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How Do You Count Macros

Exactly How Do You Count Macros? A Step-By-Step Guide

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Counting macros has become a game-changer for dieters over the last 10 years. In the 1970s and 80s, bodybuilders would count macros when preparing for a competition and used this dieting strategy to great effect but they were highly motivated and committed. 

The general public doesn’t necessarily want to keep writing down every macro they consume for every meal though!

Well, smartphones have completely changed the game and apps like MyFitnessPal allow you to easily and accurately track your macros each day. That doesn’t mean it’s simple when you’re just getting started though and most people wonder how do you count macros?

What are Macros

Macros, short for macronutrients, make up the majority of the calories you consume. There are three main categories of macronutrients:

  1. Protein 
  2. Fat
  3. Carbohydrates 

Each macro group is equally as important as the other and contributes to vital bodily functions alongside the impact they have on your body composition. A high protein and moderate to low carb/fat diet has been shown to produce a better body composition with more muscle mass and less body fat. 

Alternatively, diets high in carbohydrates (mainly sugar) are linked to diabetes and excessive weight gain which ultimately gives a less appealing body composition. 

Sources – (1)(2)

Managing and manipulating your macro intake is key to improving your body composition. This is done along with overall calorie intake (arguably the most important factor) and exercise through resistance training and cardio. 

Related – Can you skip cardio with weight training

While calories in/out and energy expenditure will impact weight loss or weight gain, controlling your macro intake will be the difference between muscle growth/loss and fat gain/loss. Therefore, if you want to look good and perform well in the gym, getting your macros in check should be a priority!

How Do You Count Macros

Counting macros essentially involves keeping a track of the macronutrients that you consume. Every food you consume will have a label that tells you the macro breakdown along with the calorie consumption per serving. 

Macros are calculated in grams per serving and each gram will contribute to an overall calorie intake. To work this out in a very basic way you can use the following formula:

Protein: 1g = 4kcal
Carbohydrates: 1g = 4kcal
Fat: 1g = 9kcal

Therefore, if you have a food item (like a tin of tuna) with 20g of protein, this will be 80 calories (20g x 4kcal). 

This is quite simple when using a basic example, If I just had tuna all day it would be easy to work out all of my macronutrient and calorie intakes. The issue is that it’s not this simple when dieting!

An extra spoon of peanut butter could equate to 100 calories or more and this could literally be the difference between being in a calorie deficit for the day and losing weight or going over your macros into a calorie surplus and gaining weight. 

I’ve used peanut butter as an example because it’s a high-calorie food but it does demonstrate that a small miscalculation in macro consumption could prevent you from making progress. 

Keeping track of your macros can definitely be confusing and stressful so we’ll now break this down and show you exactly how to count macros. 

Step 1: Calculate How Many Calories Do You Need per Day

To start off, the first step when counting macros is to calculate the number of calories that you should be consuming each day.

Everyone needs a certain amount of calories per day just to function. However, this required calorie intake isn’t the same for everyone. The number of calories a person needs each day will vary depending on several factors including their age, gender, and their activity level.

This is because these different factors influence your metabolism. For example, a young man who has high levels of activity, meaning they work out intensely multiple times a week, is going to need more calories than an older man who is inactive because their body is using more. 

The easiest way of calculating the exact number of calories that you should be consuming each day is by using an online calorie calculator.

Some people might use complicated equations and fill in each of their figures, but it’s a lot simpler to take advantage of the technology that’s available and use an online calorie calculator to get the right result.

These calculators will ask for factors that influence your metabolism such as your age and gender, as well as how active you are in order to calculate what your daily calorie consumption should be.

They will also ask whether you’re looking to maintain your current weight, gain weight, or lose weight. 

This is because if someone is looking to lose weight then their calorie intake will probably be around 500 calories lower than the number of calories they require each day, as it’s through a calorie deficit that weight loss occurs.

Consuming 500 fewer calories a day can help towards a gradual weight loss of 1-2llbs per week, which has been shown to be more sustainable. Going below this can be dangerous so it’s best to take it slowly.

In contrast, if you’re looking to gain weight then you would want to be consuming more calories than you need. This is because a higher amount of calories per day creates a surplus, which your body can then turn into additional weight. 

If you’re looking to build muscle or bulk up then this calorie surplus should be combined with weight lifting to ensure that these additional calories are going to promote muscle gain as opposed to fat gain. 

Once you’ve got your calorie figure, you can do the next step which is to determine your macros breakdown.

Step 2: Determine Your Macros Split

A ‘macros split’ is basically how you split your total amount of calories per day between the main types of macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats). 

This split will vary depending on what your goals are.

If you’re looking to build muscle and cut body fat then you might want to have higher amounts of protein, as protein has been shown to help build muscle and reduce cravings.

So your macros split might be 40/40/20/ for protein, carbs, and fats.

Once you’ve built up muscle then you might change up your macros split, especially if you’re doing intensive exercise which requires more carbs. At this point, your macros split might be 30/50/20.

The bottom line with this is that your macros split will vary depending on what your goals are. So when you set your initial macros split you shouldn’t be strict with this long-term if your goals change. 

It’s a good idea to assess your results after a few weeks and re-evaluate your macros split, adapting it to what results you’re seeing and your goals as they develop.

Once you have decided what your macros split is going to be though, you can start counting your macros intake.

Step 3: Counting & Tracking Your Macros

Counting macros involves keeping track of your daily macros intake. 

Some people count their macros by writing down what they’re eating, the number of calories they’ve consumed, and the macros split in a notepad.

But the easiest way to count macros is by using an app. Due to the popularity of counting calories and macros, there are plenty of apps available these days that allow you to do this.

We covered this earlier but if you want to manually count your macros, remember the following formula:

  • Protein: 1g = 4kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 1g = 4kcal
  • Fat: 1g = 9kcal

Having an app that allows you to count the macros of what you’re eating is a really convenient way of keeping track as it will do the calculation for you. I personally use MyFitnessPal and recommend it to clients. 

You can scan labels, save frequent meals, and keep track of all macros and calories consumed with genuine ease. As an example, see below a screenshot from my own MyFitnessPal logs:

As you can see, everything is clearly displayed and I only had to scan the labels and input how much I had to eat. 

This does however lead onto an important part of tracking macros though, and that is weighing your food or buying pre-measured portions. 

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Misjudging macros by doing the “eye” test is not going to allow you to progress easily. Often, the portion you think you’re having will be way off the mark. 

I buy boil in the bag rice (pre-measured), and tinned/packaged food which really helps take the stress out of calculating how much you’ll be eating. It’s worth noting that I do also weigh my food though for most things and this is a habit you could do well to take up!

I’d recommend planning what you’re going to eat each day in advance. By doing this in advance you can ensure that you’re hitting your macros. 

The other option is to keep track as you eat different foods. However, this can create some challenges. For example, you can end up accidentally going over your macros or coming in too low. 

Going above or below your macros intake will mean you might not see the results you want.

If you are set on just counting as you go through then I’d recommend keeping track after you’ve eaten something rather than waiting until the end of the day to write everything down as it can be hard to remember everything afterward. 

Whatever way you do keep track though it’s important to be consistent in monitoring your macros as going above or below your target macros intake will mean you might not see the results you want.

Do Calories Count When Cutting Macros?

Calories are important when counting macros as you use your daily calorie intake to determine the amount of each macro you should be consuming each day. However, once you’ve worked out your macros then you don’t need to track calories, only macros.

So, calories are important in the initial stages when figuring out your macros split. However, once you’ve done this then you don’t need to focus as much on calories.

Some people do however find it easier to also track their calories, particularly if they want to be consuming a calorie deficit.

FAQs About Macros

In this section I’ve answered some commonly asked questions about counting macros:

Do You Count Sugar When Counting Macros?

You should count sugar when counting macros. This is because sugar is a carbohydrate, so it counts towards your carb intake. If you want to see results from counting macros then accounting for all the carbs you consume is important.

For example, one teaspoon of sugar contains about 5 grams of carbs. If you have two spoonfuls in coffee a couple of times a day then this can add up. Taking this into account when tracking your macros will help you see results.

Do You Count Veggies When Counting Macros?

Vegetables should be counted when you’re counting macros because vegetables contain protein, carbohydrates, and fats. So if you’re counting macros then you need to track the macros in vegetables, just like you would with other foods. 

Vegetables are a healthy food, so sometimes people think they’re ‘free’ on a diet and not something they need to account for. However, just because they’re healthy doesn’t mean they don’t count towards macros. 

Something I will say though is that the fiber content for most veg is so high that you use just as much energy breaking down and digesting the food as the calories you’d consume. 

Therefore, you should track the macros in veggies for reference but they won’t contribute much to your daily calorie intake. 

Do You Subtract Fiber When Counting Macros?

When counting macros you don’t need to subtract fiber from your carb intake. 

Counting macros is about overall carb intake, so you count the total or gross amount that you consume regardless of where it comes from.

Because of the way fiber is absorbed by the body, some people don’t think it should be counted when counting macros. However, others argue that if you want to see results then you should focus on the overall amount of carbs you’re consuming, regardless of where they come from.

Final Thoughts

Tracking calories each day is hard enough for many people, this is really compounded when you then need to start tracking macros as well. 

While you might think it’s difficult at first, tracking macros soon becomes a habit and the more you do it, the easier it gets. To get started counting macros, you should follow these steps:

  1. Determine your daily calorie intake
  2. Calculate the macro split you’ll be following (based on muscle growth or fat loss)
  3. Set up a calorie tracking app
  4. Start uploading your meals to see a daily breakdown
  5. Make adjustments each week based on how you’re progressing

After spending all this time explaining macros, it’s worth saying that it’s not essential to count and track them so carefully. 
Check out an opposing view on whether or not you really need to count macros here.

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