For years, dieting has been all about counting calories. Some diets set daily limits, while others dictate specific meal plans. There are even diets that completely exclude certain food groups. But what these diets miss is a critical factor: the quality of calories ingested.
Focusing on the quantity rather than the quality of food (as traditional dieting requires) can lead to nutritional imbalances, impacting your overall health. It can also lead to a constant cycle of restricting and binging.
Counting macros, also known as the macro diet, takes a different approach. By focusing not just on how much you eat, but what you eat, it ensures you get the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
That said, in case you’re looking for a more balanced and sustainable approach to weight loss, counting macros might be the answer.
To help you get started on this new dietary journey, we’ve created this beginner’s guide. We’ll cover the pros and cons, and provide simple steps on how to begin your macros counting journey for weight loss.
What’s a “Macro”?
- Protein helps build and repair body tissues and is essential for muscle growth.
- Carbohydrates provide energy for daily activities and are vital for brain function.
- Fats help with hormone production, absorption of vitamins, and energy storage.
All three macros play a crucial role in our overall health and well-being.
Foods don’t usually just fit into one macro category; you’ll find many foods that contain a combination of two or all three. For example:
- Meat is high in protein but usually contains some fat.
- Fruits and vegetables are mainly carbohydrates, but most also contain a small amount of protein.
- Nuts are primarily fats, but they also have some carbs and proteins.
However, it’s acceptable to categorize a food based on which macro makes up the majority of its calories. So, a food with more protein than carbs and fats will be considered a protein source (e.g., chicken breast).
A food with more carbs than protein and fats will be considered a carb source (e.g., rice). And a food with more fats than carbs and protein will be considered a fat source (e.g., avocado).
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What Is The Best Macro Ratio for Weight Loss?
The best macro ratio for weight loss varies according to your individual needs and preferences, but many people opt for a higher protein intake and a lower carb and/or fat intake. Theoretically, increasing your protein intake can aid weight loss in multiple ways:
- More satiety – protein is more filling than carbs or fats, so you’ll feel satisfied longer. This can prevent overeating and snacking (5).
- More energy expenditure – protein requires more energy to digest, meaning your body will burn a few more calories just by eating it (3).
- Muscle preservation – when in a calorie deficit (consuming fewer calories than your body burns), your body may turn to muscle mass for energy. But having a higher protein intake may help preserve your muscle mass (6).
- Dampened hunger hormones – protein can stimulate the production of hormones that suppress appetite, making it easier to stick to your calorie goals (1).
These benefits explain why many people prefer a higher protein intake while trying to lose weight. However, this doesn’t mean you should completely avoid carbs and fats.
That said, there isn’t a definitive “best” macro ratio for weight loss as it varies based on the following factors:
Metabolism and body composition can also influence the ideal macro ratio. For example, individuals with a larger muscle mass may require more protein, while those with impaired glucose metabolism may benefit from a moderately lower carb intake.
Those who are more active and have higher calorie needs may need to increase their carb intake for sustained energy levels. On the other hand, individuals with sedentary lifestyles might benefit from a more moderate carb intake.
With age, our bodies become less efficient at processing nutrients, so older adults might need to adjust their macro ratio accordingly. For example, macros for a 50 year old woman to lose weight may differ from that of a 20 year old woman.
Men and women’s bodies have different nutritional requirements, so their ideal macro ratio may also differ. Macros for weight loss in males may not be the same as macros for weight loss in females.
Our blog – Macros for Weight Loss Female has a more detailed breakdown of macro ratios for women and how they differ from men.
Ultimately, finding the right macro ratio for weight loss is a highly individualized process and may require some trial and error.
To determine your ideal macro ratio for weight loss, you may follow the following loose guidelines (2):
- Protein: 10-35% of your daily calorie intake
- Carbohydrates: 45-65% of your daily calorie intake
- Fats: 20-35% of your daily calorie intake
However, these are only rough estimates and may need to be adjusted depending on your specific needs.
Once you’ve determined the right ratio for you, the next step is to track your macros.
How To Track Your Macros for Weight Loss
Tracking your macros may seem daunting at first, but it can become second nature once you get into the routine. Here are some simple steps to help you get started:
- Determine your daily calorie intake: Use an online calculator or consult a registered dietitian to determine how many calories you should consume to achieve your weight loss goals.
- Calculate your macros: Based on the recommended macro ratio, calculate the grams of protein, carbs, and fats you need to stay within your daily calorie limit.
- Use a food tracking app or journal: These tools can help you record what you eat and track your macro intake throughout the day.
- Become an eye-balling expert: With practice, you can estimate the amount of protein, carbs, and fats in a serving of food by sight. This skill can be especially useful when eating out.
- Use hand portions: If you don’t have a food scale, you can use your hand as a portion guide. For example, a palm-sized serving of protein is roughly equivalent to one serving of meat.
- Review and adjust: Regularly review your macro intake and adjust as needed for your goals. Are you losing weight? Are you feeling satisfied and energized throughout the day?
Remember, tracking your macros is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It may take some time to find the right ratio for you, but once you do, it can be an effective tool in achieving your weight loss goals.
Our guide on Macros Split for Cutting has a detailed explanation of how to adjust your macros for weight loss. Additionally, consulting a registered dietitian can provide personalized recommendations based on your health and dietary needs.
Benefits of Tracking Macros for Weight Loss
Tracking macros for weight loss has several benefits; the main one being shifting your focus from just losing weight to improving overall nutrition.
You’ll Have to Consider the Quality of Your Food
We pointed out earlier how many diets focus only on how much you’re eating. Some suggest as little as 1200 calories a day, regardless of what’s in those 1200 calories. This can lead to unhealthy food choices and nutrient deficiencies.
While it’s true that you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, tracking macros requires you to also consider the quality of your food. You’ll need to prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods that will support your overall health and wellbeing.
This doesn’t mean you won’t have to eat in a deficit; you still will.
Let’s assume your target weight loss calorie intake is 1800 calories a day. Your macro ratio is 30% protein, 40% carbs and 30% fats. This means you have to get 135g of protein, 180g of carbs, and 60g of fats per day.
Naturally, you’ll need to start reading labels – what’s in this protein bar. How much protein is in this serving? Hey, these low-calorie chips aren’t worth it, there’s not a lot of protein in there. Or, instead of this processed granola bar, you might reach for a handful of nuts and some fruit at snack time.
This shift in focus can lead to a healthier relationship with food as you begin to prioritize its nutritional value rather than just the number on the scale.
This mindset shift can also help break the cycle of yo-yo dieting and promote sustainable weight loss. Instead of just focusing on losing weight quickly through restrictive diets, tracking macros encourages a balanced approach that focuses on overall health and nutrition.
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You’ll Feel Fuller for Longer
Another benefit of tracking macros is that it can lead to increased satiety and reduced hunger levels. Protein, in particular, has been shown to increase feelings of fullness and reduce appetite (5), making it easier to stick to a calorie deficit without feeling deprived.
Additionally, by including a balanced amount of all three macros in your diet, you’ll get the necessary nutrients and energy to keep you feeling satisfied and energized throughout the day. This can help prevent overeating and cravings for unhealthy foods.
You’ll Eat Foods You Enjoy, If They Fit Your Macros
One of the biggest challenges with traditional diets is that they often restrict or eliminate certain food groups, leading to feelings of deprivation and ultimately, binges. Tracking macros allows for flexibility and encourages a more balanced approach to eating.
As long as the foods fit within your macro goals, you can still enjoy them in moderation. This can make it easier to stick to your weight loss plan long-term, without feeling restricted or deprived.
There’s a whole community of people who practice flexible dieting, where no foods are off-limits as long as they fit within their macros. This approach, shortened as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), promotes a healthy and balanced relationship with food while still achieving weight loss goals.
You’ll Learn More About Your Body
Tracking macros requires a deeper understanding of your body’s needs and how different foods affect you. This can lead to increased self-awareness and help identify any food sensitivities or intolerances.
You may also notice changes in your energy levels, mood, and other bodily functions as you experiment with different macro ratios. This information can then be used to adjust your macros and optimize your overall health and wellness.
You Might Discover Food Intolerances
Tracking macros can also help you identify any food intolerances or sensitivities you may have. By keeping a detailed record of what you eat and how your body responds, you may start to notice patterns and identify certain foods that cause digestive issues or discomfort.
This newfound awareness can help in making necessary dietary changes and promoting overall gut health.
Downsides to Counting Macros for Weight Loss
Even with its many benefits, tracking macros may not be suitable for everyone. Some potential downsides include:
Tracking macros requires a lot of time and effort, from calculating your daily needs to logging every single food item you consume. It may not be sustainable for those with busy lifestyles.
For some individuals, tracking macros can lead to obsessive behavior and an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s important to monitor your mindset and seek help if necessary.
Can Be Restrictive
While tracking macros allows for flexibility, it can still lead to restricting certain foods or food groups in order to hit your daily macro goals. This can be triggering for those with a history of disordered eating.
Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
While tracking macros can work for some individuals, it may not be the best approach for others. A more relaxed, intuitive eating approach may be more suitable for some individuals’ mental and emotional well-being.
Do I Need To Count Macros To Lose Weight?
No, counting macros is not necessary to lose weight. It can be a helpful tool for some individuals, but ultimately weight loss comes down to creating a calorie deficit through a balanced diet and regular exercise (7).
What Is The 30/30/30 Rule for Weight Loss?
The 30/30/30 rule is a common macro ratio for weight loss, where each day consists of approximately 30% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fats. This low-carb approach to macros aims for adequate nutrient intake while still creating a calorie deficit for weight loss.
What Is The 40/40/20 Macro Split?
The 40/40/20 macro split is another popular ratio for weight loss, where each day consists of 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fats.
This can be tailored to individual needs and preferences but generally follows a higher protein intake for satiety and muscle maintenance while still allowing a moderately low amount of carbs and healthy fats.
Is 40/30/30 Good Macros?
That depends on the individual’s goals and needs. 40/30/30 refers to a macro split where each meal consists of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fats.
This ratio may work well for some individuals in terms of providing enough energy and nutrients while still creating a calorie deficit for weight loss. However, it may not be suitable for everyone and should be tailored to individual needs.
What Is The 20/30/50 Rule for Macros?
The 20/30/50 rule for macros refers to a macro split where each meal consists of 20% carbs, 30% protein, and 50% fats. This ratio is often used in ketogenic diets or other low-carb approaches to weight loss.
Is 40/40/20 Macros Good?
40/40/20 macros can be a balanced ratio for some individuals, providing enough protein for satiety and muscle maintenance, while still allowing a moderately low amount of carbs and healthy fats.
However, again, it ultimately depends on individual needs. Some individuals may do better with higher carb or fat intake ratios.
Is 50/30/20 Good Macros?
50/30/20 macros can be a good balance for some individuals, providing enough carbs and protein for energy and satiety while still allowing for a moderate amount of healthy fats. As with all macro ratios, it depends on the individual’s needs and goals.
Is 50/25/25 Macros Good
50/25/25 macros can be a good balance for some individuals, with a moderate carb intake for energy and satiety while still allowing for adequate protein and healthy fats. Again, it’s important to tailor macro ratios to individual needs and goals.
The Bottom Line
Tracking macros can be a valuable tool for weight loss as it shifts the focus from just losing weight to overall health and nutrition. It may take some time and adjustment, but finding the right macro ratio for your individual needs can lead to sustainable weight loss and improved overall well-being.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats (2014, biomedcentral.com)
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 – 2025 (2020, dietaryguidelines.gov)
- Diet induced thermogenesis (2004, biomedcentral.com)
- Macronutrients and Human Health for the 21st Century (mdpi.com)
- Protein, weight management, and satiety (2008, sciencedirect.com)
- The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance (2015, sciencedirect.com)
- What Is Calorie Deficit? (2022, health.clevelandclinic.org)