Calculating Your Macros: The Easy Way To Work Out What You​ Should Be Eating

Nutrients are the key to health and fitness, but where do you get your nutrients from? Finding out could be the answer to unlocking your body goals, whether that’s losing fat and weight or building muscle.

How do you calculate your macros?

  1. Calculate the number of calories you need based on your health and fitness goals
  2. Determine the ratio of Carbohydrate, Proteins, and Fats you need
  3. Eat foods that provide the calories you need in the ratio of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat

No, let’s detail these steps because what we eat actually isn’t as important as its macro-nutritional make-up, that’s why calculating macros is the craze sweeping the health and fitness world.

What Are Macros?

‘Macros’ is shorthand for macronutrients.

Macronutrients are the three big nutrient building blocks in your diet: carbohydrates, fat and protein. You can also add alcohol to this if you’re a drinker. You need more substantial amounts of these three main macronutrients in your diet compared to micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals).

If you don’t get enough (or too much) of each macronutrient, you’ll know quickly. Each macronutrient contains calories, which provide the body with energy.

Macronutrients also provide you with amino acids (from protein) and fatty acids (via fat). Your body can’t make fatty acids or essential amino acids, which means you need to eat them to survive.

True story: the human body can function without alcohol or carbs. Then again, is a life without bread and wine a life worth living?

Why Count Your Macros?

Why are people so bent on the idea of micromanaging your macronutrients?

Counting macros allows you more freedom than you get from counting calories alone or elimination diets. Because no food is off-limits, you make conscious decisions about what to add to your daily intake.

For example, you can eat Oreos or a cheeseburger, but you may not be able to have both and still meet your macro goals.

Wait, you can eat cheeseburgers? Yes, when it comes to changing your body weight and shape, your total caloric intake and the division of macronutrients outweighs the individual foods.

 Oreos and protein shakes

That’s why you can theoretically eat nothing but Oreos and protein shakes and still probably lose weight. (Don’t do that.)

Freedom ironically means more commitment because your diet comes down to your choices rather than a strict plan and online tools like MyFitnessPal give not only calorie but macro levels of popular foods too.

Finally, counting your macros is a good idea because it allows you to see what you eat, and you can then use a device like a Lumen to further improve what you eat and when you eat too.

You’ll never get the same clarity by guessing or eyeballing it. When you find out where your calories come from, you’ll be in a better position to assess your current diet.

Don’t Track Your Macros If…

Tracking your macros is less involved than other methods of counting or measuring. However, if you have ever struggled with disordered eating or an eating disorder, then you shouldn’t track your macros.

It would be irresponsible to recommend tracking macros for those groups because it can trigger old habits or new obsessions.

How to Calculate Your Macros – The Details

You’ll count your macros by tracking your intake of carbs, fat, and protein.

But before you start to count, you need to know the sum of your caloric/macro needs.

1. Start by Determining the Calories You Need

Before you count anything, you need to know the sum because it provides consistency.

These are two figures: your resting energy expenditure (REE) and the non-resting figure (NREE). Your REE is the number of calories you burn just by living, and NREE covers the calories your burn as part of digestion and your daily activity.

When you combined the two, you get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

A simple way to do this is to use what’s called the Mifflin-St. Jeor formula or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). It works as follows:

Men: calories/day = [(10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm)] – (5 x age) + 5

Women: calories/day = 10 x weight in kg + 6.25 x height in cm – 5 x age – 161

With that equation, you multiply your results by your activity. Here’s a chart:

  • Sedentary – 1.2
  • Light activity – 1.375
  • Moderate activity – 1.55
  • Very active – 1.725
  • Extra active – 1.9

Extra active means you work out hard at least twice a day.

So if you’re an 80kg (176lb) man who’s 1.78m (5ft 10 inches) and 40 years old the calculation looks like this:

[(10 x 80) + (6.25 x 1.78)] – (5 x 40) + 5 = 616.125

And when you take account of activity levels you can see your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE):

If you’re sedentary your TDEE is 616.125 x 1.2 = 739 (to the nearest calorie)

If you are very active your TDEE is 616.125 x 1.725 = 1,062 (to the nearest calorie)

2. Factor in Your Macros

You get approximately this many calories from each of the four macros:

  • Four calories per gram of protein
  • Four calories per gram of carbs
  • Nine calories per gram of fat
  • Seven calories per gram of alcohol

If you are on the typical diet, then you should be getting your caloric intake this way:

  • Carbs – 45-65 percent of daily calories
  • Proteins – 10-35 percent of daily calories
  • Fats – 20-35 percent of total calories

However, the standard ratio doesn’t work for all bodies or all goals. You can fine-tune your macro ratio to reach certain goals.

For example, if you’re looking to shed body fat, you might lower your carb intake to just below the typical among and instead max out your fat and protein intake. People on the keto diet tend to follow this route.

3. Keep a Record

Keep a Record

You’ll need to track the type and amount of food you eat. You can do this manually in a journal or as part of an app or website again something like MyFitnessPal does this but so does Cronometer as do many of the activity tracking apps.

If you tend to cook all your food from scratch, tracking your macros becomes far more straightforward with a digital food scale. The weight allows you to track the calorie/macro count without any guessing.

Otherwise, you’ll need to read the labels on your food or ask for a nutrient breakdown at a restaurant.

4. Adjust and Re-Adjust

If you have a specific goal in mind, you’re not going to hit the right macro ratio the first time you calculate it.

You might find that cutting back to 30 percent carbs is too much for your body and that 35 percent suits you better. Too much protein might hit your digestive system like a wrecking ball.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, and go with what feels right for your body.

5. Remember, It’s Not Just Your Macros

Don’t get so bogged down in your carb vs. protein vs. fat intake that you miss out on other lifestyle factors standing in the way of your goals.

Other factors like hydrationsleep, and micronutrients play a role in your overall wellness.

Count Macros Not Points

Where do you get your calories from? Learning how to calculate your macros is one way to find out.

Counting your macros is a freeing way to assess your diet and make the right adjustments for your goals. For many, it means a healthier relationship with food and encourages strategic decision-making.

Do you know how many macros you need? Get started by finding out how much protein you need.

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