By Rachael Link, RD
While it may seem intimidating at first, counting macros is a common practice among dieters, bodybuilders and health-conscious consumers alike. Not only can it support a healthy weight and enhance muscle growth, but it may also improve the overall quality of your diet and promote accountability.
Ready to figure out how many macros you need? Keep reading for everything you need to know about how to count macros and whether or not it can be an effective strategy to improve your diet.
What Are Macros?
The term "macros" refers to macronutrients, which are compounds that provide the body with energy. Macronutrients can be classified into three main groups: proteins, fats and carbs.
Compared to micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals), we consume much larger amounts of macronutrients in the diet. These foods are found in a variety of sources, and a certain ratio is needed to promote health and optimize growth.
Similar to counting calories, many people follow a macros diet plan, which involves calculating and tracking the amount of protein, fat and carbs in your diet to promote a healthy weight or even weight loss in some cases, boost fat-burning, promote accountability or enhance muscle-building.
Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.
How to Count Macros
There are several different methods and strategies available for how to count macros. Here are a few simple steps that you can follow to get started.
1. Calculate Calorie Needs
Before determining your macronutrient needs, it's important to figure out how many calories you should aim for each day. To do this, you should start by calculating your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories that your body needs to function, not including physical activity or exercise.
There are plenty of online calculators available that you can use to figure out your caloric needs. Alternatively, you can use the following equation to determine the number of calories that your body burns at rest:
- Men: 66.47 + (6.24 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) − (6.755 × age in years)
- Women: 655.1 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) − (4.7 × age in years)
Next, you should multiply this number by an activity factor, which accounts for how active you are each day.
- Sedentary: x 1.2 (very limited exercise)
- Lightly active: x 1.375 (light exercise three days or fewer per week)
- Moderately active: x 1.55 (moderate exercise most days each week)
- Very active: x 1.725 (hard exercise daily)
- Extra active: x 1.9 (intense exercise twice per day)
The final number provides an estimation of how many calories you burn per day on average, including exercise and physical activity.
If you hope to maintain your weight, this is the number of calories you should aim to consume from food sources each day. If you're looking to lose or gain weight, you can add or subtract calories from this number to help reach your goals.
As a general rule of thumb, consuming 500 calories per day over/under your needs will lead to around one pound of weight loss/gain per week.
2. Determine Macronutrient Requirements
Now that you've figured out how many calories you need per day, you may be wondering: What should my macros be? This can vary quite a bit depending on your goals, but it's generally recommended to aim for around 45 percent to 65 percent of total daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent to 35 percent of calories from fat and 10 percent to 35 percent of calories from protein.
However, these guidelines may be different for specific diet patterns, including low-carb or ketogenic diets. Your macros for keto, for example, may be closer to around 75 percent of total daily calories from fat with 20 percent and 5 percent from protein and carbs, respectively.
To calculate the number of grams of protein, fat or carbs that you should consume daily, first multiply the number of calories that you need by the percentage required for each macronutrient. For example, if you are aiming for 2,000 calories daily with 20 percent from protein, you need about 400 calories from protein each day.
Next, divide the number of calories by the number of calories per gram for each macronutrient. Protein and carbohydrates contain four calories per gram, while fat contains nine. Therefore, if you need around 400 calories from protein per day, this translates to about 100 grams daily.
3. Start Tracking Intake
Once you've figured out how many grams of protein, fat and carbs that you need daily, it's time to start tracking your intake. Find a macros calculator or macros app (tons of good free ones these days) that works for you, or pull out a pen and paper and keep track in your own food journal.
Be sure to read the ingredients label of your favorite foods carefully so you can accurately estimate the proper portion sizes.
Using a digital food scale is another option to ensure that you track your nutrient intake correctly. This can be especially useful when measuring macros for bodybuilding or tracking keto macros, as it helps you determine your intake more precisely.
Counting macros may be linked to several impressive health benefits. Here are a few of the top reasons you may want to consider breaking out the calculator and tracking your macronutrient intake.
1. Promotes a Healthy Weight (or Weight Loss, in Some Instances)
Tracking macros for healthy weight management or even weight loss can be an incredibly effective strategy. Not only can it help make you more aware of what foods are in your diet (and which nutrients they provide), but it can also make it easier to adjust your intake to reach your weight goals.
High-protein diets, for example, have been shown to reduce body weight, appetite and caloric intake. Upping your protein consumption may also decrease levels of ghrelin, the hormone that is responsible for stimulating feelings of hunger.
Similarly, adhering to the recommended keto diet macros can switch your body into ketosis, a metabolic state that forces your cells to start burning fat for fuel instead of sugar to promote weight management or weight loss.
2. Supports Muscle Growth
Monitoring macros for bodybuilding is a common strategy among those looking to enhance muscle growth and strength. This is because certain nutrients play a key role in normal tissue repair and muscle-building, including protein.
In fact, some research shows that protein supplementation can increase muscle mass and improve performance when paired with resistance training.
Along with switching up their caloric consumption, many bodybuilders also count macros for cutting to help decrease body fat, increase lean muscle tissue and improve overall body composition.
3. Improves Overall Diet Quality
Diets often focus solely on calorie consumption without taking nutritional value into consideration. However, when counting macros, picking nutrient-dense whole foods can make it much easier to meet your daily allotment for protein, fat and carbs.
Enjoying a variety of healthy ingredients as part of a balanced diet can improve the quality of your diet and ensure that you get the vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
4. Promotes Accountability
Counting your macros is an excellent way to help hold yourself accountable for the foods that you eat. For those who struggle with frequent snacking or grazing throughout the day, keeping track of everything you eat can make it easier to stick to your goals and become more aware of what you actually eat.
Whether you're looking to maintain a healthy weight, lose weight, build muscle or boost fat-burning, filling your diet with healthy macros is crucial when it comes to meeting your goals. Many whole foods also provide a healthy mix of several macronutrients, offering a good amount of carbs, protein and healthy fats in each serving.
Here are a few of the best food sources for each macronutrient.
- Meat: beef, lamb, goat, bison
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, goose
- Seafood: salmon, mackerel, tuna, anchovies, sardines
- Eggs: egg whites and egg yolks
- Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas
- Dairy Products: milk, cheese, yogurt
- Other: tempeh, natto, nutritional yeast
Keep in mind that it can be very challenging to hit your protein goals (unlike carbs!), so we recommend that you consider adding a daily protein powder to your arsenal. Ancient Nutrition's protein powders all come with added benefits as well, such as for the gut and skin. Check out our Multi Collagen Protein, Bone Broth Protein and Plant Protein, all with very low or no carbs.
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Cooking Oils: olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter
- Other: avocados, dark chocolate, fatty fish
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, peaches, plums, berries
- Vegetables: bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots
- Root Vegetables: sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, taro
- Whole Grains: quinoa, couscous, rice, oats, barley, buckwheat
- What are macros? The term "macros" refers to macronutrients, which are nutrients that provide the body with energy, including protein, fat and carbs.
- There are several methods for how to calculate macros, but it generally involves figuring out your caloric needs, determining your macronutrient requirements and tracking your intake using a food tracker or journal.
- Counting macros could potentially increase weight loss, boost muscle growth, improve diet quality and promote accountability.
- On the other hand, it may also not necessarily account for the nutritional quality of the ingredients in your diet. It can also be time-consuming, can contribute to unhealthy eating habits and may decrease the diversity of foods in your diet.
- While counting macros can be a useful tool, it's also important to also follow a nutritious, balanced diet rich in a variety of whole foods.
Rachael Link, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dietetics at the University of Central Missouri and later received her Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Rachael is passionate about plant-based nutrition and enjoys providing easy-to-understand information to readers looking to support their health.