How to Calculate Your Macros and REE for Body Transformation
Understanding macros and the formula to calculate macros and your REE is highly effective for helping you reach your body transformation goals.
If you’re new to counting macros, understanding macros is simple.
- The word macros is short for macronutrients.
- The three macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- Macros are the basis of all the calories (energy) you consume.
- Protein contains 4 calories in each gram.
- Carbs contain 4 calories in each gram.
- Fat contains 9 calories in each gram.
Before you read this make sure you’ve read the article What is Flexible Dieting? to ensure you understand the philosophy of counting macros and why learning to eat in a moderate fashion is often best.
Understanding macros and how to calculate and adjust your daily macro goals is one of the most important aspects of a macro diet, so learning to do this is important to your success.
Your ability to calculate and adjust your macros accurately will largely determine whether or not you reach your physique goals and how fast you get there.
Everybody is different (yes, you are a unique snowflake…) so calculating your macros is just the beginning. And even the most experienced macro coaches working with clients may do a few adjustments as their clients progress.
Each person’s metabolism, overall health, and lifestyle all play a vital role in how much energy we actually burn and how much of each macronutrient we should be eating.
But, starting with some solid guidelines, even if it isn’t quite right, can be a good start on your journey to dominate your goals and getting the body you want.
Beginner’s Guide to the Macro Formula and REE Calculation
When getting started with counting macros the most important thing to calculate your REE (Resting Energy Expenditure) and your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).
I’ve written more about that 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
Basic Macro Formula for Calculating Your REE
The Mifflin, M. D., St Jeor formula is one of the most popular and one of the most respected macro formulas used to calculate your REE. Here how to use the formula to calculate your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), which is the energy it takes to run your body without any movement whatsoever.
10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5 = REE
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.
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 more than about 650 calories for females or more than 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:
(10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5 = REE) x 1.725 = TDEE
10 x 88 + 6.25 x 183 – 5 x 29 + 5 = REE
880 + 1144 – 145 + 5 = 1884 (REE)
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.
Determining Macros for Fat Loss (Weight Loss)
If you want to lose weight I recommend dropping your overall calories by no more than 20% to start with. Many people believe that they should cut 500 calories, but this isn’t a one size fits all rule. Deducting 20% is a much better universal rule to go by.
In the example, this would take the guy’s calories from 3,250 to 2,600 for weight loss.
3,250 – (3250 x .20) = Weight Loss TDEE
Determining 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.
In the example, this would take the guy’s calories from 3,250 to 3,900 for weight gain.
3,250 + (3250 x .20) = Weight Gain TDEE
Again, if you hate math, I do all of this for you with my Online Macro Calculator.
Basic Macro Formula Exceptions
- The Very Lean
For those with very little body fat and a high proportion of lean body mass, the standard IIFYM formula isn’t best. The standard formula factors in an average body fat percentage, so those with below-average will have a lower TDEE calculated with the standard formula than would be typical. Muscle tissue burns more calories even at rest, therefore, should be accounted for. When using our macronutrient calculator, simply use the “Lean Mass” setting. This switches to McArdle, Katch Formula which is the most accurate for those with low body fat.
- The Obese
Just like the very lean, the very heavy have an above-average body fat percentage and this also skews the standard formula’s results. Fat tissue isn’t active tissue and requires very little energy to maintain itself. For obese individuals, total fat weight should be considered in the equation. Here’s a more in-depth article that discusses how counting macros works for obese individuals.
With this knowledge alone you could get started towards your goal. Counting calories can be a very effective way to lose weight (here are some stories of others who’ve done this).
I’ve found losing weight and losing fat can be two different things (you can lose muscle too), hence the importance of measuring each macronutrient.
How to Determine Your Ideal Macro Ratios
Now that you understand REE calculation and your TDEe, you can determine how much of each macronutrient you should be consuming based on your body and goals.
Again, here are the calorie (energy) values for each macronutrient:
- 1g Protein = 4 Calories
- 1g Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
- 1g 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 – like what happens when you work out. Protein should be your new best friend if you want to gain or maintain muscle.
Here’s how to calculate how many of your calories should be devoted to protein.
- When already lean and lifting heavy for bodybuilding use a measure of 1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
- 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.
Here’s a more detailed article about daily protein amounts and how to eat more of it.
Calculate how much fat you need daily.
Next, let’s calculate your daily fat amount. Fat has been demonized 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 very 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.
To figure out 25% of Overall TDEE:
3,250 Calories x 0.25 ( = 812.5 Calories) divided 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.
If there’s one thing the Macros/Flexible Dieting community of the world agrees on it’s this: We love carbs!
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.
- Carbs don’t make you fat.
- Carbs don’t prevent weight loss.
- Just looking at carbs doesn’t make you gain a pound.
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, which is important to track if you want to be healthy, is also a carbohydrate but only about 30-40% of it can be used by the body for energy.
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.
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, Fat 90 g, and 448 g Carbohydrates for this guy to maintain his current weight.
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.
Convert Macro Grams Back to Calories?
If you ever need to convert your macro grams back to calories, it’s pretty simple. Remember above when we listed the calorie value for each of the 3 macros?
- 1g Protein = 4 Calories
- 1g Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
- 1g 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. (9×4=36)
- 9 grams of carbohydrates would have a calorie value of 36. (9×4=36)
- 9 grams of fat would have a calorie value of 81. (9X9=81)
Macros For Beginners
Beginners can easily 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
2. Buy a Food Scale
A lot of nutritional information is available on food packaging, however, a scale will ensure you accurately track what you eat.
And that’s it. Do the above and you will be well on your way to getting started with understanding macros and Flexible Dieting. Practice makes perfect and the same thing is true with beginners and macros. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
So get started and adjust as needed!
- 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.