid
As you track macros, here are a few things to consider.
- Missing hidden macros: There are macros in almost everything you eat, from gum to cooking spray, supplements, and so much more. These things add up over time!
- Using cups and spoons: A food scale is the most accurate way to measure your food. Use cups and spoons sparingly (as these are much less accurate) when aiming for optimal consistency.
- Neglecting fiber: Fiber plays a huge role in gut health. It also helps you feel satiated. 25-30g of fiber per day is a great starting goal.
- Only focusing on macronutrients: Macros are essential, but their smaller counterparts are just as important. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body needs to perform optimally! Getting a variety of whole foods each week will help you get the micros you need.
Final Macro Tracking Tips
Macro tracking is nuanced, and there is definitely a learning curve. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind to reap the benefits and see the impact on your workouts and recovery.
In fact, if your goals involve weight loss and you want to maintain muscle, avoid excessive hunger, and continue to perform and recover well. You’ll likely only see 0.5-1lb of average weekly weight loss. Muscle gain takes even longer. Managing expectations and celebrating small milestones will help you stick with it and avoid frustration.
Measure Progress Correctly
This tip is twofold.
First, ensure you’re taking your measurements correctly so you can see progress as it is happening. Many people don’t know how to accurately measure average weight change or best practices for taking and assessing progress pictures. This article will help!
Second, progress is more than just the number on the scale or a PR in the gym. There are over fifteen measures of progress Working Against Gravity coaches measure and assess with their clients each week. Keep tabs on the measures of progress below, along with changes in performance and body composition.
Get a Coach
Working Against Gravity started in the CrossFit space over a decade ago, and since then, we’ve helped thousands of athletes—from everyday gymgoers to CrossFit Games podium finishers—optimize their body composition, performance, and recovery.
We know what it is like to wonder if there is a missing piece to your performance, and our experienced 1-on-1 coaches can help you reach your CrossFit goals. We’ll help you take the question mark out of your nutrition so you can focus on your training. Learn more about WAG here!