How do you count macros?

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Gina Allegretti, MD 

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Gina Allegretti, MD 

last updated: Oct 27, 2023

4 min read

Key takeaways

  • Counting macros is one way to monitor your nutrient intake by keeping track of the number of grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat you consume daily. 

  • Some people may find that counting macros helps them manage their weight or build muscle, depending on their goals. 

  • To count macros, calculate how many you need and then keep track of what you eat using the labeling on food packaging or online resources for unprocessed or unpackaged foods.

Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is a big part of maintaining your overall health. Many people believe that a diet plan based on macros is the best way to achieve this. But what are macros, and how can you figure out the best balance of macros for your personal goals? 

Weight loss

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What are macros?

Macros, or macronutrients, are the types of food we need in high quantities in our diet. They’re the foods that provide the essential calories and nutrients we need to be healthy. The three important macronutrients in the diet are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. 

The amount of each macro found in different foods can be measured in grams and typically appears on food packaging in the case of processed foods. One gram of protein, carbohydrates, or fat gives you a specific amount of energy, measured in kilocalories (or calories for short). 

  • Proteins: One gram of protein contains four calories. Proteins from our diet and their components (known as amino acids) act as building blocks for many important substances in the body, like hormones and enzymes.

  • Carbohydrates: One gram of carbohydrates contains four calories. Carbohydrates, commonly called carbs, provide energy for many body functions and help regulate your sugar (glucose) metabolism. 

  • Fats: Fats have the highest amount of calories of all the macronutrients. Each gram of fat provides 9 calories. The body uses fats, or lipids, to store energy. They’re also used to build the membranes surrounding cells and play an important role in hormone production.  

Counting macros for different goals

Counting macros is similar to calorie counting, but it goes a step further. It involves adding up how many calories you get from each major macronutrient—proteins, carbs, and fats. But before you can start counting, you’ll need to decide how many calories you need on a daily basis. This depends on your metabolism and activity level. You can figure out your calorie needs using a few steps.

Basal metabolic rate (BMR)

First, figure out your basal metabolic rate or BMR (sometimes called resting energy expenditure or resting metabolic rate). BMR represents the amount of calories you burn at rest. You can calculate BMR using a tool like an online calculator or by using the Mifflin-St Jeor equation:  

For men: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) + 5

For women: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) – 161

You can convert your weight to kilograms (kg) by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2. 

So, for example, let’s say you’re a 35-year-old woman who weighs 143 pounds and is 165 cm tall. Your weight is 143/2.2, or 65kg. 

Your BMR would be: (10 x 65) + (6.25 x 165) - (5 x 35) - 161 = 1345.25

Total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)

Once you know your BMR, you can calculate how many total calories you burn in a day—your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This is how many calories you burn both at rest and from exercise. To do this, multiply your BMR by an activity multiplier. You can do this with an online tool or by using what’s called the Harris Benedict Equation

The activity factor depends on how active you are on a daily basis. The factors are: Sedentary (low or no activity): 1.2

  • Lightly active (light exercise up to three days a week): 1.375

  • Moderately active (moderate exercise up to five days a week): 1.55

  • Very active (intense exercise six or seven days a week): 1.725

  • Extra active (very intense exercise seven days a week): 1.9

Using our example above, if you were moderately active, you’d multiply your BMR (1345.25) by your activity factor (1.55). 

The total, 2085, should be your estimated calorie intake per day. 

Calculate macros 

After you’ve determined your daily calorie needs, you can figure out how many of those calories should come from each macronutrient. Standard recommendations for macro breakdown are: 

  • Proteins: 10-35%

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65%

  • Fats: 20-35%

So in our above example, the total daily calorie goal is 2085. Using the macro guidelines, 208-730 of these calories should come from proteins, 938-1355 from carbohydrates, and 417-730 from healthy fats. 

Remember that the number of calories isn’t the same as the number of grams. Remember that one gram of protein or carbohydrates equals 4 calories, and one gram of fat equals 9. So, for example, if you want 1355 calories from carbohydrates, this means you should eat about 338 grams of carbs. 

These guidelines are based on average daily recommendations. Your own daily macro goals may vary depending on whether your goal is to maintain weight, lose weight, or build muscle

How to track macros

You can add up the macros you’re eating on your own, by reading the information on your food’s nutrition labels and tallying up the total protein, carbs, and fat. Sometimes it helps to make a meal plan in advance, so you can set up your macronutrient ratio for the day before you eat anything. 

Sometimes it can be tedious to keep track of macros on your own. Luckily, technology has made it easier to track your daily macros. Many apps like MyFitnessPal and My Macros + have macro calculators which allow you to keep track of your macro ratio on your smartphone quickly and easily. 

How to calculate macros for weight loss

Macro breakdowns may vary from person to person, depending on their body composition, body needs, and fitness goals. If you’re interested in using macro counting to lose weight, we’ll show you how it works.

Weight loss

Some people with severe obesity may be more successful losing weight if their diet consists of fewer carbohydrates and more protein. Some studies suggest that a high-protein, low-carb diet aids in fat loss and reduces cholesterol levels.

The USDA also recommends that people who want to reduce body weight maintain a calorie deficit, meaning they should burn more calories than they consume. To calculate a calorie deficit, they recommend people who want to lose weight subtract up to 500 calories from their TDEE. So people who are trying to lose weight may benefit from lowering their calorie intake and shifting their macros away from carbohydrates and towards proteins. 

Muscle building

People who are bodybuilding and want to build more muscle may benefit from increasing the amount of protein they consume. This may help gain weight, increase lean muscle mass, and burn body fat. So if your goal is building muscle, you may benefit from eating more protein and decreasing your intake of fats and carbohydrates. 

Suggested macro breakdowns are only guidelines, though, so it’s always a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet and exercise routine.

DISCLAIMER

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

October 27, 2023

Written by

Gina Allegreti, MD

Fact checked by

Yael Cooperman, MD


About the medical reviewer

Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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