Have you been wondering what all the hype about counting your macros is all about? If you figured that it had something to do with your diet, you’re right.
Counting macros is a different approach to tracking your food intake than counting calories. It has more to do with the ratio of the kinds of foods that you are eating and not the overall amount.
This guide will educate you on all the ins and outs of figuring out your calorie needs and counting macros; the what’s, why’s and how’s.
Keep reading and by the end of it, you’ll be able to incorporate this effective dieting technique in your own life whether you want to increase your muscle mass or lose weight.
What is BMR?
The first thing you need to understand about your body is that it needs a certain number of calories each day just to function.
This number is your basal metabolic rate (or BMR). It means how many calories your body needs to keep your vital organs running, your blood to continue pumping, your nervous system, respiratory system, and immune system; all your systems, let’s just make it easy.
This does not include how many calories it would need to stand up, walk around, cough, smile. This is how many calories your body needs when it is completely at rest. This number is determined on your current weight, height, gender, and age.
What is TDEE?
The second important thing you need to understand about your body is that it needs a certain number of calories each day to do what it does. Whether you are an Olympic skater or a stay at home mom, your body knows just how much you need to eat in order to maintain your body as is.
This magic caloric number is called your total daily energy expenditure (or TDEE). TDEE is a totally different number than your BMR. This is the exact number of calories that your body will require to perform all your daily tasks.
It is determined by your level of activity, whether you regularly exercise, your type of occupation, and if you enjoy active habits.
This number is very contingent on another number which is your BMR. Let’s explain what that is so that you have a better understanding.
How to calculate your BMR and TDEE?
Calculating your BMR and TDEE will allow you to have a greater understanding, or starting point, to put it better, in knowing just how many calories you want to aim to consume daily, depending on your goals.
You may use these formulas to quickly calculate your BMR:
Imperial formula (weight in lbs, height in inches)
BMR for men 66.47 + ( 6.24 × weight ) + ( 12.7 × height ) − ( 6.755 × age in years ) BMR for women 655.1 + ( 4.35 × weight ) + ( 4.7 × height ) − ( 4.7 × age in years )
Metric formula (weight in kg, height in cm)
BMR for men 66.47 + ( 13.75 × weight ) + ( 5.003 × height ) − ( 6.755 × age in years ) BMR for women 655.1 + ( 9.563 × weight ) + ( 1.85 × height ) − ( 4.676 × age in years )
Example BMR calculation for a male who is 35 years old, 6 feet tall (72 inches) and weighs 175lbs will look like this:
66.47 + ( 6.24x175 ) + ( 12.7x72 ) – ( 6.755x35 ) = 1836 calories
Your TDEE is calculated using many factors but you’ll need 2 main things:
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR): the number of calories the body needs just to stay alive each day
- Physical activity: all movements throughout your day like taking a shower, exercising, etc.
To calculate your TDEE, you’re going to choose your activity level from the list below and then multiply that number by your BMR.
- Sedentary (little to no exercise + work a desk job) = 1.2
- Lightly Active (light exercise 1-3 days / week) = 1.375
- Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days / week) = 1.55
- Very Active (heavy exercise 6-7 days / week) = 1.725
- Extremely Active (very heavy exercise, hard labor job, training 2x / day) = 1.9
Let’s say we have a desk job and don’t exercise which is a sedentary lifestyle. Using our example above, based on BMR of 1836 calories and sedentary activity, the TDEE calculation will look like this:
1836 x 1.2 = 2203 calories
Do this using your own numbers and you’ll know your daily calorie needs to maintain your current weight.
Later in the article, I’ll show you how to use this number to figure out how many carbs, protein, and fats you need and how to use those numbers to either pack on some muscle or lose weight.
What are macros (macronutrients)?
Macronutrients, or macros, are just a fancy name for the three main groups of foods that your body needs to function properly. Most foods fall into one of these three groups. If they don’t, they are micronutrients, which include our vitamins and minerals.
The three macros are protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Protein is the chemical element that our body uses to repair damaged tissue and grow new tissue. This is why people who are trying to grow muscle tissue make sure they get plenty of protein in their diet.
Proteins also play a big part in the maintenance and regulation of bodily functions. An example of this is our digestive system that uses enzymes in protein to break down our foods. Our immune system needs protein in order to make antibodies to attack germs.
Protein is broken down into amino acids for the body to use. There are hundreds of known amino acids but only 21 are needed by humans and 9 of those are considered essential, meaning that the body does not produce its own. These 9 amino acids are only replenished through the foods we eat.
The best sources of protein are animal sources for two reasons. First of all, most animal proteins contain all 9 of these essential amino acids. Secondly, plant-based proteins are largely made up of carbohydrates as well, which makes it hard to get your macronutrient ratio right.
Where should you focus your attention on when trying to get your protein intake up?
There are several good sources of protein. The best are beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, cottage, and ricotta cheeses. Be aware that many of your protein sources will contain some fat. If you want to ensure that you are getting the purest sources of protein, choose a lean cut of meat or egg whites.
Another simple and effective way to ensure you get enough protein throughout the day is with whey protein. It’s widely used in the fitness industry as it does what it promises and is very convenient.
Carbohydrates (or carbs) are known as the energy macro because it is the fastest source of energy that the body is able to use. Leftover carbs are turned into fat and stored for later energy needs. Most people include carbs as the bulk of their diet, but this isn’t always the best idea.
There are many different types of carbs available, which is why people eat so many of them. Carbs get a bad rap, though. Low carb diets are very popular nowadays, but fruits and vegetables are carbs, so what gives?
It is understandable that some carbs should be shied away from, those that raise insulin levels to skyrocket levels. These types of carbs are called simple carbs and include highly processed breads, candies, and the like. They affect the body negatively because they are a short-chain carb that is quickly digested in the body which causes a spike in blood sugar levels and then the proceeding crash.
Good carbs, however, will give you sustained energy physically and mentally. These are called complex carbs and they are long-chained and broken down slowly, hence the sustainable energy.
The best sources of carbs are fruits and vegetables, of course, whole grains and beans and legumes.
Many people cringe when thinking about eating fat, but it is an essential part of our nutrition. Fats are responsible for lubricating our joints, keeping our brain healthy, nice skin, hair, and nails, and help us absorb vitamins. The right intake of fat will also help our bodies to get rid of our stored fat.
There are three subcategories of healthy fats which include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Fats that you should always stay away from are trans fats.
They have one unsaturated carbon bond and stay liquid at room temperature. Examples of these fats include avocados, olive oil, most nuts, canola oil, and safflower oil.
They have more than one unsaturated carbon bond. They usually begin to harden as they cool. They include your omega-3s which are found in fatty fish like salmon and herring. It’s important to note that omega-6 fatty acids from food like corn and soy are not healthy and should be avoided.
Though most people don’t think of these fats as healthy, they are still an important part of our diet. These include butter, coconut oil, bacon lard, and fat from meats.
Benefits of counting macros
There are many several benefits of counting macros. Here is a list of the benefits. Some may surprise you.
Counting macros can help you stick to your diet
Whatever diet you are currently on, or even if you aren’t on a diet but want to eat better, counting your macros will help you stick to your diet. It makes you more aware of every food you put into your body. Taking the time to count your macros will help you map out your eating plan for the day and stay on track.
This is true whether you are the type of person that needs accountability in order to eat less but also if you are the type of person that will take a diet too far. Not eating enough food can be just as detrimental to your weight loss goals as eating too much.
Counting your macros will help you see a more balanced view of your diet. It focuses more on giving your body the nutrients it needs instead of restricting it.
You won’t feel deprived
Another reason many people give up on their diet is that they miss the foods that they enjoy. Many diets cut out a certain food type or limit the amount too drastically. Counting your macros is a rational way to keep your eating healthy and guided without too much deprivation.
If you stick to your assigned macronutrient intake, you can eat whatever you like. Of course, whole nutritious foods should be the bulk of your diet.
Keeps your diet balanced
Whether you are trying to lose weight or gain muscle, many diets focus on getting a certain number of calories without including the types of food, which can lead to deficiencies that will affect your overall health.
Yes, it’s great to lose weight or gain it if that’s your goal, but you need to look at the bigger picture. If there are imbalances in your diet, your body won’t be as strong as you would like.
Helps you learn what really is in your food
When you are counting macros, you get very well educated on what foods are made of. You have to track everything that you eat, and you will be breaking them down according to which macros they fit into, whether protein, carbs, or fat.
Some foods contain more than one macronutrient in their makeup. For instance, beans contain protein and carbs. You would have to take that into consideration when tracking your food.
Since you will be feeding your body with the right macro ratio for your body, you will see an increase in energy levels and performance at the gym or in your fitness regime. Keeping a healthy diverse diet keeps your body running at peak levels and you’ll see a positive return when it comes to your personal best.
It is a lifestyle
Because it is sustainable, counting your macros is not a fad diet. You don’t have to torture yourself to reach your goals only to bounce right back to where you started because your diet is unreasonable, and your body is dying to recover.
Counting your macros is a healthy, balanced diet that is not a one size fits all. It is a lifestyle of being more aware of what you put into your body that is customizable for your goals and your current weight, age, and gender.
Counting macros vs. counting calories
Counting calories has been around forever. The old “calories in vs. calories out” way of eating is still a staple but there is one major thing missing.
When you count your calories, you are focusing on a number that doesn’t factor in the type of calories. When you think about it, according to the “calories in” vs. “calories out” way of dieting, you free to eat whatever you choose so long as you reach your calorie goal.
Do you believe that a diet of 2000 calories of candy will sustain your body? Now, if you take those 2000 calories and assign a portion to protein, a portion to carbs, and a portion to fat, focusing on high-quality foods, your body will be fit as a fiddle. 2000 calories of candy will lead to diabetes and a slew of other problems.
Yes, it is essential to count your calories in order to count your macros. But you don’t have to count your macros to count your calories. Don’t worry, it’s not like you’ll be counting twice because each macronutrient has a set number of calories that it delivers per gram. We’ll get to that in a little bit but if you’re the type that cringes at the thought of extra math, don’t get squirrely on me. Counting macros is simple and effective.
Why is counting macros important?
We’ve touched on this a bit in the benefits of counting macros but it’s worth reiterating.
Your body needs a certain amount of each macronutrient to function at its peak level. Each individual will have different macronutrient needs depending on a few factors, and it can be tweaked to match your goals.
To successfully fuel your body, you will need to count your macros and feed your body with the essential amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats as it needs in order to keep it running on all eight cylinders.
How to calculate macros?
It’s quite simple to calculate macros to reach your desired goal. Each gram of macronutrient has a preset number of calories, which makes counting macros simultaneous with counting your calories to match your TDEE, total daily energy expenditure.
In order to know what your macros should look like; you first need to know how many calories your body requires to maintain its current condition and how many it will need to reach your desired goal.
To adjust this for your goal you simply increase your daily needs for bulking and increasing muscle mass or decrease for cutting and weight loss. We will get more in-depth with these two goals later in this article.
Let’s get to it.
How much protein a day do I need?
Your body type, health, age, activity level, and current goal will impact your protein requirements.
Generally, it’s recommended that you consume between 0.7 to 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight (or between 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight).
Men and women have different protein needs. Men generally need more calories and protein than women. Physiologically, men carry more muscle than women. Muscle requires more energy to support and maintain, therefore requiring a higher calorie or energy intake.
If you are trying to build muscle, whether you’re a man or a woman, you’ll want to increase your protein intake to the higher range of 0.7 to 1 gram per pound of body weight (or 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram).
Protein is also very satisfying and will keep you full longer so it can help to eat more protein during a calorie deficit when trying to lose weight.
1 gram of protein equals to about 4 calories.
If you weigh 150lbs, you’ll need to consume about 150 grams of protein a day which equals to 600 calories (150 grams x 4).
Now calculate it for your own weight and write it down. You’ll need it in a minute to figure out your carbs.
How many grams of fat per day do I need?
Studies have shown that we need about 20-35% of our total calories to come from fat. At the very least you should keep your diet at about 20% to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition. We need fat in our diets to provide us with energy, help with brain function, insulate our organs, and produce hormones.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s take the average and aim for about 25% fat. If your daily TDEE is 2000 calories, you will end up with 500 calories that should come from fats (2000 x 0.25).
1 gram of fat equals to about 9 calories.
Based on these 500 calories, you will need to consume about 55 grams of fat a day (500 / 9).
Calculate it based on your own calories and write it down too. You’ll need it again in a minute along with your protein number to figure out your carbs.
How many carbs a day do I need?
You’ll figure out how many carbs you need per day by taking your maintenance calories and then subtracting the protein and fat calorie requirements you already calculated.
If your TDEE is 2000 calories, you’ll want to subtract 600 calories from protein and 500 calories from fats which leaves us with 900 calories that should come from carbs.
1 gram of carb equals to about 4 calories, just like protein.
Take the left-over number of calories and divide it by 4 to see the specific number of grams of carbs you’ll want to consume per day. In our example above it’ll be 225 grams of carbs (900 / 4).
Carbs are a primary source of energy during exercise, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re eating adequate carbs if you’re working out intensely and trying to build muscle.
If your goal is weight loss, then lower-carb diets have become popular because it’s an easy way to create a calorie deficit. The best way to figure out what works best for your body is by trying different things and seeing what works. Some body types respond well to lower carb and higher fat diets, while others make better progress with higher carb intake.
How to calculate macros for cutting and weight loss?
The best diet for cutting and weight loss is to focus on your protein and fat. A higher protein and fat diet will help you to feel full and satisfied, keeping you from overeating.
Protein is the macros that uses the most energy to digest, keeping your metabolism high, even with limited calorie intake.
Of course, you will want to reduce your overall calorie intake which is necessary for weight loss. You’ll want to aim for about 250 calories below your maintenance level for conservative weight loss.
If you want to be more aggressive about your weight loss then aim for 500 calories below maintenance level. Keep in mind though that it’s not ideal for the long-term weight loss so if you have quite a bit of weight to lose – aim for 250 calories below your maintenance level.
Your maintenance calories are going to be that first number you came up with for your daily calorie intake. The very same one that you used to calculate your protein, fat, and carb needs above.
You’ll have to redo your macronutrient (protein, fat, and carb) calculations to adjust for the lower daily calories while cutting.
How to calculate macros for bulking and muscle gain?
In order to gain mass or bulk up you will want to increase your calorie consumption. You will also want to make sure you are giving your body plenty of carbs to gain weight.
It can be helpful to know your body type to determine the best macros for you. Some body types will gain weight much faster than others so keep that in mind when increasing your calories.
To calculate your bulking macros, you’ll want to add about 250-500 calories to your daily calorie intake. Start with about 200-250 and then gradually increase your calories as your body responds. Once again, you’ll have to redo your equations for your protein, fat, and carb numbers.
Remember that if you add too many calories at once you may just store them as fat so the best thing you can do is track your progress and calorie intake, and adjust as necessary.
How to track macros?
There are various methods for tracking your macros, including a bunch of apps like MyFitnessPal or Lose It that will help you to keep track as you’re eating throughout the day. It makes it a lot easier to keep track if you meal prep and pre-portion your food. However, this isn’t necessary.
Learn to read labels so that you can see what you’re eating and pay attention to serving sizes! Measuring your food will ensure that you’re eating the correct portions instead of eyeballing it and eating multiple servings. Our eyes tend to be bigger than our stomachs more than we think.
Before all of the handy-dandy apps came out, I used to just use a notepad and write down my calories and macronutrients before eating each meal and then add them up at the end of the day to make sure I was on track. This will take some practice and patience.
Regardless of the method you choose, you’ll want to make sure that you’re noting how many calories you’re eating per meal, as well as the grams of protein, fat, and carbs you’re consuming.
Of course, this doesn’t have to be exact. That is very difficult to do, and you shouldn’t take it to extremes but keeping it as close to your numbers as you can will help you reach your goal the fastest.