How to Calculate Macros
Plus a Free Macronutrient Calculator
Counting calories alone doesn’t work as a diet plan. That’s because every calorie you eat is made up of three unique macronutrients. In other words, all calories are not created equal.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get more out of your diet when you understand these macronutrients. And then you will unlock your full fat loss and muscle gain potential.
So what are macronutrients? And how much of them should you be eating?
Well, I’m going to teach you the basics of macronutrients and how to calculate macronutrients for your ideal diet. Then you can download my free macronutrient calculator which automatically generates your targets for you!
First, let’s get up to speed with the basics of macronutrients.
What Are Macronutrients?
The prefix macro means ‘on a large scale’. Likewise, macronutrients are nutrients that your body needs in large amounts. In this case, hundreds or thousands of times more than other nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
You need macronutrients in large amounts because they provide energy in the form of calories. But your body also uses macronutrients for a host of other biological processes. Such as regulating hormones that play a role in weight loss and muscle gain.
Therefore, you will have more success dieting if you understand how your body uses macronutrients. With that in mind, let’s look at each of the three macronutrients in more detail.
When you eat protein, it’s broken down into amino acids. Then, those amino acids are used to build all sorts of cells and body tissues like muscles.
Your demand for amino acids increases when you workout. Because your body needs to rebuild muscle that breaks down under the stress. As a result, bodybuilders need more protein than the average person.
Yet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is a meager 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. In other words, for a 180 lb person that’s only 65 grams per day. But that target is intended to prevent a deficiency. So it’s not enough if you’re training with the goal to maintain or build muscle.
To illustrate this, one study compared a protein target of 1.5 grams per pound of body weight to 0.6 grams. Not surprisingly, the 1.5 g/lb group gained more muscle.
Similarly, 1.1 grams per pound resulted in a positive protein balance in another study. A positive protein balance means more amino acids are available for building muscle. And also ensures muscle doesn’t break down.
In summary, a protein target between 1.1 and 1.5 g/lb is a safe bet for maintaining or building muscle. And that’s why my recommendation is 1.25 g/lb.
Protein Target – Multiply your weight in pounds by 1.25 to find your target protein intake.
Your body uses carbohydrates for immediate energy. The carbs break down into glucose when eaten. Then the glucose enters your bloodstream and is referred to as blood sugar.
From there, your body uses glucose immediately for energy or stores it in muscles for later use. Your body can also store glucose as body fat once your muscles are full.
It seems carbs get a bad rap because of that potential to be stored as body fat. Consequently, low carb diets are all the rage. But you can actually benefit from eating carbs in some situations.
As a matter of fact, carbs are the catalyst for a powerful anabolic hormone called insulin. Your body releases insulin when your blood sugar rises after eating carbs. That’s because insulin is the hormone responsible for removing glucose from your bloodstream.
In addition, insulin enhances the uptake of glucose into your muscles. And increases the delivery of amino acids from the protein you eat. As a result, you can recover faster after training and build more muscle.
The key is to eat carbs at the right time and in the right amount to keep insulin working for you, not against you. However, the amount of carbs you eat varies a lot depending on your goal and your body.
Yet again, the RDA is not a good target for many people. The recommendation for carbohydrates is 45-65% of daily calories. That’s 280-400 grams for a 2,500 calorie diet. But 45% is too high for most people looking to lose weight. While 65% is on the high side, even for the most active people.
So how do you know how many carbs you should eat?
As with protein, I prefer to think of carb intake in grams per pound. So carbs should be in the range of 1.5 to 2 g/lb as a baseline for maintaining weight. That translates to 40-45% of your daily calories.
In the case of aggressive fat loss, carbs should be 0.25-0.5 g/lb or 10-15%. Conversely, for aggressive muscle gain carbs can go up to 3-3.25 g/lb or 55-60%. And more moderate diets could fall anywhere in between.
Carbohydrate Target – Anywhere from 0.25 to 3.25 g/lb depending on your goal and weight. Download the macronutrients calculator to find your personal target.
Dietary fat is another macronutrient that your body uses for energy. It’s also a source of essential fatty acids that help you absorb vitamins and keep your brain running.
Like carbs, dietary fat sometimes gets a bad rap. For one, fat is more than twice as calorie-dense as the other macronutrients. Meaning it’s easier to overindulge.
Furthermore, some types of fat really are bad for you. Like trans-fat and excessive amounts of saturated fat. But, with that said, not all fat is bad.
For instance, the unsaturated fat found in foods like fish, olive oil, almonds, and avocados is healthy. It’s high in omega-3 which is anti-inflammatory and promotes heart health. So don’t shy away from the good kinds of fat.
In this case, the RDA is a pretty good target. The recommendation is 20-35% of your daily calories for dietary fat. With 10% or less coming from saturated fat and as little as possible from trans-fat.
That means about 70 to 100 grams of fat per day for a 2,500 calorie diet. Again, you might find it helpful to think in terms of grams per pound. In that case, a good general rule is 0.5 g/lb. Or 90 grams for our 180 lb example.
Fat Target – Multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 0.5 to find your target fat intake.
Free Macronutrient Calculator
Screenshot of the Nutritioneering Macronutrient Calculator
Now you understand the importance of each of the three macronutrients. So finally it’s time to calculate your personal macronutrient targets and macronutrient ratio.
That’s where my macronutrient calculator comes in. It’s a simple excel spreadsheet which calculates your targets for you. All you do is enter your bodyweight at the top. Then the calculator shows you a range of macronutrient targets from fat loss to muscle gain. And you’ll be well on your way to reaching your goal.
Enter your email to download your FREE macronutrient calculator.
Macronutrients Meal Plan
The macronutrient calculator is a great starting point. But if you want a more personalized macronutrients diet, check out our Custom Meal Plans.
You’ll get personalized macronutrient targets for every meal of the day. And your targets are updated weekly as you progress through the plan. Click the button below to get started or click here to learn more.
About the Author:
Jeremy Fox – Founder of Nutritioneering, Engineer, CPT, Bodybuilder, Coach