Both fitness stars and gym rats embrace counting macros to achieve flawlessly cut muscles. This popular strategy is based on eating just the right balance of macros instead of slashing calories indiscriminately. While it is one step ahead of calorie counting, will it lead to the weight loss you’re hoping for? Let’s find out.
“Macros” is the cute nickname given to macronutrients. Food is made up of three macronutrients that provide you with the calories you need. These are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Remember calories? They play a starring role in weight loss because the tenet of eating fewer calories for weight loss is still legit and isn’t going to die any time soon.
But, it’s the 21st century people! We know not all calories are created equal. Whole food is in, and processed food is out. The bottom line: Food quality matters.
This is where macro-counting fanatics will tell you that you should count the grams of fat, protein, and carbs consumed because they give you a better picture of diet quality. It’s only partly true. You can meet all your macronutrient goals perfectly and still eat a crappy diet.
That’s because your macros paint an incomplete picture of diet quality. Say you met your goal of eating 180 grams of carbohydrates for the day, and it was 40 percent of your total calories (not bad. Good job, you!). Our next question would be, well, what kind of carbs did you eat? Were they mostly from healthy sources like fruits and veggies or were they from cupcakes and candies? Your daily macros won’t tell you this, but the quality of your daily macros does matter.
In fact, strategies such as the popular If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) were created for you to eat whatever you want, Oreos included, as long as it fits with your daily macro percentages. Since we know that a diet works well only if it’s sustainable, we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that this plan could work for someone who feels they absolutely cannot ban a food. But, clearly nobody should eat Oreos every day, even if you make it fit into your daily macro allowance.
How Do You Count Macros?
There are many strategies to count macros. To count macros the IIFYM way, you’ll need to do math, and lots of it! This three-step game plan will demystify macro counting for you.
1. Figure out your daily calorie needs
There are many online calculators you can use, including this one by the National Institutes of Health. They generally use your gender, weight, height, and activity level to calculate your daily calorie goal. Then, they add or subtract a certain amount of calories from your day to help you gain or lose weight.
2. Choose how you want to “budget” those calories into macros
This budgeting depends on your goals, such as losing or gaining weight. If you look at the acceptable macronutrient range for carbohydrates, protein, and fat provided by experts (USDA guidelines below), it varies widely because we can eat well on many different diets.
*Source: USDA Dietary Guidelines
**Breakdowns vary based on individual.
***Openfit recommended daily macro breakdown for weight loss.
IIFYM suggests that up to 40 percent of your total daily calories come from protein, which is higher than expert guidelines. While it’s true that protein is beneficial for weight control, overdoing it on meat, especially red meat, isn’t healthy. Instead, plant-based diets are proven time and again to be healthier for us.
Openfit’s recommendation for weight loss is a moderate split of 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. This makes room for healthy fats like avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.
3. Convert calories into grams and count
After budgeting, divide your carbohydrate and protein calories by four, and divide your fat calories by nine, to calculate grams (protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9). Then, count the macros from every food you put into your mouth. Either paper and pencil it, or enter the data into an online food diary.
Phew! And, that’s it… until you hit a weight-loss plateau. You may need to start back at Step 1 to readjust your macros if what you’ve calculated no longer does the trick. You can also apply these three steps with any macronutrient-focused diet including the ketogenic diet and Atkins diet.
Will Counting Macros Lead to Weight Loss?
Err, yes. It can lead to weight loss because calories are already accounted for when you count your macros. So, if you follow your macro plan to a tee, this will also mean that you’re creating a calorie deficit — and that’s where the weight loss comes from.
Unfortunately, this technique suffers from the same issue as calorie counting: It can be tedious, depending on the plan and method you choose. You may see results, but you have to ask yourself if it’s sustainable and aligned with the type of lifestyle you want to live.
Remember to get those macros from mostly whole foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats, por favor!
Can You Still Lose Weight Without Counting Macros?
Absolutely! Calorie and macros counting are only as good as your honesty. How accurately do you follow the plan, and do you track everything? A major barrier for accurate tracking is portion control, so why not cut out the middleman? You can do this by learning how to properly portion your food.