Macronutrients, or “macros,” are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. They are essential nutrients that provide energy and help keep people healthy. Some eating plans, like the ketogenic diet, require you to count macros once you start.
Macro counting is different from calorie counting, which focuses on the amount of energy food supplies. It is also more complex than counting calories. However, this macro counting 101 guide will clearly explain how to count each macronutrient to make the process simpler.
Macro Counting 101
The proper method for how to count macros varies from nutrient to nutrient. Before we get into tips for counting macros, let's look at each macronutrient individually.
Protein is a nutrient found in many types of foods. It is vital for life. Anytime your body is growing or repairing itself, protein is needed. The amount of protein foods you need to eat depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough from the Protein Foods Group, but need to select leaner varieties of meat and poultry, as well as increase the variety of protein foods selected, choosing meats less often.
Foods that Contain Protein
Protein can be found in both animal and plant-based foods. Here are some nutritious protein food options:
- Meat, poultry, and eggs: lean cuts of beef, lamb, goat, pork loin, skinless chicken and turkey, quail and duck
- Fish and seafood: salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp, mackerel, lobster, catfish and crab
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods: yogurt, milk, cheese and cottage cheese
- Legumes: beans, split peas, lentils and soy
- Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, cashews and peanuts
What are carbs?
Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel. Food sources containing carcarbohydratesn offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. There are three types of carbohydrates: starches, sugars, and dietary fiber.
- Starches are present in plant-based foods such as potatoes, peas, corn, beans, rice, and other grain products.
- Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, but there are also sources of added sugars that are found in highly processed foods, such as candy, cake, and soft drinks.
- Dietary Fiber is an indigestible part of plant foods that may help with digestive and heart health.
How many carbs do you need per day?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbohydrates make up 45% to 65% of total daily calories. So, if you get 2,000 calories a day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be from carbohydrates. That translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbs a day.
What are fats?
Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell function. Certain fats can also help protect your organs, help keep your body warm, and help the body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too. There are four major dietary fats in food: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats. The unsaturated fats - monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – are considered “healthy” fats because they can be beneficial for the body in recommended amounts.
Healthy Fats are found in:
- Corn oil
- Fatty fish
- Olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
Saturated and trans fats are usually solid at room temperature. These fats have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
Saturated and trans fats are found in:
- Dairy Desserts, like ice cream
- Fried Foods
- Red meat, such as bacon, sausage, and beef
- Tropical oils, like coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil
- Whole Milk
How much fat do you need per day?
The National Institute of Health reports that the USDA recommends that 20% to 35% of daily calories come from fat and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends less than 10% of daily calories per day come from saturated fat.
How to Count Macros
Now that you understand the different types of macronutrients, you are ready to calculate your macros. To begin counting macros, you first need to estimate your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE), which is approximately how much energy an average person uses when not in motion. Many factors contribute to your REE such as physical fitness level, body type and overall health. These formulas are an estimation and meant to simply help you better understand what your REE might be:
Male: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) + 5
- Female: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age in years) - 161
Example for a Female: (10 x 68 kg) + (6.25 x 160 cm) – (5 x 30 years) - 161 = 1,369 REE
Next, you need to multiply your estimated REE by your non-resting energy expenditure (NREE), which varies based on your level of physical activity when in motion:
- People who are mostly sedentary (little to no exercise + work at a desk), multiply the REE by 1.2
- People who engage in light activity (light exercise/sports 1-3 days a week), multiply the REE by 1.375
- People who engage in moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days a week), multiply the REE by 1.55
- People who are very physically active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week), multiply the REE by 1.725
Example: 1,369 (REE) x 1.55 (Moderate Activity, 3-5 days a week) = 2,122 TDEE
The result gives you an estimate of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). Your TDEE is the total number of calories you could eat in a day if wanting to maintain your weight. If you want to lose weight, you would either have to consume fewer calories every day, increase your activity level, or do both.
Once you have an estimation of your total calorie intake, the next step is to determine what macronutrient ratio works best for your goals.
The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) typically follows a macro ratio breakdown of:
- 70% of Calories from Fat
- 20% of Calories from Protein
- 10% of Calories from Carbs
To calculate your macro percentages, multiply your total calories by each macro percent to determine your daily calories.
- 2,122 (TDEE) x 70% (Fat) = 1,485.4 Calories from Fat
- 2,122 (TDEE) x 20% (Protein) = 424.4 Calories from Protein
- 2,122 (TDEE) x 10% (Carbs) = 212.2 Calories from Carbs
Keep in mind macro ratios should be fine-tuned in order to achieve your personal goals. There are many keto macro calculators available that will do the math for you.
Tips for Counting Macros
Following these tips for counting macros can help you stick to your plan:
- Read labels: Carefully study nutritional labels to find out the number of grams of macros. Remember that a serving size isn't always the same as package size. If you're eating more than one serving at a time, you'll need to multiply the number of servings by the figures listed for each macro.
- Use a food scale: Weighing your food aids in portion control and reduces the risk of over or underestimating your macros.
- Plan ahead: Before the start of the week, map out a plan for each day. If you budget your macros ahead of time, you won't have to worry about performing calculations on the fly. Take what groceries you have at home and when you will be eating out into consideration when you create your plan.
- Fiber: People often wonder "Do you subtract fiber from carbs when counting?" The answer is yes. Since your body can't digest fiber, you typically only use starches and simple sugars in macro counting.
- Stock up on snacks that fit your macros: Don’t forget to count the macros of your snacks when looking at your overall diet. Ratio Food high protein snacks and Ratio Food KETO* friendly snacks do the math for you by having important macros on the front of packaging.
- Exercise: Exercise supports heart health and stronger muscles and bones. When you're exercising, you may need to adjust your macro allowances to account for what your body needs to burn to power through physical activity.
How Long to See Results From Changing my Macros?
If you have changed your macros as part of a health journey, results will vary based on many factors - your current body mass index, what diet plan you're following, the change in macros, your age, your activity rate, and how precisely you follow your eating plan. Wait at least two weeks before tracking progress, and don't be discouraged if it takes longer for you to see results.
*Always consult your physician before starting an eating plan that involves regular consumption of high fat foods.