Counting macros is a great way to track how many macronutrients you are taking in on a daily basis. A macro diet goes a step further than typical calorie counting. For it, you count the macronutrients—grams of proteins, carbs and fats—you’re eating within your calorie goal, and in percentages. By counting macros, it can help you make smarter food choices.
How can I calculate my macros?
The absolute simplest, bare bones answer to “how do I calculate my macros” is:
- Begin by calculating 0.8 to 1 grams of protein per pound of your body weight (if you are very overweight, use your target bodyweight instead) and shoot for this every day.
- Fill in your remaining calories with however many carbs or fat that you want.
In more detail:
“Macros” is short for macronutrients. These include:
Note: Alcohol is the fourth macro, but it is not usually budgeted for on its own and its consumption typically comes at the expense of the carbohydrate and fats allotment.
The key to setting up your macro split is knowing your total calorie intake needs and the fact that protein and carbohydrates have ~4 calories per gram, while fat contains ~9 calories per gram (alcohol clocks in at ~7 calories per gram).
While everyone will have different needs and preferences for their macronutrient breakdown, the following is a generic guide to get you started.
We calculate macros from the ground up, but always in the context of total calorie intake.
Protein intake is the starting point. If calories are king, protein is queen. There is a large body of scientific evidence emerging that shows adequate protein intake as a key element to achieving body weight and composition goals.
One gram of protein per pound of body weight (1 g/lb) or 2.2 grams per kilogram (2.2 g/kg) is the traditional recommendation for protein intake.
However, this can be considered the upper bound of target intake, with the suggested range spanning 0.45-1g/lb (1.0-2.2g/kg) of total body weight.
Good sources of protein (organic preferred):
- Fish and seafood (salmon, tuna, white fish, shrimp, crab, oysters)
- Poultry (lean chicken and turkey)
- Lean and organic meat (pork, beef, lamb)
- Dairy (minimally processed cheese, unsweetened yogurt, and non-dairy alternatives)
- Tofu and soy products (minimally processed)
Fats are essential for many bodily functions including metabolism, brain function, and hormone production.
For this reason, and despite decades of the low-fat dieting trends, fat calories are not “worse” than other calories.
After your essential fatty acid needs are met in your diet, the remaining allocation for fat intake is largely determined by personal preference.
A general rule of thumb and a good starting point is 0.4g-0.5g/lb (0.9-1.1 g/kg) of total body weight.
Good sources of fat:
- Avocado and avocado oil
- Olives and olive oil
- Full-fat dairy and organic, grass-fed butter
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews)
- Seeds (chia, pumpkin, flax)
- Fatty fish (salmon or trout)
Now that the essential macros have been calculated, we must refer back to the goal calorie intake to tie it all together.
As such, the remaining allotment for carb intake is determined by subtracting your goal protein and fat intakes from your calorie intake.
Basically, whatever caloric intake is left over after determining your protein and fat needs are met by carbohydrate consumption.
So your goal carb intake in grams = [Goal calories – (Px4 + Fx9)] ÷ 4 where P and F are target grams of protein and fat, respectively.
Reminder: Protein contains 4 calories per gram and fats contain 9 calories per gram, that is why we calculate as it is written above to determine our carb intake.
Good sources of carbohydrates:
- Whole grains (brown and wild rice, oats, amaranth, whole wheat)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beets)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas)
- Fruits (apple, oranges, berries, pear, banana )
Macronutrients calculator: How to calculate macronutrients
To give an example of this process, let’s look at a typical scenario:
Ben is 22, 5’9 (175cm), and 175lbs (79kg) and works out 3 times per week. His estimated total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is 2450 calories but he wants to lose fat and gain muscle, so he is taking the advice given above and planning to consume 1890 calories daily. Using the suggestions above, Billy decides he should aim for 140g protein (0.8g/lb), 70g fat (0.4g/lb), and 175g carbs (1g/lb).
Remember that protein is the cornerstone of any macro split. Once you set your protein goal, the remaining allocation of fats and carbs is largely personal in nature. Given matched protein intakes, diets differing in fat and carb make-up do not perform any differently in terms of weight or composition changes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different intakes to find the set up that works best for your goals.
Counting Macros Summary
It’s important to base your macro calculations on your own body stats, especially protein. Calculating macros as a percentage of calorie intake can create situations where some intakes are inadequate or overkill.
Also, if you are significantly overweight, using your total body weight would be inappropriate for this activity and would heavily skew your macro split. In this instance, instead, base your calculations on your lean body mass.
Conversely, if you are significantly underweight, you may instead want to use your goal body weight.
Want more fitness advice? You can learn more and read the rest of the popular fitness Q and A’s in our Fitness Wiki.