If you want to shed pounds, one of the most important things you should learn is how to calculate macros for weight loss. It involves determining the grams of carbohydrates, fat, and protein you need in a day.
Counting macros helps you figure out where your calories come from — for instance, carbs from fruits and veggies, and protein and fat from eggs and nuts. Moreover, you will understand how each macro impacts your body (and ultimately weight loss) so you can adjust accordingly and reach your goals.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to calculate macros to lose weight, how often you should do it, and some common questions people ask on the topic.
What are Macros?
The term macros (meaning “large”) is short for macronutrients, which are nutrients your body needs in large amounts for energy, optimal function, and health. The three macros are carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
While many sources recommend getting the majority of your macros from carbs — e.g. the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies AMDR which is 45–65% calories from carbs, 20–35% fats, and 10–35% protein (*) — it’s still important to note that a high carb intake doesn’t work for everyone.
In that case, find what works for you by trying different macro percentages. An example, which is effective for weight loss, is reducing carbs to 5-10% (as with the keto diet) to deplete glycogen stores and trigger the fat-burning process (*).
Let’s dive into each macronutrient and their calories per gram:
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
Each macronutrient has specific functions. Here’s more about them:
Carbohydrates have been known as your body’s main fuel source — although ketones can also be used to provide energy to most organs and tissues in the absence of carbs (*). Carbs get digested into sugar and this causes your blood glucose to rise.
Simple carbs cause a rapid increase in blood sugar while complex carbs have a gradual effect since they’re digested slowly. Large amounts of simple carbs, such as traditional baked goods, fruit juices, and breakfast cereals can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance (*).
Besides limiting your carb intake (if you’re overweight or obese, or are at risk of diabetes) focus on complex carbs, such as broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, and blueberries.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are essential and non-essential. Non-essential means that your body can synthesize them while essential means you need these amino acids from your diet. You cannot function normally without protein because it’s involved in many important functions like providing structure and protection from disease.
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Optimizing protein intake supports weight loss through different mechanisms. As the most satiating macronutrient, protein reduces hunger. Research shows that there’s a prolonged suppression of ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone, after eating protein (*).
Protein also makes you burn more calories as it increases your metabolism. Another is that protein helps maintain muscle mass, which is especially important as we age. The more muscle you have, the more likely you are to keep the weight off.
Fats are needed for you to produce hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This macro is also vital to absorbing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (*).
For people on a weight loss journey, eating more fat from healthy sources — like avocados, nuts, fatty fish, eggs, full-fat dairy, and other whole foods — will replace carbs for fuel.
Another way fat aids weight loss is by balancing your blood sugar levels. Unlike carbohydrates, especially excessive amounts of simple carbs, fat doesn’t impact blood sugar and insulin.
Does Calculating Macros to Lose Weight Work?
The short answer is yes, calculating macros for weight loss is effective. Like calorie counting, tracking your macros daily requires noting everything you eat.
This can take a lot of work, especially in the beginning, since it also involves getting familiar with foods that are high or low in a certain macronutrient, making sure you include these foods in your diet, and then hitting your macros based on your ideal macronutrient breakdown.
Using a macro calculator provides a quick and convenient way to learn how many calories and macros you need as per your goals — e.g. lose weight, maintain weight, or gain muscle.
For some people, counting macros can be a great motivator to make smarter choices to keep the weight off. For others, it can lead to stress. Alternatively, you could eyeball your portion sizes but do this only after you’ve consistently tracked your macros. This may be less accurate, but it saves you from feeling overwhelmed trying to lose weight.
Important: Although macro tracking works for weight loss, note that it doesn’t account for the quality of your food. Improve your diet quality for long-term weight management (and more importantly, health) by eating mostly unprocessed foods. Processed foods are often high in added sugar which makes you hungrier.
What is the Difference Between Calculating Calories and Macros for Weight Loss?
The main difference is that calorie counting focuses only on reaching your set number of calories in a day and it doesn’t matter where these calories come from, whereas macro counting puts emphasis on the number of grams from each macronutrient you’re consuming.
Additionally, since macros make up the foods you eat, macro counting involves determining your calorie goal at the beginning. With that said, eating more calories than you burn — especially if these calories come from excess carbs — will promote fat storage.
Both approaches are beneficial for learning more about your eating habits so that you can make the changes necessary for weight loss to happen. Some people, including those who are numbers-oriented feel empowered using them.
However, they can be less ideal for those with very busy lives and those who prefer intuitive eating and flexibility after having achieved their weight loss results.
How to Calculate Macros for Weight Loss
We’ll walk you through the process on how to count macros for weight loss. Below is a list of steps you need to follow. After you’ve gotten your macro numbers, make sure to stick to them for at least a month. That way, you will notice any progress and adjust as needed.
Step 1: Calculate your calorie needs for weight loss.
The first step is figuring out your energy requirements based on your weight, height, and age (which make up your basal metabolic rate or BMR) and activity level. Use the equation below:
a. Calculate your BMR:
BMR for women = 655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age)
BMR for men = 66.47 + (6.24 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.755 x age)
For instance, a 150-pound, 6-foot, 30-year-old woman would have a BMR of 1,504.9. Here’s how she gets this number using the equation above
655 + (4.35 x 150) + (4.7 x 72) – (4.7 x 30) = 1,504.9
b. Determine your activity level:
Little to no exercise: 1.2
Exercise a few times a week: 1.375
Exercise 3-5 times a week: 1.55
Exercise 6-7 times a week: 1.725
c. Calculate your calories:
BMR result x activity level
The same woman who exercises 3-5 times a week would use the equation above to calculate her daily calorie needs
1,504.9 x 1.55 = 2,332.6 calories per day
Step 2: Pick your best macronutrient ratio.
While there are different macro ratios that support weight loss, research shows that a ketogenic approach, which is 60% fat, 30-35% protein, and 5-10% carbs works for rapid weight loss (*).
You can slightly adjust your fat and protein macros based on what makes you feel your best physically and mentally, but keep carbs as low as possible.
Step 3: Figure out how many grams you need from each macro.
Considering the macro ratio of 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs, the same person would determine the number of grams per macronutrient based on the following:
- Total daily calories
- Calories per gram of macronutrient (carbs has 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram, and protein has 4 calories per gram)
She would use this equation:
Daily calories x macro ratio in decimal form = answer/calories per gram per macro = number of grams per macro
- 2,332.6 calories per day x 0.05 = 116.63/4 = 29 grams of carbs per day
- 2,332.6 calories per day x 0.6 = 1,399.56/9 = 156 grams of fat per day
- 2,332.6 calories per day x 0.35 = 816.41/4 = 204 grams of protein per day
Want instant macro numbers without going through the steps above? Try our Perfect Keto macro calculator.
Step 4: Hit your macros consistently.
Now that you’re done calculating macros for weight loss, you’ll want to make sure you hit these every time. It’s normal to struggle in the beginning, but keep going! Doing these will help:
- Familiarize yourself with foods that belong to each macronutrient category. Here are some examples:
- Carbs: bread, rice, pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits, veggies, juice, corn
- Fat: olive oil, butter, ghee, nut butters, avocado, cheese, nuts, seeds
- Protein: chicken, beef, eggs, fish, seafood, other lean meats, tofu
- Plan and prepare your meals ahead of time. If you need recipe ideas, check out our recipe section for healthy keto-friendly breakfast, dinner, and snack ideas. Keep your meals simple.
- Use a macro tracking app to simplify logging your foods. Popular apps include MyFitnessPal and MyMacros+. A helpful trick to ensure you hit your macros is to log your meals in advance before eating them!
How Often Should You Recalculate Your Macros for Weight Loss?
Consider adjusting your macros every 4 weeks or at the start of each month if you notice that your weight loss has stalled. Losing 1-2 pounds per week is a healthy and safe rate of weight loss (*).
However, keep in mind that it’s normal to experience a rapid drop in weight in the beginning (since you’re depleting your glycogen stores).
If you’re still not satisfied with your weight loss results, you can get past a weight loss plateau by reassessing your habits and increasing your workouts, in addition to recalculating your macros.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are commonly asked questions on the topic of macros for weight loss:
What is the difference between a macro calculator and a weight loss calculator?
The terms “macro calculator” and “weight loss calculator” are terms that are often used interchangeably, although a macro calculator is sometimes used to generate macros for other goals like gaining weight or bulking up in bodybuilding.
What is the best macro ratio for fat loss?
The best macronutrient ratio for fat loss depends on the individual — what works for others may not work for you or vice versa. However, if you’re a complete beginner, you might want to start with a moderate-carb and moderate fat intake before progressing to very low-carb. In that case, your macros would be 30% carbs, 35% fat, and 35% protein.
What is the best macro ratio for muscle gain?
The answer may vary depending on who you ask, although many suggest a ratio of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat or 30% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat.
Note that protein is the most crucial macronutrient among the three for muscle mass and strength. Make sure to get enough protein by consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight.
What is the best macro ratio for maintaining?
If you want to maintain your weight loss results, just keep following the macro ratio that helped you lose the weight in the first place — e.g. 60% fat, 30-35% protein, and 5-10% carbs (ketogenic macros) — along with other weight maintenance strategies like exercise, eating whole foods, stress management, and getting support from a group or health professional (*).
The Bottom Line
Calculating and tracking your macros are necessary for losing weight and optimizing health to a considerable degree with nutrient-dense unprocessed foods. We’ve just shown you how macro counting works and how often you should do it if you want to keep progressing.
At the end of the day, remember that macro tracking is just one of the many strategies that aid weight loss. Experiment and see what happens. Looking to get started now? Try our Perfect Keto macro calculator.
National Academies Press. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. 2005
Ludwig D et al. Dietary carbohydrates: role of quality and quantity in chronic disease. 2018 June 13
Koliaki C et al. The Effect of Ingested Macronutrients on Postprandial Ghrelin Response: A Critical Review of Existing Literature Data. 2010 February 2