Macro's: A Guide on How to Count Them

Updated: Dec 8, 2021


If you have been to a gym or you're in tune with your health, chances are you’ve heard the term “counting macros.” Popularly used by people looking to shed weight or gain muscle mass, counting macronutrients (macros) can help you reach various health goals. It entails keeping track of the calories and types of foods you eat to achieve certain macronutrient and calorie goals. Though counting macros is relatively simple, it can be confusing if you’re just starting. This article explains the benefits of counting macros and provides a step-by-step guide on how to get started.


What Are Macronutrients?

To successfully count macronutrients, it’s important to know what they are and why some people need different macronutrient ratios than others.


Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fibres.

Most types of carbs get broken down into glucose, or blood sugar, which your body either uses for immediate energy or stores as glycogen — the storage form of glucose — in your liver and muscles. Carbs provide 4 calories per gram and typically make up the largest portion of people’s calorie intake. Carb intake is among the most hotly debated of all macronutrient recommendations, but major health organizations suggest consuming 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs. Carbohydrates are found in foods like grains, starchy vegetables, beans, dairy products and fruits.


Fats

Fats have the most calories of all macronutrients, providing 9 calories per gram.

Your body needs fat for energy and critical functions, such as hormone production, nutrient absorption and body temperature maintenance. Though typical macronutrient recommendations for fats range from 20–35% of total calories, many people find success following a diet higher in fat. Fats are found in foods like oils, butter, avocado, nuts, meat and fatty fish.


Proteins

Like carbs, proteins provide 4 calories per gram. Proteins are vital for processes like cell signalling, immune function and the building of tissues, hormones and enzymes. It’s recommended that proteins comprise 10–35% of your total calorie intake.

However, protein recommendations vary depending on body composition goals, age, health and more. Examples of protein-rich foods include eggs, poultry, fish, tofu and lentils.


How to Count Them

Learning how to count macronutrients does take some effort, but it’s a method that anyone can use.

The following steps will get you started.


1. Figure out Your Calorie Needs

To calculate your overall calorie needs, you need to determine resting energy expenditure (REE) and non-resting energy expenditure (NREE). REE refers to the number of calories a person burns at rest, while NREE indicates calories burned during activity and digestion. Adding REE and NREE gives you the total number of calories burned in a day, also known as total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). To determine your overall calorie needs, you can either use a simple online calculator or the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation:

  • Men: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5

  • Women: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161

Then, multiply your result by an activity factor — a number that represents different levels of activity:

  • Sedentary: x 1.2 (limited exercise)

  • Lightly active: x 1.375 (light exercise less than three days per week)

  • Moderately active: x 1.55 (moderate exercise most days of the week)

  • Very active: x 1.725 (hard exercise every day)

  • Extra active: x 1.9 (strenuous exercise two or more times per day)

The end result gives you your TDEE.

Calories can either be added or subtracted from your total expenditure to reach different goals. In other words, those trying to lose weight should consume fewer calories than they expend, while those looking to gain muscle mass should increase calories.


2. Decide Your Ideal Macronutrient Breakdown

After determining how many calories to consume each day, the next step is to decide what macronutrient ratio works best for you.

Typical macronutrient recommendations are as follows:

  • Carbs: 45–65% of total calories

  • Fats: 20–35% of total calories

  • Proteins: 10–35% of total calories

Keep in mind that these recommendations may not fit your specific needs. Your ratio can be fine-tuned to achieve specific objectives. For example, a person who wants to obtain better blood sugar control and lose excess body fat may excel on a meal plan consisting of 35% carbs, 30% fat and 35% protein. Someone pursuing a ketogenic diet would need much more fat and fewer carbs, while an endurance athlete may need a higher carb intake. As you can see, macronutrient ratios can vary depending on dietary preferences, weight loss goals and other factors.


3. Track Your Macros and Calorie Intake

Next, it’s time to start tracking your macros. The term “tracking macros” simply means logging the foods you eat on a website, app or food journal. The most convenient way to track macros may be through an app like MyFitnessPal, Lose It! or My Macros +.


These apps are user-friendly and specifically designed to simplify tracking macros. In addition, a digital food scale may help you track your macros — though it isn’t necessary. If you invest in one, weigh each food item you eat before logging it into your app of choice.


Several apps feature a barcode scanner that automatically inputs a serving of a scanned food into your macro log. You can also hand-write macros into a physical journal. The method depends on your individual preference. Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to hit your macro targets exactly. You can still meet your goals even if you go a few grams over or under each day.


4. Counting Example

Here’s an example of how to calculate macronutrients for a 2,000-calorie diet consisting of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat.

Carbs:

  • 4 calories per gram

  • 40% of 2,000 calories = 800 calories of carbs per day

  • Total grams of carbs allowed per day = 800/4 = 200 grams

Proteins:

  • 4 calories per gram

  • 30% of 2,000 calories = 600 calories of protein per day

  • Total grams of protein allowed per day = 600/4 = 150 grams

Fats:

  • 9 calories per gram

  • 30% of 2,000 calories = 600 calories of protein per day

  • Total grams of fat allowed per day = 600/9 = 67 grams

In this scenario, your ideal daily intake would be 200 grams of carbs, 150 grams of protein and 67 grams of fat.


In summary, to count macros, determine your calorie and macronutrient needs, then log macros into an app or food journal.


If you need help in calculating any of these formulas, then reach out and contact Discipline Fitness!

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