Counting Macros for Losing Weight Without Starvation

There is a science to losing fat  and 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. If a person eats less than this amount, weight loss will occur.  Since all energy is derived from the macros you eat, counting them is the perfect way to track your food consumption and put yourself in a safe calorie deficit that won’t cause you to feel starved like other popular diets do.

What is a Macro Diet?

The term “macro” is an abbreviation of the word Macronutrient.

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.

Establishing Your Baseline

Before you can figure out what your weight loss macros will be, you have to estimate how many calories your body uses each day to maintain its current weight. This comes from your basic metabolism and amount of activity and is known as your TDEE.

There are many tools to help with this and our macro diet 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 the calculator, we find out 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 25-30% of your daily calories.

Therefore this woman should eat 56 grams (25%) 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 .65-1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This depends on a few factors such as the type of exercise engaged in, amount of fat tissue weight, amount of lean mass, and overall fitness goal.

Since this woman is moderately active and engaged in weight training, 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.

Note: People who are wanting to count macros but have engaged in low carb diets in the past, may be freaked out by the number of carbs. But, this is exactly the restrictive type of dieting counting macros seeks to break people free from.

Carbs do not make you fat or keep you from losing weight as long as you are eating them in context with how much energy your body requires on a given 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 a bit more complicated if you want to do it in a way that is sustainable long-term.

For instance:

  • 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 low-calorie amount (such as 1200 calories each day) doesn’t take into account the calories you burn according to your unique stats and activity.

Aim for no more than 20% Deficit

Flexible Dieting (the diet philosophy in which counting macros falls under) 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 use the above-described calculations to determine her weight loss macros which the calculator has done already.

  • Protein: 130 g
  • Fat: 45 g
  • Carbs: 172 g

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

Note: For some people, these calculations may not be as accurate as they should be.

For people with a lot of weight to lose, I recommend custom macro calculations to ensure you get off to a great start. The formula used in the calculator over-estimates macros for those with 50+ pounds to lose and some additional calculations are needed.

 

tools to achieve your goal

Tools That Make Counting Macros Easy

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 Macro Solution
    This ebook guides you through the macro diet process step-by-step and teaches you to be an expert macro counter.
  2. Tracking Apps
    Tracking macros is a lot easier with the use of an app or website. For beginners, we recommend My Food Diary. More complex apps include Cronometer, MyFitnessPal, and MyMacros+
  3.  A Food Scale
    An inexpensive food scale is also needed to accurately measure portions of fresh food. As 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.

You'll Love Our Macro Solution Program

Step-by-step ebooks, or fully customized personal macros coaching. Now with complete vegan edition.

    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

34 Comments

  1. Ema 3 weeks ago

    Hello, I’ve been tracking my macros with an app for a week. What I see is that I hit my calories, but my macros aren’t right. I constantly eat too much protein, too much fat and not nearly enough carbs. My question for you is it really bad? What would happen in my body if it keeps happening?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 3 weeks ago

      Hi Ema, The most important thing is that you are maintaining a calorie deficit. Macros come into play to make sure your body is losing the right way like losing fat tissue instead of lean mass and making sure you are getting all the micronutrients in for a well functioning body. Most people aren’t perfect the first week or so but eventually get pretty close to their macro goals once they learn to better adjust portion size etc. Hang in there and keep working to hit your goals.

      Reply
    • Sanaz 2 weeks ago

      If you’re calories are right and your macros aren’t that means that the macros inside the foods you’re eating aren’t correct. If you’re exactly meeting those calories the macros should be met too. Sometimes myfitnesspal has users put in foods and they report the wrong macros. Each gram of fat has 9 calories for example so if 20g of fat should be 180 calories. So the macros and calories match. Anyways don’t worry too much. If you’re meeting your calories you’ll still reach your goals. But here is the answer if you were curious regardless.

      Reply
  2. Jennifer POWELL 6 months ago

    hi i have a quick question i’m on a 1400 daily calorie intake trying to loose weight and maintain a bit of muscle as well
    would you be able to tell me the ratios for protein fat and carbs?

    Reply
  3. Antonette 6 months ago

    According to your calculator for macros my protien grams are 37g per meal? 3 meals a day. I put that on my scale and that is a very small amount? Am I not doing this correctly? Just does not seem very sustainable?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer 6 months ago

      Hi Antonette, That is correct but you aren’t measuring the protein in food correctly. i.e. a piece of chicken isn’t 100% protein. You have to weigh the meat and then use a nutritional database to find out how many grams of protein are in that amount of meat. Please see this article for further clarification.

      Reply
  4. Barry Lyons 7 months ago

    I don’t understand the ratio. How do you arrive at approximately 50% carbs and not 50% fats? How come it isn’t the other way around: 50% fats (or 50% protein) and 25% carbs?

    Reply
    • James 7 months ago

      The idea of the carbohydrate level is to fuel exercise and workouts. The premise behind counting macros is finding what works for you. Some people count macros on a fully ketogenic diet (with very little carbohydrates). However for most people it is much easier to sustain a diet with this level of carbs. There may be a perfect macro ratio out there for each individual, but if you cannot stick to it, then in the long term it might lead to the results you desire.

      Reply
      • Barry Lyons 6 months ago

        That’s fine, and I understand what counting macros is all about, but I’m still not understanding HOW the ratio was arrived at, and why it’s not, say, 25% carbs, with fats and protein take up the rest of percentage. I ask because I thought it was FATS that fuel weight loss, not carbs. Or as one sports nutrition site says, “Fat is a more efficient fuel per unit of weight than carbohydrate.” And this: “Fat is the body’s most concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrate or protein.” Maybe there’s something I’m not understanding about carbs that the percentage would be that high.

        Reply
  5. Tami 7 months ago

    How do you figure out macros in meals or items you didn’t prepare yourself? For instance, I see people post pics of baked goods saying it fit into their macros. If my neighbor brings me a homemade blueberry muffin, sure I can weigh it, but how do I know its macros? Is there some sort of master list I’m missing that’ll help me guess?

    Reply
    • James 7 months ago

      Some of the larger apps like MyFitnessPal have large databases of user-submitted items. Often you can find something close. For example, a search on calorieking.com for blueberry muffin

      http://www.calorieking.com/foods/search.php?keywords=blueberry+muffin

      Shows lots of brand muffins, plus a generalized entry for blueberry muffin.

      Reply
      • Anthonia Spencer 3 weeks ago

        I used this calculator to calculate my macros for weight loss. I am 187 pounds which should equate to 187g of protein per day. For some reason the calculator is reducing my protein intake to 154g, is that correct? I thought the goal was to maintain 1g of protein for every pound?

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer 3 weeks ago

          Hi Anthonia, You don’t need that much protein. The 1 gram per pound rule is for athletes and bodybuilders with a low body fat percentage. If you know your lean mass amount then you could do 1 g/lb based on that. This is why our calculator defaults to .8/lb but even then, unless you train really hard, you can be successful with lower protein.

          Reply
  6. Dawn dwyer 8 months ago

    I want to lose weight

    Reply
  7. gaby cerna 9 months ago

    hey i want to lose weight

    Reply
  8. Coley B

    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

      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
  9. Tee P

    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

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

      Reply
  10. DENISSE G.

    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

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

      Reply
      • DENISSE G.

        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
  11. Stacey Wardle

    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
  12. Kerri Stella

    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

      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
  13. Natasha Khatri

    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

      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