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Counting Macros for Weight Loss: Effective? A Nutritionist Explains

By Tami Smith

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Counting calories as part of your weight loss journey can be a daunting task. Some people feel they need to track something in order to lose the most weight possible in an efficient time frame, but counting calories isn’t always the way to go. Counting and tracking macros is another option that a lot of athletes use in order to closely monitor their weight and performance. Macro diets are starting to pop up for health-conscious people who are looking to drop a few pounds, improve their overall physique and optimize their wellness.

If you’re not aware of what counting macros actually means or entails, I’d like to walk you through some of the basics and answer any questions that you may have. Getting started doesn’t have to be as difficult as you anticipate.

Quick Summary of Counting Macros to Lose Weight

counting macros to lose weight summary

Overall, counting macros is a great strategy and diet for those who want to lose fat and build muscle. Becoming aware of what macros are and why they are important is the first step to becoming the healthiest version of yourself. All you have to do is set your weight loss goals in an easy-to-use app (like 1st Phorm), and the app will do all the heavy lifting for you. For example, it will tell you how many calories, protein, carbs and fats you'll need each day. You'll still need to put in the work in terms of eating and exercising, but you'll soon find out that counting macros for weight loss is super effective.

What is a Macro?

what is a macro - counting for weight loss

Macronutrients refer to carbohydrates, protein and fat, which provide you with the majority of your energy each day. Foods can have one, two or all three of these types. Such as, your average protein source like chicken also contains smaller amounts of fat.

Macronutrient group amounts are also affected by how your blood sugar levels and energy levels change when you eat a certain food in that category. The amount of food that you eat is taken into account as well. Some healthy choices from each group include:

Protein:

Lean protein like chicken, fish and turkey. Eggs are also very healthy sources of protein. If you’re following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you can get healthy protein from plant-based sources like beans and soy products.

Carbohydrates:

You don’t have to completely cut carbs out of your diet, but you should pay close attention to the types of carbs that you’re consuming. Whole grain products, legumes, potatoes and fruit are healthy carbohydrate sources.

Fats:

Fats are a necessary part of your diet as they assist your body with processing and absorbing vitamins like A, D, E and K. You can consume healthy fats through olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado.

Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants also offer up energy, but those are referred to as micronutrients.

Why Do People Count Macros?

why people count macros for weight loss

When you’re counting macros instead of calories, you can make adjustments as needed to help you accomplish your goals. It’s not easy to determine exactly how many calories you should be consuming each day in order to lose weight but focusing on your macronutrients allows you to easily change your diet, so you see results. Calories can come from so many different sources, and those sources affect your body in all kinds of different ways. The system of counting calories can quickly become overwhelming and ineffective.

Do Calories Matter?

calories importance counting macros weight loss

All three of the different macro groups contain calories, so calories do matter in your diet. However, those calories are used differently to provide you with energy. Calories are a unit of energy that comes from food. Regardless of how organic or nutrient dense a food is, you don’t want your caloric intake to be larger than your metabolic rate and energy output. If this is the case, you won’t lose weight.

A good example of this scenario takes 300 calories into account. There are about 300 calories in a single avocado. If you were to eat those 300 calories, you’re consuming high levels of vitamins and minerals. That’s great for your body, but those calories will cause you to gain just as much weight as 300 calories worth of cupcakes will.

Benefits of a Macro Diet

benefits macro diet for weight loss

Counting macros is quite a bit more effective than focusing on your caloric intake. You’ll be making healthier choices that impact the overall quality of your food. If you know that you have 500 calories to work with for a meal, you can choose a healthy salad with plenty of protein and veggies included. However, a slice of pizza may also be 500 calories. One of those choices is obviously a healthier option that will help you with your weight loss journey (spoiler; the salad is healthier!).

Protein is a big part of weight loss, and protein is an important component of counting macros. You need adequate levels of protein in order to increase your energy levels and aid in digestion. Protein also fills you up for longer periods of time. When you combine your protein with other macro-safe options, you’ll be consuming a very healthy diet that is beneficial long term. That means you can lose weight but also keep it off.

Lose Fat

A lot of people end up losing a substantial amount of muscle when they’re trying to lose fat on their body. Counting macros accounts for this potential loss and prevents it from happening. Keeping track of your protein is a big part of weight loss. You should actually be getting enough protein in your diet to maintain your muscle mass.

Build Muscle

Protein is a very important part of building up your muscle tissue. If you’re trying to maintain your current muscle mass or you want to build it up further, your protein intake is what you should be paying most attention to. This isn’t possible if you’re simply counting calories and not macros. Counting your macros will prevent muscle loss, which you worked so hard to achieve.

More Energy

Every person is different in regard to their energy needs. Keeping these energy needs in a precise balance will ensure that you feel your best each day. Restricting your caloric intake will decrease energy and make you feel lousy. It’s likely that you are low on carbs and fat stores. That means your body is going to take protein from your muscles to keep you going. You need to have enough energy coming in so you can use it efficiently while still achieving your weight loss goals and keeping your body and mind feeling good. Counting your macros allows you to keep a close eye on where your energy is coming from so you can balance it better.

Proper Nutrition Your Body Needs

Nutrition is such an important part of your daily life. We don’t want to just grab whatever we can find in hopes of feeling full and having enough energy to get through the day. What we put into our bodies will determine how healthy we physically feel, how balanced our hormones are and how healthy we are from a mental standpoint. We need a very precise amount of nutrients each day to be healthy. That doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight, but you still need to take care of your body while doing so. This is where counting macros is far more beneficial than counting calories.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Counting macros can be difficult at first as you learn more about healthier food choices. If you’re sticking to a basic macro diet of consuming healthy amounts of protein, fat and carbs, then you might find the process easy. If you get into specific macro goals like a set amount of protein in grams each meal, you may be just as challenged as if you were counting calories.

Snacks can be a challenge when you’re counting macros. Meals are relatively easy to organize when you’re sticking to your three macro sources. There is a minimal amount of macro friendly snacks that don’t have high levels of carbs and fat while still providing adequate protein. You may come up with some options that you like, but there might be a lack of variety.

If you’ve struggled with an eating disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder currently or in the past, counting your macros may trigger you to become obsessed with what you’re putting into your body. You may also feel very restricted with what you can eat in order to stick with your diet.

How Many Macros Should You Eat When Trying to Lose Weight?

The recommendations for counting macros for fat loss and muscle gain can vary, but the range is generally 20 to 30 percent of your total calories. That doesn’t mean your diet can’t be changed a bit and still be effective. Many people can tolerate a diet that has higher levels of fats, while that can be devastating for others.

What’s The Best Way to Count Macros for Weight Loss?

best way to count macros for losing weight

Counting your macros will depend on your current age, weight and activity level. When you’re working out regularly, your body will require more carbohydrates and protein than someone that isn’t very physically active. A good starting point is:

  • 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat, 40 percent carbs if you exercise for one hour or less each day.
  • 30 percent protein, 25 percent fat, 45 percent carbs if you exercise for one to two hours each day.
  • Exercising more than two hours daily and trying to achieve a healthy loss of weight may require the assistance of a dietitian that can help you figure out a more personalized approach to counting your macros.

Find out your calorie needs

Your specific calorie needs depend on your age, height, gender and activity level. While we often hear that your average American should consume about 2000 calories per day, that’s two general numbers to apply to everyone. You can use an online calorie calculator to determine your specific requirements.

Add up your macros

Once you know what your personal calorie count is, you can plug in your macro ratio to determine how much protein, fat and carbs you should be eating each day. There are macro calculators available online as well.

Use an app to track your macros

There are a number of apps available that help you track your macros so you’re aware of what you should be eating and what you’ve already eaten that day. It would be too difficult to keep a mental note throughout the day. Some of the most popular apps include the 1st Phorm app, MyFitnessPal, Simple Macros, Macros, MyPlate and Stupid Simple Macros.

Sounds Complicated, Is It Beginner Friendly?

beginner friendly counting macros lose weight

Counting macros sounds complicated when you first learn about what this process is. However, having the right information and tools on hand can make the process quite simple, especially when you get the hang of everything. It takes a bit of work to get started and learn your specific percentages for protein, carbs and fats. Once you’ve come up with some go-to meal options, you’ll find it easier to count macros and lose weight.

How Much Weight Can You Lose, and How Fast?

Every person is different when it comes to losing weight and the time it takes to accomplish your weight loss goals, but counting macros provides you with the potential to lose about two to five percent of your body fat, with about 10 pounds being lost that first month.

We recommend reading our results timeline for counting macros post to get a better feel for how much weight you can lose.

Is Counting Macros for Weight Loss Effective? Closing Thoughts

Counting macros has the potential to help a person lose weight, but it can take some work to get started and to maintain this practice.

When you first get started and see some results, you’re likely motivated to keep going. Whether or not you can continue to count your macros long term is really up to you.

You may find that you fall into a healthy habit with your meals that prevents you from always having to count what you’ve eaten. You’ll start to learn what healthy meal and snack options are, and you can default to those options when you’re in a hurry.

If you’re dedicated and really want to lose weight, counting macros provides you with that opportunity. There are plenty of people that like to have that solid data that holds them accountable. If you’re one of those people, then counting macros may very well be for you.

Tips for Success from the Nutritionist

I don’t want you to be overwhelmed if you’ve decided to count your macros. I have some tips that I’d like to share with you that can make a big difference in how successful you are with this process.

  • Come up with your initial calculations, but understand that there may need to be changes made later on. Your specific body type will determine what you need to do in order to lose weight and keep it off. That may mean less fat and more protein or less carbs and more fats.
  • Be kind to yourself when you’re making such a big change in your diet. If you’re not eating according to the macro ratios already, you may have days where you slip up. It’s ok to have cheat days and it’s ok to slip back into old habits. Just make sure that you can pick back up where you left off.
  • You can’t expect to go grocery shopping and randomly pick out food that you will make into healthy meals later on. You need to plan ahead so you know exactly what you need to get from the store. Otherwise, you could end up without the healthy ingredients that you need to adhere to your macro counts.
  • There’s nothing wrong with snacking, but make sure that you have appropriate snacks on hand at all times. If you’re heading out for the day, have items in your bag so you can munch on something healthy without wanting to drive through a fast food restaurant.
  • Counting macros should never mean that you’re starving yourself. If your body is telling you that it’s hungry, then you should eat. Just make sure that your choices are following your macro ratios.
  • The days can run into one another to some extent. If you’ve gone over your fats ratio one day, you can change your diet the next day to include less.
  • The great thing about counting your macros is that you don’t have to consume supplements, you don’t have to purchase special diet foods and you have free reign over what you’re eating (as long as you’re sticking to your ratios and making healthy choices).

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About the author 

Tami Smith

Tami Smith is a certified Nutritionist and an ACE certified fitness trainer, specializing in pre and post-natal fitness. She studied business and earned her bachelor's degree in Business Economics. Tami is a mom of two and women's health advocate. Her passion is to help people live a fit, healthy life through proper nutrition and exercise!

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