How to Calculate Macros for Faster Weight Loss, According to an Expert

A personal trainer and certified nutrition coach reveals a secret formula to put your weight loss goals within reach on the turbo-track.

How to calculate macros for weight loss

If you’ve heard buzz around how to calculate macros for weight loss—a trending topic which has over 18.7 million related videos on TikTok—it might sound reminiscent of more traditional weight loss programs, like calorie-counting, which can be a tedious task of breaking down and adding the calorie content of your entire food and beverage intake throughout the day. Calorie-counting is a process that, for many, can be overwhelming and unsustainable for any significant period of time. It’s also not healthy for every individual.

But here’s what “macros” are

There’s been an encouraging shift in the way many people are approaching weight loss, fueled by both new app technologies that contain vast libraries of nutrient data for the most common foods, paired with a growing understanding that appearing fit without following good nutrition doesn’t typically equate to being healthy. A good diet means getting the appropriate amounts of macros for your body from the right kinds of foods.

Although macros isn’t new terminology, this phrase hasn’t been commonly used in nutrition vernacular until the past decade. Macros—short for “macronutrients”—are the calorie (energy) containing components of the food we consume, most commonly known as protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

Take any food or beverage, and you can break its calories down into one, or a combination, of these macronutrients. SweeTarts candy would be an example of a single macronutrient food item, where all of its calories are in the form of carbohydrate: Sugar. Almonds, on the other hand, would contain calories in the form of all three macronutrients.

Each of these macronutrients is an essential element of your dietary intake in order for your body to perform some of its most vital tasks. In 2005, The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine set forth recommendations for macronutrient composition that are still recommended today. Personal recommendations, and your own macro percentage amounts, will depend on factors like your activity levels, types of activity, and goals—like weight loss or muscle gain. A bodybuilder is more apt to have a diet with a higher protein content to increase the desired muscle development, as detailed in this 2019 nutrition study, while a long-distance runner may favor a larger carbohydrate content for more sustained energy.

7 Best High-Protein Dinner Ideas for Weight Loss

Much of the conversation around weight loss now centers around macros and the counting of macros (in the form of grams) instead of calories. This shift has been in acknowledgement of the importance of each macronutrient and the different effect each one has on your body. If all you did was count calories, you could theoretically eat your total daily amount in carbohydrates, which would leave you short on the other vital nutrients and unlikely to achieve your weight or fitness goals.

When working with a trainer or nutrition expert, they will establish your target total daily calorie intake, which will then be broken down further into the percentages of each macronutrient. If for example, you work with a professional who determines you should be consuming 1,600 calories per day to lose weight, you may be instructed to eat the following proportions:

  • 40% (640 calories) from carbohydrates
  • 30% (480 calories) from protein
  • and 30% (480 calories) from fat.

These calorie numbers can then be converted to grams based on the density of each macronutrient. One gram of fat is equal to nine calories, while one gram of protein or carbohydrate is each equal to 4 calories. From the example above, 640 carbohydrate calories would equal 160 grams, 480 protein calories would equal 120 grams, and 480 fat calories would equal a little over 53 grams. Using app technology like MyFitnessPal, which has a robust food and beverage library containing macronutrient values, you can then track your daily grams of each macronutrient and see a greater chance of reaching your body recomposition goals.

Here’s How Many Carbohydrates You Really Need in a Day

Alcohol and macros

Although food and beverages are made up of these three calorie-containing parts, there is one additional calorie contributor that should be noted: Alcohol. Alcohol holds no nutritional value, and is more calorically dense than carbohydrate or protein. One gram of alcohol is equally to seven calories, which are additional calories that can derail your weight loss goals.

Here’s one basic way drinking alcohol can contribute to weight issues: When you consume alcohol, your body will prioritize metabolizing it because it recognizes alcohol as a toxin. This means your body is prioritizing these nutrient-deficient calories that are  eating into your daily calorie allotment over more important nutrients.

In addition, it has been shown that alcohol consumption can lead to poorer overall food choices (we usually regret that late-night pizza in the morning!). That’s why if you’re trying to lose weight, abstaining from, or minimizing, alcohol intake is one major key.

What Is the Safest Amount of Alcohol to Drink?

The takeaway

Although the calculations of daily macronutrients takes time and a little intention, you can get the formula down to a science. This is an important step in making sure you’re staying within your calorie allotment, while also keeping a healthy and balanced diet. Working with a professional can ease the burden of determining these numbers, while moving you more effectively towards your weight loss goals.

That last thing to note is that not all macronutrients are created equal. As you might assume, 30 grams of a simple carbohydrate like refined sugar is going to affect the body differently than 30 grams of complex carbohydrate from broccoli. For this reason, it is equally important to pay attention to where your macronutrients are coming from.

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Medically reviewed by Latoya Julce RN, BSN, on September 08, 2023

Jeff Whittington, MS, CPT, CNC
Jeff Whittington, MS, is a former San Diego Firefighter/Paramedic turned entrepreneur. He’s a self-described adventure seeker who’s passionate about human performance optimization and longevity. Jeff operates as a Peak Performance Coach, where he utilizes a diverse background of certifications to work with clients on life changes that enhance their overall performance and health in their daily lives. His education/certifications include Personal Training (NASM), Nutrition Coaching, XPT® Performance Breathing, Life Coaching, and Mindfulness/Meditation practices. Jeff lives in San Diego with his two children and his wife Hillary, author of the memoir Raising Ryland (HarperCollins Publishers, 2016), for which Jeff was a contributing writer.