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The Ultimate Guide to Counting and Tracking Macronutrients

Natasha Jordan author image
An woman portions off food with the help of a food scale to track her macronutrients
For decades, we have been told that “watching your calories is important,” but the truth is that calories are just one piece of the weight loss puzzle.

Keeping track of your macronutrient intake enables you to eat a more balanced diet. 

Your goal should be to strike the perfect balance between your macronutrient intake and your body’s energy needs instead of simply counting calories. 

So, if you’ve been obsessing over calories all these years, it is time to ditch those old ways of thinking and start balancing those macros instead. 

Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about macros and how you can come up with custom macronutrient intake ratios that fit your fitness and weight loss goals.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are an important part of your diet. Human beings need macronutrients to  

Support various systems and structures of the body. Unlike micronutrients, your body requires macros in large amounts every day to function properly.  

You can get macronutrients by eating a wide variety of foods. However, there are three major macros that you should know about:

Carbohydrates

More commonly known as carbs, this macronutrient is your body’s favorite energy source. 

If you are into fitness, then this is the macro you need to pay close attention to since it powers your muscles and brain during physical activity. Carbohydrates that are present in your food are divided into two major types the simple and complex carbs, and here is the difference between the two:

Simple carbs: Simple carbs are sugars, and they can be found in both natural and processed foods. The reason they are called simple carbs is that they are digested quickly and therefore provide a quick energy source for your body. Simple carbs from unhealthy sources such as sugary drinks should be avoided as much as possible. However, other sources of simple carbs such as fruits and milk offer simple carbs in combination with vitamins, calcium, and fiber making them the preferred source of simple carbs.

Complex carbs: Complex carbs contain longer chains of sugar molecules, which means they take longer to digest. They offer a longer-lasting energy source as opposed to simple carbs. Complex carbs are usually present in healthier fiber-rich foods such as brown rice, barely, oats and wild rice. 

So no matter what type of carbs you are trying to eat make sure to get them from the right sources. Unprocessed whole grains, fruits, or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes are an ideal source of good carbs that you should be adding to your diet.

Protein

Protein is required by every cell and tissue. This vital macronutrient is responsible for building and repairing the structures of the human body.

Since protein is required by all the vital structures you can’t expect to lead a healthy life without adding this macro to your diet. Meats are the primary sources of protein however even if you are on a vegetarian diet you can still get protein by adding foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, and soy. 

Proteins are made up of amino acids and amino acids are divided into two categories:

Essential amino acids: Essential amino acids are not synthesized by the body and they need to be absorbed from your diet. So essential amino acids are the ones you get by eating meats and certain plant sources mentioned above.

Non-essential amino acids: These amino acids are synthesized within the body and don’t need to be absorbed from your food.  

Protein-rich diets alongside a low carbohydrate and fat diet can also promote weight loss and improve muscle growth. Protein can also help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. 

Fat

Fat plays a crucial role in storing energy for future use, keeping your organs well protected, and absorbing key vitamins. You can’t expect to cut fats completely out of your diet and still feel healthy. Fats come in two major types and here are the differences between the two:

Saturated fats: Saturated fats are mostly solid at room temperature and are found in animal meats, processed meats, dairy products, and packaged snacks. Saturated fats increase your risk of blood cholesterol spike and therefore should only make up for 5 to 6 percent of your daily calorie intake.  

Unsaturated fats: Most of your fat intake should be in the form of unsaturated fats. These fats are liquid at room temperature and come in the form of plant oils. Unsaturated fats are good fats and they should be used as the primary source of fats for your daily intake. 

With that said, you do have to ensure that the fat you are eating is of the right kind and in the right quantities. Good sources include unsaturated fats such as those found in fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. 

How many calories does each macronutrient have?

Now that you know what macros are and why they are important, it is time to get to the more complex stuff. 

Before we can track how many macros you should be eating per day, it is essential to know how many calories each macronutrient has. 

Luckily, there has been a lot of research on the three core macronutrients that we have mentioned in the previous section. 

Carbs and protein both contain 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram

It is easy to see why people are so scared of fats because consuming a small amount of fat can put more than twice the calories in your system compared to the other two macros. 

However, calories alone don’t tell us much about how we can fit these macros into our diet. So read on to find out how much of each macro you should be eating.  

How many macros should I eat daily? 

Fats

You should get 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from unsaturated fats. Saturated fats should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. 

Protein

As per research, Protein should make up around 25 percent of your diet or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.

Carbs

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake should consist of high fiber complex carbohydrates.

How to calculate macros?

The proportions provided above are general recommendations; they might not be the perfect fit for everyone. To work out your requirements you have to calculate proportions based on your individual caloric needs which are influenced by age, gender, and activity level. 

Besides, if you are still reading this article, you are probably looking for a custom-tailored answer that fits your individual needs. To find that custom answer, you need to know what your calorie needs are. 

We have broken down a general method of calculating ideal macro intake into easy-to-follow steps. 

Step 1: Calculate your daily calorie needs

Everyone is going to have a different daily calorie need depending upon factors such as gender, age, and level of activity. 

To calculate your daily calorie requirements, we recommend using the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation below:

For Men: caloric needs/day = 10 x weight (pound) + 6.25 x height (inch) – 5 x age + 5

For Women: calories needs/day = 10 x weight (pound) + 6.25 x height (inch) – 5 x age – 161

Now that you have a number that represents your daily calories needs, you can multiply that number with an activity factor to get a total daily energy expenditure. 

Different activity factors are as follows:

  • Very little activity: x1.2
  • Light activity: x 1.375
  • Moderate activity: x 1.55 
  • High activity: x 1.725
  • Very high activity: 1.9

Multiplying your daily calorie needs with the above-mentioned activity factors is going to give a number that represents how many calories you use daily based on your activity level. 

Step 2: Know the right macronutrient ratio

Now that you know how many calories you need, you are going to need the right macronutrient ratio that suits your fitness goals. Generally, a macro ratio of 40/40/20 (carbs, protein, fat) is recommended for weight loss. However, for gaining and maintaining body weight, a ratio of 40/30/30 often works the best. 

Step 3: Find out how many calories each macro should provide

Your daily calorie needs and your ideal macro ratio, all you have to do is calculate the portion each nutrient should make up for in your total daily calorie intake.

For example, if your ideal daily calorie intake comes out to 2300 and your ideal macro ratio happens to be 50 percent carbs, 25 percent proteins, and 25 percent fats, then the portion each macro makes up for looks something like this. 

Carbs: 2300 x 0.50=1150 calories

Protein: 2300 x 0.25= 575 calories

Fat: 2300 x 0.25 = 575 calories

The next step now that you have the separate calorie values for carbs, proteins, and fat, you can divide the calories you got for carbs and protein with 4 and that of fat with 9 to get your macros in grams. 

These simple yet accurate macro calculation formulas take healthy eating a step beyond simple calorie tracking. The values you get at first might not work for you forever.

As you age, your fitness goals change, or you find that your macros aren’t up to par, it is essential to keep adjusting these values to maintain progress.

Why should I track macros?

Counting macros may not be for everyone. However, if you have very specific weight loss or fitness goals or simply want to improve your diet quality, then tracking your macros will help.

Let’s put it this way. A serving of burgers and fries may have the same calories as a chicken salad. But that doesn’t mean both of them have equal amounts of macronutrients.

Even with similar calorie values, burgers and fries contain higher amounts of bad fats compared to the chicken salad that makes them less healthy overall. 

Not to mention, if your goal is to lose weight, there is no better way to achieve your goal than tracking your macronutrients.

How to Meet Your Needs?

Luckily, fulfilling your macro intake is not difficult. You can meet your need for each macronutrient through these readily available foods:

Carbs: Carbohydrates are found in:

  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Starchy veggies
  • Milk
  • Fruits

Protein: Some protein-rich foods are:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts
  • Beans

Fat: You can find good fat in:

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil 

Conclusion

Your body is a temple, and the last thing you want to do is eat unhealthy foods. While we know tracking your macros helps keep you fit, and at a healthy weight, sometimes we may need help. Apps such as Noom and Diet to Go can help you work your macro requirements out and provide a weight loss plan. These plans can help you figure out where you went wrong in your diet so that you can get your weight loss journey back on track. Alternatively, you can find a weight loss plan that suits your needs by having a look at our Best Weight Loss Plans.

Natasha Jordan author image
Natasha Jordan is a Melbourne-based health and wellness writer and qualified nutritionist. She holds a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine) and Postgraduate certificate in International Public Health with over 13 years of experience in the field of health and wellness.

The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.