A Simple Guide to Understanding and Calculating Macros

By Matt
Last Update

How do I calculate my macros?

calculate macros
Don’t worry, we’ll supply the calculator

To calculate your daily macro ratio, you need to know what your goals are. Are you looking to lose a little weight? Maintain your current weight? Or looking to bulk up?

I went from over 300 lbs a couple of years after high school down to 190 lbs. Once I started getting serious about fitness, I climbed up to around 220 lbs, with added muscle mass, where I sit most of the time. 

Before learning about macros, I had a very polarizing relationship with food. Junk food was bad, and chicken and broccoli were good. Now, I eat everything – I just make sure I have some room in my daily calorie limit to account for the odd cookie and candy binge.

In this article, I’ll explain the basics of calorie intake and how the 3 macronutrients fit into it. I’ll also point you to our Macro Calculator to figure out your daily calorie intake and a macro-ratio personalized for you and your goals.

The Basics on Calories

It’s tough to keep up with all the fad diets and the promises they make. But they all come down to the same simple equation: if you want to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you take in (create a calorie deficit). If you want to gain weight, you need to consume more calories than you burn (calorie surplus). Of course, that is a pretty simplified way to look at it, but it’s still the basis of any diet and sets the overall goal when calculating macros.

Figuring out the number of calories you need to consume in a day varies depending on your goals, activity level, and basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs to complete essential life-sustaining functions and can be calculated with a formula using your height, weight, and age.

Use this calculator to find your BMR using the Mifflin-St Jeor formula that this study found to be the most accurate of the 4 it tested.

After figuring out your BMR, our Macro Calculator will give you the total calorie intake per day based on your goals and activity level. It will also calculate the number of grams you need of each macronutrient. These calculations are based on standards and guidelines provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the World Health Organization.

A couple of important tips to know when planning your macros are:

  • Protein is 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram
  • Fat is 9 calories per gram

Protein

Protein is one of the three nutrients the body needs in large (macro) amounts. It’s essential for building tissues and muscle. 

The recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight, according to the Institute of Medicine. This is the minimum amount for meeting nutritional requirements and doesn’t take your body size or activity level into account.

The recommended amount of protein for strength training varies from 1.6 to 2.0g/kg of body weight. Hitting your protein goal is necessary for muscle growth, and also keeps you feeling full longer. As a habitual snacker, I’ll take any advantage I can to keep myself out of the chip bag!

Some of the easiest sources to get protein:

  • Seafood
  • Chicken
  • Red Meat
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Soy
  • Powders and Supplements 

Carbohydrates

Carbs are a source of energy for several body tissues and the primary energy source for the brain. They allow the body to perform vital functions like keeping your heart beating, lungs breathing, and brain thinking.

The recommended daily allowance of carbs is 45% – 65% of your total daily calories. On 2000 calories per day, 900 to 1300 calories should come from carbs. That translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day.

Our Macro Calculator will vary the number of carbs per day based on your goals. If you select ‘Weight Loss’ as your goal option, the carb allowance will be 40% of your daily calories, and if you select ‘Weight Gain’ it will be 45%.

You’ll quickly realize how many carbs are in all the best foods (well…for me anyways!) and how important it is to hit your daily protein goal so you don’t overdo it on carbs. 

Not all carbs are created equal. Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice and whole grains, release their energy slowly and keep you full longer. Simple and refined carbs, like white bread and sugary beverages, can give you a quick burst of energy but won’t keep you full for long. This can lead to overeating, weight gain, and other health issues.

Here are some examples of complex carbs:

  • Whole grains
  • Peas and beans
  • Vegetables like sweet potatoes and broccoli
  • Brown rice

Refined Carbs:

  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • Sweet desserts
  • Many breakfast cereals

Fats

Dietary fats are essential to support cell function and give your body energy. They play a role in hormone production, vitamin absorption, and organ protection. They also help keep you warm!

It’s recommended that calories from fats make up 20% – 35% of your daily intake. Following the 2000 calories per day diet from earlier, grams of fats per day would range from 44 – 78.

Dietary fats can be broken up into “good” fats (monosaturated fat and polyunsaturated fats), and “bad” fats (trans fat and saturated fat). Bad fats can cause problems with your cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends limiting calories from saturated fat to 5% – 6% of your total daily intake.

Some examples of healthy fats:

  • Olive, avocado, and coconut oils
  • Avocados
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Soybeans

Some sources of bad fats that should be limited:

  • Ice cream and full-fat dairy
  • Lard
  • Commercially-baked pastries
  • Packaged snack food (crackers, chips)
  • Stick margarine
  • Anything containing hydrogenated vegetable oil

I know my macros, what’s next?

Now that you have your macros calculated, I highly recommend using a calorie tracker until you get a feel for how much you’ll be eating in a day. It lists many common foods and their macronutrients. I use MyFitnessPal and find it pretty user-friendly.

Remember this is a long game. The results don’t happen overnight, but every day on track is a step closer to your goals! 

A healthy diet paired with the right workout routine will take your fitness to the next level!

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AUTHOR

Matt is a Professional Firefighter/Paramedic and a Certified Personal Trainer who has been passionate about fitness for nearly 20 years. He is active in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and enjoys many outdoor hobbies and sports.