When it comes to weight loss, some people have traded in the old-fashioned calorie counting for counting macros. Macronutrients – short for macro nutrients – include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Simply put, counting macros involves counting the number of grams of each macronutrient you consume each day to reach a specific goal. This method is a key component of a diet plan such as the keto diet.
What Are Macros?
Macros – also known as macro-nutrients – are just what their name implies. Macro means big, so macronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in, well, large amounts. There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Each macronutrient is measured in grams, but each macronutrient doesn’t have the same amount of calories per gram. Protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Fats, however, have 9 calories per gram. If you’ve heard that fats are more nutrient dense than carbohydrates or proteins, here’s why – there are more than twice as many calories per gram of fat.
Other familiar nutrients such as fiber, vitamins or minerals such as potassium and calcium are considered micronutrients. They are nutrients that your body still needs, just in smaller doses.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel; they contain 4 calories per gram. They include sugars, starches and fiber; most are broken down into glucose, which fuels everything from the brain to the muscles. Carbohydrates are abundant in grains and grain-based foods, such as pasta and bread, as well as dairy products, beans and vegetables.
Proteins help form tissues in organs, muscles and other parts of the body. They also provide the amino acids the body needs for growth, repair and digestion. (While the body produces some of the amino acids needed for these processes, the other nine amino acids can only be obtained through the diet.) Like carbohydrates, protein contains four calories per gram. High-protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds and dairy products.
In addition to providing energy (9 calories per gram), fats insulate the body and aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. There are two main categories of dietary fats: saturated fats, found primarily in animal sources such as red meat, and unsaturated fats, found in plant sources such as nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils, and some fish, including salmon.
How to Calculate Macronutrients
Now you know what macros are and how many calories they have. Next, you need to do some math. This is because your intake ratios are written in percentages, but the nutritional information is provided in grams. I will use my macronutrient intake as an example.
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. I like to eat about 50% carbs, 25% fat and 25% protein.
3. Then, multiply your total daily calories by your percentages.
4. Finally, divide your calorie amounts by its calorie-per-gram number.
Here’s how I would calculate my calories for each macronutrient:
- Carbs: 2,300 x 0.50 equals 1,150. I eat 1,150 calories worth of carbs each day (hello, extra slice of toast).
- Protein: 2,300 x 0.25 equals 575, so I get 575 calories worth of protein.
- Fats: 2,300 x 0.25 equals 575. I also get 575 calories comprised of dietary fat.
To calculate the actual gram amounts:
- Carbs (4 calories per gram): 1,150 divided by 4 equals 287.5 grams of carbs.
- Protein (4 calories per gram): 575 divided by 4 equals 143.75 grams of protein
- Fat (9 calories per gram): 575 divided by 9 equals 63.8 grams of fat.
If you don’t like math, don’t fret. The internet is home to a range of macronutrient calculators that will do the math for you.
The Bottom Line
Tracking macros can be time-consuming, but it may also help you achieve your weight or energy goals. It may take some time to find just the right distribution of macronutrients for you. Careful tracking of food intake can also become obsessive-compulsive and is not for everyone. Talk to your health care provider before deciding to calculate macronutrients.