How to Count Macros: My macros one day in September

Counting Macros: How to lose weight [2023]

You may have heard of counting macros, but what is it? How can you use it for weight loss or even to gain muscle mass? If you’re interested in managing your weight or improving your performance by optimizing your diet, counting macronutrients (or “macros” for short) is an effective strategy. This article will provide a comprehensive guide on how to count macros for weight loss, muscle gain, and enhanced performance. Don’t worry, though; this process is not complex! In practice, counting macros is simple and something you can do with very little effort.


I will give you a full Macro Counting 101 to help you reach your goals this year. With that, there is going to be a bit more detail than you may need to count macros well, but by the time it takes you to read this article, you will be very well-equipped to count your own macros, and you will even know how to change those macros based on what weight lose, aesthetic, or performance goals you have.


Whether losing weight, trying to bulk weight gain for muscle, or improving your performance in the gym or in life, we will go over all the details.

1.) What are Macros

“Macros” is short for “macronutrients”. Macros, as listed by the USDA, are a category of nutrients derived from food sources that fit into one of the following categories:


  • Protein breaks down into amino acids.
  • Amino acids are used to preserve or even build tissue in all your cells, including your muscles and skin. Amino acids are also used to repair and maintain your organs and organ function.
  • Knowing that you need a minimum amount of protein to maintain your muscles is essential to keep in mind when tracking your own macros.
  • Protein is likely not used for fuel, though if you are in a state of starvation, your body can process protein to be used as a fuel source.
  • Check out this list for High-Protein Ideas to get you started.


  • Fat is breaks down into fatty acids.
  • Fatty acids can be used as a source of energy. Cells also use fatty acids to alter their response to certain hormones.
  • Knowing that you need a minimum amount of fat to maintain and promote hormonal balance is essential to keep in mind when tracking your own macros.
  • Fat can be used as a fuel source, and fat is a preferred fuel source for the body in resting and up to lowe level intensity exercise.

     Carbohydrates, both complex and simple.

  • Carbs break down into sugar.
  • Sugars are used as a source of energy. Complex carbohydrates have fewer sugars by weight than simple carbohydrates.
  • Knowing that carbs can be beneficial to helping you feel full and can also impact insulin production is essential to keep in mind when tracking your own macros.
  • Carbs are used as a fuel source, and carbs are the preferred fuel source for the body in moderate to intense levels of exercise.
  • Fiber is a carbohydrate.
  • Fiber comes from complex carbohydrate sources and cannot be broken down by the body.
  • Fiber is valuable when counting macros for a few reasons, primarily that carbohydrates from fiber do not enter the bloodstream and thus do not count towards our macro count.
  • Fiber is excellent for gut health and in helping us feel full.
  • Knowing that fiber benefits gut health and helps us feel full is important to remember when tracking your own macros.
  • Since the body cannot break down fiber, it cannot be used as a fuel source. I will discuss fiber a few more times in this post, but if you are curious about fiber and want to know more, here is an excellent resource from

Now that you have a basic overview of macronutrients, we can discuss energy sources and how they can influence your progress toward your goals.

2.) How to Count Macros: Understanding Energy Sources vs Protein Sources

You likely do not want just barely to get through your day, but you want to thrive! Knowing where most of your energy comes from is a great starting point for understanding how to look and feel your best.

As mentioned above, protein gives you the building blocks to maintain or even grow muscle, which is necessary for getting stronger and faster, if those are your goals. If you want to lose weight to look good and feel good, then you will need to use protein to help you feel satisfied and to maintain your muscles so you do not feel as weak while you’re losing weight. Since protein does not provide much energy, think of protein as a tool to help you feel full without contributing to weight gain.


The Hybrid Car:

Energy comes primarily from fat and carbohydrate sources. There is a common analogy of your body being like a hybrid vehicle. In this vehicle analogy, going at low to moderate speeds and without accelerating or braking too quickly would use only battery power. Fat sources for your body are like the battery sources in the hybrid vehicle. If you needed to accelerate rapidly or were cruising at extreme speeds, the car’s engine would switch to gasoline. Carb sources for your body are like the gasoline sources in the hybrid vehicle.

This hybrid car analogy is an oversimplification. Still, it is a valuable and practical example of understanding how energy sources can be used in counting macros.

Basal Metabolic Rate

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories you burn if entirely at rest. If you were to stay asleep for 24 hours, the amount of calories you would need to sustain breathing, heartbeats, and digestion is your BMR.

BMR is often used interchangeably with resting metabolic rate (RMR), so if you ever hear RMR, you know what they are referring to.

If you are reading this, you are burning calories above your BMR. Add 10,000 steps per day, and you will burn more calories above your BMR. Throw a barbell on your back for some heavy squats, or go hard with a few rounds of HIIT, and you will need a significant amount of calories above your BMR.

As your exercise and movement levels go up and down, the amount of calories would also need to go up and down to maintain the same amount of mass. If you count calories and eat fewer than you burn, you will experience weight loss. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.

Energy Consumption and Utilization:

The degree to which you eat fewer calories than you burn will be the rate at which you lose weight. The degree to which you eat more calories than you burn will be the rate at which you gain weight. Understanding this concept is powerful to remember as we discuss goals and how to reach them.

Whoop sleep page detailing the amount of slow-wave and REM sleep I had one night
A picture of my heart rate through a night of sleep, showing our calories still burn at night!

3.) How To Count Macros: Counting Macros and Counting Calories

Now that we know Protein is used for building and maintaining muscle and that carbs and fat are both used as fuel sources, we can understand that we should have a mix of protein, carbs, and fat.


I will teach you how to find an appropriate mix for yourself, but first, we must understand that an appropriate macronutrient mix is dependent on numerous factors such as:

  1. Sex
  2. Age
  3. Physical Activity
  4. Emotional Stress
  5. Goals


Males, on average, need to eat more calories than females. Older populations, on average, need to eat fewer calories than younger populations. Intense exercisers and professional athletes need to eat more than sedentary folks. Those with a highly stressful job or who are in a season of high family stress likely need to eat more than those who are currently very comfortable with their lives. And of course, the same individual with different goals, like wanting to lose weight, gain weight, or perform as well as possible in any given physical event, all would have differing caloric needs for the same individual.


Before we can identify how our goals would have us lower or raise our total caloric intake, we need to know how to count the calories and, thus, identify our macro ratio.


A Simple Guideline For Counting Macros

Fat = 9 calories per gram

Carbs = 4 calories per gram

Protein = 4 calories per gram


Remembering that fat equals nine calories per gram and carbs and protein both are four calories per gram will help us to be able to count how many calories you would need for your goals.


Before counting calories, we need to consider total daily energy expenditure, body weight, diet quality, and even muscle mass. Knowing all of these doesn’t have to be an exact science and we will discuss how to factor for these in Setting a Baseline.


One thing that does really matter is fiber and how it affects the total calorie count.


4.) How to Count Macros: Fiber. Why it Matters

Learning how to count macronutrients and manage your macronutrient intake requires understanding complex versus simple carbs and how fiber plays a role in tracking macros. Knowing how much fiber you get each day and shooting for a healthy target is one of the best ways to improve diet quality.

Complex carbohydrates will contain some amount of fiber. Fiber counts is a carbohydrate but may not count towards your carbohydrate intake. Since fiber cannot be broken down and digested by the body, the calories from fiber don’t enter your bloodstream. Most coaches and RDs who help people to use macronutrient tracking as a strategy opt to subtract the total fiber count from the total carb count.

If someone should eat 150 grams of carbohydrates each day to reach their goals but have had 30 grams of fiber, they would need to find another 30 grams of carbs, excluding fiber, to reach their goal.


Fiber Recomendations:

The daily recommendations of fiber are:

  • for females: 21 to 28 grams of fiber per day
  • for males: 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day

You can see that if you were a moderately active female whose goals had them consuming 120 grams of carbohydrates per day and you had 25 grams of fiber, you would be right at 20% under your goal for carbs for that day.

Fiber is easy to keep track of once you get started, but it is important to remember to avoid being underfed.


5.) How to Count Macros: Setting a Baseline

Establishing a current baseline is critical to implementing any changes in diet to help you reach your goals. A goal is a destination on the map, and the baseline is the starting point.

Establishing Your BMR

There are a few ways to find your current baseline. One of the most used formulas is the Harris-Benedict formula. I love this method because it accounts for your height, current weight, and activity level. If you find math scary, I’ve got this FREE CALCULATOR that will give you your estimated basal metabolic rate as well as a total estimated daily caloric expenditure.

The Harris-Benedict Equation uses weight in pounds, height in inches, and age in years to calculate your BMR. It then multiplies this BMR by ‘X’, where ‘X’ is your activity level. The equation is calculated as follows:

  • Guys = (66+(6.2 * bodyweight in pounds)+(12.7 * height in inches)-(6.76 * age in years)) * X
  • Gals = (655.1+(4.35 * bodyweight in pounds)+(4.7 * height in inches)-(4.7 * age in years)) * X

An Example:

Your activity level, ‘X’, is a multiplier where:

  • X = 1.2 for sedentary people
  • X = 1.37 for someone who has a lightly active job or who does an easy workout 1 to 3 days per week
  • X = 1.55 for someone with a moderately physically demanding job or who works out with moderate intensity 3 to 5 days per week
  • X = 1.725 for someone with demanding physical labor or someone who enjoys hard exercise 6 to 7 days per week
  • X = 1.9 for someone with an extreme exercise volume, like a marathon runner or professional athlete.

So using myself, a 35-year-old male, at 5 foot 8 inches and 180 pounds, as an example:

  • (66+(6.2 * 180)+(12.7 * 68)-(6.76 * 35)) * X
  • (66+(1116)+(864)-(237)) * X
  • Now we can see my BMR is 2,009 calories per day. If we know that I love to workout hard 5 days per week we know my multiplier would be 1.55
  • 2,009 * 1.55 = 3,114 calories per day.

Counting Macros – Macro Split:

3,114 calories is quite close to what I eat each day. Knowing my current macro split of 180P/80-90F/400C, I see that I’m eating 3,130 calories per day. Given that I may throw in a couple of sauna sessions and plenty of dog walks with Benny, this equation holds up very well in the real world.

This equation helps you understand your BMR, which is the minimum amount of calories you would need not to lose or gain weight if you were to sleep for 24 hours straight. It is also helpful because we can identify your goals, how much you would need to exercise to reach that goal, and then use the multiplier to help you achieve that physical goal with nutrition as a tool.

Understanding Your Current Baseline

Knowing your BMR is essential, but so is understanding your current baseline. It is important not to take too large of a jump up or down too soon. Moving your total calories up or down should be done intentionally and not too quickly. So let’s begin by really seeing what your baseline is.

To see your current baseline, I love to have people weigh, measure, and track their food intake for two weeks. I’ve seen enough to know that with only one week of tracking, people will show up on their best behavior and may underreport what they consume during a ‘normal’ week. Two weeks is long enough that it is hard to hide behind any food habits you may have. Don’t worry about telling the truth since you are the only one who will see what you put in, but do yourself a favor and be honest.


Apps Can Help:

To track your food, I recommend an app like MacroFactor or a free app like MyFitnessPal. These apps are great because they allow you to enter your food and the amount of food you eat at each meal and will give you the total number of calories and the macronutrient content for each day. Tracking macros with a macro tracking app is much easier since they have a macro calculator. Being able to count micronutrients otherwise involves a lot of reading nutrition labels. These apps have built-in libraries so you can count macros like a pro without having to write everything down. If you can do this food logging for 14 days in a row, we will then take the average of the past 14 days, which will tell you your current baseline.

Calorie Recommendations:


Know that you have your baseline, how far off is your baseline from your BMR from the recommendation provided by the Harris-Benedict Equation? Changing your calories by more than 1,000 calories per day is not recommended as a rule of thumb. On average, gaining or losing one pound per week comes to 500 calories more or less per day over the whole week. Two pounds would be 1,000 calories more or less per week. Gaining or losing 2 pounds per week without some sort of athletic goal, like a weigh-in for a fighter or lifter, and without medical supervision is not advised. Remember, this is a process worth doing well. Getting the habits to stick is important, and taking things slowly is the best way to ensure that the habits you are building last a lifetime.

6.) How to Count Macros: A Generic Macro Equation To Get You Started


Knowing how many grams of protein are needed to maintain lean body mass is essential. I m a proponent of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. Keeping up with 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is easy to shoot for because I know that if I weigh 180 pounds, I should eat 180 grams daily. Once you know how many grams to consume for your body weight, you are off to the races

The American College of Sports Medicine provides ranges for individuals stating that anyone who exercises and does not want to lose muscle should consume at least 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. If that same individual would like to promote muscle growth, they should consume 1.0 to 1.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Ranges are helpful and great to remember, but shooting for 1 gram per pound daily is wonderfully straightforward.

So if I have:

  • 3,114 calories per day to shoot for, and
  • I know that I am eating 180 grams of protein each day, and
  • I know one gram of protein has four calories, then I know
  • My protein calories will be 720 calories, thus
  • Leaving me with 2,394 left for carbs and fat.


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that you should have 20% up to 35% of your total calories for the day come from fats. This is an excellent recommendation to stay within this range as it allows you enough fat to keep hormone production in check and gives you enough fat to enjoy life a little bit. Cutting out bacon, brownies, butter, and even olive oil is a life I would not want to live! Most of your fats should come from unsaturated fats like olives, olive oil, avocado, egg yolks, nuts, and seeds, which is a great way to go.

So if I have:

  • 3,114 calories per day to shoot for, and
  • I know that I am eating 20% to 35% of my total calories from fat, and
  • I know one gram of fat has nine calories, then I know
  • My fat calories will be between 623 calories and 1,090 calories, meaning
  • I have between 69 and 121 grams of fat each day, which
  • If I land in the middle with 95 grams of fat and count my 180 grams of protein, I have 1,539 calories left for carbs.


Carbs are where a lot of variation can come in.

People who exercise more should eat more carbs than someone who doesn’t eat more. For the most part, fats and protein can stay the same, and you just change your carbs up and down to manipulate your weight and overall energy levels. You can range between 20% and 35% of total calories from fat based on preference and also if you are cutting or gaining, but carbs can have a nearly unlimited range based on your exercise needs.

We have already established that:

  • 3,114 calories per day
  • 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight gives me 180 grams of protein
  • Between 20% to 35% of daily calories from fat gives me 95 grams of fat
  • Leaving me with 1,539 calories left for carbohydrates
  • One gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories
  • So 1,539/4 = 384 grams of carbohydrate per day.

Putting It All Together

Now we know that my macro split is 180P/95F/384C for 180 grams of protein, 95 grams of fat, and 384 grams of carbs.

If we were to run through the same ideas for a 30-year-old, 5 foot 3 inches, a 145-pound female who exercises a comparable amount to me:

  • Harris-Benedict formula shows BMR to be 1,441
  • The activity multiplier of 1.55 shows the total daily caloric need to be 2,233
  • 1 gram of protein per day is 145 grams and 580 calories
  • 20% to 35% from fat, the middle being 29.5%, so 659 calories or 73 grams of fat
  • Leaving 994 calories from carbs, or 248 grams of carbs.

Keep in mind; this is a lot of exercise. If we were to pull the activity levels down for myself and the female in this scenario to a 1.2 multiplier, I would get 209 grams of carbohydrates, down from 384, and the female example would be down to 50 grams of carbohydrates, down from 248 grams.

You Are Now In Control:

The beauty of tracking and counting macros is that you can keep protein and healthy fats relatively constant and simply manipulate the carbohydrates up and down based on your energy needs. You had to read and learn a lot to make it to this point, but if you are here, you can now take control of your energy intake by counting macros with a goal macro split in mind.

7.) How to Count Macros: Understanding Your Goal

Understanding and working towards your goal is the next step.

Want to lose weight? Know how much you want to lose and give yourself a time frame. Losing one pound every week or every other week is a great place to start, but make sure you are not cutting more than 500 calories per day for the cycle. Get after it for ten to twelve weeks. Go into maintenance to recover, and then repeat the process again. More on that below.

Want to gain muscle? The same rules apply as losing weight regarding time frames but try to max out your protein and try not to make any changes of more than 500 calories per day for the cycle.

Want to increase your performance without gaining weight? We will play around with your fat and carb levels based on the type of sport or event you compete in.

Now for a deeper dive into these macro strategies based on your goal.

8.) How to Count Macros: Macros for Weight Loss

Want to lose weight? Take your baseline, turn it into a macro split, and subtract between 250-500 calories per day. If you are in the middle of 20%-35%, you can cut the fat to 20%, which may get you to that 250-500 calorie deficit. Try lowering any fats from seed oils and focusing on marine, olive, and other healthy fats. If you know that you value that avocado at lunch and that slice of bacon at breakfast, you can keep the fat the same and drop 50 to 125 grams of carbs to equal that 250-500 calorie reduction. Knowing these simple tricks can help your fat loss journey.

No Drastic Changes:

Don’t overdo it, which means if you cut the 500 calories from your baseline, commit to that new calorie deficit for four to six weeks to see how the weight trends, as well is if your adherence is good. If your adherence is good and you are still losing weight after six weeks, don’t make any changes and go for another four to six weeks. Once you reach ten to twelve weeks total of that deficit and have experienced some fat loss, go into a maintenance phase to allow your body to recover from the stress caused by being in a caloric deficit. A maintenance phase should be roughly 2/3rds of the total cut time, so eight weeks of maintenance. After eight weeks of maintenance, you can decide if you want to increase calories to gain muscle or if you are ready for another cut.

Again, don’t overdo it; remember to recover after each cutting phase, and celebrate your wins! Don’t be afraid to add in a little light exercise, like walking, to help keep the calories burning.

9.) How to Count Macros: Macros for Muscle Gain

You have to gain weight to gain muscle.

You want to avoid what is known as a ‘dirty bulk,’ which is when you eat cheeseburgers, pizza, and Ben and Jerry’s until you gain 30 pounds in 3 months. This can help you gain muscle but is usually an awful strategy. You’ll often hear ‘IIFYM’, which stands for ‘if it fits your macros’. IIFYM is great in concept, but you probably should have a little more fiber, and leveraging an entire package of Oreos to hit your macronutrient ratios isn’t the best way to go. What you would instead do is just like losing one pound every week or every other week, you would like to gain one pound.

Daily Recommendations:

Once you have maxed out your protein at 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight, it is easiest to raise your fat since you can easily consume a few extra calories without ever noticing it in your fullness levels. You can raise your carbs if you don’t want to mess around with fat and increase your performance in the gym or on the field. Five hundred calories per day is 125 grams of carbohydrates. You’d be amazed at how you can feel in the gym by consuming that many more carbs. Even if you only went up 250 calories per day, those 63-ish grams of carbs would go a long way.

Eating More:

Gaining muscle can be fun, partly because you get to eat more. If you are really trying to get stronger, being in a deficit is not advised. Going into a designated strength block and throwing in those 60-125 extra grams of carbs around your training is a great idea. Watch the gains come rolling in. Whey protein powder is an easy way to up your protein intake and tastes incredible after intense exercise.

A word of caution:

Prolonged gaining phases can start to feel miserable. You have difficulty getting all your calories in after a few weeks. Some of the most time-tested strategies to overcome this is to drink some calories, don’t be afraid of eating waffles and syrup, and small helpings of cookies and ice cream are encouraged. Again, don’t lose control and go full dirty bulk, but enjoy yourself a little.

10.) How to Count Macros: Macros for Performance

Counting macros for performance is one of the most fun places to play around. Increasing your total calorie intake without gaining weight takes time. Still, it is incredibly rewarding when you can get to a point where you consume what may have once seemed like an absurd amount of carbohydrates.  Once you have established and held your baseline for a few weeks, the next goal would be to max out your protein.

Once you have:

  • maxed out your protein at 1.0 grams per pound of body weight
  • held that for a month or so
  • know you can maintain the habits while hitting your 26-28% fat targets
  • Then it is time to start titrating up your carbs

Taking this carb journey up and up is a fun journey when you can see your sleep improve, your performance improve, and your overall mood improve. To do this, add 25 to 50 grams of carbs to your diet every two to three weeks. You want to wait at least two weeks to see if your weight goes up. If your weight goes up, return to your previous carb level, hold that for another two or three weeks, and try again.


It Is Worth It:

This experience can be incredible when executed well. Changing macros to benefit performance is an advanced strategy that takes proven discipline before implementation, but amazing fitness improvements await anyone willing to go on this journey.

11.) How to Count Macros: Diet Restrictions and Managing Macros

If you have any existing health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or disordered eating/eating disorders, consult a doctor and dietician who are licensed in your state before trying any diet strategy.

As for dietary restrictions like keto, vegan, or religious considerations, hitting some of the macro targets can be a bit more complex than those on an unrestricted diet.
Getting to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight can be tough for vegans, vegetarians, and or any other plant-based diet. Finding a protein supplement that doesn’t cause gastric distress is a precious tool in reaching your goal.

For the keto diet folks, you want to keep your carbs down. Counting macros in this scenario or any low-carb diet looks like managing your saturated fat intake and ensuring your total calorie count is getting you to your goals. Any keto strategy beyond this statement is outside the scope of this article.

12.) How to Count Macros: Having a Normal Life

At some point, you may find yourself carrying around a food scale and weighing everything you put on your plate at a buffet or family gathering. This is not normal.

If you have abnormal goals and aspirations, go for it. If you need to make weight for a national-level weight-class sport, have a bodybuilding show, or are truly at the top of your game in an elite category, then by all means, bring the scale to grandma’s birthday party. Otherwise, be normal and live your life. You can hit your macros 80 or even 90% of the time and achieve your goals. Don’t stress about the 10-20%; honestly, embrace that 10-20%. Enjoy it.

You will likely also find yourself wanting new storage containers to help you with all of the packed food you will eat.  Check out this list of the Best Containers for Food Prep.

And enjoy grandma’s birthday cake.

13.) How to Count Macros: Final Thoughts

After counting macros for six months or so, you will be able to eye-ball certain foods without weighing them. Taking a break periodically is always a good idea, maybe even scheduling it around vacation times or high work stress. Pulling the scale back out to validate your eye-ball measurements occasionally is equally a good idea.

Tighten up your practice around events or seasons of life that you need to be peaked and dialed in for, and then loosen up a little in the off-season or periods of time were you can truly relax.


This post was a robust and nearly comprehensive guide for counting your macros. I’m excited to see how you put it to use.

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