If you’ve been keeping up with the latest health and wellness trends, I’m sure you’ve heard all about counting macros, also known as flexible dieting.
People everywhere are raving about being allowed to eat all of their favorite foods and still achieve their health and wellness goals!
Sounds too good to be true, right?
As a Dietitian who has personally tracked macros, I’m here to tell you all about the macro diet, why you should give it a try, and how long it may take you to see results.
Are you ready?! Let’s dive in!
What is Macro Counting (Macro Tracking)?
Macronutrients, or macros, are the three main nutrients your body needs to function properly. The three macros are fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Counting macros is a type of flexible dieting that involves determining how many grams of each macronutrient you need to reach your desired fitness goals.
People count macros for weight loss, improving body composition, and gaining muscle. Over time, it helps you develop healthier eating patterns and encourages a whole foods approach to dieting without restriction.
Is Counting Macros The Same As Counting Calories?
While both counting calories and counting macros end up with a calorie surplus to gain weight and a calorie deficit to lose weight, the macro diet takes things to the next level.
With calorie counting, if you need 1,600 calories per day to lose weight, you could technically eat only donuts and reach your weight loss goals.
Although they taste ahh-mazing, donuts and other processed foods are primarily composed of sugar and carbohydrates. You cannot properly nourish your body on carbs alone.
This is where the macro diet comes in with a healthier approach. If you divide the 1,600 calories into a ratio of complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean protein, you can still fit in a donut but will be eating a balanced, satisfying diet and lose weight.
What’s a Macro Diet Look Like?
A macro diet will look different for everyone depending on your individual goals and the macro ratio you choose to follow.
Based on USDA guidelines, here’s the recommended macro distribution to maintain optimal health:
- Carbohydrates: 45-65%
- Protein: 10- 35%
- Fat: 20-35%
Each food contains its own macronutrient composition, and each macro provides a certain amount of calories per gram.
- Carbohydrates (to provide energy): 4 calories per gram
- Protein (to help build and maintain muscle): 4 calories per gram
- Fat (to provide energy protect vital organs): 9 calories per gram
* Though it is not widely recognized, alcohol is a fourth nonessential macronutrient. It provides seven calories per gram.
It is important to note individual macro ratios will vary by diet preference and/or underlying disease. Those with kidney disease may not be able to eat high amounts of protein and will require a lower protein ratio than a healthy individual looking for muscle gain. Those that have diabetes or wish to follow a low-carb diet will have lower carbohydrate ratios.
If you are new to the macro diet, I highly suggest speaking with a Registered Dietitian, macro coach, or experienced nutrition coach to determine your individual macro needs.
What’s A Good Macro Ratio Rule of Thumb?
A question I get asked a lot is, “What is the best macro ratio to lose weight?”. The answer is simple, whatever ratio works best for you and is sustainable long-term.
Your macro ratio does not directly determine weight loss and studies have shown being in a calorie deficit will result in similar weight loss regardless of macronutrient ratio.
If you’re just getting your feet wet in the world of flexible dieting and want to try the macro diet, I recommend that you start by loosely tracking macros to see if it feels like a good fit.
A good rule of thumb to familiarize yourself with a macro-based diet approach is to fill a little over a quarter of your plate with lean protein, a quarter of your plate with whole grains, and half of your plate with non-starchy veggies.
As long as the foods you have on your plate have fat in them (like chicken breast cooked with olive oil or butter on your veggies), you don’t have to worry too much about adding additional fat to each meal.
Regardless of the diet you choose to follow, you can’t go wrong with eating healthy fats, lean protein, and healthy carbs with each meal.
How Important is Protein for Weight Loss?
Protein is arguably the most important macronutrient for weight loss. Protein is made up of amino acids that your body uses to build and repair muscle fibers.
As I mentioned earlier, weight loss can occur regardless of macronutrient composition. All macronutrients are essential and have different functions in the body, but some may help with fat loss more than others.
So, how does protein help with weight loss?
Protein is a thermogenic food. This means your body uses more energy to digest protein than many other macros. Protein is also very filling and can increase satiety. Diets high in protein can lead to decreased appetite and increased fat burn.
One study found that consuming a minimum of 25%-35% of your calorie goal from protein can result in an additional 80-100 calories burned daily.
For all of us wanting to lose weight while achieving a lean, toned physique, adequate protein intake is crucial to promote weight loss while preserving lean muscle mass.
Can Counting Macros Help You Lose Weight?
Absolutely! The macro diet teaches you how to make healthy food choices that can lead to sustained, long-term weight loss.
Personally, I started counting macros to learn how to find balance. I had no problem losing weight by counting calories, but I could never stick with it.
I didn’t know how to find the right balance between eating healthy and enjoying my life. The more I restricted myself, the worse my cravings for junk food got, which led to me splurging and binge eating junk food.
Once I started counting macros and began focusing on the foods I could eat instead of foods I couldn’t eat, weight loss came naturally.
Thanks to the macro diet, I was able to reach my goal weight and have now maintained my current weight for several years now!
How Long Do You Need to Count Macros to See Weight Loss?
I recommend sticking with your initial macro ratio and calorie goal for a minimum of two weeks to see a healthy weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week.
If you are not losing weight or experiencing weight gain after two weeks, you may need to reduce your daily calorie allowance and re-adjust your macro ratio.
In contrast, if you see a rapid weight loss of over two pounds per week, I suggest increasing your calorie intake to reach a slow, healthy rate of weight loss and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Does Exercise (Cardio and Weight Training) Play a Role?
Yes, exercise plays a large role in how many macros you need. Fortunately, during your initial consultation with a macro coach or dietitian, activity levels will be included in your calculation.
If you choose not to seek out coaching, most online calculators consider your activity level and will automatically include those calories in your macro ratio as well.
It may take some time to figure out exactly what macro ratio works best for you based on your exercise regimen.
For example, if you are training for a marathon, you will likely need more carbohydrates than someone looking to lean out while preparing for a fitness competition.
A coach will take all of these factors into consideration and take an individualized approach to figure out how many calories you need and give you a better idea of your macro ratio.
So, how do you calculate macros to lose weight?
You’ve got a question and I have answers! Let’s discover how to calculate macros to lose weight!
How to Calculate Macros for Weight Loss
A simple google search will lead you to A LOT of macro calculators that do all of the work for you.
If you’re like me and wonder where in the world all these numbers come from, here’s a quick rundown of the math behind macro counting for weight loss.
1. Figure out your BMR
First, you will need to figure out your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. This is how many calories your body needs to survive. To figure out your BMR, you can use the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation.
Total calories per day for men = 10 x current weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) - 5 x age + 5
Total calories per day for women = 10 x current weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm)- 5 x age -161
2. Factor in your Activity Level
Once you get your BMR, you multiply it by your exercise level. (if you are stuck between two, I recommend going with the lower activity level).
- Sedentary: x 1.2 (little to no exercise)
- Lightly active: x 1.375 (light exercise less than three days a week)
- Moderately active: x 1.55 (moderate exercise most days of the week)
- Very active x 1.725 ( strenuous exercise every day of the week)
3. Set a healthy calorie deficit
Once you factor in your activity level, this gives you your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). You can either add or subtract depending on your fitness goals. To lose weight, I recommend starting with a 500 calorie deficit.
4. Determine your Macro Ratio
As I mentioned earlier, you can use a wide range of ratios, and you should speak with a professional to determine the best macro ratio for you.
I personally have had success with a ratio of 45% carbs, 35% protein, and 20% fat.
As an example, here’s a breakdown of my macros to lose weight:
183 grams, 183 X 4 calories per gram = 732 calories (45%)
142 grams, 142 X 4 calories per gram = 568 calories (35%)
36 grams, 36 X 9 calories per gram = 324 calories (20%)
Total daily calorie intake
Where to Track My Macros Goals?
If you’re wondering how to be successful with counting macros to lose weight, tracking your macros in an app is key!
I have used My Fitness Pal to track my macros. The app is very simple to use and allows you to customize your individual goals based on your personal macro ratio.
Another neat thing about My Fitness Pal is that their database has thousands of foods and beverages from popular restaurants to choose from. You can also scan the package on a food, and your macros will automatically populate.
Planning is a must when tracking macros. If you don’t plan you can end up with near impossible numbers to meet at the end of the day. With macro tracking apps, you can plan your meals ahead of time to help balance your day out.
Not a fan of My Fitness Pal? The good news is, many similar apps are widely available that may work better for your needs. Some other macro tracking apps include:
Are There Any Other Tools I Need For Macro Counting?
If you are ready to get serious about macro dieting, I strongly recommend investing in a food scale. Weighing your food is essential if you want to properly track your macros.
Portion sizes can be very deceiving and can result in more calories being consumed than what you are tracking. Food should be measured in grams to precisely count macros.
Recommended Meal Delivery Services for Easy Macro Counting
Conclusion: How Long Does It Take To See Healthy Weight Loss From the Macro Diet?
Flexible dieting and counting macros can be a great way to lose weight and reach your health and fitness goals without deprivation. If done correctly, weight loss should come at a healthy rate of 1-2 pounds per week.
It is important to know that dieting is not a one size fits all approach. Because the concept of macro counting is tracking everything you eat, I do not recommend the macro diet for those who already have an unhealthy relationship with food or a history of an eating disorder.
Ultimately, macro dieting is a great way to learn healthier habits and promote weight loss. Once you become familiar with tracking and become adjusted to better eating patterns, you likely will already have a good idea of what you can eat, and you can begin to ease off of tracking everything you eat.
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