Whether your fitness goals are to lose weight or gain muscle mass, it’s important to factor in how you need to structure your diet from a macros perspective.
This concept has been popularized with the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach, but many people still struggle with understanding their macro needs for personal goals.
That’s why we teamed up with dietitians to give you the full information on why tracking macros is important, how to calculate and implement the details, and of course, we provide a free macro calculator as well.
Let’s dive right in.
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Why Do You Need To Pay Attention To Macros?
Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are the three dietary macronutrients that the human body needs. And while all three of them contain a certain calorie amount, your body will absorb and process them in very different ways.
That means that a calorie from carbs is quite different than a calorie from complex fat.
Here are some more details.
Carbs generally provide the easiest form of energy for your body to absorb, and that’s why it plays such an important role if you want to lose weight.
Simple carbs like refined grains and sugar enter your body quickly, and your metabolism transforms them quickly into blood glucose.
Those sudden spikes can then trigger your body to filter out the excess and store it as body fat for use at a “later time.”
Of course, for many people that later time never comes.
From a calorie perspective, carbohydrates deliver about four calories per 1 gram.
Protein intake is vital for human function as it delivers amino acids that are the building blocks for almost all cells.
It’s a macronutrient that most athletes heavily focus on because our muscles need a lot of amino acids to recover from exercise and rebuild muscle tissue.
From a calorie perspective, protein delivers about four calories per 1 gram.
The mention of fat gets many people’s heart rate up, and fat has gained a bad reputation in general.
However, when it comes to fat, it’s important to distinguish between saturated and unsaturated fat, as well as omega 3 fatty acids.
It’s a calorie-dense macronutrient but also requires a lot of energy to digest. It’s why a focus on fat intake for both male and female weight loss is often a too narrow perspective for dieting.
From a calorie perspective, fat delivers about 9 calories per 1 gram .
“While the majority of food and training session plans work by cutting calories overall, an approach that many neglect is counting the macros that form the calories themselves. It’s a key part of nutrition and weight management that is often overlooked.”
– Edward Cooper – Deputy Digital Editor at Men’s Health.
Why Does Everyone Have Different Macro Needs?
Whenever you hear people argue about the ideal macro split, you‘re better off taking a step back and ignoring everything they say.
There are multiple variables from age to total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), and whether you’re trying to achieve some muscle and weight gain, lose weight, or maintain your weight determines how YOU need to approach tracking macros.
Here are the main details that influence it:
- Activity Levels
The good news is that with the simple help of a macronutrient calculator, you can get all the information you need to better plan your diet.
“The tricky thing about macronutrients is that the amount of each you should be eating can vary drastically from person to person. Your perfect amount is called your “macronutrient ratio.”
– Elena Donovan Mauer, Writer at cookinglight.com.
Macros Vs. Calories
People have approached dieting from a pure calorie perspective for decades now. And while the calories in and calories out approach might seem logical, it’s much too simplistic.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
BMR is the minimum amount of energy expenditure your body has based on your age, sex, height, and weight. It doesn’t factor in how active you are and aims to serve as a number of calories that give you a starting point depending on your natural body composition.
Layer on how active you are for work, life, and exercise, and you get a number at which you should be maintaining your weight.
The “If It Fits Your Macros” idea doesn’t focus so much on calories but rather on the macronutrients contained in the food products you choose.
Calories still play a role, and it’s not an excuse for people to diet on junk foods and ice cream just because they fit the macro profile. Instead, it forces you to moderate the quantities of certain types of foods to achieve a certain amount of calories from each of the macronutrients.
And it’s this breakdown of calories from fats, protein, and carbohydrates that a macro calculator helps with.
How Does Your Activity Level Influence Macros?
It should come as no surprise that your calorie intake determines over 60% of your weight goals. But you can end up dieting in a way that is completely wrong for your activity levels.
Let me explain.
Someone trying to lose weight while doing a limited amount of exercise should probably reduce their fat and carb intake. At the same time, anyone going through intense strength and weight training may need to significantly increase their carbs and protein.
It’s that combination of a personal goal with the amount and types of exercise that people have to factor in when choosing the foods they eat on a daily basis.
You would also not be taking the right approach of just tracking macros with an app. All that tells you is what your current split is.
It’s putting the cart before the horse.
How Do Your Weight Goals Influence Macros?
Your nutrition plan has to be based on weight goals.
1. Weight Loss Or Cutting
Many of my clients hire me to help them lose weight. In many cases, it’s just down to fat loss and a few unwanted love handles, but I also work with bodybuilders who need to stay on top of their body fat percentage.
Research suggests that low carbohydrates, moderate fat, and moderate to high protein  can be the ideal balance for losing a few pounds.
2. Weight Management
It’s a bit more difficult to work out the right macros to maintain your weight.
Simply going for a moderate amount of carbs, protein, and fat could still give you body-weight fluctuations.
This is where your age and gender often play a more critical role.
3. Weight Gain Or Bulking
Yup, you’ll need a calorie surplus from foods to trigger muscle growth and weight gain, and you’ll want to achieve that with a combination of high carbs and protein.
The carbs provide lots of readily available energy for exercise, while the protein helps to create more and repair muscle tissue.
Now, let’s take a look at how a macro calculator works from person to person.
How Do You Calculate Macros?
The simple answer is that you should use a macro calculator to give you the information about how many grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrates you need each day.
The formula behind the IIFYM is very complex, and I’ll show the details that go into it below.
The main reason that you’re better off using a calculator is that you get consistent results when you need to recalculate your macros as you get closer to your goal.
So, let’s see the details you need for the calculator.
The good news is that you don’t need special information to get reasonably accurate results. The only exception is the formula, but we’ll explain that shortly.
These are the values you need:
- Body Mass Formula
Make sure you’re honest when it comes to height and current weight.
I know it’s tempting to add an inch and shave off a few pounds, but if you do that, then the results will be inaccurate, and you could end up further from your goal than you’d like.
Another important part is to choose the right goal you have, which indicates how much you will exercise. There’s a big difference in the macros between losing some love handles and muscle gain.
And the results also heavily depend on the equation.
Different BMI Formulas
Every good macro calculator should allow you to either use a standard formula to work out your current BMI or a lean mass formula.
The main difference is that the lean body mass allows you to enter more accurate BMI information that you might get from a DXA scan .
This is particularly important if you’re a performance athlete or male bodybuilder where the height to weight ratio will give inaccurate BMI results.
How Do You Use Your Calculated Macros?
Once you have the results of your macro profile, it’s time to sit down and work out what kinds of foods your diet should contain.
The first thing I should say is that your goal should be to only source your macros from healthy foods.
A high carb content or fat split is not an excuse to spend your day between Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King.
Let’s take a typical male macro profile to lose weight as an example.
- Carbohydrates: 30%
- Protein: 40%
- Fat: 30%
- Calories: 2,000 (about 10% calorie deficit)
With this kind of macro recommendation, you’ll need to dial down your carbohydrate intake to about 150 grams per day.
That’s not much more than oatmeal with fruit for breakfast and wholegrain bread for lunch.
That might sound tough, but the protein part might be even tougher to achieve. 200 grams of protein is quite a lot of eggs, dairy products, and chicken.
And this is where a few unsweetened protein shakes will help you to your body weight goals.
As for the fats, aim to get about 60 grams from healthy sources like unsalted nuts, avocado, and olive oil.
All this might sound complicated, and if you’re doing it with pen and paper, then you could be making it quite tiring.
Instead, use one of the apps we’ve tested out.
What Tools Should You Use To Track Macros?
Now, if you’re serious about losing some pounds or bulking up, then I would recommend meeting with a dietitian to come up with a full meal plan that is based on your ideal macros and calories.
But we’ve also found more than one good option to start tracking your macros and calories right from your phone.
- Noom – This is probably the number one app on all smartphones when it comes to diet journaling. In simple terms, it allows you to search for foods in a database of millions of entries. Then the app does the math to tell you the calories and macro amounts for everything you’ve eaten in a day. It’s also great to suggest food with the ideal carb, fat, and protein source, which makes your meal planning a lot easier.
- MyFitnessPal – This is another great app that combines diet and exercise tracking in one place. It’s also not just designed for weight loss, as it allows you to set a whole range of different goals. It also has a great barcode scanner that allows you to check the nutritional details, including carbs, fats, protein, and calories for millions of different store-bought food.
- MyMacros – MyMacros is an app that bodybuilders originally designed to make it easier to work out portion sizes to support their workouts. It doesn’t have all the extra features of Noom, but it gives you more than just a running total from macro counting. You get a countdown at the top for the various nutrients as well as a calorie goal so that you gain more clarity at any given time of the day.
- Carb Manager – The final macro counting app we recommend is Carb Manager. Designed for Keto dieters , it has a nice nutrition dashboard and an easy interface to enter the food and portions throughout the day. We also like that it includes recipes that help you stay away from carbs and junk food.
How Does Your Macro Calculation Compare To Your Diet?
Whether you want to gain muscle mass or lose weight and body fat, the first thing you need to start doing is tracking your food intake and comparing it to your daily macro recommendation.
Rather than guess your way to your weight goals, take the more scientific approach that won’t even require dietitians or nutrition experts.
Start your new diet journey today, and then let us know how it changed your health and wellbeing.