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How To Count Macros: A Beginner’s Guide

How To Count Macros: A Beginner’s Guide 

Healthy Food

Just like peanut butter and jelly, nutrition and exercise go hand and hand.  Sure, you could do one without the other but to create an overall healthy lifestyle you should include both. 

The importance of nutrition for weight loss, building muscle, or performance goals is pivotal for being successful.  There are many different types of diets available you could follow to reach your goals.  The one that will be focused on in this article is tracking macros. In the world of fitness and nutrition, this diet is best known as “If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)” or flexible dieting.  

Following a flexible diet that allows you to eat the foods, you enjoy while seeing progress results in better adherence and overall long-term success.

What are macros? 

Macronutrients (i.e. macros) are protein, carbs, and fats. Protein and carbs both are 4 calories per gram and fat is 9 calorie per gram. All foods you eat have macros and each is essential for different functions in your body.

While calories are a measurement of energy and are all created equal that is not true for macronutrients. Each food you eat has a different macro profile that supports your overall health and body composition goals.   

How do you determine your macros?

There are many calculators available on the web.  Each calculator is going to give you different results because the coding behind the calculator is going to be different.   Because of these variances, this can be confusing and cause frustration for you if you are just getting started.  

While you can use a calculator, which I have provided a link below, you can also manually calculate your macros so you can gut check the numbers. Calculating macros begin with determining your basal metabolic rate (BMR).

The formula for many calculators is the Mifflin-St Jeor equation, it is believed to give the most accurate result.  The Mifflin St Jeor equation for BMR formula is as follows:

BMR (kcal / day) = 10 * weight (kg) + 6.25 * height (cm) – 5 * age (y) + S (kcal / day),

where S is +5 for males and -161 for females.

Once you have determined your BMR, you multiple that number with an activity multiplier. This will give your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) or maintenance calories to maintain your weight.   

The next steps are to determine your goals.  If your goal is to lose weight, subtract 250 to 500 calories per day.  The deficiency you choose will determine how much weight you can lose per week.

Generally, males lose 1-2 lbs. per week and females lose .5 to 1lb per week.  If your goal is to gain muscle, add 250 calories to your TDEE predominately to carbs.

The final step is calculating protein, fat, and carbs.

Protein is the king of all the macros.

Protein is the king of all the macros. Many people choose to just focus on calories and protein.  This article gives you an in-depth look at protein intakes. The easiest solution for most people is choosing 1 gram of protein per ideal body weight.  

Once you have determined your protein intake, the next macro to determine is fat intake. The RDA recommends 20-35% of total calories come from fat.

To calculate your fat intake, you start with your total calories multiplied by the percentage of calories you want to come from fat and then divide by 9 this will give you how many grams of fat.

The remaining calories are dedicated to carbohydrates.  Your carbohydrates are typically your highest macro of the 3. The RDA recommends 45-65 % of your total daily calories come from carbs.

To make it simple and remove any confusion you can use this macro calculator to determine your weight loss calories and macros.

One important note is there are many variables that are not taken into account when estimating macros using a calculator such as genetics, unique physiology, and other considerations.

Use the macro calculations as a starting place for a healthier lifestyle.  Through awareness, you can make adjustments that support your overall goals whether your goal is weight loss, performance, or overall body composition changes.

Now that you have determined your macros, I am sure you want to know how to get started.

How do you get started?

The first step for tracking macros is to determine your macros based on your goals.  The second step is to begin logging your food in a nutrition tracker like My Fitness Pal to create awareness of your current nutrition habits. 

Your increased awareness of your nutrition allows you to take action and start making small adjustments with your nutritional choices to support your goals.    

Freedom to eat according to your lifestyle with minimal changes.

By choosing to follow a diet that tracks macros gives you the freedom to eat according to your lifestyle with minimal changes.

Benefits of tracking macros versus just tracking calories alone.

If your only goal is weight loss then you could just track calories and lose weight because weight management is determined by the number of calories you eat in comparison to how much energy you expend daily.  Beyond weight loss alone there are a number of benefits to counting macros.  


If you are an athlete or have performance goals, tracking macros give you the edge because you can create a macro breakdown that supports your training.   If you weight train or do high-intensity training you could benefit from a high carb diet to boost performance. Your bodily easily breaks down carbohydrates into glucose for immediate energy for your body. 

This available energy allows you to train more intensely, lift heavier, and recover easier.   If you do endurance sports like marathons and triathlons you can benefit from a higher fat diet since endurance activities use fat for fuel. Endurance athletes still need adequate carbohydrates for energy and recovery purposes as well.

The most important macro to consider is protein. Protein is the building block of our cells. Eating enough protein allows you to build muscle, maintain lean muscle in a deficiency, and provides satiety. Often protein intake is low for individuals not focusing on macronutrients.

Nutritional Education and Awareness

One big buzz word right now is intuitive eating. The challenge with intuitive eating without a solid foundation of nutritional education means the success rate is low. 

Following a diet that focuses on macros helps build nutritional education and awareness of the foods you are eating.  The simple act of tracking macros allows you to identify which foods are proteins, carbs, and fats, and where you have areas of opportunity.

Flexible Dieting Allows for Better Adherence

There is enough research that shows restrictive diets are not sustainable and have high rates of weight regain.  The concept of tracking macros allows you to make choices to eat foods you enjoy while being able to work towards your goals.

There are many myths that are dieting that have been around for many years and continue to grow every year.  When you track macros and experience being able to eat foods you enjoy like tacos, a piece of cake, or having a drink and still reach your goals it is a freeing experience.

Macros can create a better-balanced diet by eating 80% of your diet from whole foods but allowing yourself 20% of your calories for discretionary foods.

As you can see there are a number of benefits from choosing to track macros.  Whether your goal is weight loss, building muscle, or athletic performance tracking macros can create flexibility, adherence, and fuel your training for optimal performance.

Written by Traci Canfield

Owner of MED3 Fitness and Fitness and Nutrition Coach

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