Macronutrients, or macros for short include calories, fat, protein, and carbs. Macros are a quintessential tool in fitness and training. Tracking macros provides for an organized and effective method of meeting fitness goals.
Tracking macros goes far beyond counting calories and it is certainly not just for weight loss purposes. Tracking macros ensures that your fitness and nutrition goals match. I’ll show you a very simple way to calculate your specific needs below.
5 Easy Steps to Track Macros
1. Understand BMR
2. Add an activity factor to determine base calories
3. Decide on a fitness goal
4. Calculate macros (protein, fat, carbs based on base calories)
5. Log your food and eat accordingly
Let’s examine each of these steps below…
Step 1: Understand BMR
To start the process of macro counting, it is important to calculate your BMR or basal metabolic rate; this tells you how much energy it takes to simply exist. Essentially, if you did nothing all day, your body would still burn calories because it takes energy to digest, regulate temperature, and maintain vital organs etc. Age and gender play a large role in BMR.
It’s scary considering I’m approaching 30 and this is why strength training is so important especially as we get older. Anyways, I brought that up because base caloric needs/BMR will decrease with age because there is less muscle mass and less energy expenditure. Likewise, females typically have a lower BMR than males due to the size, stature, and composition differences. You’ll notice in the equation below, age and gender are taken into consideration.
The simple way to do this is to use an internet calculator like the one linked here.
Otherwise, you can calculate your base caloric needs using the Mifflin St Jeor equation shown below:
Males: 10 * weight (kg) * 6.25 * height (cm) – 5 * age + 5
Females: 10 * weight (kg) + 6.25 * height (cm) – 5 * age – 161
Note: throughout this blog I will use Justin as an example who is 25 years old, 6’5, and weighs 225 lbs.
Justin’s BMR is 2,135 calories/day
Step 2: Calculate Base Calories
There are a few valid methods to calculate “base calories” or calories needed to maintain current weight. Choose one that you like best.
1. The body is said to require 14-16 calories per pound of body weight
- 14 = sedentary (exercises 0-3 times per week at low intensity)
- 15 = moderately active (exercises up to 5 days a week)
- 16 = very active (exercises nearly daily or has a very physical job)
- Example: Justin is moderately active (15)
- 225 lbs. * 15 = 3,375 calories per day to maintain his weight
2. Multiple BMR by an activity factor
- 1.2 = sedentary (works at a desk all day and does not exercise)
- 1.375 = (exercises 1-3 times per week)
- 1.55 = (exercises 3-5 days a week)
- 1.725 = (exercises 6-7 days a week)
- 1.9 = (professional athlete or extremely physical job, on feet all day)
- Example: Justin exercises 5x per week but has a desk job (1.55)
- Take BMR (2,135) and multiply that by 1.55 = 3,309 calories per day to maintain his weight
3. Use an activity tracker
If you decide to use an Apple Watch, in the activity app you can see the total amount of calories burned each day which includes BMR (the calories you burn from simply existing). Make sure you track the total calories and not just the active calories.
I personally believe this is the easiest method. Take an average of the 7 days to get your maintenance calories.
A great article about using the activity app is linked here.
Example: Justin require 3,342 calories to maintain his weight based on his Apple Watch total calories tracker
I absolutely love my Apple Watch. I believe it was a good investment because I spend so much time and energy exercising.
I personally, own an older version of the Apple Watch because, well, I’m frugal. If you’re ready to make a small investment in your health, you can purchase an Apple Watch from Amazon, here.
With any of these methods there will be a level of variance. Pick one of these methods and stick to it and reassess along the way. Every body is different but this is a great starting point for tracking macros.
Step 3: Determine Fitness Goals
If your personal fitness goal is to maintain current weight you can skip this step because you already found your maintenance weight above.
- You need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight
- VERY IMPORTANT STAT: 1 lb. of fat = 3,500 calories
- To lose 1 lb. of fat per week (3,500 cals/7 days), 500 calories would have to be cut per day from maintenance calories
People may choose this option if they were told by a physician that they are overweight and need to lose weight for health reasons. Additionally, the body builder type may choose to “cut” if the desire is to decrease body fat percentage or to become more toned.
Example, if Justin wanted to “cut” and lose 1 lb. per week, he would then require 2,842 calories per day.
3,342 (maintenance calories) – 500 calories (to lose 1 lb per week) = 2,842 calories per day. This would likely result in a 1lb of fat loss per week.
To track this more accurately, weight yourself the same day each week preferably in the morning after you’ve gone to the bathroom, before eating anything. Compare this number to the previous weeks. You should be losing weight appropriately, no more than 1lb. per week. I would not suggest going any lower than an 800 caloric deficit a day (from your base calories). You want to keep this weight loss realistic and safe.
- You need to be in a caloric surplus to gain weight
- Again, remember that 1 lb. of fat = 3,500 calories
- To gain 1 lb. of fat per week (3,500 cals/7 days), 500 calories would have to be added per day from maintenance calories
People may choose this option if their medical doctor has informed them that they are underweight and for medical reasons need to gain weight. Oftentimes, gym goers will choose to bulk or gain weight because it is much easier to gain muscle mass when you are in a caloric surplus.
Example, if Justin wanted to “bulk” and gain 1 lb. per week, he would then require 3,842 calories per day.
3,342 (maintenance calories) + 500 calories (to gain 1 lb per week) = 3,842 calories per day. This would likely result in a 1lb increase per week.
Step 4: Calculate Protein, Fat, and Carb from Calories
What is your goal weight? Base all these macros on your GOAL WEIGHT.
Using Justin again as our example, we will assume he is trying to maintain his weight and therefore his goal weight is 225 lbs.
Now let’s see how much protein, fat, and carbs he requires…
This will come in handy during our calculations:
- Fat has 9 cal/gram
- Protein has 4 cal/gram
- Carbs have 4 cal/gram
- Daily Recommendation: 0.8-2.0 g/lb.
- Protein requirement for Justin: 313g
- Protein in calories based on Justins needs: 1254 calories (because from the chart above there is 4 calories for every gram. 313g x4 = 1254)
Consuming enough protein assists with muscle tone and to reach fitness goals, it’s important to consume enough protein. You may be surprised by the amount of protein you actually need! It can be challenging to fill enough of your calories with protein but it is essential for meeting fitness goals. If you are finding it challenging to meet protein needs, having a supplemental protein shake is always an option.
Justin in particular wants to make sure he gains muscle from all the lifting he does at the gym.
So, if Justin’s goal weight is 225 (maintenance) we’ll multiply that by 1.4 which results in 313 grams of protein per day. To put this in perspective, this is 2 1/4lbs of chicken breast.
There are plenty of plant based protein options as you will see in my blog linked here.
- Daily Recommendation: 0.2-0.5 g/lb.
- Fat requirement for Justin: 68g
- Fat in calories based on Justins needs: 612 calories (because from the chart above there is 9 calories for every gram. 68×9 = 612)
Fat has gotten a bad rap from the health community but in all reality, our body requires it for essential function. Focusing on healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as opposed to trans or saturated fats, is the best way to satisfy these macros. Justin likes to stay lower on the fat though so lets say he chooses to consume 0.3 g/ lb. After doing the math, he would require 68g per day.
Carbs are based on however many calories are left over.
Remember Justin’s goal is to maintain his weight so we decided based on his activity level that he will consume 3,342 calories.
He’s used 1254 calories on protein and 612 calories on fat so:
3342 – 612 – 1254 = 1,476 calories left over
Convert calories of carbs to grams
1,476/ 4 (we divide by 4 because there are 4 calories per gram of carb) = 369 grams carbs
That’s it! It seems complicated by I promise if you read this a couple times and watch the video, it’ll make a lot more sense. If it’s still confusing, I would be happy to consult with you to determine your macro needs.
Step 5: Log Food and Eat Accordingly
You can log proactively or retroactively.
It will be easier to log retroactively meaning you eat whenever you want and then log your foods afterwards.
However, it will be much more efficient and effective to stay on track of goals by logging proactively.
Justin meal preps for 5 days a week and logs everything in advance so he knows exactly how he will reach his macros. After putting in some effort to plan meals, he doesn’t have to think about what to make or what to eat during the week. This method is a bit restrictive but it works best for someone who has strict fitness goals.
Apps such as My Fitness Pal works great for logging foods. Justin happens to prefer using Excel document though.
Although I personally do not track macros, Justin does, and I see the benefits first hand.
So Why Do I Not Track Macros...
To be perfectly honest, when it comes to counting, I’m just lazy. Additionally, I have always been fortunate to have a great metabolism. I know it works and could help me but it has never mattered too much what I eat, therefore, I prefer intuitive eating which means when I’m hungry, I eat. I definitely pay attention to what I eat, I just don’t do the specific tracking. I do believe if I tracked my macros I would be more cut and tone however I am content with my body as is.
The hard work certainly pays off as I’ve noticed Justin has gotten shredded over the past year or so! Eye candy, all day every day thanks to macro counting! If I get to the point in my life where I start to gain weight, overeat, or feel like I need more structure I would definitely go full force but for now, I’m a huge fan of intuitive eating.
If you believe counting would help you reach your fitness goals, give it a go! If you would like personalized help finding your specific macros, get in contact with me!