Your Complete Guide To Counting Macros
Whether it’s an upcoming event like a competition, wedding, photoshoot, or vacation, or you just can’t seem to budge those last few pounds, counting your macros could be your ticket to successful weight loss.
Counting your macros isn’t about depriving your body, it’s about fueling it to be its best! Even if you’re not working towards a specific goal, counting and tracking your macros can give you more freedom when it comes to your diet. For many of us, we feel guilty when we indulge, but a cheat doesn’t need to be the end of the world if it’s within your limit!
If you’re new to counting your macros, or just looking to get back to it, we went to the experts for the advice you need to get started.
‘Macros’….What the Heck Does That Mean?
‘Macros’ is short for macronutrients. It refers to the protein, fat, and carbohydrates that make up a food.
Why Should I Be Counting Macros vs. Counting Calories?
Because a calorie, isn’t just a calorie. Think about the difference 100 calories of chicken or avocado would have in your body versus 100 calories of a doughnut or chips.
Looking at the breakdown of your food can really help you achieve your weight loss, or training goals. For example if you aren’t eating enough protein, you could be sacrificing precious lean muscle tissue. Likewise, if you don’t have enough fat in your diet, your hormones could be out of whack. And yes, there is such a thing as not enough carbs, especially if you are training hard, but don’t have the energy to push through to the finish.
Counting Macros: The Breakdown
Let’s start by looking at each macronutrient, the calories they provide and some quality sources.
Protein | 4 calories per gram
Sources include: Poultry (chicken, turkey), beef, pork, fish, protein powder (whey, or plant-based), eggs, tofu
Carbohydrates | 4 calories per gram
Sources include: Leafy greens, non-starchy veggies (i.e. green beans, broccoli, bell peppers, cucumber, etc), starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash), grains (quinoa, rice, millet, wheat) , fruit (both dried and fresh and juice).
Fat | 9 calories per gram
Sources Include: Coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butter, ghee, butter, avocado
I’ve heard about net carbs
What are they, and should I be concerned with them?
Net carbs look at the total carbs, minus the amount of fibre and sugar alcohols in the food, which are believed to have little impact on your blood sugar levels.
When it comes to the question ‘should I be concerned with them’ the answer is: it depends. Counting your macros is a really personalized approach to nutrition. Some people are more sensitive to carbs than others, and may find that their performance or weight loss efforts get derailed from just smallest change in carb intake. Track both your total and net carbs and don’t be afraid to tweak if you find you are plateauing in your efforts.
What about alcohol?
Alcohol is an interesting animal. While most people technically think of it as a carb, it doesn’t quite fit into that mold. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, and acts like both a carb and fat in your body. If you are tracking your macros a simple trick is to treat it half like fat, and half like a carb.
5 oz red wine = 130 calories
130/4 (calories/g of carbs) = 32.5g
130/9 (calories/g of fat) = 14.4g
By treating it as 50/50 you would log 16.2g of carbs and 7.2g of fat
Ok, so I get what macros are
But how do I know what my body needs?
When it comes to general weight loss or diet plans, what works for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for another. Counting macros helps to alleviate that as it gets really specific to your body, activity level, and goals.
Step #1: Calculate Your Basic Needs
Start by calculating the calories your body needs (TDEE aka Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This is the amount of calories that your body burns in 24-hours. You can whip out a pencil and calculator, but an easier way is to head here. Come back and join us once you have your number.
Step #2: Choose Your Goals and Intensity
Do you want to lose weight, bulk up or just stay status quo? Use the table below to help you understand the amount of calories you should be consuming daily to reach your goal.
|Weight Loss||Maintenance||Weight Gain|
|-15% TDEE (moderate)||Same as TDEE||+5% TDEE (moderate)|
|-20% TDEE (standard)||+10% TDEE (standard)|
|-25% TDEE (intense)||+15% TDEE (intense)|
Step #3: Get Specific
Now that you know the daily amount of calories you are trying to consume, let’s break this up into the amount of each macro.
|Weight Loss||Maintenance||Weight Gain|
|25-35% Protein||25-35% Protein|
|10-30% Carbohydrate||30-50% Carbohydrate||40-60% Carbohydrate|
For example if your TDEE is 2,100 and you are looking for a standard weight loss program you would need 1,680 calories per day (2,100 x 20%).
Your macros would then be:
- 1,680 x 0.4 (40% protein) = 672 / 4 (calories protein / gram) = 168 g of protein per day
- 1,680 x 0.2 (20% carbs) = 336 / 4 (calories carbs / gram) = 84 g of carbs per day
- 1,680 x 0.4 (40% fat) = 672 / 9 (calories fat / gram) = 75 g of fat per day
Remember this is a really individual process. If you have been counting your macros for a few weeks, and have not seen any change or progress, don’t be afraid to go back and tweak the numbers.
How do I know what macros my food contains?
Well, the best thing you can do to accurately start measuring is to buy yourself a kitchen scale. This allows you to know exactly what your serving size is: the foundation of an accurate measurement.
If your food has an nutrition facts panel, look at the serving size. From there jot down the protein, carbohydrate, and total fat content. If you are counting net carbs jot down the fibre too. Then times that by the number of servings that you are consuming.
But what if your food is a whole food, say like an apple or steak, that doesn’t come with a nutrition label? You still need to weight your serving to get an accurate picture of what you’re consuming. From there you can plug the food into an app like myfitness pal. It’s the biggest database of foods going and is also a handy tracking tool so you know exactly what you’ve consumed each and every day.
Hot Tip: Tweaking As You Go
Like we said, this process is really individual and relies on you being mindful of your progress and how you are feeling.
- If you’re hungry: try adding more protein and fibre
- If you’re craving sugar: try adding more fat or fibre
- If you’re not losing weight: drop your carbs
- If you have low energy for training: increase carbs
That being said, give your body some time. If you are constantly changing your macros every single day, you won’t be able to gauge what is working for you and what isn’t. Give it some time – Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Other Factors: More Than What You Eat
Up until this point we have been really focused on diet for losing weight (if that’s your goal). But weight loss is more than just the food we put in our mouth (or don’t!). Regular exercise, proper hydration, sleep and stress all important factors that determine our success in the bigger picture. If you’re struggling to reach your goal, consider how these other pieces are playing out in your life.
Counting your macros is a great way to give you some insight into what you are actually eating and how your body responds to different food choices. If you have some tips on counting or tracking your macros, or want to share with us your success story, get social with us. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. We are #ReflexNation.