A step-by-step guide on counting macros to hit your health goals
Whether you’re a regular at the gym, or you’ve never stepped foot inside a gym door, you’d be familiar with macros on some level (even if only an ‘overheard in the lunchroom’ type level). With benefits of weight loss and muscle gain, counting macros is a technique adopted by many gym-goers, bodybuilders, and health-conscious men striving to hit health goals through measured nutrition and meal planning. So, how do you count macros? Follow our step-by-step guide to find out.
What is a macro?
The term “macro” stems from the word macronutrient. And if we rewind a little farther, the term macronutrient is derived from the Greek word “makros”, meaning large. Macronutrients are essential nutrients required by the body to support energy production. In comparison to micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), macronutrients are consumed in large amounts daily and categorised into three main groups: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Protein assists in vital bodily processes such as cell signalling, immune functioning and building of tissues, hormones, and enzymes. Good sources of protein include eggs, poultry, fish, tofu, and lentils.
- Fats are vital for energy production and the critical bodily function of hormone production, nutrient absorption, and regulation of temperature. Good fat sources include oils, butters, nuts, avocado, fatty fish, and meat.
- Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose that the body uses for immediate energy, or stores as glycogen in your liver and muscles. Good sources of carbohydrates include starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes), grains, beans, dairy products, and fruits.
Your body needs all three macronutrients to function optimally at a physical and mental level. So, if someone advises you to ditch the carbs, run.
What are the health benefits of counting macros?
Counting macros is a strategic method used to track daily protein, fat, and carbohydrate intake with health benefits of weight loss, muscle growth, improved nutrition, and increased energy levels.
How to count macros
Learning how to count macros can be a little tricky at the start. In time, the method will become second nature and you’ll be on your way to maxing out your health goals.
Step 1: Work out your calorie needs
Before determining your macronutrient breakdown, it’s important to work out how many calories to aim for each day. To do this, you need to calculate your resting energy expenditure (REE) and non-resting energy expenditure (NREE).
REE refers to the number of calories a person burns at rest. NREE refers to the number of calories burned during exercise and digestion.
By adding your REE and NREE, you’ll have the total number of calories burned in a day, also known as the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). To work out your overall calorie needs, try an online calculator or the Mifflin-St Jeor equation:
Men: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5
Next, multiply your result your level of activity:
- Sedentary (minimal exercise): x 1.2
- Lightly active (exercise < 3 days per week): x 1.375
- Moderately active (exercise most days of the week): x 1.55
- Very active (intense exercise every day): x 1.725
- Extra active (strenuous exercise > 2 times per day): x 1.9
The final number on your calculator is your TDEE. Depending on your goals, calories can be added to or subtracted from your TDEE. Those with weight loss goals should aim to consume fewer calories than they burn, and vice versa for those with a goal to increase muscle mass.
Step 2: Determine your macronutrient breakdown
Once you’ve worked out how many calories to hit each day, step two involves deciding what macronutrient breakdown works best for you. As a guide, general macronutrient recommendations are:
- Proteins: 10-35% of total calories
- Fats: 20-35% of total calories
- Carbs: 45-65% of total calories
Again, your macronutrient breakdown can be tweaked depending on your specific health goals. Someone following a ketogenic diet will need more fat and fewer cards, whereas an endurance runner may need a higher carb intake.
Step 3: Begin tracking your macros
Now that you have your calorie intake and macronutrient ratio, it’s time to start tracking your macros. One of the best ways to log your meals is with a macro tracking app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It!. Designed specifically for tracking macros, these apps are a convenient tool you can use to scan products, input recipes, and tweak your macro ratio whenever necessary. The alternative is to physically write your macros into a notebook.
This blog is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.