How to Count Macros: The Ultimate Guide

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What are Macros?

“Macros” or macro-nutrients consist of three main nutrients that the body needs in order to sustain itself. These three macro-nutrients are carbs, fat, and protein. 

Why Count Macros?

macros
When it comes to losing weight, gaining weight, or maintaining weight, counting macros is becoming more popular. By counting macro-nutrients you are able to control how many calories you are consuming and are able to adjust each macro-nutrient based on your specific fitness goals. The common nutrition plan is called “IIFYM”, or “if it fits your macros”.

The plan is simple; eat a specified amount of carbs, fat, and protein in grams and you will eventually reach your weight/fitness goal. When it comes to your scale weight, it is 100% determined based off the amount of calories you consume and burn day after day. It doesn’t matter what routine you do, scale weight is determined by caloric intake.

How to Count Macros

Counting macros is very straightforward. Once you get the hang of it, dieting for the summer, gaining some weight, and maintaining weight will be a breeze. First, you must know how many grams of carbs, fat and protein you need for your specific fitness goal. Below are the three goals mentioned earlier (lose, gain, maintain) and how to calculate for each goal.

Before you can calculate you must know your current weight and height! If you don’t know your weight, it’s recommended you weigh yourself first thing upon waking on an empty stomach. To keep track of your weight, weigh yourself EVERY morning! At the end of the week, add up all the weights and divide by seven. This will give you your weekly average weight. To figure out if you gained weight or lost weight compare your current weekly average to last week’s weekly average.

Also the reasoning for measuring your weight first thing in the morning is to ensure an accurate weight reading without the influence of water weight. However it’s important to know that if you did eat a high salt meal the night before you will most likely still retain some water weight when you wake up indicating a higher reading.

Counting for Weight Loss

In order to figure out your macros for weight loss follow the steps below:

  1. Calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate):

Your BMR or basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories your body needs to maintain vital functions. So if you were resting the entire day your body would still burn this many calories.

Men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5

Women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161

  1. Multiply your BMR by your activity level to get your TDEE:

The next step is to multiply your BMR by your activity level factor. Your activity level factor is based off how much activity you do on an average weekly bases. By multiplying your BMR by your activity level, you will get your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure. To figure out what the multiplier is you need to be honest with yourself and figure out how much exercise you really get. If you are starting a new workout program, take that extra activity in consideration when figuring out your multiplier.

MultiplierDescription
1.2Desk job with little exercise
1.3751-3 hrs/wk of light exercise
1.553-5 hrs/wk of moderate exercise
1.7255-6 hrs/wk of strenuous exercise
1.97-21 hrs/wk of strenuous exercise

  1. Calculate goal calories (GC):

Next, you’ll want to adjust your calories based on your goal. If your goal is weight loss, multiply you TDEE by .10 and subtract that from your TDEE.

Example:

TDEE: 3000 calories

3000 x .10 = 300 calories

3000 – 300 = 2700 calories

After you perform this calculation you will understand how many calories you need on a daily basis to meet your weight loss goals.

  1. Calculate macros:

Now that we know how many calories we are allowed to eat in order to lose weight, it’s time to calculate the macros. Listed below is the following ways you should estimate how many carbs, fat, and protein you need throughout the day:

Fat

Your body needs fat in order to survive. It plays many vital roles in the body and you cannot go without. Below are general guidelines you can follow. If you have a relatively high body fat percentage, go by your lean body mass instead of your total weight.

Average or low body fat: 1 to 2g fat per kg body weight

High body fat: 1 to 2g fat per kg LEAN weight

Example:

Weight: 80kg

80kg x 1.5g = 120 grams

Fat intake: 120 grams

Protein

Your body cannot go without protein. Protein is also used for many vital functions within the body. Below are general guidelines you can follow.

1.4 to 2g protein per kg body weight

Example:

Weight: 80kg

80kg x 2g = 160 grams

Protein intake = 160 grams

Carbs

The last macro-nutrient is carbohydrates. Before we calculate how many carbs you need we need to figure out how many calories we have left minus the fat and protein. We will use the above examples.

Fat intake: 120 grams

Protein intake: 160 grams

Fat has 9 calories per gram, protein has 4 calories per gram, and carbs have 4 calories per gram. Knowing this information, we can figure out how many calories of fat and protein we are consuming.

Fat intake: 120 grams x 9 calories = 1080 calories

Protein intake: 160 grams x 4 calories = 640 calories

1080 + 640 = 1720 calories

Goal calories = 2700

2700 – 1720 calories = 980 calories

Based off the above example, we have 980 calories left for carbohydrates. Now we can calculate how many grams of carbs we need:

980 calories / 4 = 245 grams.

Carb intake: 245 grams

  1. Write down your macros:

After you have calculated your carbs, fat, and protein intake, write down your macros. Based off the above example my macros are:

120 Fat

245 Carb

160 Protein

Counting for Weight Gain and Maintenance

If you want to gain weight the process is simple when it comes to determining your macros. Find your TDEE and add an additional 200 – 300 calories. By doing this you’ll be in a surplus. To maintain your weight, eat what your TDEE is. So if your TDEE is 2500 calories, then consume 2500 calories and you will neither gain weight nor lose weight.

After you understand what your macro-nutrient requirements are, it’s important to know how to source your food so you have a healthy diet. Technically if you stay within your macro-nutrient requirement you will lose weight, gain weight, maintain weight, or reach whatever goal you aimed for. However, if you decide to eat junk food and avoid healthy food, you will reach your goal weight but be unhealthy at the same time. Weight and outer appearance does not determine the health of oneself. Just because someone looks healthy on the outside does not mean they are healthy.

Carb Sources

When it comes to carbohydrates, think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These will be your number one source of carbohydrates.

Fruits

Oranges, apples, pineapple, mango, banana, kiwi, watermelon, pears, grapes, blueberries, peaches, cherries, grapefruit, strawberries, blackberries, melon, dates, apricot, fig, cranberry, coconut, pomegranate, papaya, guava, mandarins, and plums.

These are all great sources of carbs. Some people worry about the amount of sugar in fruit but this shouldn’t be a concern since fruit has plenty of fiber which will reduce the effect on blood sugar levels. In other words your blood sugar levels will not spike as much by eating an apple as opposed to a slice of cake.

Also it’s important to mention that fruit and fruit juice are NOT the same. Fruit has fiber and fruit juice does not. This means that when you consume fruit juice, your blood sugar levels will skyrocket because the fiber has been extracted. This is why you should limit your intake of fruit juice even though it’s a source of carbohydrates.

Vegetables

Spinach, broccoli, kale, cucumber, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, squash, green beans, lettuce, leeks, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, pumpkin, onion, peas, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, radish, tomatoes, zucchini, artichokes, beetroot, and turnips.

Your diet should consist of vegetables on a daily basis. Vegetables don’t have a large amount of carbs, but they do have plenty of vitamins and minerals vital for the body. Always eat your vegetables, always! A lot of people don’t eat vegetables because of the blandness. One method you can do is actually mix your vegetables into a fruit smoothie. If you blend your vegetables and fruit together you are benefiting from both and the taste is tolerable. Also it’s important to know that a fruit and vegetable is still not the same as juice because it still has all the fiber content as the whole foods.

Grains

Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oats, whole wheat bread, brown rice, and certain types of cereal.

Your diet should also consist of many whole grains. These contain high amounts of carbohydrates for sustained energy. They are also filled with minerals and vitamins.

Types of Carbohydrates

There are many types of carbs, but keeping things simple will help you make healthy choices when it comes to your carbohydrate needs. Mainly there are two types of carbohydrates; slow digesting carbs, and fast digesting carbs. Below is a list of both slow and fast digesting carb so you have a general idea.

Fast: white bread, white pasta, dextrose, white potatoes, sugar, candy

Slow: whole wheat pasta, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole wheat bread

The majority of your diet should consist of slow digesting carbohydrates as these types of carbs will give you sustained energy throughout the day. The fast digesting carbs will spike your blood sugar levels and after some time those sugar levels will drop and you may feel tired and sluggish. This does not mean you need to avoid fast digesting carbs altogether but simply limit your intake. Also it’s recommended that you actually have fast digesting carbs after your workout. By consuming fast digesting carbs post workout, you are able to replace your body’s glycogen levels more quickly and efficiently.

Fat Sources

Olive oil, fatty fish, avocado, peanut butter, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, egg yolk, borage oil, flax oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut oil, and sesame oil.

Fats are essential for the body so you must include them in your diet. Fat is a secondary source of fuel after carbohydrates, insulates the body, and absorbs certain nutrients. Also one misconception is that fat makes you fat. This is completely false. A caloric surplus also known as eating too much food is the cause of weight gain. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight, simple as that.

Protein Sources

Chicken, beans, salmon, cod, egg whites, turkey, lean beef, Greek yogurt, whey protein, casein protein, bison, rabbit, tofu, and bean pasta.

Proteins are also essential for the body. They are required for cell structure, function, muscle repair, and regulation of organs. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and the amino acids perform many important roles in the body including co-enzymes, and immune function.

Macro Adjustments

In order to meet your goals at some point you’ll have to adjust your macros. This only applies if you have a goal of loseing weight or gaining weight. As your weight changes so does your BMR (basal metabolic rate). For example if you lose 10 pounds and go from 200lbs to 190lbs your BMR will not be the same at 190 than it was at 200. Your BMR will be less, therefore your goal calories will be less. All you have to do is perform the steps above depending on your goal with your new weight. I recommend you adjust your macros for every 5 pounds you gain or lose.

Measuring Food

So how exactly do you measure your food? In order to keep track of macros, you’ll want to invest in a food scale. Food scales are cheap ranging anywhere from $15 to $30. It may seem obsessive to measure your food, but once you get used to it, weighing out food will be done without thought. Some people will want to resort to measuring out food by measuring cups and other tools. I do not recommend you use anything else other than a scale. Overall, when you’re new to counting macros, measuring out portions by eyeballing or even measuring just never works. The results you get will be inaccurate and you’ll most likely be eating too much or too little.

Cheat Meals

As your tracking macros and eating healthy sources, eventually you’ll have cravings for something sweet, or junk food (chips, candy, cake, fast food, etc). As I mentioned earlier in this article as long as you meet your macros you will still reach your fitness goals regardless of the sources. So if you eat ice cream every day, you can still meet your goals as long as it fits your macros. However, the reason I recommend you limit your intake of sweets and junk food is for the simple purpose of being healthy.

So how do you control your cravings? I recommend if you’re craving something sweet, have fruit. If you are hungry in general and crave a big meal, eat a bunch of veggies and drink 16oz of water in one sitting. This technique will fill you up quickly and your desire for junk food should subside. The best technique is to do whatever works for you, so experiment.

Also some people may be tempted to have cheat days, or days where you don’t keep track of macros and eat whatever you want. I recommend you avoid this. There will be days were you’ll be unable to keep track of your macros. These may be days where you’re sick, on vacation, or during the holidays. Because these days exist, it’s important to not add anymore cheat days. Remember that consistency is key when it comes to meeting your fitness goals. If you are only keeping tracking of your macros 50% of the time, you will fall short of your goals.

Staying on Track

So how do you log everything you eat? It’s simple. There are many websites and apps, both free and paid, which allow to track your macros. These websites also contain pre-calculated data for many common food items. Once you get used to logging your food online or through an app, counting macros will be the easiest thing ever. By logging food through an app or website, it will help you stay on track. A few I recommend are loseit.com and myfitnesspal.com.

Also I recommend people prep their meals ahead of time for the week. So for example on Sunday, I’ll get up in the morning, buy groceries, come home and spend most of the day cooking and creating meals ready to grab and go. I use Tupperware containers or sealable Pyrex dishes to store each meal in. This creates a convenience factor for the rest of the week. Whenever you need a healthy meal, it will be ready to go in the fridge. This technique is one of the best to avoid getting off track.

Nutritional Supplements

Meal-Replacement-Shake
When it comes to dieting, counting macros, and changing your lifestyle to a healthy one, you’ll most likely hear a lot about nutritional supplements. My recommendation is to avoid as many supplements as possible. Supplements are meant to only supplement vitamins, minerals, or certain food you aren’t getting through your diet. The common misconception that many beginners have is that supplements are better than whole foods. This is completely false. Whole foods will always be the better option.

A common question people ask is whether or not there is a supplement that everyone should take. Everyone is different so there are no common supplements everybody should take. For most people, I do recommend whey protein to help meet their protein requirements only if they are having trouble. Besides that, I personally only use fish oil because I do not get enough omega-3’s in my diet. For people who eat a lot of fatty fish, there is no need to supplement with fish oil. As you can see it goes on a case by case basis.

Workout Routines

Weight Loss

Counting macros is of the utmost importance when it comes to reaching your fitness goals, however the other crucial side of the equation is the workout routine. There are tens of thousands of different routines out there so instead of recommending a specific routine, I’m going to simply talk about crucial items people should be doing regardless based on whether they want to lose weight or gain weight.

First, I’ll talk about the average weight loss workout routine. Understand that when it comes to weight loss the only thing that technically matters is your diet, considering it has 100% influence on your weight. So some may ask the reason for having a workout routine. When you are in a caloric deficit, you’ll be hungrier than ever, and the cravings will be a far greater. Therefore, if you want to eat more food, you’ll have to burn your calories in some other way then doing nothing. The more you workout, the more you can eat. For example, if your original caloric budget was 2000 calories for weight loss, you could add 300 calories worth of cardio, and then your budget would rise to 2300 calories. 300 calories may not seem like a lot, but it may make the difference when it comes to avoiding hunger pains.

Also, when it comes to weight loss it’s important to include resistance training. In fact, it’s a necessity. The point of resistance training during a caloric deficit is to prevent muscle loss. One common misconception among mainly women is that resistance training will make them bulky like a man. This myth is completely false. To put on muscle size as a women it takes many years of lifting heavy weight. Also during a caloric deficit it will be near impossible to put on muscle size as there are no extra calories.

Resistance training is also important regardless of what goal you have in mind. Every year that you do not include resistance training in your workout regime will be a year where you lose muscle mass. Over the long term if you maintain your weight and do no resistance training, you’re actually gaining fat. The reason for this is because you are losing muscle and at the same time gaining fat.

So overall, your routine for weight loss should include both resistance training and cardio if needed to maintain your hunger levels. I always recommend cardio for health purposes but it’s not a necessity for weight loss.

Weight Gain

When it comes to gaining weight, you must be in a caloric surplus. This is a fact. Now for the majority of people, when they talk about weight gain, they really mean muscle gain. Gaining muscle is a long and tedious process. It does not happen overnight and most of the results people want will take many years. For example, if someone said they wanted to put on 30 pounds of muscle, they should expect to lift heavy weights and have proper nutrition for the next 10 years. This is no joke. Building muscle naturally is a slow process is it’s best to embrace this fact before trying to gain weight.

It’s important to always be aware of the rate you’re gaining weight. For example, if you gained 15 pounds in the past three weeks, you most like gained a bunch of fat. When trying to put on muscle, you will want to be in a small caloric surplus so your averaging about .5 pounds every week or 2 pounds per month. This will ensure you are putting on quality muscle and minimal fat. It’s also important to know that you will put on a bit of fat regardless of how slow you gain weight. When you gain one pound properly, about ¾ of that pound will most likely be muscle and the other ¼ will be fat. There is really no way around this, but the fat gain won’t be as noticeable since the amount of muscle you gain will make your body more appealing overall.

Now regarding the workout routine for muscle gain, as with weight loss there are thousands of routines. Instead of naming specific routines, I’ll talk about things you must be doing. First you must be working out each body part frequently; 2-3 times per week. Most people make the mistake of having leg day, arm day, shoulder day, back day, etc. This type of training routine will get you results at the slowest rate. You’ll want to train full body three times a week or an upper, lower split. This will focus more on frequency and less on volume. Next, you’ll want to lift heavy! If you don’t lift heavy you won’t be gaining much muscle. By lifting heavy you are forcing your body to get stronger and grow. If you are not getting stronger you are NOT building muscle, despite what you may think.

For example, let’s say you walk into the gym for the first time and begin benching 100 pounds for 12 reps. Now let’s say after about six months you still can only do 100 pounds for 12 reps. Guess what? You made no progress and gained no muscle. Even if you gained 10 pounds, all that weight will be water and fat. So the key to building muscle is to gain weight by being in a small caloric surplus and to be getting STRONGER. As long as you meet these two requirements, you’ll be fine.

One last misconception is that you have to eat a high amount of protein to build muscle. This is false as well. As long as you follow the protein guidelines above, you won’t have a problem. Some supplement websites and fitness websites will say that 1-2g of protein per pound of bodyweight is required. This is completely false. The reason why they suggest a high amount of protein is for pure marketing hype. The supplement companies want you to buy protein powder so they try to convince misinformed consumers that you need a high protein intake.

Final Words

Counting macros is something that can be done for the long term no matter what your fitness goal is. I personally have been counting macros for three years and have never felt better. Whenever I want to change my fitness goal, I simply adjust my macros and workouts accordingly. Keeping track of macros overall is one of the best ways to meet your fitness goals.
 

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About the Author John Wright

John has been a fitness enthusiast for over 10 years, starting out while struggling with obesity as a teenager. Over the years he has advised numerous clients on how to transform their physiques and their lives. As a writer on Nutrition Inspector he aims to help others achieve real results by staying clear of the common hype and false claims in the supplement industry!

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