Depending on your calorie needs and objectives, counting macros can be a way to provide the right amounts of these vital nutrients and help you achieve your goals.
What Are Macronutrients and Why Are They Important?
The reason protein, carbohydrate, and fat are called macronutrients is because you need them in relatively large amounts. Your intake of these nutrients is measured in grams, whereas micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are measured in milligrams and micrograms.
All macronutrients are vitally important because they serve as sources of energy to the body, and when you choose the right food sources, they can provide an abundance of those micronutrients, too. Each macro group has a distinct and primary function in the body, which is why the right balance of the three is important:
Protein – Your body creates essential proteins, such as enzymes and hormones, from the amino acids found in protein-rich foods you consume. Protein is also necessary for your immune system to produce antibodies, which are specialized proteins that aid in defending your body against foreign invaders.
Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source, and all your cells, tissues, and organs rely on a steady supply. Good sources of carbohydrates include: vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, beans, dairy products
Fat – Fats serve as a major fuel source for your basic metabolic processes, support the health of the brain and nervous system, and help your body take up fat-soluble vitamins and certain phytonutrients.
What Is the Best Macronutrient Ratio?
A good starting point is a “40-30-30” macro ratio:
- 40% of your calories from carbohydrates
- 30% of your calories from protein
- 30% of your calories from fats.
For most people, this ratio provides the right amounts of macros to support your goals, whether it’s balanced nutrition, weight loss, or muscle gain.
How to Calculate Your Calorie Needs
Using a Macro Calculator – Online, you’ll be able to find calculators that provide estimates of your daily needs according to your age, height, weight, and sex.
Calculating Macros for Weight Loss
No matter how you count your daily needs, if weight loss is your goal, you’ll want to subtract 500 calories from the estimate, which should allow for a half-pound weight loss per week. Always be sure that you take in a minimum of 1200 calories per day to make sure you have adequate calories to spend on the foods and nutrients you require.
How to Track Your Macro Intake
Now that you know how much of each macro you’re going to eat each day, you’ll want to keep track of your intake. Again, there are food trackers that can do this for you, and nutrition information is readily available online, as well as on nutrition facts panels on packaged foods.
The nutrition facts panels on food labels provide protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams per serving – just confirm that the serving size you consume matches that on the label. If you eat more than the designated serving size, you’ll need to adjust.
What Are the Benefits of Counting Macros?
Finding the right macro balance and keeping track of your macros can be useful in helping you reach your goals – whether it’s to lose weight, gain muscle, or provide the right balance to fuel activity. More importantly, it may improve the quality of your diet.
For example, if you are watching your weight and you opt to simply count calories, there’s no guarantee that you’ll make the best food choices. If the only thing you’re keeping track of is your calories, you could spend them on unhealthy junk foods while still staying within your daily calorie limit – but you’d probably be shortchanging yourself on several important nutrients. However, when you keep track of your macros and learn the best food sources for each, you’re more likely to be consuming a nutrient-dense diet.
One way to think of nutrient density is to think of your calories as cash – and to buy as much nutrition as you can with the calories you have to spend. By prioritizing nutrient-dense foods – lean sources of protein, vegetables, whole grains and beans, whole fruits, and healthy fats from foods like nuts and seeds – you’re spending your calories most wisely. And, when you budget your calories for each macro, that’s smart spending.