The Best Macro Tracker Apps to Hit Your Wellness Goals
By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
March 3, 2020
- No matter your diet goals, your macronutrients—fat, carbohydrates and protein—come into play.
- Macro trackers can make it easier to keep tabs on your macros as you eat and drink throughout the day. This is helpful when you’re following a diet with specific macro guidelines, like keto, or if you have specific health goals, like trying to build muscle or maintain a healthy bodyweight.
- With hundreds of apps out there for counting macros, how do you pick the best one? Get the details on some of the best macro tracker apps and how they can help you reach your goals.
No matter what you hope to accomplish with your diet, your macronutrients—fat, carbohydrates and protein—come into play. Macro trackers can help you reach your health goals, whether you’re focused on weight management, trying to gain muscle or just want to better control your hunger.
Manually calculating the macros in everything you eat and drink can be time-consuming, not to mention confusing. Finding a good macro tracker app is the foolproof way to take the guesswork out of tracking macros. The best macro tracker apps can save you time and energy while also helping you stay motivated and keep making progress toward your health and fitness goals.
Read on to find out how some of the best macro tracker apps compare to each other and how they can help you reach your goals.
Why should you use a macro tracker?
Macro trackers make it easy to see and keep track of your daily calories and macronutrients (grams of carbs, fat and protein) with a food diary. Most are available in the app stores of both iOS and Android devices and can even integrate with other apps and fitness tracking devices.
Not sure where to start? The best macro tracker apps will suggest a baseline number of calories and macros based on your health and fitness goals, as well as your expected daily activity level. For example, staying at a healthy bodyweight will give you one set of daily calories and macros, while trying to build muscle will result in higher protein totals. This data gives you a baseline to follow and adjust accordingly based on how you feel.
Tracking macros, even for just a short while, can also reveal if you’re not eating enough of a certain macronutrient. Maybe you need more fat on a low-carb diet like keto, so you add more Bulletproof Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil to your diet, or you need more complete protein sources that cover the full amino acid profile, so you add Bulletproof Complete Daily Energy Collagen Protein to your morning smoothie.
Macro trackers are especially useful if you’re following a diet with specific macronutrient guidelines. For example, on the keto diet, you want more fat, moderate protein and few grams of carbs to stay in ketosis. If you follow IIFYM—short for “if it fits your macros”—you eat whatever you want within specific macro ranges.
Though flexible dieting like dirty keto can be tempting, eating a lot of fast food and processed foods likely won’t help you feel your best long-term. To ensure your body is getting all the right nutrients, including both macronutrients and micronutrients, you still want to eat clean, whole foods, regardless of the diet you follow or your target macro intake.
Heads up: Macro calculators are useful, but they’re not ideal for people with a history of disordered eating. They’re simply guidelines. It’s ideal to work with a nutrition professional if you have specific goals.
The best macro tracker apps
MyFitnessPal (MFP) is likely the most widely used macro tracker app out there. Its popularity, combined with the fact that Under Armour owns it, means it has loads of functionality.
MFP has a large database of foods that makes it easy to automatically fill in nutrition information—to the tune of 11 million foods, according to the MFP website. Nearly every food and ingredient you can think of is pre-loaded, so you’ll be doing minimal manual data entry, if any at all.
I’m sure there’s something out there that MFP doesn’t have stats on, but so far, everything I’ve searched for is in there and populates with one click. My Bulletproof Collagen Protein Bar was in there, but not in the other apps I tested.
Note that not all food item stats are verified by the app. The majority will be user-submitted nutrition information that might be worth double-checking. During my experience, I didn’t make any changes.
MFP is available on desktop and any mobile device you have, and you can seamlessly sync between devices and maintain your data if you’re using more than one. It also boasts pages and pages of integrations that you can sync up to your wearable or health and activity app of choice. If there’s an app or device it doesn’t work with, I wasn’t able to find it.
You can fully get by on the free version. You can upgrade to the premium version by paying a monthly subscription fee. The premium version is ad-free and offers exclusive meal plans, recipes and other premium content.
One premium feature that I appreciated is the ability to change your goals on exercise days. That goes well with carb cycling on keto, where I’ll increase my grams of carbs when I do my intense HIIT or hard lifting days. Personally, I don’t want to have to look past angry red numbers on those days. I like to know that I’m succeeding at my goals on carb cycling days, too, and you can set it up this way with My Fitness Pal Premium.
Things to note
- The default settings align with a calories in, calories out model for weight management. If you’re eating more fat, like you would on a keto or paleo diet, your fat totals will turn an angry, scolding red before you get through lunch. Simple answer to that: Change your calorie counter parameters before you even get started.
- If you do better with an element of accountability, MFP easily finds your Facebook friends who are also using the app and you can support each other.
- Unless you’re paying for the premium version, MFP doesn’t calculate net carbs for you. The free version does calculate your fiber and sugar alcohols, and it’s simple enough to subtract them out from your food diary. Only you can decide whether or not you’ll get annoyed by having to do the math in your head every day.
The free version of Carb Manager is a full-service nutrient tracker that will get the job done if you want your functionality to fall somewhere between basic and advanced. It gives you an extensive set of calculations in an easy-to-use interface.
On initial setup, it asks you a few questions to come up with your daily macro targets. You have the choice whether to track total carbs, net carbs (total carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols) or diabetes carbs (total carbs minus fiber and half the sugar alcohols). It gives you your fiber count, although there’s no target there because fiber is a freebie. All in all, setup took less than five minutes.
It breaks down your daily intake into a convenient pie chart and snapshots your net carb intake on a bar below. It’s green when you’re within range, red when you’ve gone overboard.
The database of foods is pretty well populated with nearly everything you’re going to eat in a day. During my five-day trial, I had to manually enter only a few things, like my Collagen Protein Bar.
With a monthly or annual subscription fee, you can upgrade to Carb Manager Premium, which gives you the standard premium content—like recipes and meal plans—and a lot more. You get advanced analyses so that you can look for trends over time and make predictions about how certain proportions of macronutrients will affect your weight. You can set goals and see how many days in a row you’ve met your goals to motivate yourself.
Premium also makes data entry easier. It has features like food dictation and image recognition so you can snap a pic of your food, and the app will recognize your meal and enter it for you.
Carb Manager can integrate with other popular health apps and fitness trackers, but you’ll have to upgrade to make that happen.
Things to note
If you want a simple at-a-glance look at how you’re doing throughout the day, Carb Manager will give you that. You can dig into more detailed nutrients, even with the free version, but it’s not nearly as detailed as Cronometer, coming up next.
Cronometer gets pretty granular with your metrics, down to the nutrient level. It parses out your macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, carbs, fats, protein, fiber and so much more. The default settings show most of the basics and a lot of advanced calculations like caffeine and vitamins.
You can customize your default screen to calculate additional totals. For example, if you want a detailed carbohydrate breakdown, you can make metrics like sugar alcohols visible in your settings.
This one is the most detailed app I came across. To give you an idea: Not only does it track your protein, but you can see how much of each of 12 amino acids you’re getting—and that’s just the basic version of the app. If you’re the type to wonder how much zeaxanthin you ate last week, and whether you’ve had enough electrolytes to get through a 10K, this one’s for you.
A basic version of the app is free. You can also upgrade to a gold membership for a monthly or annual subscription fee, which gives you an ad-free experience, premium content and even more detail. You also get advanced charts and analyses.
One example is the function that shows your nutrient ratios on a scale from green to red, like your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and your zinc to copper ratio. There’s lots of opportunity to geek out on Cronometer Gold.
Cronometer integrates with the most popular health apps, like Google Fit, Fitbit and Apple Health, which makes it compatible with wearables and apps that run on those three. The list is growing, and you can weigh in on what the developers integrate next on their community message boards.
Things to note
If you’re just starting out, the data will most certainly overwhelm you. There’s just so much to sift through. It’s easy enough to use, but if there’s too much coming at you in the beginning, you might give up. Ask yourself whether you’ll nerd out on all of this information or if minimal information is more your speed.
Other macro trackers to consider
These apps haven’t been tested by our team, but they are popular options worth considering.
Lifesum bills itself as a digital self-care app that offers personalized diet and meal plans, recipes and macro tracking. The app requires a paid subscription ranging from three months to a full year. It’s handy if you could use a little help planning meals that fit your lifestyle and your goals.
The MyPlate app from Livestrong.com lets you track macros and exercise. It also features an eight-week meal plan, at-home workouts, an active message board for community support and a database with more than two million foods. There’s a free version, or you can pay a monthly subscription fee for a gold membership, which makes the app ad-free and includes exclusive features.
With this macro tracking app, you’ll set a weight management goal and then follow the recommended daily calorie budget. You can easily track macros with the barcode scanner or by taking a photo of your food; there are more than 27 million items in the app’s database. You can also connect Lose It! to your activity tracker and other apps. There are also recipes and workout guides. The basic version is free, or you can upgrade to a premium membership with a yearly subscription fee.
Bottom line: My recommendation is to pick one or two to download and try them side-by-side for a few days. You’ll quickly figure out which one works with your habits and preferences. The important thing is that you’re adding some mindfulness to what you’re popping into your mouth. When you know you have to log a food, you’ll be more intentional about it, and that alone will take you further than you think.
Curious about the keto diet? Learn more about how it works and which keto-friendly foods and beverages to add to your shopping list.
This article has been updated with contributions from Sarah Kuta.