Counting Macros For Weight Loss? Here’s What You Need To Know

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What are macros?

Macros, also known as macronutrients, are chemical substances (such as protein or potassium) needed in large amounts for healthy body function and growth. They are your main source of calories and fuel you with the energy you need to do everyday activities.

The main types of macronutrients are:

  • Water

  • Fiber

  • Energy 

  • Protein and amino acids

  • Fats and cholesterol 

  • Carbohydrates

Macros play a vital role in your health and wellbeing, keeping your body running smoothly and preventing diseases in the process. The amount of each macronutrient you need is unclear as it varies from person to person, depending on age, sex, weight, and activity level.

The difference between macronutrients and micronutrients

Micronutrients are the essential vitamins and minerals you need in your diet to stay healthy. Like macronutrients, the amount each person needs varies by many factors; although, it is significantly less than the amount needed for macronutrients. For this reason, micronutrients are measured in milligrams (mg) instead of grams (g) like macronutrients.

Six essential micronutrients¹ you need to remain healthy include:

  1. Iron

  2. Vitamin A

  3. Vitamin D

  4. Iodine

  5. Folate

  6. Zinc

How to calculate macros for weight loss

Tracking macros rather than calories is much more beneficial for your health and weight loss success. This is because it also tracks calories but ensures that a certain number of those calories comes from essential nutrients like fat, carbs, and protein.

To calculate, you'll first need to know how many daily calories you should consume. The NHS² says that your daily intake of calories should be 2,000 calories a day for women and 2,500 for men. Then you need to identify a suitable macro ratio. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans³ advise 45-65% of calories come from carbs, 25-35% from fat, and 10-30% from protein when trying to lose weight.

Next, divide your calorie amounts by calorie-per-gram number, followed by calculating the actual gram amounts (divide your calories for each macro by its calories per gram):

  • Protein: four calories per gram

  • Carbohydrates: four calories per gram

  • Fat: nine calories per gram

Here's an example:

Suppose your daily calories are 2,000, and you commit to a ratio of 45% carbs, 25% fat, and 30% protein:

  • 2,000 X 0.45 = 900 calories of carbohydrates per day

  • 2,000 X 0.25 = 500 calories of fat per day

  • 2,000 X 0.30 = 600 calories of protein per day

To calculate the next step, which is actual grams:

  • Carbohydrates: 900/4 = 225 grams of carbs

  • Fat: 500/9 = 55.6 grams of fat

  • Protein: 600/4 = 150 grams of protein 

Macro calculator apps

If you're looking for a much quicker and easier way to count macros, you could also consider letting a well-known app do it for you. Fortunately, most of them are free.

According to nutritional expert Ted Kallmyer⁴, the top five Macro Calculator apps in the market so far are:

  1. HealthyEater Macro Calculator

  2. Muscle For Life

  3. IIFYM Calculator

  4. Freedieting Nutrient Calculator

  5. Bodybuilding Macro Calculator

It doesn’t matter whether you use one of these apps or do it yourself, the important thing about calculating macros for weight loss is keeping track and watching how much you take in to see the best results. This is not just to make sure you're not overeating, but to also ensure you're eating enough.

Why counting macros may help with weight loss

Much like counting calories, counting macros works for weight loss because you're tracking and measuring the amount of energy that comes in versus the amount of energy that goes out.

For instance, if you want to lose weight, you'll need to take in less energy than you're using through exercise and your typical daily activities. On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, you'll want to take in more energy than you burn.

This is because the energy that isn't used is stored as fat, which is why taking in more than you burn leads to weight gain. However, when you burn more energy than you take in, your body starts burning your fat for energy. This is when you start seeing weight loss results.

 "If you alter one side of the equation or the other, your body weight will change accordingly," Erma Levy, research dietitian in MD Anderson's Department of Behavioral Science, told MD Anderson Cancer Center⁵. "Simply put, calories in equals calories out."

Levy also added that "eating low-energy density foods lets you feel full on fewer calories and more nutrients. This can help you lose weight and control your hunger."

Tips to get more macros in your diet

When it comes to a successful macro diet for weight loss, try to find a percentage balance that works for you. If you often find yourself hungry, you might need to increase your protein and fiber intake. It may take some trial and error to find what works best for your body type and lifestyle.

Here are some tips to help you to get sufficient macros when trying to lose weight.

Meal planning and prepping

The best path to success is one that is planned and prepared for. When you make plenty of meals ahead of time that meet your daily macronutrient intake, you limit the risk of excuses to go under or over your daily amounts. This can get a little boring if you're repeatedly eating the same things, so be sure to switch it up to stay satisfied and get nutrient variety.  Research shows that you will certainly see the best results when you plan ahead.

In fact, a 2017 study⁶ found that participants that practiced meal planning and prepping were strongly linked to healthier diets and at a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Have macro-rich snacks on hand

A big problem many people have when dieting is filling in the gaps between meals with the right snacks. If you're significantly hungrier because you're eating much less, it's important that you always have healthy options available for quick eating and consider creating more satisfying meals with enough protein, fiber, fat, and carbs. Otherwise, it's common to slip up and grab a convenient bag of chips or similarly unhealthy snacks to take care of that hunger.

Regular healthy meals and these snacks on hand can help prevent unhealthy binges and cravings:

  • Hummus and vegetable sticks

  • Apples and peanut butter

  • Cottage cheese with berries and honey

  • Greek yogurt parfaits 

  • Hard-boiled eggs

  • Bananas and almond butter

  • Raw almonds or mixed nuts

  • Canned tuna

  • Fresh vegetables; cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers, cucumbers, etc

You can add protein to just about anything

Another tip to consider is adding protein powder to some of your favorite meals and drinks. This can be a shake, oatmeal, pancakes, yogurt with fruit, and even your coffee. Since protein deficiency is more common than you may think in America, it can be beneficial for hitting your macros goals to add protein powder to a snack or meal if you find it challenging to meet your daily percentage.

The lowdown

Macronutrients and micronutrients are the essential vitamins, minerals, and energy your body needs to stay healthy and active. By tracking your macros — on your own or through an app — you will be able to lose weight accordingly by ensuring that you are consuming the correct amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins each day.

To increase your intake of macronutrients, consider the following tips:

  • Meal plan and prep ahead of time to fill all your meals with the correct percentage of each category.

  • Have macro-rich snacks on hand for those hungry moments between meals to not only prevent yourself from eating something unhealthy but also meet your macro intake.

  • Consider adding protein powder to your favorite meals to increase your protein intake if you're one of the many Americans that struggle with consuming enough protein in their daily diet.

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