Learning how to calculate macros and how to track them efficiently can be one of the most self-liberating and self-empowering things you can do when trying to take control of your health, wellness, physical appearance, and your performance. Do you have to track forever? Nope. Does it mean you can eat anything and everything you want? Not necessarily. Does it mean that you’ll gain a tremendous amount of knowledge about the food you put into your body on a daily basis and how it helps you, or prevents you, from making progress? Absolutely!
In this article about how to calculate macros, we aim to provide you with the information you need to be successful at optimizing your health, body, and fitness. Shall we?
What are Macronutrients (aka Macros)?
Your body breaks down macronutrients and uses their nutrient density to create energy, build the body structurally, create chemical reactions, and stimulate the healthy functioning and release of hormones. What you eat can positively or negatively impact the way you feel, perform, your mood and even your behavior.
What are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that make up the nutrient content of macronutrients. These are especially important for a body to be healthy and function well on a day to day basis and they depend on the quality of the macronutrients that you choose to incorporate into your diet.
- Vitamins: organic compounds made by plants and animals; they can be broken down by heat, acid or air.
- Minerals are inorganic compounds found in both soil and water, which cannot be broken down.
Micronutrients are also referred to as ‘essential nutrients’ because each one has a specific role and function within the human body.
Do Calories Matter?
Calories matter, but remember; all calories come from macronutrients. However, micronutrients themselves do not contain calories. Only the macros (protein, fat, carb, & alcohol) yield calories.
- Carbohydrates (1g carb = 4 calories)
- Protein (1g Protein = 4 calories)
- Fats (1g Fat = 9 calories)
- Alcohol (1g alcohol = 7 calories)
You certainly can track calories, but if you're looking for a more accurate approach to improving your overall health, body composition, and performance, you're going to want to track your macros. As compared to tracking calories, which disregards what the calories come from (protein, carb, fat), tracking macros ensures that the calories you eat are getting you the intended results.
How To Determine Macros
Determining the macros on a nutrition label is pretty straight forward. Take a look at a nutrition label and break it down, starting with the serving size. Often, products contain 2-4 servings in a package (or more) so it’s important your serving size matches the macros that you log. Don’t get caught in the mindless consumer trap, thinking that you’re consuming less than you are.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Step By Step Guide To Reading A Nutrition Label
Lucky for you, the new nutrition labels that the FDA is requiring brands put on their products require them to list the nutrition facts for both a single serving and the whole package, like the box of M&M’s below. As you can see, there are 3 servings per container, and only 1/3 of a box (or 29g) is the serving size.
There’s a 42g difference in carbohydrates for example between a single serving and eating the whole box. So, depending on how much you eat, that’s how you’re going to determine your macros and what to log in your journal or on your app.
How To Track Your Macros?
How to track your macros is interchangeable with how to count your macros and it’s really quite simple and straight forward:
- Read nutrition labels
- Use a food scale or measuring cups instead of eyeballing
- Log your intake on a food tracking app or in a journal
By doing these three steps, you can better understand just how many calories are in foods and that you’re putting into your body in order to be more aware of how they influence your body composition, energy levels, and performance.
How Many Macros Do I Need?
The amount of macros (protein, carbs, fat) that you need on a daily basis is dependent upon your personal goals. Are you looking to lose weight, lose body fat, increase muscle mass/size, maintain weight, improve overall health and wellness, etc.? Without knowing the goal, there really is no direct answer to this question.
What Is The Best Macronutrient Ratio?
The best macronutrient ratio is the one that... works for you and your body. Every person is different in their needs, body composition, genetic makeup, and overall health, which is why working 1:1 with a nutrition coach can be extremely beneficial. Not only do they keep you accountable and on track, but they help teach you about your individual body and what levels and types of nutrients fuel it best so that you're not just taking shots in the dark with your ratios.
That being said, you’re not totally at a loss, we promise. In order to determine how many macros you need, you need to establish a macronutrient ratio for your body and your goals.
A general macronutrient ratio for balanced nutrition is:
- 45-60% carbohydrates
- 20-35% fats
- 30-45% protein
Depending on the goal, you're going to either increase or decrease the percentages within the groups, as seen below in the graphic.
How To Calculate Your Macros
Now that you know what macronutrients are, how many calories they have, and a general macronutrient ratio for balanced health (and a few general goals), you can begin to calculate your macros (by doing some math, oh boy!). While the macronutrient ratio is written in percentages, the nutrition information found on a label or in a portion of food is provided in grams.
Here’s what you will need to know before calculating your macros:
- How many calories do you eat in a day (roughly, we’ll use 2300 calories for example)
- Determine your ideal ratio of protein, carbs, and fat (we’ll use 50% carbs, 25% protein, 25% fat for example)
- Multiply your daily calories by your percentages
- Divide your calorie totals by its calorie-per-gram number
Here’s how to calculate your macros based on 2,300 calories per day
- Carbs: 2,300 x 0.50 = 1,150 calories from carbohydrates
- Protein: 2,300 x 0.25 = 575 calories from protein
- Fats: 2,300 x 0.25 = 575 calories from fat
Here's how to calculate your macros into grams
- Carbs (4 calories per gram): 1,150 divided by 4 = 287.5g carbs
- Protein (4 calories per gram): 575 divided by 4 = 143.75g protein
- Fat (9 calories per gram): 575 divided by 9 = 63.8g fat
The following sections are general estimates and recommendations that will serve you as a starting point, not an ending point. Even with all the information in this article, no online calculator or at home calculation can determine your exact needs. With that in mind, it’s normal to make adjustments from time to time. We highly recommend working with 1:1 with a nutrition coach from The Swole Kitchen to eliminate the guesswork.
Determining The Best Macronutrient Ratio For Your Goals
Regardless of your goal, determining the best macronutrient ratio for your goals all comes down to the results you want from your hard work. Calculating macros and the best macronutrient ratio depends on three main things:
- Nutrition & Fitness/Performance Goals (lose weight, gain muscle, body composition improvements, improved health, peak performance, and athletic performance, etc.)
- Dietary Preferences (keto, paleo, vegetarian, vegan, balanced, etc.)
- Macronutrient Preference (balanced nutrition, low-fat, high-carb, high-protein, etc.)
How To Calculate Macros For Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit. While nutrition can do most of the work for you, we do recommend regular activity and purposeful exercise throughout your weeks, not only to lose weight, but to improve your mental, emotional, and overall health and wellness. Just because the Oreo's fit your macros doesn't mean you need to eat them...
With that being said, how fast you can lose weight depends on how accurately you calculate your macros and how consistently you follow them (as well as track them, really). The key to being more aware of what and how much you eat? Tracking! Use an app or a journal and write it down.
For weight loss, we recommend a lower-carb macronutrient ratio (in general, remember there is no one size fits all). Typically when you’re just focusing on seeing the weight go down on the scale, and you’re in a caloric deficit, you’re going to lose water, body fat, and muscle. In order to avoid this, you’ll want to focus on either macro for fat loss or macros for building muscle (see below).
How To Calculate Macros For Fat Loss
It’s important to note that while in a perfect world, fat loss and muscle building would occur together at the same time. However, while lean muscle mass gains can occur at the same time as fat loss, ultimately it’s best to focus on one goal at a time. When coupled together, neither process will happen at its full potential. Most individuals will go through a bulking phase, then a cutting phase, to maximize the muscle gain and fat loss potential for their body.
RELATED ARTICLE: Bulk or Cut? Which One Is Right For You & Your Goals
If fat loss/weight loss is the main goal, a lower carbohydrate ratio will tend to accelerate fat loss efforts. A fat loss or weight loss macronutrient ratio looks like ~40-50% protein, ~10-30% carbohydrates, and ~30-40% fat.
There are ways that you can accelerate fat loss efforts such as carb-cycling, intermittent fasting, fasted workouts and increasing the amount of purposeful exercise on a weekly basis. That being said, what you eat (your macros & ratios) are going to have the largest influence on positive or negative results.
RELATED ARTICLE: High Carb vs Low Carb Diets – Which One Is Right For You
How To Calculate Macros For Building Muscle
If you’re looking to build muscle, we recommend using a macronutrient ratio of ~40-60% carbs, ~25-35% protein, and ~15-25% fat. With that being said, keep in mind this ratio may not work for everyone and the timing of your nutrients does matter here. The energy that your body needs to start your day is different from the meal that you’re going to want to eat post-workout.
RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Rules For A Successful Bulking Season
In general, the individual seeking muscle gain will want to replenish glycogen stores post-workout with large amounts of carbohydrates (like CLEAN CARBS from Swolverine) and low-fat content within a meal. Then at dinner time, since glycogen stores are replenished post-workout and the individual hasn’t been training, sufficient amounts of protein should be the focus of the dinner, in addition to fiber and a few extra calories, while remaining low in carbohydrates.
Moreover, with any goal, consistent delivery of protein throughout the day (not just post-workout or at dinner) is going to be a huge key to the way that your body utilizes fat for energy and builds/rebuilds muscle tissue.
RELATED PRODUCT: Clean Carbs (45 servings, 100 calories, 24g carbs per serving)
RELATED ARTICLE: 6 Incredible Clean Carbs Sources To Build Muscle
**Note about fat: notice that fat never goes below 15% of daily total calories as fat is needed for healthy hormone production and function. Too low of fat can also have negative effects on body functions, including growth, development, mood, reproduction, fat-soluble vitamin absorption and even increase your risk for adverse health and disease**
How To Calculate Keto Macros
If you’re looking to calculate macros for the ketogenic diet in order to follow a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrate lifestyle, then you’re going to want to calculate your macros to reflect ~70-80% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrate.
With strict adherence, this diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates and most people use the diet for weight-loss. Is keto good for you? That depends on you, your goals, and your overall health. There isn’t enough research to say that this diet (or really any diet) is extremely beneficial to the human body.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Ketogenic Diet – A Life Without Carbohydrates
The Fourth Macro: Alcohol
Alcohol can be calculated and tracked as a carbohydrate, fat, or a combination of both. In order to find out how many macronutrients for alcohol you’ve had, you need to know how many calories it contains. You either want to read the nutritional label on the bottle or container that your alcohol came in, or give it a quick Google Search.
Technically speaking, alcohol is its own macronutrient and does contain 7 calories per gram. Since there is no nutritional need for this macro it’s typically not mentioned in most articles, posts, or teachings, as compared to carbs, protein, and fat. We recommend always using the formula below to calculate your numbers because, with the formula, you will account for all the calories in the beverage.
Calculating Alcohol As A Carbohydrate
Total number of calories in a drink divided by 4
5oz Red Zin = 132 calories
132cal/4 = 33g carbs
Calculating Alcohol As A Fat
Total number of calories in a drink divided by 9
5oz Red Zin = 132 calories
132cal/9 = 15g fat
Calculating Alcohol As Both Carb & Fat
Portion the calories in a drink between carb and fat, divide half by 4 and half by 9
5oz Red Zin = 132 calories
66cal/4 = 16.5g carbs
66cal/9 = 7g fat
How Accurate Are Macro Calculators?
If math isn’t for you, then you can definitely hop onto the internet, do a quick search, and find a macro calculator that you enter a few metrics into and wah-lah, some ratio is generated for you at the push of a button (literally). The question is how accurate are macro calculators on the internet if they’re accurate at all?
It honestly depends on how accurate you’re looking to get and your goals (as well as the accuracy of the algorithm on the other side computing it). All calculators do is estimate your daily needs on a few basic percentages and ratios. Unlike a real person or coach (like one from The Swole Kitchen Nutrition Coaching), online macro calculators cannot determine what’s best for you as an individual, with your genetic makeup, lifestyle, and goals.
All in all, an online macro calculator is a nice starting point, or even calculating them on your own, but if you’ve been searching for results, counting your macros, watching your food intake, and you’re still not getting results? It’s time to get a coach, seriously.
Don’t Aim For Perfection, Aim For Consistency
Knowing that calculators and at-home calculations aren’t 100% accurate, your intake doesn't have to be perfect in order for your food to work in your favor. In fact, it’s not about perfection at all, its about consistency within your effort and your food intake. Aiming for a baseline of 75% - 80% adherence or better on a daily basis (for moderate changes) as well as being within 10g of your macro targets on any given day are two rules of thumb when it comes to counting your macros.
Think of it this way, if you constantly deviate away from the plan, your numbers and targets, you’re going to work against yourself. Consistency will be the biggest, most determining factor for success or failure with tracking and calculating your macros.
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