Nutrition

Counting Macros: What They Are and How to Count Them?

You’re probably familiar with that idea of ‘counting your calories’. But did you know that counting macros can help you to hit your fitness goals too?

To help you work out what counting macros is all about and how to count macros, I’ve created the ultimate step-by-step guide. As the head trainer and nutritionists, I’ve compiled everything you need to know about counting calories here. First of all, we’ll look at what macros are? Why should I even count macros? How do I count my macros? Can I just count my calories?

  1. What are macros?
  2. Why should you track and count your macros?
  3. How to count macros
  4. How to calculate macros (including calorie calculator)
  5. My macro diet recommendations
  6. An example of a macro diet for building muscle or burning fat [Infographic]
  7. Helpful ways to easily count your macros
  8. Where to start your macro diet

So let’s begin…

 

What are Macros?

Macronutrients (macros for short) are what makes up the calorie content of food. The three categories of macros are fats, carbohydrates, and protein. It is important to count your macros and not just your calories because where you are getting your calories from really does matter.

Each macro provides a certain number of calories per gram.

calories per macro

Getting the right amount of protein, fat, and carbs will determine whether you are building or losing muscle and whether you are putting on or losing fat. We all have different fitness goals so it is important to track your macros according to what your goals are… but we will get into that later.

For now, let’s dive just a little bit deeper into each of the three macros.

Protein

chicken-kabobs

You have probably heard me talking a lot about protein at this point if you follow me on social media, or have done any of my programs… I am simply a belieber-I mean believer-in the power of protein. Hey, Justin Bieber, I see you too… but… protein still takes the cake.

Protein is the most essential macronutrient for those trying to reach their fitness goals. Prioritizing protein will help you to build muscle and help to prevent muscle loss. It is also the most satiating macro, helping you to be able to stave off hunger and feel fuller longer.

The primary source of complete proteins: Meat, whey and eggs.

 

Carbs

oatmeal best carbs macros

We get our main source of energy from carbohydrates. And let’s just talk about how important energy is for a moment. As a mom, businesswoman and athlete, I simply need energy to get through the day, as I am always go-go-go! I am sure so many of you can relate. Guys, life just gets really busy. Carbs are vital to physical activity and important for our mental health. There are two different kinds of carbs: simple and complex.

Simple Carbs- These are easily digested so they will provide us with some quick energy. Ex: table sugar, brown sugar, candy, soda, honey, fruit.

Complex Carbs- These are more nutritious than simple carbs, are higher in fiber, and take longer to digest to keep you fuller longer. Complex carbs also provide more sustained energy than simple carbs. Ex: whole grains, vegetables, oats.

 

Fat

macros Fats like avocados

Fats help to keep our hormone levels in balance and they are essential nutrients that our bodies need to live. Make sure that you are getting your fats from healthy sources and stay away from trans-fats, as these foods will not help you to reach your fitness goals.

Good sources for fats: avocado, nuts, coconut oil, avocado oil, and EVOO (Rachael Ray anyone?!).

We also need to obtain essential fatty acids  (EFAs) from foods and supplements as our bodies cannot produce these on their own. These EFA’s build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to support the normal functioning of all tissues in our bodies. Ex: Fish oil, salmon, walnuts.

Why Should you Track and Count your Macros?

Counting your macros is so so important! Getting the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat into your macro diet will help you to reach your fitness goals, whether you are trying to lose some weight, put on muscle, etc.

Meal plans should have a good balance of all three macros. When your diet is too low in protein you could end up losing muscle instead of fat, which can result in a slower metabolism. If you aren’t getting enough carbs you may be very low in energy, and if you are too low in fats you might suffer from hormonal imbalances. If carbs or fats are too high you may not see fat loss results.

 

How to Count Macros?

To count macros you need to determine how much of each macronutrient you need daily, which is based on your individual body composition and fitness goals. Once determined, you go beyond just counting calories and track how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein a food will provide. You can then plan your macro diet around foods that will help you reach your daily macro targets.

By tracking your macros you really are tracking your calories, but instead of just skimming the surface you are going into more depth. In case you missed the graphic above, here are the conversions from grams to calories for carbs, fat, and protein.

  • CARBS: 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
  • FAT: 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
  • PROTEIN: 1 gram of protein = 4 calories

So if you had a food item that had 15g of carbs, 1g of fat and 20 grams of protein it would have approx 149 calories.

But if you are counting macros don’t worry about also hitting an exact calorie goal. Your calories will be where they need to be when you are hitting your macros.

 

Is Counting Macros Difficult?

Figuring out your macros really doesn’t have to be that hard! When looking at a nutrition label you just need to look at serving size, total fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

macro nutrition label

This is a super easy example because IdealLean Chocolate Brownie Protein is low in carbs and free of fat! Thank you IdealLean! So in this example, we can see that there are 0g of fat, 3g of carbs and 20g of protein.

  • Fat= 0g
  • Carbohydrates= 3g
  • Protein= 20g

How to Calculate Macros

Calculating macros means to figure out how much of each macro you should be eating every day. Figuring out these figures isn’t exactly cut and dry, and depends in large measure upon your age, gender, activity level, and even your genetic makeup-some people just naturally burn more calories!

But the first step will be to determine how many calories you need each day. This is also not an exact science, but a simple calorie calculator you can find online can give you a general idea. You can simply plug your info into the boxes to get a rough estimate of how many calories you should be aiming for on a daily basis.

Once you know how many calories you should be getting each day, the next step in calculating your macros is to set a percentage for each macro. If you’re trying out a special low-carb, extra high-protein, or ketogenic diet, your percentages will be different than what I’m about to layout. You might also need to adjust based on other certain factors, like how your body handles carbs. But a general starting point for a macro percentage breakdown might look something like 40% carbs, 35% protein, 25% fat.

This means that, if your daily calorie need was 1800 calories, then 40% of those would come from carbs, 35% would come from protein, and 25% would come from fat. Then you would just need to plug in a little math! Here’s an example:

Carbs: 40% x 1800 calories = 720 calories from carbs

Fat: 25% x 1800 calories = 450 calories from fat

Protein: 35% x 1800 calories = 630 calories from protein

Once you know how many calories you’ll want from each macro, you’re almost there! Just one more step to figure out how many grams of each macro you’ll want to aim for. Using the numbers from the previous section, you could calculate the following:

Carbs: 720 calories ÷ 4 calories/gram = 180g carbs

Fat: 450 calories ÷ 9 calories/gram = 50g fat

Protein: 630 calories ÷ 4 calories/gram = 157g protein

Now that you know how many grams of each macro you’ll be aiming for each day, you can go ahead and plan out your meals to try and reach those numbers!

 

Macro Recommendations From A Nutritionists

We all have different fitness goals. But as a general guideline, we will split it up into two different categories:

  • counting macros to build muscle
  • counting macros to lose weight

Note: These are only samples of what I do. This is not meant to show that anyone else can follow and have the same results. 

 

1. Counting Macros To Build Muscle

muscle diet for building muscle

2. Counting Macros To Lose Weight

macro diet for fat loss

(I don’t worry about counting veggies in my macros, consider them a freebie :))

Step-By-Step Guide To Counting Macros?

1. Plan your food the night before. When you try to “wing it”, it rarely works out where you meet your macros.

2. Figure out through trial and error your typical serving size of protein and use that regularly. It’s common for women to be deficient in protein. But when you know that you need 4 oz of meat for your lunch and dinner meal, for example, you just always plug that in and you’ll hit your numbers easier.

3. Get a Macro Book. It will go into a lot more detail and help you learn how to reach your macros.

4. Use an app such as MyFitnessPal. Trying to do it by hand is much more time-consuming. All you have to do is enter your foods and it will do all the math for you!

5. Don’t give up! Keeping track of your macros can be a little tedious at first, but soon it will become second nature. Calculating your macros based on your goals will take some trial and error, but that too will become easy over time.

 

 



Lindsey Mathews

Lindsey Mathews

Head Trainer & Nutritionist

Lindsey Mathews is the Head Trainer and Nutritionist at IdealFit. She is a NSCA-CSCS certified personal trainer, C-ISSN certified sports nutritionist, Pn. 1 certified nutrition coach, and a nationally qualified NPC bikini competitor. Before joining IdealFit, she ran the largest boot camp program in Utah County.


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