You’ve definitely heard the word ‘macros.’ But what are they, why do they matter, and how do you calculate and track them?
First things first—‘macro’ is short for ‘macronutrient.’ I call them the ‘big three’ because they are the three major players in your diet. The three macronutrients are: protein, carbs, and fat.
Here’s how many calories are in each:
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
- 1 gram fat = 9 calories
Why do macros matter? Understanding how these nutrients work in your body, calculating how many of each you need, and adjusting your intake of each as necessary can steer your performance and physique.
Quick breakdown: Protein is the building block of all muscle, so it’s vital for life—and the same goes for fat. You need various essential fats for ample energy storage and proper brain function. Carbohydrates are also important because they’re the most easily-available energy source in your body. Carbs are crucial for packing on size and powering tough workouts.
Knowing how much protein, carbs, and fat you should be eating daily helps you understand how important diet is for shaping the body you want and gives you a map to getting there.
Let’s say you have 25 percent body fat but want to drop down to 12 percent. If you have no idea what your macros should be, you’re basically on a road trip without a map. Same goes for if you want to pack on pounds of muscle.
So how do you figure out what your macros should be? First, you’ll calculate the total number of calories you should eat per day.
It All Starts With Calories
Most of you will multiply your current body weight by 12. This is what I recommend for the average person, who may work a pretty sedentary job but doesn’t have tons of weight to lose. That number is your total daily calories. (If you’re 200 pounds, that’d be 2,400 calories a day.)
If you have more fat you want to lose—say, in the 30 pounds range—multiply your current body weight by 11. (If you’re 200 pounds, that’d be 2,200 calories per day.)
And if you want to be ultra-aggressive about shredding up, multiply your body weight by 10. (If you’re 200 pounds, that’d be 2,000 calories per day.)
Our individual needs depend on our current eating habits, genetics, hormones, age, body type, and activity level, but these examples make for good starting points.
So, if you’re 200 pounds, eating 2,400 calories a day should keep you at your current body weight. Eat fewer calories and you’ll likely lose weight. Eat more and you’ll gain it.
Let’s Calculate Those Macros
Now we need to breakdown what those 2,400 calories are made up of. 2,400 calories from 50 percent carbs, 20 percent protein, and 30 percent fat won’t leave you with the same physique as 2,400 calories made up of 25 percent carbs, 45 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. (Remember what I said about the differences between carbs and protein?)
Your protein needs depend on your goals and activity level. Most people need somewhere between 0.65 grams and one gram per pound of body weight. So, if you’re looking to get jacked, I recommend getting one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. (If you’re 200 pounds, that’s 200 grams—and 800 calories—of protein.)
I personally prefer a higher-fat diet, so I like to calculate the macro next. I’ve found that a higher-fat diet keeps me fuller longer and makes my meals more enjoyable. I also tend to stay leaner when eating high-fat instead of high-carb. I typically eat 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight. (That’s 100 grams—and 900 calories—of fat per day.) You can go easier on the fat if it’s just not your thing, but I always recommend you keep your fat at 25 percent of your daily calories, minimum. (That would be about 67 grams—or about 600 calories—of fat per day.)
From there, carbs will make up whatever calories you have left. So if you’re eating 1,700 calories per day from protein and fat (800 from protein, 900 from fat), you have 700 calories left for carbs. (That’s 175 grams of carbs per day.)
So how do you pull this all off? Food journal apps, like MyFitnessPal, can help you keep track of all your food, stay on track with your macros, and chart your progress.
While the example I gave you here is a good place to start, we’re all different, and it might take some experimentation and tweaking of your macros to find your sweet spot. I believe there’s a perfect macro formula out there for all of us—you just have to find it!
Follow these sample macros for two to three weeks, and pay attention to how you move, look, and feel. If you’re happy with your progress, stick with them. If not, try adjusting your fat and carbs. Some people feel great on a lower-carb diet while others prefer to go higher on the carbs.
Remember, building muscle is a marathon, not a sprint, so finding your macro sweet spot and sticking to it is worth the effort.
About That Whole ‘IIFYM’ Thing
As ‘macro’ has become a buzzier and buzzier term in the world of flexible dieting, so has another term, ‘IIFYM.’ I remember first seeing the term ‘IIFYM’ years ago—but now it’s everywhere. ‘IIFYM’ stands for ‘If It Fits Your Macros.’ Basically, what that means is: As long as a food you want to eat fits into your daily macro totals, you can chow down. If it doesn’t, it’s off the menu. So, if you can fit a slice of pizza or bowl of ice cream into your daily numbers, go for it.
The fact that IIFYM allows for you to enjoy treats now and then is great, but eating candy for all of your carbs is not the way to go. The more high-quality whole foods you can eat to reach those macro goals, the better. These foods also provide micronutrients that play a key role in getting you to your physical goals while maintaining your health. So be smart, and keep moderation in mind, and remember that food powers and heals your body.
I hope this helps you understand macros and their power in your quest for your ultimate physique! Until next time—eat well, train hard, and be nice to people.