Setting up macros – often for weight loss – and counting them is a popular trend in the fitness and health community. While counting calories doesn’t focus on the nutrients in the food, macros counting does.
As a beginner, macros counting might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.
This article explains everything you need to know about counting macros and provides you with a guide to get started yourself.
What are macros?
Before you can begin to set up and count your macronutrients, you need to understand what they are and why your body needs them.
The term macronutrients cover the nutrients proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The body needs these nutrients to maintain systems and stay healthy.
1g of protein provides 4 calories.
Protein is made up of “building blocks”, called amino acids. The body needs these amino acids to make different enzymes and hormones, as well as repair and build bones and muscles. Because of the proteins’ involvement in muscle growth, it tends to get more attention from bodybuilders, people who strength train, and fitness enthusiasts than the other two.
Proteins should account for 10-35% of your daily calorie intake, depending on body composition, goals, and more.
1g of carbohydrates provides 4 calories and usually makes up for the biggest part of people’s total calorie intake.
Most types of carbohydrates get broken down to glucose. The glucose is either used for energy immediately or transformed to glycogen, the stored version of glucose.
The intake of carbs has been debated lately, especially for weight loss. Major health organizations, however, recommend that carbs are included as a part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Carbohydrates should account for 45-65% of your daily calorie intake.
Fats are the most calorie-rich macronutrient with 9 calories per 1g.
They might be more calorie-dense than the other macros, but that doesn’t mean that we should avoid fats, not even when it comes to weight loss. The body needs fats for energy, hormone production, nutrient absorption, maintaining body temperature, and more.
Fats should account for 20-35% of your daily calorie intake.
How to set up your macros for weight loss
Before you can set up your macros for weight loss, you need to know how many calories to consume. There are different ways to do this, but the easiest is using an online calculator. You can find one here.
- Protein: 30-35% of the total daily calories.
- Aim to eat 2.2-2.6g per kg (1-1.2g per lbs) of body weight.
- Fats: 20-30% of the total daily calories
- Never eat less than 0.5g per kg (0.25g per lbs) of your total body weight.
- Carbs: 40-50% of the total daily calories.
- Never eat less than 1g per kg (0.5g per lbs) of your total body weight.
You might benefit from a different ratio of macronutrients, but these are optimal for most.
Macros for weight loss – Example
Now that we know the macro ratios for weight loss, we can have a look at an example.
Our example will look at a person who needs 2800 calories a day who wants to lose weight.
- 4 calories per gram
- 30% of 2800 (2800×0.3)=840 calories a day should consist of protein.
- The total amount of protein per day: 840/4=210g
- 9 calories per gram.
- 25% of 2800 (2800×0.25)=700 calories a day should consist of fats.
- The total amount of fats per day: 700/9=78g
- 4 calories per gram.
- 45% of 2800 (2800×0.45)=1260 calories a day should consist of carbs.
- The total amount of carbs per day: 1260/4=315g
In this scenario, the person needs 210g of protein, 78g of fats, and 315g of carbs to maintain muscle mass while losing weight.
Related: Workout routine for beginners
How to set up your macros to gain muscle mass
Your macros have to be shared slightly differently while trying to gain muscle mass than when trying to lose weight. The beginning, however, remains the same. Before you can start, you need to know how many calories you need.
- Protein: 25-30%
- Fats: 25-35%
- Carbs: 40-50%
Macros to gain muscle mass – Example
Let’s have a look at an example for a person needing 3200 calories a day who wants to gain muscle mass.
- 4 calories per gram
- 25% of 3400 (3400×0.25)=850 calories a day should consist of protein.
- The total amount of protein per day: 850/4=213g
- 9 calories per gram.
- 25% of 3400 (3400×0.25)=850 calories a day should consist of fats.
- The total amount of fats per day: 850/9=94g
- 4 calories per gram.
- 50% of 3400 (3400×0.5)=1700 calories a day should consist of carbs.
- The total amount of carbs per day: 1700/4=425g
In this scenario, the person needs 213g of protein, 94g of fats, and 425g of carbs to maintain muscle mass while losing weight.
Macro counting – How to count macros
Knowing how to set your macro ratios is the easy part counting them is worse – at least it seems so.
The easiest way to count macros is by using an app. There are many different apps, but one of the most popular and easiest to use is MyFitnessPal. You can find a beginner’s guide to MyFitnessPal here.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to hit your targets perfectly to benefit from macros counting. Some even decide that tracking all three macronutrients is too difficult for them and pick one of the three – usually protein – to focus on instead.
How to meet your needs
Knowing what foods are high in the different macronutrients is the easiest way to meet your needs. The following are some of the healthy foods high in each macro.
Foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, tofu, most milk products, and protein powders are great sources of protein.
Foods such as olive oil, butter, nuts, avocado, seeds, and fatty fish (such as salmon) are great sources of fats.
Foods such as oats, whole-grain bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, pineapple, and different fruits and berries are great sources of carbs.
The benefits of macros counting
Counting your macronutrients may result in several health benefits compared to focusing on just the calories alone.
As we focus more on the nutrients in the food instead of the calories amount, we can easier tailor a diet to our goals.
A person who’s eating 2400 calories a day might be in a sufficient calorie deficit to lose weight. However, if this person’s diet consists mainly of chocolate bars, it might not support that person’s goal of cutting down while keeping muscle mass.
If this person instead were to count macros, he could make sure that he gets enough of all the macros. If he were to hit the targeted macros while being in the same calorie deficit, he would still lose weight, but a bigger part of this would be fat, not muscle mass, which would allow him to continue without lowering his calories too much.
Setting up your macros for weight loss and counting them might seem difficult in the beginning. However, following this guide can make it a bit easier.
Start by calculating how many calories you need a day, and use the ratios above to calculate the ratio optimal for you.
Once you know the optimal ratio for you, you can easily count your macros with apps, such as MyFitnessPal.