How To Count Macros: An Ultimate Guide

If weight loss is your goal, learning how to count macros could be the very thing you need to succeed in dropping the pounds. Furthermore, once you understand how to count macros, your workouts will undoubtedly improve as you will appreciate how much of an impact nutrition has on overall performance.

As part of following a healthy lifestyle, one of the most common things someone does is inspect the nutritional facts label on the product they are interested in purchasing.

However, contrary to popular belief, the number of calories in a particular food shouldn’t necessarily be the only piece of information one should use to determine if one will indeed consume that product.

Instead, another option is to assess the macronutrients.

What Are Macros?

The word “Macronutrient” is enough to freak some out, but honestly, there’s no reason to be concerned.

A macro – or macronutrient – is a type of food that your diet requires in substantial amounts.

There are three macronutrients that humans need to keep us alive, and they are:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats

Protein

Protein is the essential macronutrient as it does a considerable amount for protecting the body.

It helps protect you against illness, build muscle, grow, recover from injuries, plus much more.

Protein is in fish, beef, poultry, cheese, and others things.

There are four calories per gram of protein.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the food source that provides us with energy to function throughout the day and perform during exercise.

Carbohydrates are in potatoes, bread, pasta, vegetables, beans, and much more.

There are four calories per gram of carbohydrate.

Fats

Though frowned upon by many, fats are essential in helping provide the body with energy and to support cell function.

Fats also play an important role in producing vital hormones, plus they help keep your body warm.

Another great thing about fats is that they are satiating, meaning we can last without food for a substantial amount of time if necessary.

Fats are in fatty fish, meats, oils, nuts, avocados, etc.

There are nine calories per gram of fat.

Macronutrient Ratios

There is no one-size-fits-all for the number of macros we need. It is an individual thing.

Interestingly, the federal dietary recommendations suggest the following breakdown:

  • 45 to 60% from carbohydrates
  • 20 to 35% from essential fats
  • The remainder from protein

Their recommendations are based on the fact that the body uses carbs as its primary fuel source. It is the most accessible macro for the body to turn food into energy than protein and fats, which take substantially longer to use as an energy source.

However, this shouldn’t be seen as gospel, as our goals can differ from person-to-person.

For example, one person may feel their body responds much more efficiently to a low-carb diet than a diet higher in carbs.

Using myself here, I find it incredibly challenging to function on a low-carb diet. It is not sustainable for me long-term, especially if I am on a weight loss diet.

Another example is that some people’s body adapts and thrives off a diet high in protein, whereas others experience digestive issues if they ingest too much.

How to Work Out Your Macros

So, at this point, you understand what macros are, how many calories they have, and the recommended percentage split of each type of macro (protein, carbohydrate, and fats) for a healthy diet.

However, percentages don’t mean much to us, considering that food information is given in grams.

Let’s break this down in a bit more detail. We’ll use my macro information as an example.

  1. Figure out how many calories you should eat each day. I eat circa 2,500 calories right now.
  2. Establish a ratio that is good for you. For me, it’s 35% protein, 35% carbs, and 30% fats.
  3. Multiply your total daily calories by your macro percentages from point number two.
  4. Take each calorie amount from step three and divide them by their associated gram number.

Again, let’s take my numbers and do a little math.

Remember that my total daily calories are 2,500.

Protein:

Multiply 2,500 by 0.35, which equals 875.

That means I eat 875 calories purely from protein.

875/4 = 218.75g protein each day.

Of course, it is easier to round that number down to 218g because it’s impossible to get zero point three grams of protein from a food source.

Carbs:

The outcome is precisely the same as protein because protein and carbs are split evenly (35%), and both have four calories per gram of each macronutrient.

Fats:

Multiply 2,500 by 0.30, which equals 750.

That means I eat 750 calories purely from fats.

750/9 = 83.3g fat each day. Round it down to 83g.

I’m not gifted at math, so if you’re like me, you can check out one of many macro calculators online that will calculate all this for you and save you time and potentially a headache.

The Best Macro Calculators

Muscle for Life

Price: Free

The Muscle for Life calculator is well respected when it comes to details, as it takes into account three key factors: your weight, body fat percentage (you can guess if you do not know this), and activity level.

Once it has the three lots of information, it determines your basal metabolic rate, lean body mass, and total daily energy expenditure.

If you think that’s cool, there’s more.

You have the option to choose your goals, whether that is weight loss, maintaining your current weight and body fat, or gaining weight. Once you select which option you want, it will tell you exactly how many macros (and calories) you need.

Another huge plus is that the macros it spits out are only suggestions. Feel free to use the sliders at the bottom to adjust the ratio as you see fit.

Although I like this calculator as it is more detailed than some of the others, at the same time, it’s not practical for everyone as it requires you to know your body composition to use it.

IIFYM

Price: Free; however, you must enter your email address to see your results.

IIFYM is an acronym for “If It Fits Your Macros.”

The name is a phrase commonly used by the macro-tracking community referring to their flexible dieting approach.

This calculator is comprehensive, ideal for the folk who love the nitty-gritty in things.

When establishing macros, it asks you more questions than the other calculators to be as accurate as possible.

For example, it wants to know how much exercise you do each week and how active you are at work.

It also asks if you have any medical conditions, information on your current diet, and wants to learn of any cravings you may have.

Healthy Eater

Price: Free

Healthy Eater’s macro calculator considers your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level to determine the macronutrient ratio for you.

You can adapt your calculation based on your goal. For example, weight loss, gaining weight, maintaining your weight, or losing 10% body fat.

In my opinion, there is a benefit to this calculator because the ratio can be seen across the day as a whole: three meals, four meals, or five meals.

How to Track Your Macros

You’ve done all the hard work up to now, so let’s put this valuable information to use, shall we?

The term “Tracking macros” means you add up all your meals over the day to ensure you’re eating according to your ratio.

If you’re confused and perhaps a little worried, please don’t be.

Nobody expects you to sit there and manually add up every macronutrient you eat – that’s crazy.

We’re in 2022 and have digital programs that track every macro for you.

The Best Macro Trackers

My Macros+

Price: $2.99 to download from app stores.

MyMacros+ is a pretty cool macro tracking app because it has a vast food database and barcode scanning feature to scan your food.

On top of that, you can enter custom foods for any homemade recipes you make, which saves you bags of time instead of logging every ingredient. Also, you have the option to track your body weight.

A huge selling point for MyMacros+ is that it’s usable without access to the internet, which is a major win compared to other competitors, so if you’re off the grid, you needn’t worry about how to count macros.

MyFitnessPal

Price: Free, or $10 per month for the premium version.

To start tracking your macros in the free version of MyFitnessPal, you choose the number of calories you want to eat each day and your macro ratio. The app will show your macro breakdown in a pie chart, revealing your percentages when logging your food.

Like MyMacros+, MyFitnessPal has a highly vast database of foods and drinks and a barcode to scan the food you eat.

The premium version, however, offers you more detailed macro feedback. Not only that, your monthly subscription has additional features such as food timestamps, food analyses, and weekly reports, to name a few.

Cronometer

Price: It is free online, the app is $2.99, and the gold membership is a subscription of $5.99 per month.

The Cronometer tracker not only tracks macros but also tracks vitamins and minerals.

In addition to this, you can track important biometrics like cholesterol, blood pressure, mood, sleep, pulse, and more; however, you must have this information to use these features.

If you have access to these biometrics, then Cronometer will be beneficial, as it provides insights into long-term trends, which shows your overall health on a grander scale.

That said, if you prefer to track macros, then the additional metrics Cronometer offers are probably a little too much for you and not necessary.

Should I Be Tracking Macros?

The requirement of leading a healthy lifestyle isn’t to be overcomplicated:

  • Exercise a minimum of three times per week – or at least get the body moving a little each day.
  • Get adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night is ideal)
  • Drink plenty of water (around a gallon per day)
  • Focus on eating unprocessed foods for 85% of your diet.

If you follow this, then, in my opinion, tracking macros is not necessary.

Another thing is that many people who track macros find it frustrating and time-consuming, although if you turn tracking into a habit, you’ll get pretty good at natural portion control, which is a bonus.

However, counting macros can work well for those who wish to optimize athletic performance, prepare for a bodybuilding show, or follow a flexible dieting approach, meaning you can eat whichever foods you want to as long as they fit within your macro budget.

The people who tend to lean towards flexible dieting dislike food restriction.

Final Thoughts

Counting macros may not be necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle. It can be frustrating, time-consuming, and has developed obsession and control issues in some individuals.

However, it can be an excellent skill for those with fitness goals or if weight loss is a priority, as they may benefit from this approach.

About the author

Chris Jones

I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).