Tracking macros might seem easy and straightforward, apps like Myfitnesspal can certainly help keep you accountable and organized, but tracking macros can actually be quite hard.
One single variation of a specific food you eat every day can drastically change your macro quantities for the day.
As macros are such a fine balancing act, unless you are following a set meal plan every single day, there are going to be times when your macros fluctuate.
Will this ruin your progress? Are you hitting calories but not macros? Will it cause weight gain?
One common question people have in relation to tracking macros as a result if this is what happens if you go over your macros?
This can be a big worry point as plenty of “treats” will usually be quite high in terms of fat/carbs and it’s inevitable that some choices are going to put you over your macros from time to time.
Therefore, I’ll cover why you shouldn’t worry too much about this and what you should really focus on instead…
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What Happens if You Go Over Your Macros
As long as you have hit your daily calorie target, nothing will happen in terms of body composition if you go over your macros for one day.
Ensuring that you hit your overall calorie target should be the aim and going over your macros will have very little impact (if any) on weight loss or weight gain.
People love to pay attention to the details and get super focused on the intricate things that the top 0.01% of the population do whilst missing entirely the factors that will contribute to 80-90% of your progress!
If we take a general look at it and assume your diet is well balanced, as long as you don’t go over your calories you are unlikely to see any noticeable effect.
The reason for this is that weight loss or weight gain comes down to energy balance (calories in vs calories out).
Macros are a much smaller piece of a larger puzzle.
I love tracking macros, in fact, I’ve researched nutrition so much over the last 12+ years that I’ll sometimes find myself eating for macros instead of flavor or “nutrition”.
With that said, I’m also aware that it doesn’t really have a very large impact when viewed at a larger scale.
The reason for this is energy balance.
The best way to make the comparison is by looking at the body as a bank account.
If you add money to the account, it grows in value. If you take money away, it diminishes in value.
It doesn’t matter what the money is, all that matters is the closing balance and whether you are in the red or green for the month.
The same is true for your body, if you consume more calories than you expend through energy on a daily basis, you will gain weight.
If you consume fewer calories than you expend through energy on a daily basis, you will lose weight.
If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. If you want to build muscle and gain weight, you need to be in a calorie surplus.
This is what will have the most impact on your physique.
Macros are something you can manipulate to give you more favorable results and progress but their impact is much smaller for the general population.
If you are competing at a professional level in sport or bodybuilding, macros are then the difference between first place and last place but most people are not at that level.
While macros serve a purpose, it’s not essential that you hit them.
Studies show that over the course of a year, a low fat vs low carb diet only resulted in a 1.5lb difference in weight loss whilst the most important factor was the actual calorie deficit.
How Much Can You Go Over Your Macros
While calories seem to be king when it comes to weight loss or muscle growth, I don’t want to downplay the importance of macros.
Some claim that counting macros is a waste of time and depending on your lifestyle and commitments, it might be.
What you can’t do though, is expect to hit your calorie targets eating junk food, which is food simply containing low nutrient density, and expect to have the physique that you want.
Macros influence hormones, mood, satiety, sleep, recovery, growth… The list is almost endless.
This is why I feel you should have macro goals in place but you shouldn’t be obsessive about every last gram that you did or didn’t hit.
Macros will vary for every individual.
Some people have poor insulin sensitivity/resistance, and going over your carbs could easily mean you store some extra as body fat.
Others rely on a higher fat diet for hormone regulation, and falling below your fat intake could impact your mood, sleep and other factors for a few days.
What I will say is that going over your macros is not detrimental and there is a limit to how much you can go over depending on your calorie goals.
Macros are broken down into the following:
- 1g of protein = 4 calories
- 1g of carbs = 4 calories
- 1g of fat = 9 calories
If your calorie target for the day is 2,100kcal and you have already consumed 2,000kcals, this means you can only consume 25g of carbs as an example before you will start to go over your calories (25g of carbs = 100 calories).
Remember, overall calorie intake is the most important thing, therefore you will always have a limit to how much you can go over your macros based on your calorie goal for the day. The exception to this is if you don’t follow a balanced approach.
If you only consume tins of tuna which are high in protein but very low in fat (<1g per 100g of tuna) and have zero carbs, then by the time you hit your calories for the day you will be significantly over your protein macros but also harmfully low on the other macros.
Calories will dictate your macros to an extent and as long as you take a balanced approach when setting macros, it’s very difficult to go over your macros by more than 50g – 100g per group.
100g is on the high end and means that other macronutrients will suffer but being 50g over your macros is insignificant in the grand scheme of body composition.
Is It Bad to Go Over Macros
While it may not be too detrimental to go over your macros, especially if you are still hitting your calorie goals, it doesn’t mean it’s advisable.
People will react differently to a surplus of macros and some people might be significantly more sensitive to this than others.
While I won’t say it’s bad to go over macros, the below will give you a better understanding of what could happen if you do go over certain macros.
Is It Bad to Go Over Protein Macros
I’m going to start this with protein because of all the macronutrient groups, going over protein macros will have the least noticeable effect and could even be surprisingly beneficial for some.
The reason for this is that excess protein is not stored as excess body fat.
That point alone will appeal to most people as an extra protein shake to facilitate muscle growth and recovery after a hard training session will not have a negative impact on your physique.
Research even shows that a higher protein intake can correlate with a leaner physique!
Protein is also satiating which means consuming more protein will lead to lower feelings of hunger and can help reduce the likelihood that you’ll then go over your macros for other food groups.
Finally, foods high in protein are usually on the lower end in terms of carb/fat values so going over protein will not necessarily impact other food groups.
Is It Bad to Go Over Fat Macros
Going over your fat macros can be bad because they contain a higher proportion of calories per gram.
At 9 calories per gram, the more grams you consume over your calories from fat the more your overall calorie intake will increase by.
Just 10g of fat extra could be an extra 100 calories and this could be the difference between hitting your calorie target for the day or going over it.
If however, you are within your calorie range, then going over your fat macros is not a bad thing.
Fats have historically had a bad reputation but they too can be satiating like protein and as long as you are consuming calorie maintenance or deficit amounts, the extra fat consumed will not be stored as extra fat in your body.
Is It Bad to Go Over Carbs Macros
The one macro that could be bad to go over is carbs and that is because people have a different sensitivity to carb intake.
Firstly, carbs (especially simple carbs) can be addictive, and consuming some extra macros from carbs may not satisfy your hunger and can easily lead to overeating.
This is in stark contrast to those that go over their macros through protein or fats.
Consuming excess carbs is hard to control and this is the reason why most people consider sugar to be a drug due to its addictive qualities.
Secondly, people have different sensitivities to carbs in terms of nutrient partitioning and insulin sensitivity.
While one person might store surplus carbs as glucose in the muscle, others can just as easily store it as body fat.
This is one of the leading differences between why people can consume similar foods but look completely different and going over your carb macros could easily lead to storing more body fat even if you don’t gain weight and hit your calorie target.
How to Balance Foods and Macros
Going over your macros is going to be more common if you are not eating balanced foods that are nutrient-dense (meaning more nutrients per 1g of the food) and you are instead consuming empty calories.
Related – Can you eat anything if you hit macros?
This isn’t a debate about good vs bad calories and you should never try to look at food this way.
Even a chocolate bar consumed at the right time can be properly utilized by the body (to replenish muscle glycogen after a heavy weightlifting session as an example).
Instead, you want to opt for food options that give you the most bang for your buck, or the best nutrient breakdown per gram to be more specific.
To illustrate my point, an egg is a complete protein. This means it contains all of the essential amino acids that humans need when it comes to protein digestion and utilization.
Incomplete protein sources will usually include nuts, seeds, legumes, and most plant-based protein sources.
An incomplete protein means it doesn’t have the full amino acid profile that humans require.
These examples do still contain good protein profiles though and should be consumed, it just means you’ll need more variety than if you just consumed an egg.
At the furthest end of the scale, processed protein sources like plant-based meat alternatives, processed dairy, and even protein bars have had their structures broken down and offer a very poor amino acid profile.
See also – Protein bars for cutting
This example is also the same as the saturated, mono-saturated, and trans-fat debate.
A coconut or olive oil can be well utilized by the body whereas a sunflower oil is a more processed option that loses most of its nutritional value.
As you can see, in most cases, the more a food is processed, the more it loses its chemical structure and the less beneficial it is.
It’s catchy to say a calorie is a calorie to the body.
In reality though, someone consuming eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and grains will look noticeably different from the individual consuming the same amount of calories but instead having processed and refined food sources.
It’s therefore important to balance foods and macros as this will ensure that the impact is significantly less in any instance where you do go over your macros.
Below are some foods from each food group that you’ll find to be beneficial:
- Protein powder
- Lean meat
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Potatoes (white and sweet)
- Vegetables (highly fibrous which makes them low in calories, these are more for micronutrients and vitamins)
Some foods have some crossover but each option above is high in the macro from their own category.
This makes it much easier to balance your diet and macros.
Processed foods like burgers, pizza, sweets, etc… are not “bad” foods but their macro proportions are heavily skewed.
A single burger could be 800 calories but be high in carbs, high in fat and contain moderate levels of protein.
This choice would heavily limit other options for the rest of the day because its macronutrient ratio per gram is so unbalanced.
This one meal alone might wipe out your macros for carbs and fat meaning you’d need to make up the rest of your calories from protein alone which will be difficult.
Therefore, I can’t say what you should eat but balancing the above foods for 80-90% of your diet will make it significantly less likely for you to go over your macros.
If you want a good idea of how to take the hassle out of determining your macros, I like to use the below as a guide and then make adjustments over time depending on how my body is reacting.
- Protein – 1g per 1lb of body weight (a 200lb individual will consume 200g protein)
- Fat – 0.45g per 1lb of body weight (a 200lb individual will consume 90g fat [200*0.45])
- Carbs – make up from remaining calories
This is just a rough guideline to ensure macros are balanced. You can reduce protein to 0.8g per 1lb body weight or increase it to 1.2g.
Balancing it like this tough means that if you do go over your macros, it’s unlikely to be by much and the impact will be pretty much unnoticeable.
If you’ve been tracking your calories and macros diligently, have been doing everything right but then slip up and go over your macros one day, don’t worry, it wouldn’t even be considered a slip up.
If you still hit your calorie target for the day the impact will be non-existent in terms of your body composition (it could have a minor impact on gym performance but highly unlikely from just one day) and you certainly won’t gain weight or halt your progress.
Provided your macro split is well balanced, occasionally going over your macros will have minimal impact and is not something that you should worry about.
If anything, worrying about going over your macros will do more harm than if you actually do go over them!
If you’ve found this helpful then you might also want to check out our guide on simple tips for tracking macros next.