Including a definitive guide to protein, carbs, and fat.
If you’re here, then you’ve probably tried a macro calculator already… And I’m guessing you didn’t get the results you wanted.
The reason is that every other macro calculator is based on generic formulas. Even the ones on reputable websites… I’m looking at you bodybuilding.com!
That’s why I created a more personalized macro calculator. From your body type to your daily schedule, everything is tailored to you. So you get macro targets that actually burn fat, build lean muscle, and transform your body.
In the past year, 100,813 people have used my macro calculator. Give it a try and see what all the buzz is about!
free macro calculator
Before you hit “next”, make sure you take a few minutes to skim the guide below. That way you know how the macro calculator works!
Table of Contents – The Definitive Guide to Macros
Macro counting is when you track your intake of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Usually, what you’re actually counting is grams.
By tracking macronutrients you can manage your weight without overly restrictive dieting. It’s appealing thanks to this simplicity. But there’s more at work than macros.
In reality, calorie balance is the reason that tracking macros works. Because each gram of carbs, fat, and protein has a set number of calories.
So by hitting your macros, you’re also controlling your calorie intake. Together, macros and calories account for about 60% of the nutrition puzzle.
Which explains why you can make good progress with this method. Assuming you have the correct targets (which is why you’re here).
However, simply counting macros is not a substitute for healthy food choices. In other words, you can’t eat pizza and donuts every day and expect to transform your body just because it fits your macros.
In order to optimize your results, you must also pay attention to the foods you eat. And be aware of the fact that when you eat matters. With that in mind, let’s get into how to calculate macros.
First, it’s best to start by calculating your daily calorie needs. Because you can’t burn fat if you overeat and you can’t gain muscle if you undereat – regardless of what your macros are!
From there, we will find your macros as a percentage of calories. Then simply convert from calories to grams to get your daily targets.
Below are some guidelines for ranges of macro percentages. The first column is the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) established by the Institute of Medicine. And the second column is my recommended ranges for optimizing fitness and body composition.
Macro Percentages: Daily Reference Intake vs Fitness Plan
At a glance, you’ll notice that I recommend the upper end on protein. As well as lower carbs and higher fat, with a larger range on each.
The reason for the wide ranges is that your ideal macro ratio depends on your body, activity level, and goal. Now let’s dive deeper into the rationale for these macro percentages.
The Case For High Protein
Protein is like a building block for your body. So if you’re trying to build or maintain lean muscle, it’s critical to get enough protein in your diet.
For decades, the bodybuilding standard has been 1 g/lb (2.2 g/kg) of body weight. So if you weigh 150 lbs, that’s 150 grams of protein per day. But this rule only works well if you’re of average build.
To make matters worse, so-called “experts” can’t seem to agree on how much protein you need. That said, a recent study found a daily protein intake of 0.7 to 1.4 g/lb (1.6 to 3.1 g/kg) was best to build/maintain muscle1.
In reality, your protein target depends on your body composition, not just how much you weigh. For that reason, I prescribe protein as a percentage of calories. And I calculate calories based on your lean body mass, resulting in a more accurate protein target.
Target about 25-35% of your calories from protein when your goal is building or maintaining muscle.
For the sake of comparison, a protein target of 30% comes out to 0.6 to 1.5 g/lb depending on your body composition. Which is in line with the aforementioned study.
The more body fat you have, the lower your protein g/lb. Since your body has a high fat to muscle ratio, it’s unlikely to break down muscle.
As you get leaner, a lower fat to muscle ratio increases the chances of muscle breaking down. Which is why your g/lb needs to be higher.
Interestingly though, protein intake as a percentage of calories stays the same regardless of body composition. To illustrate, see the table below.
Protein Intake In Lean vs Obese Person – g/lb and % Calories
As you can see, calculating protein intake as a percentage of calories works for any body type and goal. And illustrates how the 1 g/lb rule needs to be adjusted if you’re lean or overweight.
Of course, not everyone has bodybuilding aspirations, which is fine. But even if you’re not trying to build muscle, a high protein diet has benefits.
Next, let’s talk about the most controversial macronutrient of all – carbs.
Earn Your Carbs – How To Use Carb Cycling
Carbs get a bad rap when it comes to burning fat and looking good. But they’re not all bad if you understand how much you actually need.
When you eat carbs, one of two things happens. Either you burn them immediately for energy. Or your body stores them as glycogen to use later.
Whether or not you burn carbs depends on the intensity of your activity. At rest, only about 30% of the calories you burn come from carbs. While an all-out effort burns almost entirely carbs.
Therefore, the number of carbs you eat should be determined by your activity level.
Low Activity = Low Carbs
As an example, say you burn 2,000 calories on a rest day. That means about 30% of those calories come from carbs. Or 2,000 x 0.3 = 600 calories.
Now we know there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates. So that’s 600 ÷ 4 = 150 grams of carbs.
In other words, you could eat up to 150 grams of carbs to refill what you burned. Any more than that would likely be stored as fat.
Another way to say this is you should not exceed 30% of your calorie intake as carbs on a day where you’re not active. Yet the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends you get 45-65% of your calories from carbs, regardless of activity level.
Actual Carbs Burned vs Daily Reference Intake (DRI)
With all those excess carbs, it’s no wonder the standard American diet leads to weight gain and obesity! Especially when combined with too many calories.
Of course, if your goal is to burn fat, you should target less than 30% carbs. That way you force your body to tap into fat for energy.
Realistically, you could go as low as 5% carbs on your rest day. Which amounts to the carbs you get from vegetables.
On low activity days you should not exceed 30% of your calories from carbs. A good target is 5-20% depending on your goal.
High Activity = High(er) Carbs
Now say you have an intense workout. How many carbs do you actually burn? Well, let’s look at an extreme case.
Remember, the higher the intensity, the more carbs you burn. And the max intensity you can sustain for a long duration is 75-85% of your max heart rate.
Recently, I wore a heart rate monitor during a workout provided by flightphysiques.com. This session included heavy squats, RDL’s, leg press, leg curls/extensions, and lunges. Each set went to failure with about 60 seconds rest between sets.
Below is a summary of my heart rate data. As well as the duration and calories burned.
The combination of heavy weights and short rests had my average heart rate at 159 beats per minute (85% of my max). In lamens terms, I was laying on the floor of the gym after my last set trying to catch my breath!🥵
After 80 grueling minutes, I burned about 1,200 calories. And based on the exercise intensity chart, roughly 75% of those calories came from carbs. Doing the math that’s 1,200 x 0.75 ÷ 4 = 225 grams of carbs.
Outside of my workout, I burned another 175 grams of carbs. Combined I earned a total of 400 grams of carbs that day (225 + 175).
That may sound like a lot. But let’s look at it as a percentage of calories. For a little background, I’m currently on a 3,800 calorie lean bulking plan.
Actual Carbs Burned vs Daily Reference Intake (DRI)
Amazingly, the DRI recommendation is still too high, overshooting by as much as 218 grams. Even this extreme case requires just 42% of calories to come from carbs.
This example also proves that you’re probably not burning as many carbs as you think. An average 1-hour weight lifting session only burns about 90 grams of carbs!
Realistically, there’s no need for carbs to be more than 50% of calories unless you’re an endurance athlete. Or possibly if you train hard for multiple hours a day.
At the end of the day, you just want to replace the carbs you burn, thereby refilling your glycogen stores. Doing this with a strategic calorie surplus results in building lean muscle without gaining fat. While a careful calorie deficit results in burning fat without losing muscle.
On workout days, carbs should be roughly 30 to 50% of calories depending on your goal.
When your goal is fat loss or recomposition, target closer to 30%. And include at least one 50% day per week to refill glycogen and boost metabolism. Also called a refeed day.
For maximizing muscle gain, target up to 50% calories from carbs. Only exceed 50% if you exercise for multiple hours on end. Or for rare challenges with the hardgainer ectomorph body type.
In summary, aim for 5-20% of your calories from carbs when you’re inactive. And target 30-50% on days you workout.
During the week, you should cycle between low, medium, and high carb days based on your workout schedule. Raising and lowering your carb intake with your activity level is called carb cycling. And it is an extremely useful tool for fat loss and lean muscle gain.
Unfortunately, fat has a stigma of being bad for you. Most likely because it’s twice as calorie-dense as protein or carbs. And certain types of fat can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
However, fat is vital for your brain and nervous system. And it’s a slow-burning energy supply that your body uses for low-intensity exercise. The key is to get the right kinds of fat in the appropriate amount.
This brings us to the topic “good fats” and “bad fats”. Good fats nourish your body and provide key vitamins. While bad fats are empty calories that clog arteries and cause serious health problems.
With that out of the way, the amount of total fat you need depends on your activity level. Fat intake should go up and down opposite of your carb intake. In other words, high carbs = low fat and low carbs = high fat.
Fat intake should range from 20 to 65%. On the low end when carbs are high, and on the high end when carbs are low.
One reason for alternating fat intake has to do with balancing macro percentages. On a day when you get 50% of your calories from carbs and 30% from protein, there’s only 20% left for fat. Whereas, fat gets a bigger piece of the pie on low carb days.
Another reason for this fluctuation is insulin. A storage hormone that gets released after eating carbs. When insulin is elevated, your body is more likely to store the dietary fat as body fat.
Moreover, this is why greasy high carb foods like pizza and burgers are so fattening! And it’s why you should hit your macros and eat healthy whole foods.
What Makes This the Best Macro Calculator?
So far we’ve covered why macros matter and how much of each macro you really need. But why should you trust me to find your ideal targets? Let me explain what sets my macro calculator apart from the rest.
The Most Accurate
In researching my calculator, I tested dozens of other macro calculators on the web. And I found that they were anywhere from a little off to wildly inaccurate.
Other calculators miss the mark because of generic formulas for finding calorie intake. Which can be off by as much as 1,000 calories per day! At that point, you’re doomed to failure no matter what your macros are.
That’s why I created my own algorithm based on 9 unique factors. Compared to just 3 factors in the industry-standard formula.
With this new and improved formula, I can find your daily calories with incredible accuracy. And since macros are based on a percentage of calories, that translates into the most accurate macro calculator.
Built For Your Body Type
One reason my macro calculator algorithm is so accurate is that I account for your body type. This is significant because genetic variation means everyone’s metabolism is a little different.
By letting you choose your body type, I ensure that your calories and macros fit your metabolism. I make it easy by describing the body types in plain terms. But you can also take my super easy body type quiz.
Lastly, my macro calculator is the only one I’ve found that is personalized to your schedule. Other calculators just “average out” your activity and give you a single average macro target.
Whereas, I find out how many calories you burn at rest as well as how much you burn during your workouts. So I tell you exactly what your macros should be every day of the week based on your schedule! This allows you to take advantage of the power of carb cycling I covered earlier.
Macro Calculator Results
If you’re still not convinced, I get it. You need proof. Well, look no further than Nutritioneering athlete, Dylan Kosek.
Dylan first used my macro calculator in 2016. Since then I’ve coached him through bulking, cutting, and even contest prep for a bodybuilding show.
With consistency, hard work, and a good macro meal plan, Dylan has created an impressive physique and turned fitness into a lifestyle.