Counting Macros

How to Calculate Your Macros and REE for Body Transformation

By Ted KallmyerUpdated August 8, 2022
The ultimate guide to counting macros

Understanding macros, the formula for 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 macro is short for macronutrient.
  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 have 4 calories in each gram.
  6. Fat has 9 calories in each gram.

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

A flexible diet is free from food restrictions. Yes, you can eat chocolate – provided 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 accurately calculate and adjust your macros will largely determine whether you reach your fitness goals and how fast you get there.

Your metabolism, overall health, and lifestyle are vital 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 it’s the number of calories your particular body burns in a day.

Eat less than this means losing weight, and eating more means gaining weight. We call this energy balance.

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

The 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 movement.

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 must figure out movement expenditure or TDEE.

Step 2: TDEE Formula

You must assess your activity level.

  • Sedentary
    Just everyday activities like a bit of walking, a couple of 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. (REE x 1.375)
  • Moderate activity
    Any activity that burns an additional 400-650 calories for females or 500-800 calories for males. (REE x 1.55)
  • Very Active
    Any activity that burns an additional 650+ calories for females or 800+ calories for males. (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.

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?

To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit.

Aim for a calorie deficit of 20%.

Some people recommend reducing your calorie intake by 500 calories. Dropping 500 calories is not good advice as it is not customized to your body type.

How to calculate a calorie deficit for macro counting

For example, if you eat 3,250 calories a day, 20% would be 650 calories, reducing your calorie intake 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 want to gain weight, add between 5% and 20% calories to your overall intake.

At 20%, you’ll likely gain fat and muscle, so starting small and working your way up is vital 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
    The standard macro formula isn’t the best if you have low body fat and a high lean body mass. It factors in an average body fat percentage, so those below average will have a lower TDEE calculated than average.
    Muscle tissue burns more calories even at rest, so use the “Lean Mass” setting. This uses the more appropriate McArdle, Katch formula.
  2. If you are obese
    Having an above-average body fat percentage also skews the standard formula’s results. Fat tissue isn’t active tissue and requires very little energy to maintain itself. Therefore you should consider total fat weight in the equation. Please read more about how counting macros work 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 are two different things (you don’t want to lose muscle). Therefore 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 growing new tissue and 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 .825 g protein per pound since most people carry fat tissue, which skews the “1 gram per pound rule.”
  • For people with a lot of excess fat or people who don’t do a lot of strength training, use .65 grams per pound of body weight.

If you struggle 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 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) 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 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; chances are they are high in carbohydrates.

Your body uses carbohydrates to make glucose, the preferred fuel or energy our bodies run off, and 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 restriction.

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

We’ve 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 Feeling Confused?

Use the macro calculator tool, the TDEE calculator, or see the other fitness calculators to help with the formulas and math. 

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

I’ll analyze your stats and lifestyle factors to dial in your macros as accurately as possible and 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 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 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, and protein amounts).
  2. Buy a Food Scale
    You can weigh unprocessed foods (e.g., a chicken breast).
  3. Learn how to weigh and measure your food.

Can you lose fat and keep muscle?

Yes.

A macro-based diet promotes a sensible calorie deficit of just 20%. This helps your body use its fat reserves but keep your muscle tissue intact.

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 simultaneously with macro dieting.

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

Accelerate Your Diet and Fitness Goals with My Macro Solution System

Step-by-step self-guided program -or- fully customized personal macros coaching. Feel exhilarated as you conquer your goals!

MACRO COUNTING

  • 130 page step-by-step guide.
  • Achieve fat loss without starvation.
  • Individually tailored to your body composition.
Learn More
Show article references

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

  • Raj

    Good

    Reply
  • Laura Emmerson

    Hi…I’m 37, female, 140lbs and 157cms tall, I want to lose around 10-14lbs with my focus on becoming more lean and less fat. I run approx 3 miles 3 times per week and I intend to do 3 HIIT type sessions (but haven’t got into the routine of this yet). Can I just check if my calculations seems right for achieving this…1577 Cals per day…C 180g P 115g F 44g??

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Laura, Your macros seem inline with your exercise days but you should also calculate a rest day set of macros since on days you don’t run or do HIIT, your body requires less energy.

      Reply
  • Shanny

    How would I adjust/redistribute the macros when it comes to carb cycling( High carb days on training days and little to no carbs on rest days) ? Do I just split the added grams from the carbs to protein and fat on low carb days? Based on calculator, I would need 1810 calories per day, 207g of carbs, 132g of protein, and 50g of fat. Do I just make this high carb day?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Shanny, You should use two sets of macros since you have two TDEEs. A rest day set and an exercise day set. Use sedentary to calculate for your rest day set.

      Reply
  • Beth

    Hi,

    I am a 27 year old female, weighing 133lbs and I’m 157cm tall. I work out 5-6 days a week, including weight training, HIIT and cardio. So I’ve calculated my macros based on 1200 calories per day. It gives me 133g of protein, 122g of carbs and 20g of fat. But when I put my information into your online calculator it gives me completely different measurements. Am I calculating it wrong?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Beth, Yes, You should be eating more than 1200 calories in light of the exercise you do. Also, you are eating too little fat with those numbers.

      Reply
  • ashley l sullivan

    Hi. I calculated my Macros to where I would be eating 1200 cals for protein, 675 for fat and 845 for carbs. But this is for maintenance. How would I adjust these for carb cycling for high, low, and normal carb days?

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Ashley, That’s a lot of protein! Are you sure you need that much? Your carbs should cycle according to your exercise, not some arbitrary cycle. More when you exercise less when you don’t. See here: https://healthyeater.com/carb-cycling-flexible-dieting

      Reply
      • AshleyLashun

        I used the calculator to determine my macros and it told me 300g of protein per day which is 1200 calories right? I just feel really lost. I need someone to explain this to me like I’m 3 years old. I understand that I should eat high carbs on the days I workout. But I’m just really confused on how to cycle my macros. Is there a formula to use to help me figure out what each one should be cut to?

        Reply
        • Ted

          Hi Ashley, Your question has me confused. 300g of protein? that doesn’t seem right. Cycle your macros? Not sure what you mean by that. Perhaps the best thing for you to do would be to start at the beginning and first, understand the concept of flexible dieting before you jump in to calculating your macros. Check out my book as it will take you through the process from start to finish in a basic way. https://healthyeater.com/macro-solution

          Reply
  • Melissa

    Will the above listed calculations still work if I am calculating my protein based on my goal weight and not my current weight? Mostly everything I’m reading says that I should calculate my protein requirements based on goal weight and not current weight. My goal is to loose around 35lbs.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Melissa, That is technically more accurate because the 1 gram per pound rule is based on lean body mass. However, we have the .825 calculation that would account for this in most cases and probably put you pretty close to your goal weight protein amount.

      Reply
  • Alex

    Hi, i had a quick question. I calculated my macros both for the days I work out plus for my two rest days using the light activity and sedentary options. Right now I am trying to lose weight so I added the calorie deficit at 20%, is it better for me to do my protein calculation at .825 or 1? I also put my fats at around 22%. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Alex, If you’re doing any type of weight training or if you want to help preserve muscle mass than 1 gram per pound is recommended. However, if you have a lot of fat to lose this can skew the calculation. If 50+ pounds of your body weight is fat than 1 gram of protein per pound is too much and .825 is more appropriate.

      Reply
      • Alex

        Hi Ted, thanks so much for answering!
        Currently, those five days I do work out is weight training.

        For the light activity option, I got 154P/38F/148C with the 1:1 ration for Protein, and 127P/38F/175C with the .825.

        I was just conflicted in regards to which one would be most beneficial since the spike in difference between carbs and protein seems to be significant.

        Thanks again!

        Reply
        • Ted

          In that case, do the 1:1 ratio so use the first set.

          Reply
  • Debbie Cindy

    Hi wanted to check. What if I’m currently still breastfeeding my child and planning to lose weight at the same time? I’ve checked from another website (specific for nursing mom) that my caloric needs should be around 1863 cal/day. I work out 3x a week as well. How much should i be needing if i want to lose weight but at the same time being able to breastfeed my baby?

    Reply
  • AnnaLisa Elizabeth

    I tried to calculate the REE formula several times. I keep coming up with a severely low REE and TDEE. I have successfully used the male formula for my boyfriend. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong on my own. I am a 37 year old female. I weigh 135lb (62kg), I’m 5’5″ (65cm).
    10*62 + 6.25*65 – 5*37 – 161= 680 REE
    I work out 4-5 times a week for 30-45 min..running (4miles), vinyasa yoga, weight work incl abs, legs, upper body. I am also very busy in general. I usually count myself as moderately active.
    680*1.55= 1054 calories
    This doesn’t seem possible for me…or healthy.
    I don’t know where I’m messing this up. Can anyone else tell?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Annalisa, Just a simple mistake. You have to convert your height to centimeters not inches. You’re 65 inches tall which is 161.1 cm

      Reply
      • AnnaLisa Elizabeth

        *palm to face. I figured I was something simple. Thank you!!!

        Reply
  • Jenny New

    Hey. I was wondering if you could help me please? I have recently got into fitness. Well I’ve always been on and off but I am determined this time.

    I was having 1,200 cals and someone told me that was way too low for me. So I calculated my info. And the calculator said I should be having this. I’m 20, weigh 63.3kg and my height is 160cm and my body fat is 27.8%
    I am wanting to lose weight and build lean muscle. The results say I should be having 1881 calories. 238g C, 114g P & 52g F! Is that right? I am active I burn between 800-1200 or abit more cals 5/6 times a week. Also I was told to have 5-6 small meals a day should I do that or stay with 3? Hope you can help! Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Jenny, Yes, you hadn’t been eating enough. You need to support your metabolism and your activity. You should divide your eating up as it best suits your hunger levels. I would really recommend getting started on the right foot by getting our flexible dieting solution. https://healthyeater.com/macro-solution

      Reply
      • Jenny New

        Thank you ?

        Reply
  • Jannela Harish

    HI i am harish i want gain muscle and loose my body fat it is around 24% .can i get any advices please?

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Harish, You would want to do the calculations outlined above factoring a 20% calorie deficit. You can also use our calculator which will do this for you.

      Reply
      • Jannela Harish

        HI SIR,how to get a lean body….
        workouts
        diet ,any advices please?

        Reply
  • gabrielle

    Hi i am trying to work out my macros but not sure what to put my TDEE as after exercise, whether it be maintain or lose weight? I’m wanting to lose body fat but gain muscle. I paid for someone to do my macros and they came up with 1500 calories, 101g P, 150g C, 50g fat. Yet when i did your calculations and set it at maintain (as i wasnt sure what to put) i came up with 1881 calories, 92g P, 261 C, 52g F. I’m 5ft 3 female and weigh 112lbs. Can you give any advice please?

    Reply
    • Ted

      Hi Gabrielle, You have to be in a calorie deficit to burn fat but not too much that you won’t gain muscle. Matainance wouldn’t do this for you.

      Reply
      • gabrielle

        Thank you for your reply! So on your macro calculator would i use the lose weight 10% setting or the lose weight 20% one? According to my fitness tracker i burn on average 2000 calories a day and i work out 6x a week.

        Reply