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.
By entering that info into our calculator, we find out that it is estimated that she requires 2011 calories to maintain her current weight.
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.
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 (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.
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 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.
- The Macro 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.
- Tracking Apps
Tracking 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+
- 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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- 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