Macros: What they are and how to count them

Heard of Macros? Find out how to follow the hottest new healthy eating plan

 Try a low fat, high energy diet
Try a low fat, high energy diet
(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

Heard of Macros? Find out how to follow the hottest new healthy eating plan

‘I’ve just been counting my macros’. Say what now?

While counting macros might be news to you, those within the fitness industry have been doing this for years. The premise is simple – you work out how many calories you need a day and then break them down into different food groups to know exactly what you need to eat.

The best thing about counting macros though? The freedom that comes with it. With you in charge of what you eat, you can indulge in the occasional slice of pizza or chocolate bar (provided that it fits in with your macros) and still lose weight. Sound good? Read on to find out everything you need to know to start counting macros.

What are macros?

Macros, short for macronutrients, describe the three primary food groups that our body requires for survival: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Tracking macros is a way of working out exactly what ratios you need from each food group in order to achieve your fitness goals, whether that’s weight loss, muscle gain or maintenance.

These quantities also take into consideration what you actually need based on your activity level (such as including more carbohydrates to fuel you for intense work outs) so you should never feel hungry or listless.

Most importantly though, it teaches you the importance of where your calories are coming from. Ten calories from fat, for example, are very different to ten calories from carbohydrates – something which, once you know, will make you way more conscientious about the food you do eat.

So how do I work my macros out?

The first thing you need to do is work out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – the amount of energy you expend at rest to stay alive.This takes into account your height, age and weight to give you a basic number of calories you need per day. There are plenty of free online calculators to help you work this out.

Once you have this figure, you need to times it by of the following numbers depending on your activity level:

Little or no exercise, sedentary desk job: 1.2 Light exercise 1-3 times per week: 1.375 Moderate exercise 3-5 times per week: 1.55 Heavy exercise 6-7 times per week: 1.725

Now that you’ve got this number, it’s time to work out how much of each macro you should be eating. Most people follow a 40/40/20 plan i.e. 40% of your overall calories in carbs, 40% protein and 20% fat.

So in a 2000 calorie diet, for example, you’d be eating 800calories of carbs, 800 calories of protein and 400 calories of fat each day.Break this down into grams by using the following figures:

A gram of protein contains 4 calories. A gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories A gram of fat contains 9 calories.

So for a 2,000 calorie diet, that would equate to 200g of protein, 200g of carbohydrate and 44g of fat.

All the maths giving you a headache? Make life easier by working out your macros with this macros calculator

Now I know what my macros should be, how do I track them?

When you’re starting out, scales are your friends. Weighing your food will help you work out exactly how much you’re eating until you become confident measuring by eye. A lot of food bought at the supermarket will come with a nutrition facts label, making it easy to understand which macros you’re consuming.

Don’t worry if you’re struggling with all the sums. Apps like My Fitness Pal have an extensive list of foods, all of which are accompanied by their macronutrient breakdown, so you don’t have to go crazy with the calculations.

Great! So what exactly should I eat then?

Whatever you like, but if you want to lose weight, you don’t want to be consuming your macros through lots of junk food. Instead, try to eat wholesome foods in quantities balanced to fall within this ratio.

Does it work?

Yes, if you stick to it. If you find that the weight isn’t coming off like you’d hoped or you’re beginning to plateau, then it’s time to start tweaking those macros, reducing carbohydrates and increasing fat intake. Remember, after 6 weeks, you’ll need to decrease your macros in order to continue losing weight or progress will stop.

But if you can't be bothered with all the counting and food stuff, check out the lazy girl's guide to the best workouts for some good old fashion fitness tips.

Right. Time to invest in a calculator we think…

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