How to Count Macros

Beginners Guide to Counting Macros in 5 Simple Steps

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 25, 2024

You know macros are an important part of a healthy diet. But you might need a little help understanding how to count macros to reach your fitness goals.

As a certified nutrition coach, I believe it’s best to keep nutrition simple. That’s why I’ll teach you how to count macros in five steps with clear examples.

I’ll also help you find your personal macro targets based on your body and your goals. Let’s get counting!

How to Count Macros

What Are Macros?

Macronutrients, or macros for short, are the three main nutrients that comprise all the foods we eat. The three macros are protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

  • Protein: Create the primary substance of muscles and all other tissues
  • Carbohydrates: Provide energy for powering muscles through workouts
  • Fats: Perform essential functions, keeping the body systems running

Macro counting involves tracking the grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat you consume daily. Tracking can be done with a traditional food journal or an app.

​Counting Macros vs Calories

Counting calories often goes hand in hand with counting macros; however, there are some distinctions. Calorie counting only involves tracking your total calorie intake for the day and doesn’t necessarily require tracking macros.

On the other hand, counting macros involves tracking grams of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. By counting macros, you are also counting calories since each macronutrient has a fixed number of calories per gram.

  • Protein = 4 calories per gram
  • Carbs = 4 calories per gram
  • Fat = 9 calories per gram

In addition, each macronutrient has a different physiological effect on the body. For example, carbohydrates raise blood sugar and insulin for a couple of hours after a meal.

Therefore, you can also manage the effect food has on your body by tracking macros.

Macro Counting Benefits & Limitations

Counting macros can be an effective strategy to lose weight because it helps ensure you’re hitting the appropriate calorie deficit to burn fat. Similarly, it can help those trying to build muscle mass by ensuring you eat enough protein and calories for weight gain.

Additionally, counting macros generally involves paying more attention to the types of foods you eat, which may help you become more conscious about making healthy food choices.


  • Can help you adhere to a weight loss plan
  • May help with adding muscle mass
  • Increases attention to food choices


  • Only works if macro targets are set properly
  • Takes about 5 minutes per day

Of course, macro counting doesn’t automatically ensure a healthy diet. And it only works if you have the appropriate calorie and macro targets defined for your individual needs.

Finally, counting macros requires at least a few minutes to log your food intake every day. While apps make it easier, keeping track of macros on a daily basis can be an obstacle for some people.

how to count macros - food choices

How To Count Macros in 5 Steps

In this section, I will share my step-by-step guide to counting macros from start to finish.

Step 1: Set Your Goal

The first step in counting macros is picking a specific health or fitness goal. The reason is your macro targets will be different, whether you want to gain muscle, lose fat, or just maintain your body weight.

If you’re unsure of your goal, here is my guide to choosing the right fitness goal.

Step 2: Calculate Your Calorie Intake

The next step in counting macros is calculating your daily calorie intake based on your current weight, activity level, and specific goals. To do this, we must determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

TDEE comprises calories burned through basal metabolic rate (BMR), physical activity, and exercise. Several formulas estimate BMR, including the Harris-Benedict and Mifflin-St Jeor equations.

Mifflin-St Jeor Equation:

  • BMR (men) = 10 x weight (in kg) + 6.35 x height (in cm) – 5 x age (in years) + 5
  • BMR (women) = 10 x weight (in kg) + 6.25 x height (in cm) – 5 x age (in years) – 161

As an example, Sarah, a 30-year-old woman weighing 160 lb (73 kg) and 5’4″ (163 cm) tall, would have a BMR of (10* 73) + (6.25* 163) – (5* 30) -161 = 1,438 calories.

Remember that these equations do not account for lean body mass, a critical factor in metabolic rate. Try my free BMR calculator, which accounts for body composition.

Once you know your BMR, a multiplier accounts for calories burned through regular activity and exercise.

Activity Multipliers:

  • Sedentary: 1.2 (little or no exercise & desk job)
  • Lightly active: 1.375 (light exercise 1-3 days per week)
  • Moderately active: 1.55 (Moderate exercise 3-5 days per week)
  • Very active: 1.725 (Hard exercise 6-7 days per week)
  • Super active: 1.9 (Hard daily exercise & physical job)

From our last example, let’s say Sarah is lightly active. In that case, we would multiply her BMR by 1.375, resulting in her total daily energy expenditure of 1,438* 1.375 = 1,977 calories.

Again, these multipliers are a fairly rudimentary way to account for calories burned through activity and exercise. I recommend using my free TDEE calculator, which considers your actual daily activity and exercise habits.

Finally, the last step in calculating your calorie intake is creating an appropriate energy balance based on your dietary objectives. If you want to maintain your weight, try to consume the same number of calories as you burn.

I recommend starting with a small 200-300 calorie deficit for weight loss and adjusting as needed. Similarly, start with a 200-300 calorie surplus for muscle gain and bump it up if you don’t gain weight.

If Sarah was trying to lose weight, she might start consuming 1,977 – 200 = 1,777 calories daily. To make it easier, let’s round that down to 1,750 calories.

how to count macros vs calories

Step 3: Determine Your Macro Ratios

Determining your macro targets can be done in several different ways. Some suggest targeting a certain number of grams per pound, but this doesn’t account for body composition and can result in over- or underestimating your macro needs.

Therefore, I recommend calculating your macronutrient targets as a percentage of your calorie intake. The dietary guidelines put forth by the Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicines suggest the following macronutrient distribution.

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Protein: 10-35% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories

The ranges are general guidelines to ensure a balanced diet and prevent deficiencies of any essential nutrients. There is also some flexibility to work within the ranges based on your individual preferences and dietary needs.

Continuing our example, let’s say Sarah wants her macro ratio to be 45% carbs, 25% protein, and 30% fat. Then, her macro targets in grams would be as follows.

Example with 1,750 Calories:

  • 45% Carbs = (1,750*0.45) / 4 = 197 grams
  • 25% Protein = (1,750*0.25) / 4 = 109 grams
  • 30% Fat = (1,750*0.3) / 4 = 58 grams

Step 4: Log Food & Track Macros

One way to track your foods is to check nutrition labels and write down the grams of carbohydrate, fat, and protein in the foods for each meal. Then, tally the grams of each macronutrient at the end of the day to get your total.

​The traditional food log requires some math if you consume anything other than the serving suggestion on the label. Furthermore, counting macros by hand can take a long time.

Luckily, you can use your computer or phone to track macros. Today’s apps allow you to look up foods by name or scan barcodes to quickly log nutrition information. Most apps also allow you to set your macro targets.

how to count macros food label

Step 5: Hit Your Macro Targets

When tracking your food intake, monitor the total grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates you consume. Ideally, the amount of each macronutrient you eat should be very close to your target amount. 

If you eat more or less of one macro than intended, adjust your diet the following day. For example, if you didn’t eat enough protein, you could try incorporating more lean meat or a protein shake into your meals the next day. 

It’s okay if you don’t hit your macro targets exactly—the most important thing is to ensure that your total calorie intake is close to your target. Keep a close eye on your calorie intake and make adjustments as needed.

Related: How Strict Do I Need to Be On a Diet?

Macro Counting Example

In this section, I will explain how to count macros using a smartphone app like MyFitnessPal. With apps like this, you can add food using the search bar or scan a barcode using your phone’s camera.

how to count macros - add food

Search or scan to add a food

Once you select a food, you can see the macros and nutrition information. From here, you select the serving size and number of servings.

In the example below, I used a kitchen scale to determine how many ounces of sweet potato I ate. Other foods may require using measuring cups or spoons.

how to count macros - servings

Choose your serving size

Repeat this step for each food you eat throughout the day while keeping an eye on your total macros. At the end of the day, your total should closely match your goal.

You can also enter foods in the morning, or the previous night so you know what to eat all day.

In this example, my macro targets were 203 grams of protein, 270 grams of carbs, and 90 grams of fat. As you can see, I was within a few grams of all three targets, which is excellent.

how to count macros - daily totals

Match your daily total to your goal

Most calorie-counting apps also show useful information like sugar, fiber, saturated fat, sodium, and various vitamins and minerals. You can usually see a breakdown of your macros as a percentage of total calories.

My target macro ratios were 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Check out my guide on the 40-30-30 diet.

how to count macros chart

See your macronutrient ratio

Best Apps for Counting Macros

Over the years, I’ve used several calorie-counting apps for myself and my clients. All of them work, but there are some subtle differences to consider.

​MyFitnessPal is my go-to macro counting app because it’s easy to use and has one of the most complete food databases. However, the barcode scanner is no longer included in the free version, which is annoying.

​I’ve also used MyNetDiary to count macros since 2011. My wife likes it because it provides food grades and daily reports. The free version includes a barcode scanner.

The LoseIt app is another that I liked for quickly viewing the macros in any particular food.

My Favorite Macro Counting Apps:

  1. MyFitnessPal
  2. MyNetDiary
  3. Lose It!

bodybuilding meal plan

Custom Meal Plan

Get a personalized meal plan designed specifically for your body and lifestyle. Including custom recipes formulated to fit your macros and calories – no counting required!

All this for just $13.99/mo! Click here to choose your plan.

Macro Counting Diets

Some diets are based on counting macros. These include the ketogenic diet and the IIFYM (if it fits your macros) diet.

The keto diet involves a very specific macronutrient ratio of less than 5% carbs, 20-25% protein, and 70-75% fat. Counting macros is almost a necessity to ensure you stay in a ketogenic state.

By comparison, IIFYM is a form of flexible dieting where you can eat almost anything as long as you hit your macros. However, this approach tends to promote junk food, which is not ideal for overall health.

Instead, focusing on a balanced diet of whole foods is generally better while hitting your designated macros for weight loss or muscle gain.

How to Count Macros for Fat Loss

Most people think of carb-restricted diets when counting macros for weight loss. However, multiple studies conclude that low-carb diets result in comparable weight loss to higher-carb diets when calories are equal1,2,3.

So, when counting macros for fat loss, finding the correct calorie target is essential. The key is to burn more calories than you eat without cutting calories so much that your metabolism slows down.

3 Keys to Being In a Calorie Deficit Without Crashing

Of course, lowering carbs does help achieve this calorie deficit. But there are times when carbs are beneficial.

Therefore, I recommend targeting low carbs during the part of the day you’re not working out, then increasing carbs around your workout, and vice versa with fat intake.

Also, protein intake will be relatively high throughout the day as part of a resistance training plan. This ensures you don’t lose lean muscle and you maintain your metabolism.

How to Count Macros for Muscle Gain

When counting macros for muscle gain, getting enough calories to support training is important. For that reason, carbs are generally higher on a muscle-building program.

With that said, I recommend that you get most of your carbs around your workout. This provides energy for your workout and promotes lean mass gain.

In addition, your fat intake should be moderate, and your protein intake should be high. This ensures you have enough amino acids for building muscle without gaining excess fat.

Get Your Muscle Gain Macro Targets

My Experience With Counting Macros

There have been times in my life when I was clinically obese despite regularly working out and watching my diet. I didn’t feel or look healthy.

However, I decided to make a change and worked hard to turn things around. Over the course of 14 months, I lost almost 50 lbs and eventually participated in my first bodybuilding contest.

To achieve these results, I reduced calories and made better food choices. I also changed my exercise program to burn excess fat.

In addition, I created strategic macro targets for every meal. This nutrient timing is the core of my new custom meal plan system.

You can now use this system to lose fat and gain muscle, too. Of course, your results may vary depending on your starting point.

how to count macros and transform your body

At my heaviest (and unhealthiest) I weighed 210 lbs. By cleaning up my diet and counting macros, I got down to a shredded 163 lbs.

Don’t Want to Count Macros?

Get a custom meal plan with personalized recipes that fit your macros. No calorie or macro counting required!

how to count macros meal plan
  • Transform your body with goal-specific calories & macros
  • Easily plan meals with a daily menu built around your schedule
  • Simplify meal prep with delicious recipes formulated to fit your macros
  • Make better food choices with a grocery list right on your phone
  • Get instant access to your online dashboard

Share with your community and get the conversation started!

By |March 25, 2024|Nutrition|0 Comments
Go to Top