There are three main macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. We know that each macronutrient has unique benefits, but what’s shocking is how few bodybuilders can tell you what their daily macronutrient intake is. They may say things like, “I just eat a lot of clean food,” but that’s no different from asking someone about their training and hearing, “I lift weights.” There should always be a well thought out plan if you want to maximize your results.

And that means you need full transparency, not secretive, “proprietary blends.” You need to know exactly what you’re putting into your body, so here are seven reasons to take control of your macros.

Layne Norton is a professional powerlifter and IFPA &NGA natural pro bodybuilder. He has a BS in Biochemistry from Eckerd College and a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with honors from the University of Illinois. He has written articles for magazines including Muscular Development, Planet Muscle to name a few. Learn more about Layne Norton:

Learn by Tracking

This may seem silly, but it’s true. I’ve taken the highest degree you can get in nutrition, a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences, and yet the most I ever learned about nutrition was by tracking macronutrients. I started doing it back in 2001 and it was way harder back then, as I had to use a book of food counts, but I learned so much about what was in foods and which foods could be used to meet my daily macronutrient goals.

Know Your Maintenance Level Calories and Macronutrients

By tracking your protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake, you’ll be also tracking your calories by default. Protein has 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. By tracking over time you’ll get a really good idea of what level you need to maintain your bodyweight. This is going to be very helpful when it comes to making adjustments during a gaining or fat loss phase, or when planning out your next one.

You’ll Gain Muscle More Efficiently

I can’t tell you how many times people who are in a gaining phase say, “I don’t know why I’m not getting bigger, I’m eating a ton!” When I actually sit down and calculate their intake, they’re eating 2,300 calories, but they swear that they were taking in more than 3,000.

By tracking your macronutrient intake, you’ll know for certain what level of calories and macros you need to keep gaining. So if you’re eating 2,300 calories and getting 200 grams of protein, 240 grams of carbs, and 60 grams of fat and not gaining, then you need to bump it up to 2,600 or 2,700 calories and you can adjust your macros to accommodate this. The point is you’ll know and it won’t be a bunch of guesswork.

You’ll Lose Fat More Efficiently

For the same reason that tracking helps with gaining muscle, it will help with losing fat. If you’re not losing body fat and you’re eating 2,000 calories, then you will know and you can reduce your macronutrient intake accordingly to jumpstart your fat loss.

There’s a Ton of Easy-to-Access Data

There are so many great macronutrient and data trackers that you can download for free on your phone. MyFitnessPal is an extremely popular one that you can sync with your phone and computer. My Macros+Opens is probably the best one for iPhone, in my opinion. What’s so great about this? You will have an entire history of your intake going back years and you can see what you were eating, when you were eating it, and how your body was responding. By learning from your past you’ll be able to better program for your future.

You’ll Get More Creative with Meals

Instead of just eating the same old foods over and over, by tracking your macronutrients, you’ll be able to create fun meals to fill out your daily intake. Anything that fits your ratios is fair game. This is going to increase adherence, as it will be more fun for you. Get creative with your shakes. You can even try baking with protein powder.

You don’t have to pack four meals with you every time you leave your house. Instead you’ll have the ability to grab food on the go or incorporate easy travel options that are packed with high quality protein and fiber.

Eliminate the ‘Cheat’ Mentality

Ever have a day where you can’t eat your normal foods and it turns into an all-you-can-eat buffet? Then you wake up bloated and pissed off that you just sabotaged several weeks of hard work. Why did it happen? Because you weren’t flexible with your nutrition and you had no idea how to incorporate other foods.

If you’re tracking your macronutrient intake, you don’t have to get into the cheating mentality. There are no cheats, just hit your daily macronutrient intake. If your friends are going out for pizza, there’s no reason you can’t join them on occasion. But instead of eating two large pizzas on your own because you’re cheating, just fit a couple of slices into your daily macronutrient intake.