You’ve probably heard that counting macros is a good way to help build muscle and lose fat.
In fact once you get your macros right you can actually be more flexible with your eating.
That’s right. As long as you are sticking to the right amounts of macros for your goals you can eat some foods that aren’t necessarily classed as “healthy” and still lose weight and build muscle.
This is known as flexible dieting and has been getting a lot of attention recently.
And for good reason.
Put simply, if you are getting the right amounts of protein, fats and carbs (macronutrients) you will start to improve your body composition.
Once you know how to calculate your macros, keeping track of them on a daily basis is pretty simple.
In this article you will learn how to calculate your macros and then keep track of them moving forward.
How To Count Your Macros
The first thing you need to do to start tracking your macros is to figure out how many macros you actually need to be eating to hit your goals.
Thankfully calculating your macros is pretty simple.
With a little maths you can calculate fairly accurately how many macros you need on a daily basis.
The process to calculate your macros is:
- Calculate your calories
- Calculate your protein
- Calculate your fats
- Calculate your carbs
- Monitor and adjust based on your results
It’s as simple as that. Follow the steps in this article to calculate how much of each of these you need to be consuming.
1. Calculate Your Calories
Calories are the starting point of any diet plan.
Because the amount of calories you consume will have the biggest effect on your weight loss or gain.
We’ve all been told that we need to eat healthy in order to lose weight. While there are lots of benefits to eating a clean healthy diet, it isn’t going to necessarily make you lose weight
When it comes to weight loss the types of foods you eat don’t matter as much as the amount of calories you consume.
The only way to lose weight is to put yourself in a calorie deficit.
That means that you eat less calories than your body requires to perform your day to day tasks.
When your body doesn’t have any more food to get energy from, it has to convert your fat stores into energy.
So from that standpoint 100 calories of chocolate is the same as 100 calories of broccoli.
To highlight this point Professor Mark Harb ate a diet that consisted of Twinkies, Dorritos and Oreos and lost up to 27 pounds.
Now, I’m not recommending that you follow a diet based on junk food but that story does highlight an important point.
If you consistently consume less calories that you burn you will lose weight. Regardless of where those calories come from.
The same is true on the other hand. If you are looking to put on weight you will need to consume more calories than you burn to put yourself in a surplus.
If you want to put on muscle you need to be in a slight calorie surplus. This is referred to as bulking in fitness circles.
So now that we have gone over the importance of calories. Let’s talk about how to calculate the amount you need.
Everybody’s caloric needs are different as there are a lot of factors that contribute to the amount of calories you burn in a day.
So keep this in mind. No one equation is going to be 100% accurate for your needs, you might need to tweak it slightly depending on your results.
To calculate your calories you first need to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
Your BMR is the the rate at which the body uses energy while at rest to maintain vital functions such as breathing and keeping warm.
Put simply this is the base amount of calories that your body requires to produce energy needed to keep your body functioning.
To find your BMR use the following equations ( I have included the equations for kg and lbs):
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years).
BMR = 66 + (13.75 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years).
BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in Yrs)
Once you have this figure you know the amount of calories that you require just to survive.
But this doesn’t take into account the energy that you burn throughout the day from working out and even smaller things like if you’re on your feet all day at work or if you have to walk to the bus stop, etc.
All of these factors combined with your basal metabolic rate make up your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
You can figure out your TDEE by multiplying your BMR by your level of activity:
- If you rarely exercise, multiply your BMR by 1.2
- If you exercise on 1 to 3 days per week, multiply your BMR by 1.375
- If you exercise on 3 to 5 days per week, multiply your BMR by 1.55
- If you exercise 6 to 7 days per week, multiply your BMR by 1.725
- If you exercise every day and have a physical job or if you often exercise twice a day, multiply your BMR by 1.9
The number that you get by multiplying your BMR by your level of activity is the amount of calories you need on a daily basis to maintain weight.
How To Calculate Calories For Weight Loss?
If you are looking to lose some fat you simply need to eat less than your TDEE.
To lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit. This means that your body is using more energy than you are giving it through food.
Your body then looks for other places to get energy, which is your fat stores.
Lets say that your TDEE was at 2800, so you are burning 2800 calories of energy from your daily activities. If you eat a diet that consists of 2300 calories you are in a 500 calorie deficit.
To lose one pound of body fat per week you need to put yourself in a 500 calorie deficit every day.
If you are looking to lose weight, subtract 500 calories off of your TDEE before calculating you major macronutrients.
Being in a 500 calorie a day deficit will result in around 1 pound of weight loss per week.
Being in a caloric deficit will make you lose weight. However if you are looking to improve your body composition and build some muscle you will need to make sure you are getting enough of each macronutrient as well as your caloric intake.
2. Calculate Your Protein
Protein is the most important of the three macronutrients (proteins, carbs and fat) and that is why we calculate it first.
Protein helps you to:
- Boost muscle mass and recover better from workouts
- Feel fuller from your meals and prevent snacking
- Aid fat loss
Put simply high protein diets are much more beneficial than low protein diets, especially if you are working out and training regularly.
So how much protein do you actually need to eat?
Research has shown that between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day is a good amount.
If you are more overweight eg. 25% body fat and higher for men and 30% and higher for women, you need to go calculate your protein needs from your lean body mass. Your lean body mass is the amount of weight you carry on your body that isn’t fat.
To do this you will need to have a rough idea of your body fat percentage. If you don’t fall into this category you can skip to the next section.
You can use the tools here to calculate your body fat percentage or you can estimate yours visually.
Compare yourself to the charts below.
To calculate your lean body mass you take your weight eg. 230 pounds and multiply that by your body fat percentage. eg 30%
230 x 30% = 69
That gives you the amount of your weight that is fat.
You then need to subtract that amount from your total weight to get your lean body mass.
230 – 69 = 161 pounds of lean body mass.
So you would aim for about 161 grams of protein per day.
If you think that number seems like a lot you might want to try increasing your protein intake with protein powder. Check out this article by Health Trends of the best protein powder.
Now that you have calculated your protein you need to move onto the next macro.
3. Calculate Your Fat
It was only a short time ago that magazines and health gurus were pushing out content that said eating fat made you get fat.
Low fat diets were everywhere.
Yes, lowering your fat intake can help you lose weight, as it drastically reduces your caloric intake.
The reason behind that is there are more calories in 1 gram of fat than there are in 1 gram of protein or carbs.
Here’s how they weight up:
Protein = 4 calories/gram
Fat = 9 calories/gram
Carbs = 4 calories/gram
You can see how cutting fats out of your diet could help you lose weight as you are removing more calories than you would be if you cut out protein or carbohydrates.
However removing all fats is not necessarily the most healthy or beneficial way to go about things.
With that said overeating fat isn’t a good idea especially when it comes to saturated fats.
Basically fat is an essential part of your diet but you don’t want to go overboard with it. You want to eat a moderate amount that allows you to maximise your health and still stay on top of your calories.
Around 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight is a suitable amount for most people.
Fat is essential to your diet. With that said after you hit your fat requirements, extra fat is not going to benefit your performance in the gym.
Carbs on the other hand are a direct source of energy and can correlate to better athletic performances.
This is dependant on you. If you like eating nuts and peanut butters and higher fat foods, you can go a little higher on fats but you will be lowering the amount of carbs that you can eat to fit into your calories as a result.
4. Calculate Your Carbs
These days there has been a lot of hype around low carb diets.
You might have heard that the best way to lose fat is to cut out all of the carbs from your diet.
While it can work, it’s not always the most pleasant way to go about things. There are ways to get lean and still consume carbs.
As long as you stick to your calories you can eat as many carbs as you like and not put on fat.
If you exercise regularly, lift weights, are fairly healthy and are in a normal body fat range you will benefit from having more carbs than less.
Carbs are your major source of fuel and if you are looking to gain strength and muscle or perform better athletically, they are extremely beneficial. They aren’t going to hinder your fat loss unless you are eating an excess amount of them and exceeding your daily caloric needs.
Calculating your carbs is simple, you just need to assign your remaining calories to them.
Here’s how you do it.
So we have already calculated our calories, protein and fat intake.
And we know that 1 gram of protein is equal to 4 calories and 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories.
- Multiply your protein intake by 4
- Multiply your fat intake by 9
- Add these two numbers together and then subtract that number from your goal calories. This will give you the calories you have remaining for carbs
- Divide the remaining number by 4 to get the total in grams of carbs that you should eat every day.
Let’s break that down with an example.
Bob weighs 180 pounds and his TDEE is around 2600 calories to maintain his body weight.
As a result of that Bob needs to eat 180 grams of protein and 54 grams of fat per day.
1. Multiply protein by 4
180 x 4 = 720
2. Multiply fat by 9
54 x 9 = 486
3. Add two numbers together then subtract from your total calories
720 + 486 = 1206, then 2600 – 1206 = 1394 calories remaining for carbs
4. Divide the remaining number by 4
1394 / 4 = 349 grams of carbs per day.
So Bob’s macros would be:
- 180 grams protein
- 54 grams of fat
- 349 grams of carbs
Now, it’s your turn. Plug your numbers into the equation to find your macros.
5. Monitor Your Bodies Response and Adjust
You’ve just learned how to accurately count your macros. Understanding macros gives you control over whether you lose or gain weight.
That said the formula’s above may not work perfectly for you right out of the box. There’s just to many factors that come into play. For example your metabolism may be faster or slower than the formulas assume, or you may have under or overestimated the amount of energy you burn in your day to day actions.
So you will need to monitor your results and tweak your macros accordingly.
When you’re starting out you should weigh yourself first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
Monitor this weight over the first week to two weeks and evaluate.
Generally this is the case:
If you’re trying to lose weight but aren’t you either need to eat less or move more.
If your weight isn’t dropping you are probably eating more calories than you are burning. If you are already doing a couple of sessions of cardio a week the first place you should look is your carbs. Try dropping your carbs slightly and monitor the results. Start nice and slow and drop increments of around 10 – 15 grams per day.
If you are trying to gain weight but aren’t you probably just need to eat more.
If you are putting in good hard sessions in the gym but your weight won’t go up try increasing your daily caloric intake by 5%. After a couple of weeks monitor your results and adjust again if necessary.
Most “hardgainers” just don’t eat enough on a daily basis. It’s that simple.
The most important part of counting macros is tracking your results and making slight adjustments moving forward.
Counting your macros is the best way to accurately control your body composition.
It might seem like a lot of fuss to go through, but if you’re looking to get the most out of your workouts and diet, counting macros is worth the effort.
Follow the steps laid out in this article to get started on your macro counting journey.