Counting Macros for Losing Weight Without Starvation

counting macros guide

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) come 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.

Are Macronutrients Important for Weight Loss?

Establishing the right macronutrient ratio is good for the right kind of weight loss.

However, the most important aspect of weight loss is maintaining a safe calorie deficit.

The advantage of tracking macronutrients is that it helps you eat a good balance of foods and helps to ensure that weight loss is from fat tissue being broken down for energy and not muscle tissue. Without adequate protein in your diet, your body will break down your muscles if you are in a prolonged calorie deficit.

So first, you need to establish a safe weight loss TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) and then establish a healthy macronutrient ratio based on that.

Establishing Your Baseline TDEE

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 healthy physiology.

How to determine your daily fat amount.

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.

How to determine your protein grams.

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, the 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.

How to determine your 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 Macro Counting Easy

The most challenging aspects of counting and tracking macros is understanding 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 [eafl id=”32444″ name=”My Food Diary” text=”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.

Here are some FAQs regarding macro counting for fat loss.

Can you lose fat and keep muscle?

Yes, the great thing about a macro-based diet is that it promotes a sensible calorie deficit of just 20%. This helps your body use its fat reserves but keep your muscle tissue intact. Plus, the protein recommended with counting macros also helps preserve your muscle mass while in a calorie deficit. You can even lose weight and build muscle at the same time with macro dieting.

Can you lose weight on a moderate carb diet?

Yes! Carbs do not make people fat or prevent people from losing weight when they are eaten within the context of your goal TDEE. In other words, even if your diet is 40% carbs but you stay in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. This has been tested time and again and is part of the philosophy of flexible dieting.

Do tracking macros really work?

Yes, we have been teaching people this method for many years and have 1000’s of success stories. Here are just a few. But, just like any method to lose weight, you have to be willing to do some work planning out and tracking what you eat. The success of any diet is the ability to maintain a calorie deficit for an extended period of time.

keeping track of your  macros works if you do the work, just like any diet. But, since you have a better variety of foods with a macro diet, you will probably find it is easier to stick to long-term.

Do athletes use macros?

Yes, many top athletes count macros to make sure they are eating the right nutrition that will help them be better at their sport and make them stronger. If you use the hashtag #countingmacros on Instagram you’ll see posts from many athletes and ripped bodybuilders. The macro diet has also become hugely popular with the CrossFit community.

Do macros really matter for weight loss (fat loss)?

Yes and no. As I mentioned earlier, the most important aspect of weight loss is maintaining a sensible calorie deficit for an extended period of time. But, eating the right macro ratio does help to preserve your muscle mass so that the weight loss is attributed to fat loss and not muscle mass loss.

Also, the right macro ratios fuel your body properly so that your workouts can be more effective. I like to think of macros as a way to fine-tune the process and to ensure that your nutritional balance is right. The goal isn’t just about weight loss but also to eat healthier and to live healthier.

Do you eat the same macro amounts on rest days?

If you are looking for optimal results, you should eat fewer macros on rest days than you do on exercise days. It’s helpful to learn to eat according to your body’s energy needs. Your body needs more energy on days you are active and less energy on days you are sedentary.

Do you have to count macros to lose weight?

No, you don’t have to count macros to lose weight. Tracking macronutrients is a method to keep you in a safe calorie deficit, while also making sure your body is getting the right balance of nutrition. It’s not the only method but it’s an effective method for many people.

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
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition and is our lead macro coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see our personal coaching options.
Last Updated: October 29, 2019