How to Count Macros: A Beginners Guide
f you’ve been involved in the fitness community you have most likely come across the term “macros”. In fact, counting macros has become one of the top, if not the most popular way to track nutritional goals and needs. Whether it be for fat loss or muscle gain counting macros has become one of the trendiest methods to track nutrition. Counting macros is quite simple but this might not be the case if you are someone who is just starting to become familiar with this term. At first counting and keeping track of your macros can be confusing and quite overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I will walk you through step-by-step so you can start tracking your macros like a pro in no time.
What are Macros?
So what exactly are macros? Macro is short for the term ” macronutrient” and macronutrients are nutrients that our body needs daily in large amounts in order to function properly and carry out daily activities. Macronutrients are composed of three nutrients aka Macros –Protein, Dietary Fat, and Carbohydrates. Note that all food contains either protein, dietary fat, or carbohydrates or a combination of all three macros.
All three of these macros provide the body with energy. However, the energy that each macro provides will vary. Protein and Carbs provide 4 calories per gram while Fat provides 9 calories per gram.
Side Note: Alchohol is its own macronutrient but since it is not NECESSARY for daily function, we will not really tap into specifics. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram.
Before we go further I want to provide you with an example of how this works using a nutrition label so you can get a clearer picture in your head as we continue to get into more specific details.
For this example, I will be using a nutrition label from whole wheat bread.
*I went ahead and highlighted the areas you will need to look at when looking at nutrition labels.
Now, the total amount of calories reflects total grams of macronutrients combined. So how are total calories actually calculated? Well let’s put to use the information I provided you with above
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Carbs = 4 calories per gram
Dietary Fats = 9 calories per gram
Now according to the nutrition label, 1 slice of bread contains 0g of fat, 17g of carbs, and 5g of protein providing a total of 90 calories per slice. As you can see total calories is:
grams contained (x) macro calories per gram, as shown below.
Protein = 5g x 4 cals = 20 calories
Fat = 0g x 9 cals= 0 calories
Carbs = 17g x 4 cals = 68 calories
Total calories = 20 protein cals + 0 fat cals + 68 carb cals = 88 total calories, round it to the nearest number = 90 calories
Thankfully you don’t need to do this because it’s all laid out for you in the nutrition label. From personal experience learning and understanding the science behind calories in vs calories out in combination with the quality of food will help you compose your meals and manipulate your calories to change how you feel, perform, and look. It will also provide you with a brief understanding of how nutrient dense some foods are when you don’t have the nutrition facts available and you just have to wing it.
Counting Calories vs Counting Macros
Regardless of the method, you choose to track your nutrition at the end of the day if you eat more calories than you burn you will gain weight and if you eat fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. “So why can’t I just track calories and forget about all this macro stuff?” Well, the problem with counting calories is that it doesn’t take into account where your calories are coming from because it only takes into account the total calorie range.
On the other hand, counting macros is about eating enough of the right type of calories without exceeding your calorie range.
For example, eating 4 Oreo cookies provides you with a total of 213 calories, 1g protein, 9g fat, and 33g carbs. Now for the same amount of calories, you can eat 3oz of grilled chicken breast, 4oz of yellow potatoes, and green salad mix which will provide you with a total of 203 calories, 20g protein, 2g fat, and 28g carbs. Do you see how much more transparent it can be when you take into account the macros and not just the calories? this becomes more crucial as you get more specific on your fitness goals.
Let’s say your goal is to lose body fat. In order to do that the main factor is to eat fewer calories than you burn(caloric deficit) but you also want to make sure you are eating enough protein to keep satiated and to maintain the lean muscle mass, you have worked so hard for. At the same time, you also want to eat an adequate amount of dietary fats to regulate hormonal health, blood sugar, and for overall health.
Protein, Fats, & Carbs
Let’s discuss the importance of each macronutrient and why it’s essential for you to get enough of each.
Protein plays a major role in maintaining, repairing, and growing muscles, tissues, and cells. Anytime you are trying to build muscle you will need to make sure you are eating an adequate amount of protein. Protein is one of the macronutrients you will want to meet daily and keep the most track of.
The recommended amount of protein intake is ~1g of protein per lb of bodyweight.
Consuming an adequate amount of healthy Fats is crucial because they provide essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins beneficial for your overall health. Dietary fat also supports growth, development, and energy while also providing taste and stability to foods. Your diet should provide a moderate amount of fat and The American College of Sports Medicine recommends an intake of 0.3– 0.5g of fat per pound. However, it is important to note that women perform better with higher fat intake, this is typically around 30-35% with a minimum of 25% of your total calories.
Carbs are one of the macronutrients that are typically not “essential”. This is the reason why they tend to be the most neglected and manipulated by fad dieting protocols. However, carbs are a great energy source used by the body known as glucose. Glucose is used by the body to provide enough energy to help support the central nervous system, brain, and muscles to function properly. Carbs should fill up the remainder of your calories after inputting your protein and fats.
Your head is probably spinning right now from all the information I have provided you with! that’s okay we are not yet done. Let me provide you with an example so we can wrap things up!
Let’s say a 140-pound individual has calculated his/her total calories to achieve his/her fitness goal which are 1,750 — Now what?!
Lets put to use the information from above to use:
|Macro Needs||Macro Energy Values|
|Protein: 1g per lb||Protein = 4 calories per gram|
|Fats: 25 – 35%||Fats = 9 calories per gram|
|Carbs: Leftover Cals||Carbs = 4 calories per gram|
Lets Start by calculating protein:
140 x 1g = 140 g x 4 = 560 calories
Now let’s calculate Fat:
1,750 cals x 30% = 525 calories / 9 grams = 58 grams
And lastly let’s calculate Carbs:
*There is no magical number for carbs so you will need to start BACKWARDS. Let’s figure it out with the example below.
560 protein cals + 525 fat cals = 1085 total calories from protein & fats
1085 calories from protein & fats – 1750 total cals = 665 calories are left for carbs
665 cals / 4 grams = 166 grams of carbs for the day
So with a total of 1,750 calories, the macro break down is Protein: 140g, Fat: 58g, Carbs: 166g
Do note that if you prefer to eat more fats than carbs go ahead and apply the upper range (35%) but if you love your carbs stick to the moderate range of fats. Don’t be scared to experiment! But there you have it! Hopefully, this example gave you an idea of how you can compose your own.
MyFitnesPal: To help you track your food intake this is definitely one of my personal favorite tools that I use every single day. They have a huge food database and the app is very user-friendly.
Food Scale: To prevent inaccuracies I highly recommend using a scale to measure your food.
As you can see it is not only about calories in vs calories out. Counting macros helps you eat the right types of foods and helps keep a balance to meet your goals without surpassing your caloric range. Knowing your macros will let you know what your body needs which will make it easier for you to manipulate your food to not only to reach your goals but to fit in the foods you love.
Your trainer and friend,