Counting Macros 101: How to Track Food Intake (2023)

Macronutrients, colloquially referred to as “macros” in the fitness world, are the energy-containing constituents of food and beverages that we consume. These include protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Technically, water and alcohol are also macronutrients despite the former providing no energy and the latter being nonessential.

The prefix “macro-” in the context of nutrition means we require relatively large amounts of these nutrients for proper health and function. On the contrary, micronutrients are nutrients that we only need in small quantities, such as vitamins and minerals. Hence, most people consume hundreds of grams of macronutrients daily and only a few milligrams or micrograms of the essential vitamins and minerals.

While both macronutrients and micronutrients are essential, macros play the most prominent role in weight loss and weight gain since they are the nutrients that determine your energy balance. As you may already know, energy balance (i.e. calories in vs. calories out) dictates changes in body weight and body fat [1].

Therefore, if you track your macros, you inherently count the number of calories you're eating. But what does counting macros entail? This guide will teach you all you need to know for proper macro counting and how it can help you reach your fitness goals.

How Many Calories Per Gram of Carbs, Fat, and Protein?

If you're new to the world of fitness and counting macros, the first thing to know is that carbs, fat, and protein all provide energy (i.e. calories). To reiterate, the balance between how many calories you consume and your total daily energy expenditure regulates body weight.

So, how many calories do carbohydrates, fat, and protein provide? Let's take a look:

  • Protein contains four calories per gram
  • Carbs contain four calories per gram
  • Fat contains nine calories per gram

When you consume these macronutrients, the body metabolizes them using a range of digestive enzymes that split the chemical bonds within these nutrients apart. As the chemical bonds are separated, energy (read: calories) is released, which fuels the fundamental biological processes that maintain homeostasis [2].

For example, when you ingest 10 grams of carbs, the body derives a cumulative 40 calories once the carbs have been fully metabolized. A myriad of factors alters the rate at which nutrients are metabolized, but in general, a complete meal providing 500 calories will take several hours to fully assimilate [3].

Now that you have a better grasp of where the calories come from, let's get started with how to count macros!

Counting Macros 101: How to Track Food Intake (1)

Best Strategies for Counting Macros and Total Calorie Intake Per Day

Moderating and counting macros is a vital component of any weight-loss or muscle-building plan. Thanks to modern technology, it’s easier than ever to track your macros and keep tabs on how many calories you consume.

(Video) How to Count Calories and Macros (My Method)

Simply log what you eat in a food-tracking app like MyFitnessPal or MyMacros+, and voila! You get a clear sense of calories in vs. calories out by entering your food intake throughout the day. Even better, you can log your activity level to see how many calories you're burning.

If you're new to counting macros with an app, don't fret — it's very straightforward.

Tracking Your Macros with an App

The first thing you need to know is that measuring portion sizes is the most precise way to count macros with a food-tracking app. Most foods are sold by weight, not volume. Thus, having a food scale will make the process a lot easier and more accurate.

For example, a typical portion of chicken breast is 4 ounces, which equates to roughly 113 grams. Over time, weighing the foods you eat will eventually allow you to eyeball portion sizes and make the macro-counting process a breeze.

Some foods you don't need to weigh, like Oreo cookies or a bag of chips. Instead, just follow the label portion size. If you eat five Oreos or a 1-oz bag of potato chips for a snack, enter that amount in a food-tracking app and it will tell you the macros and calories.

Liquids are generally sold by volume, so no need to weigh them. Just use a measuring cup if needed and log how much you drink (e.g. 12 fl. oz of skim milk for breakfast). You really only need to keep track of liquids you consume that contain calories, but knowing how much water you drink is useful as well.

Another key step is learning to read food labels so you understand what constitutes a normal portion (see label below).

Counting Macros 101: How to Track Food Intake (2)

Notice in the protein powder label above how 1 scoop (read: serving) is equal to 32.96 grams. Each serving provides 28 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbs, and 0 grams of fat. Now, let's say you measure out 43 grams of protein powder for your post-workout shake. How many grams of carbs, fat, and protein does that come out to?

Well, this is where the magic of a food-tracking app comes into play. By entering the portion size into the app and the macros per serving, it will automatically compute the macros for any amount that you eat.Virtually every consumer food product and many dietary supplements are alreadyavailablein food-tracking app databases. Only on rare occasions will you have to enter the nutrition facts manually.

How to Count Macros Manually

Using an app to count macros is the ideal method, especially in the long-term. But if you'd rather track macros the old-fashioned way, there are two approaches: a food journal or spreadsheet software.

(Video) MACROS 101- EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW!

Counting macros by writing everything you eat down in a physical journal is obviously more time-consuming than using a food-tracking app since you have to tally up all the totals manually (or with a calculator). Using spreadsheet software can streamline the process if you're tech-savvy and understand how to use formulas for more efficient macro tracking.

Ultimately, it doesn't make much difference how you count macros so long as you keep track of them consistently.

How to Calculate Macros

There are no cookie-cutter "best macros" to follow. The amount of protein, carbs, and fat you should consume depends on how active you are and your health goals. However, it's safe to say that most people do best on a diet that has a balance of all macronutrients.

If you're adamant about following a very-low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet or the carnivore diet, that's fine. Just know that your macros will be skewed accordingly.

Optimal Protein Intake

Dietary protein is nature's predominant source of amino acids. In the body, proteins and amino acids are involved in a number of essential physiological processes such as turnover of organ tissue, neurotransmitter production, immune response, transport of nutrients and hormones throughout the body, and many others [4]. Therefore, consuming adequate protein is critical not only for reaching your weight-loss goals but also for overall health.

Common sources of protein include:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Legumes and soy
  • Protein powder

Counting Macros 101: How to Track Food Intake (3)

The current recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.36 g per pound per day [5]. However, the RDA is the amount of protein required to support healthy tissue turnover in sedentary adults. It is not the same as the amount necessary to optimize muscle repair and growth in a resistance-trained athlete or active individual trying to lose weight.

If you're a regular gym-goer with 160 lbs of lean body mass, chances are 60 to 70 grams of protein per day (i.e. the RDA) is not gonna cut it if you want to build muscle. In fact, a recent literature review on nutrition for natural bodybuilders recommends a daily protein intake of 1.0 – 1.4 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass when preparing for a contest [6].

Further research has shown that individuals consuming 1.2 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily in conjunction with regular resistance training for an entire year experienced no adverse health effects or negative changes in biomarkers [7]. There is currently no strong evidence that a high-protein diet is harmful for otherwise healthy adults.

Still, it's not wise to go overboard on protein. Eating superfluous amounts of protein will cut into the number of calories left for carbohydrates and fat. Your eating plan should include enough protein to help preserve muscle tissue in a calorie deficit or build muscle in a calorie surplus. This appears to be between 0.8 – 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight for most active individuals.

(Video) HOW TO COUNT MACROS (how to figure out YOUR own macros)

Good Fats vs. Bad Fats

Like protein, fat is an essential macronutrient that plays numerous roles in the body, including:

  • Making up a large portion of cell membranes and myelin sheath around nerves
  • Long-term energy storage
  • Insulating the body
  • Thermogenesis (heat production)
  • Hormone synthesis (particularly steroid hormones and adipokines like leptin)
  • Helping the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins

Contrary to conventional wisdom in the mid-to-late 20th century, low-fat diets are not necessarily ideal for weight loss. While fat is the most calorie-dense macronutrient at nine calories per gram, it's also highly satiating. As such, eating 10 grams of fat will generally be more filling than eating 20-25 grams of sugar.

It's important to consume a variety of saturated and unsaturated fats every day from food sources such as:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Fatty fish (e.g. salmon)
  • Grass-fed meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Dairy

Monounsaturated fatty acids in avocado, almonds, and olive oil are typically considered "healthy fats" since they have demonstrable benefits on cardiovascular function [8]. However, you still need saturated fats from foods like coconut, animal meat, and butter, as well as polyunsaturated fats found in fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, peanuts, and walnuts. The main fats to avoid are the synthetic trans-fats commonly found in fried foods and vegetable shortening; these are notorious for clogging arteries and increasing cholesterol levels over time [9].

While your fat macros will vary according to your specific diet plan, a minimum fat intake of 20-30% of calories is advised to support proper endocrine function and overall well-being [10]. In general, fat intake below 15% of calories is very low and shouldn't be followed regularly.

Carbohydrates: Not "Essential," But Still Important

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for muscle cells when lifting weights and during other high-intensity workouts, like running sprints. The carbohydrates in food are categorized as either complex carbs (e.g. starch) or simple carbs (e.g. table sugar, dextrose, and fructose).

Common sources of complex carbs include:

  • Grains
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes
  • Green vegetables

Simple carbs are found in sugary foods and drinks, like fruit juice, ice cream, and candy.

Counting Macros 101: How to Track Food Intake (4)

When you count macros, you don't have to be too picky about the exact types of carbs you're eating, but complex carbs should make up the majority (i.e. 85% or more) of your carb intake. The main thing is to avoid excessive amounts of added sugars.

Carbs are stored in muscle as glycogen, which is used for energy during workouts. Moreover, carbs help spare muscle tissue and reduce amino-acid oxidation during exercise [11].

(Video) Calculating Your Macros - The Basics

Thus, a very-low-carb diet, like the ketogenic diet, isn't necessarily ideal for preserving lean body mass when calorie intake is low. This is not to say that eating hundreds of grams of carbs per day is better; there is a balance to find when it comes to how many carbs you should eat.

As an easy approach to calculate carb intake, let carbohydrates make up the remainder of your calorie goal once protein and fat are accounted for. Since carbs are the "least" essential macronutrient, it makes sense to leave them as diet "fillers," so to speak.

For example, if you consume 2,000 calories per day with 800 calories from protein and 600 calories from fat, then you will "fill in" the remaining 600 calories from carbs. Since carbs contain four calories per gram, that comes out to 150 grams of carbs per day.

Fiber Counts Towards Your Macros!

Fibers are digestion-resistant carbohydrates that are fermented to short-chain fatty acids by bacteria in the large intestine. As such, fibers only contain about 2 calories per gram since they are not fully digested by our innate digestive enzymes [12].

For those trying to lose weight, fiber is a godsend to increase satiety even when calorie intake is low. Therefore, consuming ample amounts of fiber will make your weight-loss plan quite a bit more bearable during the latter stages.

If you're a male looking to get very lean, as in under 8% body fat, you will inevitably face periods of hunger due to chronic calorie restriction. Being strategic about your fiber intake and other filling foods is critical to help stave off hunger pains. However, don't get too carried away as excessive fiber in the diet will likely create gastrointestinal distress and bloating.

As a rule of thumb, aim for about 10–15 g of fiber per 1,000 calories in the diet. If you're adamant about following a very-low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet or carnivore diet, chances are your fiber intake will be quite a bit lower than a more moderate approach. The compensatory increase in fat, however, generally makes up for the satiating effects of fiber.

Should You Track Macros?

You might be wondering if tracking macros is necessary. Well, it depends. Many people don't count macros and they do just fine. There's no reason you can't reach your fitness goals without counting macros. If you arecapable of eating "intuitively" without detriment to your body composition and well-being, by all means, do it.

For others, counting macros is definitely helpful. If you're struggling to lose weight and pack on muscle mass, your best bet is to start tracking macros. You don’t want to play the guessing game or just assume that you’re eating the right amount without concrete proof.

All the time spentin the kitchen and gym starts to add up if you're willing to take5 to 10 minutes a day logging your food intake.

FAQs

How do you count food when counting macros? ›

How to calculate macronutrients
  1. First, you need to know how many calories you eat (or want to eat) each day. I eat roughly 2,300 calories per day.
  2. Next, determine your ideal ratio. ...
  3. Then, multiply your total daily calories by your percentages.
  4. Finally, divide your calorie amounts by its calorie-per-gram number.
28 Aug 2022

How do you calculate your macros in 5 easy steps? ›

Macro Formula: How to Count Macros in 5 Simple Steps
  1. Calculate your calories.
  2. Calculate your protein intake.
  3. Calculate your fat intake.
  4. Calculate your carb intake.
  5. Adjust everything based on how your body responds.

How do you track macros successfully? ›

Once you're ready to start counting, follow these eight tried and true tips for macro counting success!
  1. Use an app to track your calories and macros! ...
  2. Download the Macro Cheat Sheet. ...
  3. Use a scale. ...
  4. Don't take your scale everywhere you go. ...
  5. Meal Prep! ...
  6. Try new foods. ...
  7. Let go of preconceived ideas.
4 Sept 2019

How do you calculate macros for beginners? ›

Protein is 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates 4 calories per gram, and fats 9 calories per gram. Set protein to 0.7-1.3 grams per pound of body weight. I recommend starting with 1 gram per pound of body weight, especially if you are new to counting macros.

How do I weigh my macros for food? ›

How to Portion Food to Fit Your Macros - Using a Food Scale

What should my daily macros be? ›

The acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDR) are 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs, 20–35% from fats and 10–35% from protein. To lose weight, find a ratio you can stick with, focus on healthy foods and eat fewer calories than you burn.

What is a good macro ratio for weight loss? ›

Macro Ratio for Fat Loss - YouTube

How do I know if my macros are right? ›

Determine your macros: Protein intake should be between 0.7–1.0 grams per pound of body weight. Fat intake should be between 0.25–0.4 grams per pound of body weight. All remaining calories are allotted for carbs.

Do I need to hit my macros exactly? ›

Not at all. As long as you get close to your macro needs every day and you are losing weight at 1 to 2 pounds per week or more, you are doing really well. You can also extrapolate your macro needs to a weekly total that you have to meet if you'd like.

How soon do you see results from counting macros? ›

I recommend sticking with your initial macro ratio and calorie goal for a minimum of two weeks to see a healthy weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. If you are not losing weight or experiencing weight gain after two weeks, you may need to reduce your daily calorie allowance and re-adjust your macro ratio.

How do you simplify food tracking? ›

MEAL PLAN. Planning meals ahead of time — even if only day by day — can simplify food logging by making your intake more predictable (here's a simple template to get you started). “Track your entire day at one time and only go in and edit items as needed,” suggests Leah Forristall, RD.

What are macronutrients for dummies? ›

Macronutrients are the nutrients that serve as the primary building blocks of the body and as fuel for energy production. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Macronutrients are what make up calories, or the energy we consume. Protein and carbs have 4 calories per 1 gram.

Is counting macros or calories better? ›

An advantage of counting macros is that it ensures that some essential nutrients are incorporated into your diet, instead of focusing solely on calories. Counting calories takes no account of nutrients.

Do you count vegetables in your macros? ›

The simple answer is yes you need to count vegetables in your macros. “Most people, in general, don't eat enough vegetables as it is, so some are better than none. All vegetables have macros, protein, fats, and carbs. However, some vegetables have more fiber than others.

Do you have to weigh your food when counting macros? ›

It's up to you if you'd like to weigh your food to track macros. If you don't weigh your food, it's one less step to think about. However, you won't know how much it helps you until you try it. Remember, you don't have to be a stickler when it comes to tracking your macros.

Do you weigh food before or after? ›

The best way to get the most accurate and consistent food measurement is to weigh and log foods before cooking. That's because the nutrition facts panels give us details for food in its packaged state.

How do you weigh a banana for macros? ›

How To Weigh Food & Input Into MyFitnessPal [HIITRITION] - YouTube

How do you calculate food portions? ›

How to use your hands as a portion guide
  1. Your fist is about the same size as 1 cup of fruit or pasta.
  2. Your thumb (tip to base) is the size of 1 ounce of meat or cheese.
  3. Your palm (minus fingers) equals 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry.
  4. Your cupped hand equals 1 to 3 ounces of nuts or pretzels.
25 May 2016

How do I find the right portion size? ›

8 top tips for portion control
  1. Use a smaller plate. A standard-sized portion will look small on a larger plate, making you feel dissatisfied. ...
  2. Don't double your carbs. ...
  3. Give measuring cups a go. ...
  4. Be selective with your seconds. ...
  5. Don't pick at leftovers. ...
  6. 20-minute rule. ...
  7. Check food labels. ...
  8. Ask for less.

How do I know my portion sizes? ›

Use your hand and other everyday objects to measure portion sizes:
  1. One serving of meat or poultry is the palm of your hand or a deck of cards.
  2. One 3-ounce (84 grams) serving of fish is a checkbook.
  3. One-half cup (40 grams) of ice cream is a tennis ball.
  4. One serving of cheese is a pair of dice.
20 Aug 2020

How many carbs protein and fat should I eat? ›

In general, most adults should target their diets to comprise of 45-65% Carbohydrates, 10-35% Protein and 20-35% Fat. (If you're trying to lose weight, the number should be adjusted to 10-30% Carbohydrates, 40-50% Protein and 30-40% Fat.)

What are 3 foods that are high in protein? ›

eggs. dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese) nuts (including nut pastes) and seeds – almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds. legumes and beans – all beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.

How do I calculate my macros to lose weight female? ›

Work out how many grams of each macro you need to eat

To work out how many grams of each you need, you multiply your total daily calories by 0.4 for protein and 0.3 for carbohydrates and fat. The protein and carbohydrate figures are then divided by 4 and the fat figure by 9.

How many carbs should a woman eat daily to lose weight? ›

For people who are physically active or want to maintain their weight, a range of 100–150 grams of carbs per day may have benefits. For those aiming to lose weight quickly, going under 50 grams per day under the guidance of a healthcare provider may help.

What is the best macro ratio for fat loss and muscle gain? ›

To do this, you'll need to calculate your macro balance. This figure usually varies in every individual. However, the typical macro breakdown for muscle gain and weight loss is approximatively 40% protein, 30% fat, and 30% carbohydrates (9).

Do calories matter if you hit your macros? ›

Each macronutrient plays a vital role in your body's function. Which is why hitting your macros is far more important than staying within your caloric budget – quantity versus quality. Not all calories are created equal. You have to fuel your body accordingly, depending on your goals.

Do you adjust macros as you lose weight? ›

To adjust your macros to lose weight, for every 0.5 lbs, if you are short of your weekly weight loss target, subtract 250 calories from your daily food intake. Reduce carbs by 40 g, and fat by 10 g — more examples of this are in the table. How should your macros be split? Protein should be set by body weight.

Should I adjust my macros as I lose weight? ›

If you are no longer losing weight at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week or more (not including the first week due to water loss), then recalculating your macros every 3-5 weeks would be a great strategy for you to use. If you tend to lose weight pretty quickly, every 10-15 lbs.

When counting macros do vegetables count? ›

The simple answer is yes you need to count vegetables in your macros. “Most people, in general, don't eat enough vegetables as it is, so some are better than none. All vegetables have macros, protein, fats, and carbs. However, some vegetables have more fiber than others.

How soon do you see results from counting macros? ›

I recommend sticking with your initial macro ratio and calorie goal for a minimum of two weeks to see a healthy weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. If you are not losing weight or experiencing weight gain after two weeks, you may need to reduce your daily calorie allowance and re-adjust your macro ratio.

What should my daily macros be? ›

The acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges (AMDR) are 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs, 20–35% from fats and 10–35% from protein. To lose weight, find a ratio you can stick with, focus on healthy foods and eat fewer calories than you burn.

How do I calculate my macros to lose weight female? ›

Work out how many grams of each macro you need to eat

To work out how many grams of each you need, you multiply your total daily calories by 0.4 for protein and 0.3 for carbohydrates and fat. The protein and carbohydrate figures are then divided by 4 and the fat figure by 9.

What is the best macro ratio for fat loss and muscle gain? ›

Did you know…? A typical macro breakdown for fat loss and muscle gain is 40 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent carbs. To burn fat and build muscle at the same time, it's important to understand the basics of how the human body addresses the two different types of mass.

How much protein carbs and fat should I eat? ›

In general, most adults should target their diets to comprise of 45-65% Carbohydrates, 10-35% Protein and 20-35% Fat. (If you're trying to lose weight, the number should be adjusted to 10-30% Carbohydrates, 40-50% Protein and 30-40% Fat.)

Should I track fruit in my macros? ›

Fruits and vegetables are an important component of any healthy and balanced diet. By tracking the macros you bring in from fruits and veggies, you'll more accurately keep tabs on your macros count.

Should I track fruit calories? ›

BUT remember to use a normal- or small-size plate — not a platter. The total number of calories that you eat counts, even if a good proportion of them come from fruits and vegetables.

Should I track fruit and veg? ›

For those who are counting calories to lose weight, I do recommend including fruits and vegetables in your daily calorie total,” said Caitlin Bus, a licensed and registered dietitian with Renown Health.

Is it better to track macros or calories? ›

An advantage of counting macros is that it ensures that some essential nutrients are incorporated into your diet, instead of focusing solely on calories. Counting calories takes no account of nutrients.

Is counting macros better than low carb? ›

Since some people respond better to lower-carb or higher-fat diets, tracking macros is the best way to find out what works best for you. If you're not eating enough carbs, you may not have enough energy for exercise. Too little protein, and you could lose lean muscle tissue — another knock on your metabolism.

Do counting macros really work? ›

Counting macros absolutely works for some people, providing structure in eating specific amounts of each macronutrient. It could be a helpful method when trying to understand portion sizes and the makeup of meals.

What are 3 foods that are high in protein? ›

eggs. dairy products – milk, yoghurt (especially Greek yoghurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese) nuts (including nut pastes) and seeds – almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds. legumes and beans – all beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.

Videos

1. Macros: Explained! Mind Over Munch Kickstart 2016
(Mind Over Munch)
2. How To Count Macros + 30 Day Challenge Diet Plan Help
(Brett Cap)
3. The Essential MyFitnessPal Beginners Tutorial | How To Track & Log Your Macros The Easy Way
(Remington James)
4. How To Track Your Food & Count Macros The Right Way
(Team3DMJ)
5. How I Calculate My Macros | Macros For WEIGHT LOSS (My Step-By-Step Process!)
(Lacey Baier)
6. TRACKING CALORIES 101 - Calorie deficit, maintenance & muscle gain
(Rachel Aust)
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