How to Count Macros for Beginners

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If you are looking to lose weight, one popular (and very effective) method is to begin counting your macronutrients (macros).  What is a macro you might ask?  Macronutrients (or macros) are simply the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates you are consuming.  These macros totals, cumulatively, add up to the total calories you are taking in.  If someone says they are counting their macros, they are essentially counting their calories, but with an even more granular breakdown. 

Why would you want to bother tracking your food down to the macro level?  If you can just count your calories instead, why add this additional level of complexity?  First, if you are embarking on a fat loss journey, it is important to get in enough protein.  Tracking your calories alone would not enable you to see how much protein you are getting in each day.  Additionally, if you are attempting to eat specific macros ratios (for example, in order to reach ketosis) it is imperative to track not just your calories, but your macros as well. 

How to Begin Counting Macros

If you have never counted your macros before, it is important to understand how they fit into your daily calories.  Proteins and carbohydrates are both comprised of four calories per gram.  Fats have nine calories per gram.  Alcohol has seven.  (We could go into more detail about alcohol, but that’s a topic for a separate post).  While trying to track every single gram of each macro every day might seem daunting, technology has made it very easy.

If you’ve never tracked your food before, I would recommend just starting there.  Simply download a food tracking app (myfitnesspal is a great one) and start tracking everything you eat.  While you can get very strict and weigh/measure your food down to the gram, as a beginner you can just “eyeball” your portions.  Once you have tracked your food for a few days, take a look at your macro totals at the end of the day.  This will give you an idea of how much of each macro you were naturally consuming. 

What Do I Set My Macro Targets?

So now that you know how to track macros, how do you know how many of each you should be consuming?  There are many calculators online.  A simple Google search for “macro calculator” should produce lots of results.  From here, you can input your biographical information and the calculator should give you target numbers you can aim for.  While these calculators can’t take everything into account (see ‘Macros For Weight Loss’), they can give you a place to start if you are brand new to counting macros. 

Once you know what macro targets you plan to hit each day, it is helpful to plan out most of your meals in advance.  While you can certainly “wing it”, this is more likely to leave you near the end of the day and not even close to your targets.  You might be way under your macros or way over in some and under in others.  It is typically the protein macro that is hardest for people to get enough of.  I would recommend starting out by planning your meals around your protein sources.  From there, you can fill in with carbs and fats. 

Macro Calculation Example

So what does this actually look like using a practical example?  Let’s start with calculating our macros from a simple snack.  Suppose for our snack we had one medium apple with a Frigo string cheese.  Myfitnesspal tells me that one medium apple has 20 grams of carbs and is 80 calories (4 calories per gram X 20 grams = 80 calories). The string cheese has 6 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and 1 gram of carbs and is 82 calories (6g protein X 4 calories plus 6g fat X 9 calories plus 1g carbs X 4 calories = 82 calories).  Your total macro breakdown for this snack will be 81g carbs, 6g protein, 6g fat, for a total of about 162 calories. 

Good Sources For Each Macro

Carbs

Fruit

Vegetables

Grains, including oats, rice, quinoa

Lentils, bean, peas

Milk and yogurt

Starches, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes

Fats

Avocado

Peanut butter

Nuts

Eggs

Cheese

Flaxseeds and chia seeds

Butter

Protein

Chicken

Beef

Greek yogurt

Eggs/egg whites

Cheese

Fish

Tofu

healthy food

Tracking your macros – Don’t worry about being perfect

We’ve covered how to track your macros, how to set your macro targets, and discussed some foods that are good sources of each macro.  Now go out and just start tracking!  Don’t worry about being perfect.  Just start by tracking your food and seeing where you are at naturally.  Once you’ve done that for a week or so, determine what you want your targets to be and try your best to hit them.  Don’t worry about being exact.  If you can get within 10 grams of each macro every day, you will be well on your way to reaching your physique goals!

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