Learn how to calculate your macros and calories and understand your daily requirements to meet your desired result.
What are macros?
What exactly is a macro? Macros is short for macronutrients. They include the following three categories:
- Protein (4 calories per gram)
- Fat (9 calories per gram)
- Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
These nutrients provide you with most of your energy, so when you count macros you’re counting the grams of proteins, carbs or fat that you’re consuming.
There technically is a 4th macronutrient, alcohol, but we’ll skip over that as alcohol has no nutritional value. However, if you drink alcohol, you should know that 1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories and they do count. They just won’t build muscle.
What are calories?
A calorie is the unit of energy. Calories in a nutrition context refer to the amount of energy you get from the food and drink you consume.
In other words, the amount of energy in an item of food or drink is measured in calories.
How to calculate your macros and calories
1) Determine your goal
When setting up a macro goal, this can be for 2 reasons:
What’s important is to actually find out how much you’re eating now. This can simply be done by keeping track of your food intake for 2-4 weeks. An excellent tool for that is MyFitnessPal, but there are many other great apps out there.
Weigh yourself before and after this period. If you don’t have a goal with your nutrition, you should see the following results:
- Did you lose weight? Then you are not eating enough.
- Did you gain weight? Then you are eating too much.
- No change in weight? Then you are eating enough.
In all cases it’s handy to calculate your daily caloric intake. Simply add up all the calories you’ve consumed and divide them by the days. This will give you a daily average.
Also, by documenting your current eating habits, you can assess more easily what types of changes you need to make, or find out if you are already on the right track.
Read more: How to Eat for Performance Vs Health Vs Looks?
2) Basic Metabolic Rate and Total Daily Energy Expenditure
BMR stands for Basic Metabolic Rate; this is the amount of energy your body needs to survive each day. This energy is needed for breathing, your heart beating, nails growing, digestion, and simply to keep all your body’s systems working as they should.
On top of that, you need energy for daily activities, like walking, weightlifting, running, etc.
These 2 combined are called the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
This is different for everyone, since it depends on variables such as gender, height, weight and activity level.
There are many tools to help you calculate these numbers such as the TDEE calculator, which is pretty accurate when calculating your BMR & TDEE.
Why still calculate this you ask?
If you compare the numbers in step 1 with the numbers in step 2, you can get the most accurate number possible in order to set your macro goals. It’s simply eliminating as much error as possible.
3) Calculating the Macros
This depends on your goal in step 1 and you can calculate this with many different tools. They will tell you which percentile above or below you TDEE you should be to reach your goals.
The tool will do the calculating for you, don’t worry.
Which option to choose? This depends on you goal, but good options are:
- Lose weight: Weight Loss
- Gain Muscle: Lean Massing
Look for a tool that will provide you with options that are in a safe range; with Weight Loss causing a slower, gradual, and sustainable weight loss, and Lean Massing ensuring a slower gain without too much fat gain.
4) Keeping track
This is where it really starts. Assuming you are using an app similar to MyFitnessPal, you can enter the desired calories, protein, fats & carbohydrates in your profile.
Now it’s up to you to track what you eat every meal, every snack, every day.
This may sound tedious, but after a few times this becomes a habit quickly.
You may have guessed it, but if you want to be as accurate as possible, a kitchen scale is an essential tool. At some point you will get better a estimating portions without the scale, but in the beginning you will need one for sure.
There are multiple tools out there to keep track of your food intake with a huge database of foods (sometimes even allowing you to scan barcodes as well) which also provide an overview on how your progress is going during the day and if you are on the right track.
This way you can tweak your food intake as you go along, and you won’t run into surprises at the end of the day, when you might have gone over your target, or perhaps are still way under.
5) Measuring progress
This is very important to define right from the beginning. How are you going to measure your progress? If you want to lose weight, the scale is a logical option, but should not be the only way to measure your success. The scale can give conflicting results as well.
For example, if you are also doing weight training, you will gain muscle mass, which results in more bodyweight.
To make sure you can truly see results, do the following:
- Take before and after pictures. Take them preferably at the same location, at the same time (heck, even wear the same underwear) to really see the difference.
- Take measurements. Muscle tissue may weigh more than fat tissue per square cm, but takes up less space.
So get out a measuring tape and measure up. The most common areas to measure:
- Upper arm
Another way to really see results, is by measuring body fat. This should be done by a skilled person, and is usually done with calipers. The skin fold will be measured on several parts of the body, and the average body fat percentage is calculated.
There will always be a discrepancy, for more accurate body fat measurements you can do a DEXA scan, hydrostatic weighing or a bodpod, but these are often not always available everywhere and are more costly.
Last note on how to calculate your macros and calories
Knowing how to calculate your macros and calories is an incredibly useful tool for those with a specific goal in mind, whether that is losing fat, gaining muscle mass, or both. However, this is not intended to turn you into an obsessive calorie counter.
Realistically, calories DO count.
The fact of the matter is, that in order to achieve a certain goal, you need to define the path towards it and this can be a way for you to do that.
Simply saying “I want to lose weight, so I’m going to eat less” will perhaps work for a while, but sooner or later you will hit a plateau and, without insights into your eating habits, things could get a lot more difficult.
To be honest, the more I talk to people about nutrition and calories, the more I realize that most people have no clue how much they’re eating.
Educating yourself in what your numbers are, what the caloric value of food is and how to implement it in your life will make the road to achieving your goals a lot easier.
- how to calculate your macros and calories: Farhad Ibrahimzade on Unsplash