What are macros?

"Macros" stands for macronutrients and these are fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Use an online calculator to count macros for weight loss.

Every week, it seems like there's a new diet that's all the rage. Almost all of them involve keeping track of something, whether it's calories or carbs. Counting macros is similar, but some people find it gives them more control and flexibility. 

"Macros" stands for macronutrients. These are fats, carbohydrates, and protein, some of the nutrients your body needs the most. When you count macros, you're counting the grams of fat, carbs, and protein you eat daily. Counting your macros can help you make healthier eating choices because you can understand where your calories are coming from and what effect they have on your body. 

You should aim for a balance of macros because each macronutrient has a specific function: 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide your body with energy to support bodily functions and physical activity. The quality of carbohydrates matters, though. Some are healthier than others. 

Healthy carbohydrates are minimally processed or whole foods such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. These carbohydrates provide not only macronutrients but also fiber and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals

Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, sugar, and chips are empty calories that don't offer as much nutrition. They're too easily digestible by your body and can contribute to diabetes and heart disease

Protein

Protein is found in almost all of your body parts and tissues. It plays a key part in many of your bodily functions, from chemical reactions to carrying oxygen to your blood. When you're choosing proteins, try to focus on picking healthy sources. Although a sirloin steak provides 33 grams of protein, it also has 5 grams of saturated fat. 

The healthiest sources of protein are lean meats and plants. A cup of lentils, for instance, will give you 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of healthy fiber without unhealthy saturated fat. 

Fat

Stored fats give you energy, support your cell function, keep you warm, and protect your organs. Healthy fats can also help your brain function better and reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease. However, unhealthy fats can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.  

When you're choosing fat sources, look for those found in plants such as avocados, nuts, and fatty fish such as salmon. Consume less fat that's solid at room temperatures, such as animal fat and coconut oil. 

Do calories matter when you're counting macros?

Calories still matter when you're counting macros. However, counting macros can help you get better results than counting calories alone. If you're eating 2500 calories but most of your diet consists of carbohydrates, you probably won't feel satisfied, and you may gain weight. Sticking with your macros can help you feel more satisfied with fewer calories and understand how different foods affect your energy level and fullness. 

When it comes to calories and macros, it's important to understand how many calories are in each macro. Protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. 

How many macros should you eat?

There's no hard and fast rule about how many macros you should eat. As you track your macros, you'll be able to see your results and make adjustments. To get started, you should figure out how many calories you need each day. This will vary depending on how much you weigh, your sex, and how much weight you want to lose. 

When you know how many calories you need to eat, decide on your macro ratio. Again, this will vary depending on your goals and lifestyle. If you're a vegan, you may want to include a higher ratio of carbs. 

If you're trying to control your blood sugar, you may want to eat less carbs and more fat. A good starting point is 20 to 30% fat, 30% protein, and 40 to 50% carbohydrates. 

For example, if you're eating 2000 calories per day and want to eat 40% carbs, 30% fat, and 30% protein, you would have the following macros: 

Carbs

  • 40% of 2000 = 800 calories
  • 4 calories per gram = 200 grams/day

Fat

  • 30% of 2000 = 600 calories 
  • 9 calories per gram = 67 grams/day

Protein

  • 30% of 2000 = 600 calories
  • 4 calories per gram = 150 grams/day 

Tips for counting macros

If you're new to counting macros, here are some tips for getting started: 

  • Use an online calculator if you need help figuring out exactly what your calorie and macro count should be.
  • Focus on getting a balance of all three macronutrients with each meal.
  • Check nutrition labels for macronutrients and look for foods that have more protein than sugar (ideally, less than 8 grams of sugar per serving).
  • Avoid skipping meals and getting too hungry.
  • Experiment with your macro percentages to fine-tune your diet.
  • Get your fats from healthy sources, such as nuts, avocados, olive oil, and salmon. 
  • Avoid too many simple carbohydrates even if they fit in your macro allotments. 

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Plan ahead for success

The busy pace of modern life may leave you feeling like you don't have time for counting macros. If you're interested in counting macros but feeling overwhelmed, start by just keeping track of your macros for a week. Plan ahead and prepare your meals at the beginning of the week to make it even easier.  

Tracking your macros for a week may help you see where your current diet is falling short. You may not be eating enough fat to stay full, or you may be going light on protein. A week may be long enough to give you some insight, and it may even motivate you to keep going. 

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Medically Reviewed on 9/30/2022
References
SOURCES:

Cedars Sinai: "Know Your Macros—Why Macronutrients Are Key to Healthy Eating."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Know the facts about fats."

Maimi Dade College: "How to Calculate Your Macros."

National Agricultural Library: "How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein?"

The Nutrition Source: "Carbohydrates." "Protein."

SCL: "What Are Macros and Why Should I be Counting Them?"