Have you ever tried counting macros for weight loss? I have, and I was really impressed with the results, both with weight loss and the self-knowledge I gained from tracking food for a few weeks. It's definitely worth a try.
What Does it Mean to Count Macros?
Macros (macronutrients) are simply fats, protein, and carbs. Most foods have a combination of all 3, but typically there’s one overriding macro (ie, bread is almost entirely carbs, but has some protein and a little fat). If you have no idea how many grams of protein are in a 5-ounce chicken breast or how many carbs are in a 1/2 cup of broccoli, I strongly urge you to learn how to count macros on a macro calculator like LoseIt! or MyFitnessPal if only for a week or two until you get a sense of how much you're eating. Once you know it, you can pretty much trust yourself to figure out your own diet for the rest of your life.
Why Count Macros at All?
That's a great question! Counting macros is basically an advanced practice of counting calories. The only difference is that you're not just looking at your total caloric intake, but you're also looking at the specific foods you're eating and choosing them according to your goals and preferences. Here's two different examples of macros that are designed for very different people:
- Person A is an 18 year old guy who wants to build muscle and isn't interested in losing weight. Therefore he will need a high number of total calories, specifically carbs and protein and less fat because they help build and repair muscles after a workout. He would want to eat 14 to 16 x his current body weight in calories. So if he's 150lbs, x 14 + 2100 calories per day (mostly carbs and protein).
- Person B is a 130lb, 40-year old woman who is looking to lose fat and just "tone up" a bit. She only has time to workout 3 times per week, has a desk job, so she sits a lot and she doesn't want to lift weights. Her preferred workout is yoga and walking. Because she's not very active, she might want to start at 11 x her body weight and see how that goes. She may also want to have a higher number of calories from fat, a moderate number of calories from protein and a smaller number of carbs because she doesn't need them. Most sedentary people eat far too many carbs and overall calories. So 130lbs x 11 = 1430 total calories.
As you can see, it all depends on who you are, where you're starting from and what your goals are. Preference is also important. If you're someone who loves to eat meat but wants to lose weight, you'll probably want to stick to a high-protein, low carb and moderate fat diet. But if you prefer fat, you can prioritize that as well, and just eat moderate amounts of protein and fewer carbs. The key is to not over do the carbs if you're trying to lose fat.
Does counting macros mean you have to eat low carb?
No! Losing fat in your 40s when you're not very active is why you want to eat low(ish) carb. Counting macros just helps you keep track of it all! Also, keep in mind, I'm not saying no-carb. Healthy veggies are the best thing you can eat because they aren't high in calories or carbs. What you want to stay away from is breads, cereals, most packaged, sugary foods, and even potatoes, grains and beans.
How to Count Macros for Weight Loss?
First you want to figure out your daily total calories. The following is a guideline only. Everyone's needs are different, but this is a generally accepted starting point:
- If you are inactive and want to lose weight: Multiply your current weight x 11
- If you are slightly active (chase after kids, but no vigorous exersize) and want to lose weight: Multiply your current weight by 12
- If you workout 3 or more times a week and want to maintain your current weight: Multiply your current weight by 13 or 14
- If you want to gain weight (muscle) and you're currently strength training 4 or more times per week: multiply your current weight by 14 to 16.
From there, you want to find the right balance of each macronutrient. For example, if you do better with a higher fat and lower carb diet (as most women over 40 do) start fat calories at around 40% of your total calories, then split carbs and protein between the remaining 60%. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a baseline to start from. You can tweak from there based on your energy and hunger levels.
A quick tip about macro counting & calories
Here's some simple calorie breakdowns that's helpful to know:
- A gram of carbohydrate is 4 calories
- A gram of protein is also 4 calories
- A gram of fat is 9 calories
- A gram of alcohol is 7 calories.
Knowing this will help you understand how to break down your own macro balance. It's also helpful to know that fat has more calories than protein or carbs. It also tastes really good, so you have to be careful not to overindulge in it.
An Example of Macro Counting for Women
Here's a quick example based on a common scenario: A 135 lbs woman with a goal of fat loss, might break down their macros like this:
135lbs x 12 = 1620 total calories per day
High fat low carb option would look like this:
- 50% of that is 810 calories, which is 90 grams of fat (because each gram of fat is 9 calories)
- 25% of that is 405 calories which is 101 grams of non-starchy carbs (because each gram of carbs is 4 calories)
- 25% of that is 405 calories which is 101 grams of protein (because each gram of protein is 4 calories)
If you want to prioritize protein for muscle development, then you might try this method instead:
- Calculate 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (so, 135 grams per day)
- 135 grams of protein x 4 calories per gram = 540 calories
- 1620 total daily calories - 540 protein calories = 1080 remaining calories for fat and carbs.
- You decide whether you want to use those calories for fat or carbs!
PS - if all this feels like too much math, just track your food on myfitnesspal.com and it will do the math for you. Easy peasy. You can also follow this video tutorial below:
Where to Start Counting Macros for Weight Loss?
Start by finding a balance of macros that works for you, but if you're a woman over 40 that's not an athlete, you're going to find faster results by choosing non-starchy, veggie-based carbs and avoiding things like bread, muffins, cookies, potatoes and the like (for a while) and stick with green or brightly colored veggies instead.
A good rule of thumb is anything that's naturally white (like bread, pasta, rice, noodles and potatoes) should be avoided if possible. Instead, load up on veggies, healthy proteins, dairy (if you can tolerate it) and some fruit. Fats like coconut and olive oil, fatty fish and avocados are awesome choices as well.
Why is Counting Macros effective for weight loss?
I love this approach to weight loss because it trains you to understand portion size and calorie density. In other words, once you start counting exactly how many calories of fat are in a tablespoon of nut butter, you'll start being more judicious with your portion size. You'll start to know what's worth eating and what's not. You'll also come to understand your own body and what it needs most - proteins or fats.
The beauty of this method is that you don't have to do it forever. There will come a point where you will know exactly what you can get away with in terms of calories and macro balance by just looking at food. That's why counting macros is better than meal plans; because blindly following a meal plan or diet won't help you build self-awareness around what foods work for you and what don't. I love counting macros because it's building a healthy habit that will keep you lean and healthy for life!
Want to learn more? I think this article sums it up really well. If you're interested in adjusting your macros for a paleo diet, start here.