How to count macros for weight loss and why registered dietitians often consider it a better method than calorie counting

By counting macros, you can keep track of where your nutrients are coming from. vgajic / Getty Images
Counting macronutrients can be an alternative option to counting calories.
To count macros, monitor how many grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat you consume each day.
Some people prefer to count macros because it allows them to keep track of their nutritional levels (i.e., where they get their energy from).
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Macronutrients (or macros) are the types of nutrients our bodies need in large quantities to provide energy. Think about carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Some people prefer to keep track of their macros rather than taking in calories as they improve their diet.
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"Macronutrients contribute calories, so if you track macronutrients, you are essentially counting total caloric intake," said Emily Field, MPH, RD, a registered nutritionist with a private practice in New York City. Macrocounting (sometimes referred to as the "flexible diet") is often considered more beneficial than calorie counting because it takes into account where the calories are coming from.
For example, small servings of a chocolate chip muffin and a fillet of steamed salmon are roughly 275 calories, but they are not equally healthy and they do not have the same amount of nutrients. Macro counting helps you make this distinction, while calorie counting doesn't.
Here's What You Need to Know About Macro Counting and How to Calculate Recommended Weight Loss Intake.
How do I find out macros?
“Counting macros means that you simply add up the total number of grams of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins of the foods you consume per meal or per day,” says Andrea Marincovich, RD, registered nutritionist and founder of The Realistic Nutritionist.
To start counting macros, you need to identify your calorie needs and determine your ideal macro distribution. Once you have your calorie and macro goals in place, you can better pay attention to where your calories are coming from.
Calculate how many calories you are burning
First, you need to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditures (TDEE), or the total number of calories you burned in a day. This takes into account your resting energy expenditure (REE) and your activity level. You can calculate your TDEE using the Mifflin-St Jeor formula, an equation for REE developed in 1990:
Women: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years) - 161
Men: (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years) + 5
Next, consider your activity level. For example, people who are lightly active generally exercise one to three days a week compared to moderately active or very active people who exercise six to seven days a week or twice a day. Multiply your TDEE by the multiplier based on your current daily activity level:
Sedentary lifestyle: x 1.2
Slightly active: x 1.375
Moderately active: x 1.55
Very active: x 1.725
Extremely active: x 1.9
The number you end up with is your TDEE, or the number of calories you need each day.
Create your ideal macro distribution
"Macronutrient needs or goals are determined by variables such as gender, age, weight, height, and physical activity," Field says. Here is the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) according to the Food and Nutrition Board:
Carbohydrates: 45% -65% of total calories
Protein: 10% -35% of total calories
Fat: 20% -35% of total calories
It's a wide range so you can adjust the macro ratio based on your dietary preferences. For example, a strength athlete may increase their protein and carbohydrates, while a person who is monitoring their blood sugar may want to reduce their carbohydrate percentage and increase their fat intake instead.
Calculate your macro shot
Now that you've established your TDEE and ideal macro ratio, you need to calculate the number of macros you will need to meet your TDEE or a specific calorie goal. Each gram of macronutrient produces a certain number of calories:
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Calculating macros is often confusing at first and it can take some time to adjust, even for experienced calorie counters. Here is an example calculation for a person intending to consume 1,500 calories per day, made up of 45% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 35% fat:
Carbohydrates: 45% x 1,500 calories / 4 calories = 168.75 grams per day
Protein: 25% x 1,500 calories / 4 calories = 93.75 grams per day
Fat: 30% x 1,500 calories / 9 calories = 50 grams per day
With these proportions, one day meals might look like this:
Breakfast: 6 baby carrots, 1 slice of low-fat modarella cheese, 1 tablespoon of olive oil mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of light dressing, 2 slices of whole grain bread and a can of tuna
Lunch: 2 small slices of garlic bread and a selection of pasta with cream sauce and poultry
Dinner: A medium-sized slice of roast beef, 1 cup of brown rice, and half a cup of green beans
This example contains approximately 162.61 grams of carbohydrates, 90.40 grams of protein, and 53.59 grams of fat, which is close to the intended macro shot. "In most cases, regular approach to your macro targets will produce results. It doesn't take perfection for macro tracking to work," says Field.
How do I calculate macros for weight loss?
"By counting macros and getting enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates to support your body, you can eliminate 'hungry' feelings, food cravings, and low energy levels as you lose weight," says Field.
People often track their macro intake to help meet their nutritional and fitness goals. However, if your goal is to lose weight, you will need to eat fewer calories than your TDEE to have a calorie deficit that will result in weight loss. You can eat the foods you like as long as you consistently meet your macronutrient goals. It is important to increase physical activity and eat healthily too.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a calculator that you can use to determine your average nutritional needs based on age, height, weight, gender, and activity level. However, it is best to contact a registered dietitian to determine your individual needs.
"Counting macros is a stand-alone diet where a person eats balanced meals made from selected foods," says Marincovich. Whichever macros you want to reduce or prioritize, you can lose weight as long as there is an overall calorie deficit.
Insider to take away
By keeping track of macros like carbs, protein, and fat, you can monitor where your daily calorie intake is coming from. Calories don't always indicate nutritional levels, so some people monitor their macro intake instead.
To count macros, calculate the number of calories you burn per day (or your total daily energy expenditure), then set a macro ratio that suits your lifestyle and dietary preferences. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn each day.
“Counting macros isn't difficult, but it takes effort and energy, which can make it difficult for some people. Learning to count macros is a change in behavior,” says Marincovich. It can be overwhelming to establish a whole new way of looking at food and meal assembling, but there's definitely a learning curve, she says.
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