Counting Macros

How to Calculate Your Macros and REE for Body Transformation

By Ted KallmyerUpdated June 29, 2022

Understanding macros, the formula to calculating macros and your REE is highly effective for helping you reach your body transformation goals. 

The basics of macro counting

If you’re new to counting macros, here are the basic principles:

  1. The word macros is short for macronutrients.
  2. The three macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
  3. Macros are the basis of all the calories (energy) you consume.
  4. Protein contains 4 calories in each gram.
  5. Carbs contain 4 calories in each gram.
  6. Fat contains 9 calories in each gram.

The philosophy behind macro counting is the idea of flexible dieting.

This means no food restrictions.  Yes you can eat chocolate – as long as you stay within your daily macro targets.

Understanding how to calculate and adjust your daily macro goals is one of the most important aspects of a macro diet.

Everybody is different (yes, you are a unique snowflake…), so most experienced macro coaches will make adjustments as their clients progress.

Your ability to calculate and adjust your macros accurately will largely determine whether you reach your physique goals and how fast you get there.

Your metabolism, overall health and lifestyle play a vital role in how much energy you burn and how much of each macronutrient you should be eating.

Beginner’s guide to the macro formula and REE calculation

The most important thing to calculate is your REE (Resting Energy Expenditure) and your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).

You can quickly calculate your TDEE here, but basically, it’s the number of calories your particular body burns in a day.

Eat less than this means that you lose weight and eating more than this means you gain weight. This is referred to as energy balance.

  • Negative energy balance = weight loss
  • Positive energy balance = weight gain

Macro formula for calculating your REE

The Healthy Eater Macro Calculator does all of the following macro and REE calculations for you.

The Mifflin-St Jeor formula is one of the most popular and respected macro formulas used to calculate your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE). Your REE is the energy it takes to run your body without any movement whatsoever.

Step 1: REE Formula

REE formula for men

10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5 = REE

REE formula for women

10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161 = REE

Tip: Remember your high school math lesson about Order of Operations: (PEMDAS from left to right) when solving the equation for yourself.

Since most people don’t lie in bed all day doing absolutely nothing, we next have to figure out movement expenditure or TDEE.

Step 2: TDEE Formula

You must assess your activity level.

  • Sedentary
    Just normal everyday activity like a little walking, a couple flights of stairs, eating, talking, etc. (REE X 1.2)
  • Light activity
    Any activity that burns an additional 200-400 calories for females or 250-500 calories for males more than your sedentary amount. (REE x 1.375)
  • Moderate activity
    Any activity that burns an additional 400-650 calories for females or 500-800 calories for males more than your sedentary amount. (REE x 1.55)
  • Very Active
    Any activity that burns an additional 650+ calories for females or  800+ calories for males in addition to your sedentary amount. (REE x 1.725)

A typical TDEE equation could look like this:

Let’s say you’re a 29-year-old, 183 cm, 88 kg, very active male.

Here’s your equation with results rounded to the nearest whole number:

  1. 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5 = REE
  2. 10 x 88 + 6.25 x 183 – 5 x 29 + 5 = REE
  3. 880 + 1144 – 145 + 5 = 1884 (REE)
  4. The multiply by 1.725 to get TDEE
  5. 1884 x 1.725 = 3250 (very active TDEE)

Your TDEE would be around 3,250 Calories.

  • Eat more than this = weight gain.
  • Eat less than this = weight loss.
  • Eat this amount = weight maintenance.

As I mentioned, it’s sometimes not as black and white for all people, but for simplicity’s sake let’s imagine it is.

How do I calculate macros for weight loss?

If you want to lose weight, you should start by reducing your overall calorie intake by 20%.

This is a better rule to follow than the rule of reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories.

For example, if you eat 3,250 calories a day, 20% would be 650 calories, which would take your calorie intake down to 2,600 calories a day.

Weight loss TDEE = 3,250 – (3250 x .20) = 2,600 Calories

How do I calculate macros for weight gain (building muscle)?

If you’re looking to gain weight then add between 5% and 20% calories to your overall intake.

At 20% you’ll likely gain fat as well as muscle so starting small and working your way up is key if you want lean gains.

Using the previous example, this would take calories from 3,250 to 3,900 for weight gain.

Weight gain TDEE = 3,250 + (3250 x .20) = 3,900 Calories

If you hate math,  I do all of this for you with my Macro Calculator.

Exceptions to the standard macro formula

  1. If you are very lean
    If you have low body fat and a high proportion of lean body mass, the standard macro formula isn’t best. It factors in an average body fat percentage, so those with below-average will have a lower TDEE calculated than normal.
    Muscle tissue burns more calories even at rest, so this should be accounted for. When using our macronutrient calculator, use the “Lean Mass” setting. This uses to the more appropriate McArdle, Katch formula .
  2. If you are obese
    Having an above-average body fat percentage and also skews the standard formula’s results. Fat tissue isn’t active tissue and requires very little energy to maintain itself. Therefore total fat weight should be considered in the equation. Please read more about how counting macros works for obese individuals.

With this knowledge alone you could get started towards your goal. Counting macros is a very effective way of losing weight (read some of the stories here).

Losing weight and losing fat can be two different things (you don’t want to lose muscle). So macronutrient ratios can be important.

What are your ideal macro ratios?

Now that you have your REE and TDEE, you can determine how much of each macronutrient you should consume.

These are the calorie (energy) values for each macronutrient:

  • 1 g Protein = 4 Calories
  • 1 g Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
  • 1 g Fat = 9 Calories

Calculate how much protein to eat daily

Protein is essential for the growth of new tissue as well as fixing broken tissue (what happens when you work out). Protein is your new best friend if you want to gain or maintain muscle.

Daily protein calories

  • When already lean and lifting heavy for bodybuilding use a measure of 1 g of protein per pound of body weight.
  • Most people can use a more balanced approach and use .825 g protein per pound since most people are carrying fat tissue which skews the “1 gram per pound rule.”
  • For people with a lot of excess fat weight or people who don’t do a lot of strength training, use .65 grams per pound of body weight.

If you are struggling to meet your protein targets, use this list of proteins.

So if our individual weighs 195 lbs (88 kg), and they are doing a moderate weight training program, then their protein intake will be 161 grams.

Calculate how much fat you need daily

Fat is often blamed as the reason most of us are, well, fat. But that’s simply not true.

Healthy fats can be incredibly beneficial for hitting your body composition goals, but they also affect our hormones – too little fat in our diet can be harmful.

Most research (and again, there are a lot of opinions out there) supports that 20%-30% of overall TDEE calories should come from the fat macro. Let’s use 25% and a middle-of-the-road starting point.

Some people can opt for 30% especially if you are coming from a higher fat diet like keto, Paleo, or Atkins.

How to calculate fat grams per day

  1. 3,250 Calories x 0.25 = 812.5 Calories
  2. Divide 812.5 by 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 90.27g Fat (which I’d round down to 90 g).

Calculate how many carbs (carbohydrates) you need each day

Think of all your favorite foods and chances are they are high in carbohydrates.

Your body uses carbohydrates to make glucose which is the preferred fuel or energy that our bodies run off of. They’re what keeps us going.

A low-carb diet is a method of placing yourself in a negative energy balance. Counting macros does this through a more scientific approach but without the restriction.

Fiber is also a carbohydrate but only about 30-40% of it can be used by the body for energy. Some macro counters do track fiber as it’s required for good health.

We’ve now sorted protein and fats, but how many carbs do we eat? We allocate the rest of our calories (originally calculated from our TDEE) to carbohydrates.

How to calculate carb grams per day

We started with 3,250 Calories. We allocated 644 calories (161 g) to protein, 813 calories (90 g) to fat and we now allocate the rest, 1793 calories, to carbohydrates.

Since 1g of carb equals 4 calories we divide 1793 by 4 and get 448 g Carbohydrates.

Final macros

161 g protein, 90 g fat, and 448 g carbohydrates for the above example whose target is 3,250 calories per day.

Still Confused?

Use the macro calculator tool, a TDEE calculator, and many other fitness calculators to help with all the formulas and math. 

I also offer custom macros and coaching as a certified macros coach.

I’ll analyze all your stats and lifestyle factors to dial in your macros as accurately as possible as provide lifetime macro calculation adjustments with some of my plans.

How to convert macro grams to calories

If you ever need to convert your macro grams back to calories, it’s pretty simple.

  • 1 g Protein = 4 Calories
  • 1 g Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
  • 1 g Fat = 9 Calories

So you simply multiply the number of grams by the calorie value given.

  • 9 grams of protein would have a calorie value of 36. (9 x 4 = 36)
  • 9 grams of carbohydrates would have a calorie value of 36. (9 x 4 = 36)
  • 9 grams of fat would have a calorie value of 81. (9 x 9 = 81)

How to start losing weight with macros

Beginners can get started with macros by using the above macro calculations and then using the following two tools.

You’ll be up and running in no time!

  1. Use a macro tracking app
    You are recording the foods you eat (including their carb, fat, protein amounts).
  2. Buy a Food Scale
    For unprocessed foods, you can weigh them (e.g. a chicken breast).

A lot of nutritional information is available on food packaging, however, a scale will ensure you accurately track what you eat.

Learn how to weigh and measure your food.

Do the above and you will be well on your way to getting started with understanding macros.

Practice makes perfect and the same thing is true with beginners and macros. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

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References

  • Mifflin, M. D., St Jeor, S. T., Hill, L. A., Scott, B. J., Daugherty, S. A., & Koh, Y. O. (1990). A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in healthy individuals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51 (2), 241-247. URL http://www.ajcn.org/content/51/2/241.abstract
  • Tipton, K., & Wolfe, R. R. (2001). Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth.
  • Fogelholm, M., Anderssen, S., Gunnarsdottir, I., & Lahti-Koski, M. (2012). Dietary macronutrients and food consumption as determinants of long-term weight change in adult populations: a systematic literature review. Food & nutrition research, 56.
  • Millward, D. J., Garlick, P. J., Stewart, R. J., Nnanyelugo, D. O., & Waterlow, J. C. (1975). Skeletal-muscle growth and protein turnover. Biochemical Journal, 150(2), 235-243.
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, author, and macros coach. He has helped hundreds of clients reach their body transformation goals.

513 Comments

  • Joseph DRINKWATER

    Hello. If I have hit my MACRO calories IN target for the day but my calories OUT is 500 Calories higher due to my exercise. What do I do? Going forward?Exercise less? Or Eat more?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hey Joseph, Did you already calculate for exercise when you did your initial calculations?

      Reply
  • Sara

    Just want to thank you for this information! I am working with a nutrition coach but wanted to learn more about the macros she set for me. This article was extremely helpful and easy to understand.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Great to hear that, glad it was helpful and all the best with achieving your goals!

      Reply
  • Rachel Higel

    What’s the difference between those weight and lose 10%?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Rachel, “lose” is a calorie deficit of 20% while “lose 10” is a calorie deficit of just 10%.

      Reply
      • Rachel Higel

        Ok so if I’m on the lower end of body fat and I’m trying to tone would I being correct in thinking that I would do 10% deficit? Thank you in advance for the assistance.

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

          Yes, that is a good starting point.

          Reply
  • Ken

    What if I want to lose fat but gain muscle too? What should the calculations be?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Ken, A good starting point is deducting 10% instead of 20%. This can help provide a little more nutrition to your muscle tissue.

      Reply
  • Paige Wilkins

    Hi-
    I wish there was a macro app where I can preplan my week with my workouts so I can see the day and not have to do the math in my ahead to adjust for rest days. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Paige, MyMacros+ allows for a rest day set and a workout day set. MyfitnessPal premium also lets you do this as well.

      Reply
    • Adrienne

      Macrostax.

      Reply
  • Livia

    I’m 35 y, 5.5h, 68kg , work out 3 times a week.
    I want to loose weight 10kg in a short time
    How can I calculate my macros?
    How many cal should I take?
    Thank you

    Reply
  • Aparna Jethwa

    Hi my Waight is 56 and height is 5 feet age is 48
    How many calories I should eat

    Reply
  • Ally

    Hello. I’m a 27 yo female and my calculation is as follows: (10 x 73.75) + (6.25 x 160.02) – (5 x 27) – 161 = 1441.63 REE. I workout about 4x a week (cardio, weight training, spin) and expend around 500 calories in exercise in one week. What level of activity would you classify that as (sedentary, light, moderate etc.)? In other words, what is my TDEE? I plan to subtract this by 20% for fat loss.

    Reply
  • Fiona

    For the carb intake is that total carbs or net digestable carbs?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Most just track total carbs because of the many ways fiber is handled on nutritional labels.

      Reply
  • Betty

    Hi, what macro ratio can you recommend for the Endomorp like me. Im female, 35 yrs old, 165cm. Moderately active.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Betty, I would recommend starting with the ratios and calorie deficit suggested above.

      Reply