Counting Macros for Losing, Maintaining, or Gaining Weight

There is a science to losing fat and/or gaining muscle mass. Counting macros is a great way to put that science into action.

The science is based on calculating how much energy your body requires to maintain itself. The body needs less energy to lose fat, or more energy to gain weight or muscle. All energy is derived from the macros you eat, and counting them is the perfect way to track your consumption.

What are Macros?

The term “macros” is an abbreviation of the word Macronutrients.

There are three macronutrients and this is where calories (food energy) comes from.

  • Carbohydrates: yield 4 calories (kilocalories) per gram
  • Protein: yields 4 calories (kilocalories) per gram
  • Fat: 9 yields calories (kilocalories) per gram

Note: Some types of alcohol also provide energy and this is factored at 7 calories per gram of alcohol.

How to Count Macros to Maintain Current Weight

If you want to maintain your current weight, you have to estimate how many calories your body uses each day. This comes from your basic metabolism and amount of activity.

There are many tools to help with this and our macro calculator makes it pretty simple.

As an example, let’s use a woman who is 36 years old, weighs 130 pounds and is 5’6″. She burns about 400 calories through exercise each day and is classified as “moderately active”.

By entering that info into our calculator, we find out that it is estimated that she requires 2011 calories to maintain her current weight.

macro results

By counting macros (not just calories) she can be sure she is eating enough of the three macros in order to maintain muscle mass and a healthy physiology.

1. Fat Macro

A good fat ratio to aim for is 25% of your daily calories.

Therefore this woman should eat 56 grams of fat. She counts and keeps track of the fat macro in the foods she eats and stops eating fat when she reaches 56 grams.

2. Protein Macro

A good protein amount is .825-1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

As this woman is moderately active, we’ll use 1 gram per pound which means that she should eat 130 grams of protein per day. Again, this involves counting protein grams in the food she eats and stopping when she reaches 130 grams.

3. Carb Macro

The remainder of her calories should come from carbohydrates.

In our example, this is 49% of her calories or 247 grams. She would track the grams of carbs she is eating and stop when she reaches 247 for that day.

macros to lose weight

Counting Macros to Lose Weight

The science of weight loss is simple in theory. Eat fewer calories than your body requires and you’ll lose weight. In reality, it’s more complicated.

  • Eating too few calories for too long can actually stall weight loss.
  • Not eating enough of the protein macro can cause muscle tissue to break down instead of fat tissue.
  • Eating a fixed amount (such as 1200 calories each day) doesn’t take into account the calories you burn according to your unique stats and activity.

Flexible Dieting: No more than 20% Deficit

Flexible Dieting seeks to place the dieter in a safe calorie deficit of no more than 20% of their Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Thus, producing slow and steady progress of 1-2 pounds a week on average.

When counting macros for weight loss, a person must first deduct 20% from the calories required to maintain their current weight.

Using the woman in our example above, 20% fewer calories than her maintenance TDEE of 2011 is 1609 calories and by eating at this amount she should start losing weight.

macros to lose

She would then count her macros in the food she eats and stop eating when she gets to her target amounts each day.

Macro Counting for Muscle Gain

There are two goals: gain overall weight (suitable for those who may be underweight) or exclusively gaining muscle mass.

Overall weight gain: a person should consume 20% more calories than their maintenance TDEE.

Lean muscle gain: a 10% increase in calories is a good place to start and must be partnered with a comprehensive weight lifting program.

For the woman in our example above, if she added 10% more calories to her maintenance TDEE it would equal 2,212 calories per day to gain muscle.

She would then factor the macros as she did before, count her macros in the foods she eats, and stopping at her limits.

tools to achieve your goal

Tools to make counting macros easier

The most challenging aspects of counting macros is understanding the how the system works and tracking food intake.

Luckily there are several tools that make the process so much easier.

  1. The Flexible Dieting Solution
    This is a comprehensive program that explains the whole process of counting macros as well as the science behind the method. It’s basically everything you need to know in 130+ pages including sample meal plans and delicious recipes.
  2. Tracking Apps
    Counting macros is a lot easier with the use of an app. It allows you to easily log the foods you eat as well as count your macros throughout the day.
    for beginners we recommend My Food Diary. More complex apps include are MyFitnessPal and MyMacros+
  3.  A Food Scale
    An inexpensive food scale is also needed to accurately measure portions of fresh food. Since macro amounts are determined by the quantity of food, it’s important that portions are being measured correctly for the best results.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like most things in life, counting your macros takes some practice. You shouldn’t get frustrated if in the first week you are off by 5-10 grams on some of your macro goals.

As you discover which foods work and which portion sizes are best, you’ll begin to get closer to macro counting accuracy. Just be patient – it gets easier!

Some people think that they will have to count their macros for the rest of their life.

However, this isn’t true.

After six months to a year of counting, most people know intuitively how much to eat and counting will no longer be necessary.

From time to time it’s helpful to do a short “check” of your eating habits by resuming macro counting.  However most people will have successfully reprogrammed their eating habits for good.

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    References:

  • Rising, R., Harper, I. T., Fontvielle, A. M., Ferraro, R. T., Spraul, M., & Ravussin, E. (1994). Determinants of total daily energy expenditure: variability in physical activity. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 59(4), 800-804. Study Link
  • Prentice, A.M., Goldberg, G.R., Jebb, S.A., Black, A.E., Murgatroyd, P.R. and Diaz, E. 0. (2007) ‘Physiological Responses to Slimming’,Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 50(2), pp. 441–458. doi: 10.1079/PNS19910055. Study Link
  • Mettler, S. Protein for Weight Loss. Study Link

16 Comments

  1. Coley B 3 days ago

    Hey Ted,
    The calculator told me that I should be eating what I would have thought was way, too many calories. I just had a baby, so I am trying to lose the whopping 50 lbs that I put on.

    I am a female, 66in , 192lbs and am moderately active. If I was reading it correctly it was saying that I need to consume about 2020 cal a day? Is that right? I just want to know how/where to begin.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 2 days ago

      Hi Coley, If you just had a baby and are breastfeeding the calculator really isn’t the best option for calculating your weight loss macros. You really should consider signing up for at least our basic coaching package here where I can calculate everything for you.

      Reply
  2. Tee P 3 weeks ago

    According to the calculator, I should be eating 176g of carbs a day. How do I factor in being T2 diabetic? Does this make a difference or should I be okay as long as I am eating the right kind of Carbs?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 2 weeks ago

      Hi Tee, You would probably want to do a custom calculation with a lower carb ratio.

      Reply
  3. DENISSE G. 3 weeks ago

    I LOVE YOUR PAGE! I WOULD LIkE TO ASK HOW MANY MACROS SHOULD I BE EATING? I HAVE TO MONTHS THAT I AM DOING WEIGHTS AND CARDIO 4-5 TIMES A WEEK. I HAVE LOST 40 LBS WITB A LOW CARB DIET AROUND 900 CALORIES PER DAY. I STAY EATING AROUND SAME CALORIE INTAKE SINCE I AM SCARE YO GAIN ALL WEIGHT BACK. I AM WORKING OUT NOW SO I EOULD LIKE TI KNOW HOW MANY MACROS IS GOOD FOR ME. I AM 30 YRS OLD 190 LBS AND I AM 160 CM.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 3 weeks ago

      Hi Denise, You aren’t eating enough! Check out our macro calculator here.

      Reply
      • DENISSE G. 3 weeks ago

        I am just so afraid of gaining the weight back. But I also know I need to eat more since I am working out more.😁 Thanks for the reply.😁

        Reply
  4. Stacey Wardle 6 months ago

    Hi Ted! I find your site really useful with lots of cool articles like this one. I’m quite new to macro tracking, and whilst I don’t fond it particularly difficult in itself, I always have trouble with protein. By that I mean that I always seem to be way under my Target. I do fine with carbs and fats, but protein is hard for me. I try to get à protein source at every meal but it still isn’t right. Have you any advice you can give for this ?

    Reply
    • Ted 6 months ago

      Hi Stacy, Thanks for the compliments! Glad you find our stuff useful. Do you use a high-quality protein supplement? On a workout day I have to have one after my workout or otherwise, I find it difficult reaching my goal too, without eating tons of meat! Check out this post: https://healthyeater.com/protein-supplements-flexible-dieting-iifym

      Reply
  5. Kerri Stella 7 months ago

    My trainer put me on a meal plan that consists of lots of rice and chicken and veges and I am over it. I need someone to tell me what I can eat to fit the macros I am on. 29% protein, 49% carbs and 22%fat. I am happy to weigh whatever is thrown at me but it does my head in knowing what I can eat. I want to eat some different things. My meal plan does not even include any fruit because apparently our bodies process those types of carbs differently to rice. I’m ready to throw myself under a food truck.

    Reply
    • Ted 7 months ago

      What?!? That fruit thing is ridiculous. You really should do flexible dieting. You can eat whatever you want as long as it fits your macros. I would also increase fat to 25% Your carbs seem a little high too. Trainers are trained in fitness technique, but really don’t have much nutritional training, which is why you end up with bland meal plans and forbidden foods.

      Reply
  6. Natasha Khatri 12 months ago

    Hi Ted! Your website has some really helpful tools! I wanted to ask two questions: 1) for the carb macros, do you go by net carbs or total carbs? 2) Do you also count the oils that you use to cook with? I calculated my macros for fat loss, and I got 35g of fat. Considering that I roast a lot of my veggies with olive oil, eat eggs, and enjoy the occasional avocado or almond butter, my fats seem to be adding up too quickly. Other calculators have suggested 0.5g of fat per pound of body weight, but this one gives me 0.25g/lb. Could you explain a bit more? Can I decrease my carbs a bit and increase my fat? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Ted 12 months ago

      Hi Natasha, Glad you find our site useful. 1. Go with total carbs, although net carbs is a truer measure of energy it can make tracking more difficult. You can use your fiber intake as a bit of a buffer if you go over on your carb grams. 2. 25% fat is a good starting point but you can adjust fat if a higher amount works better for you and yes you would then eat fewer carbs.

      Reply