Macros 101: Counting Macros for Weight Loss

What’s the best approach to weight loss? Research shows that meal logging works, but calorie counting may not be for everyone. Another approach to what you can track to lose weight is tracking your macros. If you’ve been looking around for a different approach to logging your meals, there may be some reasons to consider counting macros for weight loss. 

Introduction to Macros

First, what are “macros?” “Macros” are short for “macronutrients.” These are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. They’re the nutrients that provide the energy, measured in calories, that your body uses. 

  • Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram.
  • Protein has 4 calories per gram.
  • Fat has 9 calories per gram.

Alcohol also has calories, but it (hopefully) contributes only a small portion of your calories to your regular diet. We’ll not talk about alcohol here. If you do drink, do so only in moderation for health and weight loss reasons.

What’s Up with Calorie Counting?

Here’s how calorie counting works. You get energy from the foods you eat. That energy is measured in calories. When you eat more calories, or get more energy, than your body needs, you gain weight. When you get fewer calories than your body needs, you lose weight. Counting calories helps you maintain a negative calorie balance so you consume fewer calories and lose more weight.

Calorie counting can work. It keeps you aware of what you eat, and how much. It steers you away from calorie-dense foods, and encourages smaller portions. To count calories, you log every food you eat, and how much of it you had. Then you add up the calories in all the foods and calorie-containing beverages that you have each day. There are many apps for calorie counting.

The truth is that if you want to lose weight, the calories you consume have to be lower than the calories you expend or burn. That is how any weight loss diet works. Here are some examples of how different weight loss diets help you cut calories.

  • Low-carb diets limit calorie-dense foods such as baked goods, sweets, starchy vegetables, grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Paleo diets eliminate high-calorie foods such as grains, sugar-sweetened foods, potatoes, and peanuts.
  • Whole foods diets avoid high-calorie foods such as packaged snack foods, fast foods, frozen meals, and foods with refined sugars.

Whether or not you focus on the calories, the bottom line is that you are cutting calories in some way. So why wouldn’t you just count calories?

Difficulties with Calorie Counting

There are some concerns with calorie counting. One is that it’s tedious. You have to remember to count every calorie. Portion sizes have to be measured to be sure the calorie counts are accurate. 

Another drawback of calorie counting is that it treats all foods as equals. The only thing it considers is calorie content, and not nutrition. Calorie counting doesn’t give you a reason to choose, say, egg whites with vegetables and cheese for breakfast instead of a frosted doughnut. As long as they have equal numbers of calories, they show up as equal choices with calorie counting.

It’s also worth thinking about the other side of the calorie equation. The calories burned may become more visible when you’re calorie counting. That is, you might feel encouraged to exercise to burn off more calories to generate a negative calorie balance. That can be a good thing if it gets you to meet exercise recommendations, but it can spell trouble if you get into the habit of exercising to eat.

Who Uses a Macros Diet?

Athletes have long used macros as they developed their sports nutrition diets. The carbs, fat, and protein they eat affect performance, not to mention ability to recover from workouts and train hard. 

Endurance athletes might follow a generally high-carb diet, but strength training athletes and endurance athletes may also require more protein than the average person. Timing is important, too. For example, carbs are best during long training sessions to maintain energy, while a mixture of carbs and protein is best after a workout to maximize recovery. Before a workout, athletes need to limit fat and fiber in order to prevent stomach discomfort.

But athletes aren’t the only ones thinking about macros. Counting macros can be helpful for regular people who just want to lose weight or improve health. You might count macros if you are sick of counting calories. Or you might have other reasons to count macros, such as the following.

  • You’re a bariatric surgery patient and you’re on a high-protein, low-carb diet.
  • You’re on a low-carb or keto diet.
  • You want to increase protein and fat to increase the fullness factor of your diet.
  • You want to limit carbs to reduce the glycemic index of your diet to try to lower blood sugar levels.

There are many reasons to count macros, and many ways to do so.

Which Macros Should You Count?

Should you count grams of protein? Should you count fat grams? Should you count grams of carbohydrates? Should you count all three? 

The macros you count depend on your goals. You’ll almost certainly be counting carbs if you’re on a low-carb diet, especially if your goal is to achieve or stay in ketosis. If you’re a bariatric surgery patient or you have super high activity levels, you might count grams of protein instead. If your goal is to get at least 65 grams of protein while keeping carbs and calories to a minimum, for example, you might just count protein and choose vegetables and small occasional servings of carbs and fats.

You can count all of your macros. That has the advantage of making sure your calories add up right. But it’s a lot harder to keep track of everything. It might have the drawback of making you obsessive. Or it could eventually discourage you from tracking your food, since it’s burdensome. Or, it could leave you without energy to think about choosing healthy macros, such as fats from unsaturated sources, or carbs from high-fiber sources.

For weight loss, it’s often best to focus on carbs and protein.

Where Should Your Macros Be?

How many grams of each macronutrient should you have each day for weight loss? It depends on your approach to weight loss. To achieve ketosis, for example, you might need to consume as few as 25 to 30 grams of carbs daily. 

Or, you might calculate the number of grams you need based on a low-carb diet, you might get 20 to 40 percent of your daily calories from carbs. If you’re on a 1,600-calorie weight loss diet, that would work out to 320 to 640 calories daily from carbs, or 80 to 160 grams of carbs each day.

You can also ask a doctor about requirements. Weight loss surgery patients, for example, might be focused on a high-protein diet. Your surgeon might recommend getting at least 65 grams daily while minimizing carbs and fat.

It’s also important to consider the long-term effects of your diet. Making it too extreme could lead to burnout. You might end up going off of your diet if you always feel restricted. A very extreme diet could also lead to nutrient deficiencies or a suboptimal diet, especially if you’re cutting out entire food groups. It’s best to choose a balance that can help you lose weight but is sustainable for the long term.

Best Sources of Macros: Protein, Carbs, and Fat

Regardless of how many grams of each macronutrient you aim to get, it’s best for health and weight loss if you stick to high-nutrient sources. These are some healthier and less-healthy sources of proteins, carbs, and fats.

Healthier Proteins: skinless chicken, eggs and egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, skim milk, fish, shellfish, beans, lentils, split peas, tofu, low-fat cheese, plain yogurt

Less-Healthy Proteins: processed meat, such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats such as bologna, salami, and pepperoni, fatty meats.

Healthier Carbs: non-starchy vegetables, starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn peas, and butternut squash, oats, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole-grain unsweetened cereals

Less-Healthy Carbs: sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, flavored coffee drinks, and sports drinks, potato chips, tortilla chips, french fries, white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugar-sweetened cereals, desserts

Healthier Fats: nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, flaxseed, avocado, peanut butter

Less-Healthy Fats: butter, lard, shortening, palm oil, hydrogenated oils

Getting More Protein

What is your daily goal for protein? If you’re on a macro diet, it’s possible your protein goal is higher than the general recommendation. Protein is helpful for bulking up if you’re a weight lifter, but it’s also useful for weight loss. It helps increase satiety so it’s easier to eat less. It’s also helpful for maintaining lean muscle mass as you lose weight, so metabolism does not decrease as much.

If you’re looking for more protein, those natural sources are great. But if they’re starting to get boring, or if you’re looking for ways to lower carbs while increasing protein, Netrition has high-protein foods and supplements that can help you hit your goals.

These are some examples. 

Having these instead of lower-protein options can make it easy for you to hit those macro goals while you’re trying to increase protein. They can also help with weight loss if you’re using high-protein foods instead of less filling, starchy foods.

Easy Ways to Cut Carbs without Feeling Deprived

If you’re on a low-carb diet, a bariatric surgery diet, or a keto diet, you may need to be watching your carbs. Cutting carbs can feel hard if you love foods such as pancakes, bread, chocolates, pasta, and chips. But it doesn’t have to be.

There are many low-carb alternatives to your regular favorites. Netrition has all kinds of products that can make a low-carb diet easy for you.

  • Low-carb cereals, pancake mixes, and muffins
  • Low-carb bread, bagels, wraps, and pizza crust
  • Sugar-free syrups and sweeteners
  • Low-carb chips, crackers, and pretzels
  • Low-carb and sugar-free chocolates and candies

Instead of reaching for your regular starchy or sugary choice, just opt for an easy swap from Netrition.

Easier Ways to Count Macros

It can be hard to count all of your macros every meal. There are some easier tricks to losing weight without worrying about counting everything all the time. 

One way is to estimate your macros. You can look at the serving sizes and try to get a small portion that is within your limit. You can also look at exchange lists to help you.

Another way to estimate macros is to just look at your plate. A good rule of thumb is to fill up half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, eggplant, green beans, or zucchini. 

Divide the rest of your plate in half, and fill up one section with a lean protein, such as skinless chicken, shrimp, lean ground turkey, or a veggie burger patty. Make sure it’s cooked without buttery or creamy sauces!

Then fill up the final quarter of your plate with a high-fiber starch. Examples include quinoa, brown rice, a slice of whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat bread.

Whichever way you try to count macros or estimate them for weight loss, remember to choose highly nutritious foods. They’ll keep you healthier and help you lose more weight compared to low-nutrition or highly processed foods.

Counting macros can help you lose weight. It’s a simple approach that can help steer you away from calorie counting. Once you decide on your goals for fats, carbohydrates, and/or protein, be sure to pop over to Netrition. We have all kinds of delicious foods that can help you meet your macro goals so you can keep losing weight while loving your diet.

Calorie countingDiet and weight loss