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How to Count Macros For Weight Loss: A Step-by-Step Guide

Over the past few years, counting macros has become extremely popular amongst everyone from average folks interested in weight loss, all the way up to top-level athletes looking to improve their fitness.

People from all walks of life have found success with the macros diet in large part due to its flexibility and ease of use.

While it is relatively simple, there are still a few fundamentals you’ll need to be aware of in order to have success counting macros for weight loss.

What Are Macros?

When it comes to losing weight there is only one thing you absolutely need -- a calorie deficit, which results when you take in fewer calories than your body burns off in a day.

When your calories are restricted, your body turns to itself to get the extra energy it needs. In a calorie deficit, your body converts fat (and muscle) into energy to make up for the calories that have been cut from your diet.

While getting your calorie intake reigned in is certainly a good start when it comes to losing weight, also staying on top of your macronutrients can help to increase the efficacy and tolerability of your diet.

Macronutrients --AKA macros -- are the calorie-containing substances that are found in your daily diet. All of the calories that you take in throughout the day actually come in three different forms -- protein, carbohydrates, and fat. They are referred to as macronutrients because your body requires them in relatively large quantities as compared to micronutrients.


Protein is the primary tool your body uses to rebuild tissue -- that includes muscle tissue, which is constantly being broken down and repaired by your body. Without enough dietary protein, your body can’t repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue, which can lead to losses in muscle mass over time.


Carbohydrates are the first place your body turns to for energy. All carbs, no matter the kind, are converted into glucose, which is your body’s primary fuel source. Carbs are the only macronutrient your body can technically function without -- protein and fat can also be converted into glucose when no carbs are available.


Dietary fat is often demonized, but your mind and body actually can’t stay up and running without it! In addition to its function as a secondary fuel source, fat is also used by your body to support and protect your vital organs.

4 ways counting macros can help with weight loss

So why should you be concerned with your macros if you’re trying to lose weight?As we just mentioned, each macronutrient plays an important and unique role within your body, so making sure that you're taking in an appropriate amount of each is going to put you in an excellent position to maximize your weight-loss potential.

1. Lose Fat, Not Muscle 

One of the biggest problems people run into when only focusing on their calories and not their macros during a weight cut is muscle loss. When most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to shed body fat, not muscle.    

This is why keeping track of your protein intake becomes important when you are trying to cut weight. In order to make sure you are losing mostly fat and not muscle mass during a weight cut, you have to make sure that you're getting enough protein on a daily basis. 

2. Fight Off Hunger

On top of help to preserve your lean muscle mass, making sure that you're consuming an ample amount of protein on a daily basis can also help to combat hunger during your weight cut.

As you're probably already aware, dealing with hunger and food cravings can be one of the most difficult obstacles to get around when you're trying to lose weight. However, research shows that consuming higher amounts of dietary protein during a weight loss diet helps to produce greater feelings of satiety in comparison to diets that are low in protein.

3. Get Enough Carbs, but not too much

Another issue many people face during a calorie deficit is mustering up the energy to make it through the day. Keeping track of your carbohydrates, however, allows you to make sure you are meeting your body's energy demands without overdoing it.   

On top of that, paying attention to your carbohydrate intake is also important when it comes to losing weight. Your body converts excess carbs and stores them as fat, so if you're taking in too many, it can make losing weight particularly difficult.

4. Limit Your Fat Intake

You don’t want to completely eliminate fat from your diet -- in fact, your body wouldn't be able to function without it -- but you definitely want to make sure that it's in check.

Fat is more calorically dense than the other macros. It has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 for protein and carbs, so it can make staying under your calorie target very difficult if there's too much fat in your daily diet.

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How to Count Macros For Weight: A Step By Step Guide

Now that we know what macros are and why keeping track of them can help with weight loss, let’s talk about how to set up your own macros diet plan. Here’s what it all looks like boiled down into a few basic steps:

Step #1: Figure Out Your Calorie Needs

The first and most important step in the process is figuring out how many calories it actually takes to keep your body up and running throughout the day, which is known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

Your TDEE depends on a number of factors including your height, weight, age, gender, and activity level. All of these different variables can affect how many calories it takes to meet your body’s energy needs.

One of the easiest ways to figure out your daily calorie needs is with an online TDEE calculator, which will give you an estimate of your total daily energy expenditure based upon the variables mentioned above.

It is important to point out that the TDEE you get from an online calculator (no matter what formula it's using) is going to be an estimate. You may have to slightly tweak your it in one direction or the other until your body weight remains consistent over the course of a couple of weeks.

Step #2: Restrict Your Calories to Lose Weight

Once you know exactly how many calories it takes to keep your weight consistent, you’re ready to apply a restriction to your calorie intake. As we’ve already discussed, in order to lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than your body burns off in a day.

While it might be tempting to severely limit your calories, think twice. Rapid weight loss is closely associated with comparable amounts of fat and muscle loss. The research shows that a calorie restriction somewhere around 35% is the ideal range to spare muscle mass and more exclusively target body fat during a weight loss diet.

So for example, let’s say it takes you 2,000 calories per day to maintain your current weight and you want to apply a 35% calorie restriction to your diet. Here’s how it breaks down:

2,000 x 0.35 = 700 calories

2,000 - 700 = 1,300 calories per day

Step #3: Find a Macro Split That Fits Your Weight Loss Goals

Okay, so now that you’ve found a calorie target that will lead to weight loss, you’re ready to start divvying up calories to create your macro split (AKA macro ratio). Unfortunately, there is no one macro split that is ideal for everybody.

Instead, organizations like the NIH and USDA have developed daily intake recommendations based on a set of “acceptable” ranges for each macronutrient. You will most likely need to experiment within these ranges until you find the ratio that works best for you.


When it comes to protein, the research shows that a daily intake at or above 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is the ideal range to maintain muscle mass while losing body fat.

While a high-protein intake is certainly effective for preserving lean muscle mass during a calorie-restricted diet, you don’t want to overdo it. Organizations like the NIH suggests that when more than 35% of your total calories come from protein, it can be detrimental to your health.

A table of high-protein foods


Carbs are your body’s main fuel source, and as such, they make up the majority of many people’s total calorie intakes. The NIH recommends that somewhere between 45 to 65% of your total daily calories should be coming from carbohydrates.

When you’re calories are restricted, it becomes increasingly important to consume the right carbohydrates at the right times. Focus primarily on taking in complex carbs throughout the day -- they provide you with long-lasting energy, instead of the quick spikes and crashes that come along with sugar.

Also, make sure that you're taking in plenty of complex carbs 3-4 hours before intensive exercise or physical activity. Again, how many carbs you need is going to differ from person to person, so you’ll have to experiment within the range mentioned above until you hit the energy levels you’re after.


According to the USDA, your daily fat intake should make up between 20-35% of your total daily calories. While you might be tempted to severely restrict your fat intake to lose body fat, it doesn’t quite work like that. Your body needs a healthy supply of dietary fat to stay up and running.

Your calories from fat should primarily come from healthy unsaturated fats. Saturated fats and trans fats should be kept at a minimum in your diet due to their association with numerous health risks.

Step #4: Be Consistent With Your Diet

The key to successfully counting macros lies in finding a macro split that you can be consistent with day in and day out. If you wake up dreading your diet every day, it's only going to be a matter of time before you skip out on your weight loss plans.

One of the many perks of counting macros is flexibility -- that’s why it is often referred to as flexible dieting. The macros diet doesn’t place limitations on the types of food you can eat or when you can eat them.

As long as it fits your macronutrient and calorie goals, you can eat pretty much whatever you want and you can shed some serious amounts of body fat. With that being said, we certainly recommend making food choices that will allow you to feel healthy and fit for the long term.

Wrap Up

In recent years the macros diet has become extremely popular due to its effectiveness and ease of use. Keeping track of your protein, carbohydrate, and fat intakes can help you to assure you're hitting your calorie goals, while still getting an adequate supply of the nutrients your body needs.

Although there's no one size fits all macro split that is going to work for everyone, there are a few basic guidelines you can follow. First, you don't want your calorie deficit to be too extreme -- shoot for a restriction of between 10 - 35%.

Additionally, you'll want to stay in the following ranges when it comes to your macronutrient intakes:

  • Protein: 10% - 35% of your total calories
  • Carbs: 45% - 65% of your total calories
  • Fat: 20% - 35% of your total calories

While you may need to experiment a little until you find the macro split that works best for you, staying within these ranges should assure that you're losing weight in a healthy way.

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