Macro Diet 101 – How to Count Macros for Weight Loss

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Is the macro diet really easier than counting calories?

That depends. It can be pretty easy if you’re following basic guidelines, like filling a specific portion of your plate with protein, carbs, and fat. (More on that a little later.) But meeting specific number goals (like aiming for X grams of protein per meal) isn’t really any easier, Goodson says. After all, you’re still counting stuff. Except now, it’s three different numbers instead of just one, so could actually be more challenging.

Macros dieting also tends to turn meal and snack time into a puzzle. “It creates a macros Tetris game of trying to find something to fill in exactly what you need for one macro without going over on the others,” says Fear. That can be tough since very few foods are made up of just one macro. While a cup plain, low-fat Greek yogurt packs 20 grams of protein, for instance, it also has 8 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fat.

Who can benefit from counting macros?

In theory, macros dieting can help anyone lose weight. But it’s not any more effective than counting calories or even just paying attention to your portions, Fear says. And in practice, it can be a lot of work.

Still, it’s worth trying if the whole puzzle-piecing aspect sounds like fun to you. “If it’s enjoyable as a game, then macros counting helps someone to continue eating in a certain way when they might otherwise get bored,” Fear says. But if that kind of attention to detail feels like a chore or makes you anxious, it can be tough to keep up with.

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What’s the best macro ratio for weight loss?

That depends on your age, size, and activity level. “Those who work out need a different amount of carbs and protein than someone more sedentary,” Goodson says. But in general, these ratios are a good place to start:

  • If you exercise for an hour or less daily: 30% protein, 30% fat, 40% carbs
  • If you exercise for one to two hours daily: 30% protein, 25% fat, 45% carbs
  • If you exercise for more than two hours daily: Consider seeing a certified sports dietitian. “You need personalization to maintain that high physical output and lose weight safely,” Fear says.

    What’s the easiest way to count macros?

    Now that you know which macro ratio works best, you can figure out the actual number of macros you need and keep track of them in three basic steps:

    1. Figure out your calorie needs.

    Again, this depends on your age, size, and activity level, as well as your weight loss goals. Use a calculator that’ll factor all of this in, like the National Institutes of Health’s Body Weight Planner.

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    2. Tally up your macros.

    Once you’ve got your calorie count, you can use your macro ratio to determine exactly how many grams of protein, fat, and carbs to eat each day. This involves a little bit of math, but you can save time by using a macro calculator, like the one from freedieting.com. Using this tool, we were able to learn that a woman eating 1,500 calories who exercises for half an hour most days of the week would need 150 grams of carbs, 112 grams of protein, and 50 grams of fat daily.

    3. Use an app to track it all.

    Now that you know how much of each macro you need, you’ll have to keep track of the amounts that you’re actually getting from your meals and snacks. Just like with calorie counting, the easiest way to do this is with a food tracker app, Goodson says. My Macros+ is a great option—it’s got nutrition info for more than 5,000,000 foods, plus a nutrition label scanner feature that makes it easy to enter custom foods.

    This all seems kind of complicated. Is there an easier way?

    If the whole idea of macros dieting overwhelms you, well, you’re not alone. This kind of detail-oriented tracking definitely requires commitment. And like calorie counting, it can be particularly challenging if you go out to eat a lot.

    An easier—though less precise—alternative is to just rely on your eyeballs, Goodson says. If you’re looking to get your macros in and hate tracking food, a good rule of thumb is to make a little over a quarter of your plate lean protein and about a quarter of your plate whole grains or starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes). Fill the rest of your plate with non-starchy veggies, which, when it comes to macro counting, are considered carbs. As long as some of the items on your plate have added fat (like salad greens tossed with a vinaigrette or chicken roasted with olive oil), you don’t need to worry about making a space for fat on your plate.

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