You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

If You Want To Lose Weight, Counting Macros Might Be Your Best Bet

Women's Health UK logo Women's Health UK 06/01/2020 Alexis Jones, K. Aleisha Fetters C.S.C.S., Korin Miller
Replay Video

Video by Cooking Light

Many diets are all about what you can't eat in the name of weight loss (I'm looking at you, keto diet). But while they may work in the short term, deprivation doesn't necessarily lead to sustainable weight-loss results.

The macro diet is different. Instead of telling you what you can't eat, it encourages you to count nutrients in order to help you make smart food choices for a more flexible approach to dieting. Nothing is considered off-limits, per se—you’re just looking to stock up on good foods so you get the nutrients you need.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that (it always is, isn't it?). Here’s what you need to know about the macro diet.

What exactly is the macro diet?

a bowl of food © zi3000 - Getty Images Macros, a.k.a. macronutrients, are the nutrients your body can't live without: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each macro plays its own role—and each has its own weight-loss superpowers.

What the macro diet does is look at the individual number of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins you're taking in and modifies that based off your goals for weight loss or performance, according to Jessica Crandall Snyder, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. 'Instead of tracking calories, you’re tracking the components of calories that fuel your body,' Snyder explains.

But Snyder doesn't recommend this diet as something you should do on your own, with zero guidance. 'I strongly recommend working with a registered dietitian because you’ll get great nutrition information, plus you'll be able to fill in nutrient gaps and find food that you can enjoy that fit the goal for fuelling your body appropriately,' she says.

Now, let's break down the important macronutrients

Macro #1: Carbs

Healthy food rich in carbohydrates, top view © Getty Healthy food rich in carbohydrates, top view Repeat after me: Carbs are not the enemy.

'Carbohydrates are the most important energy source for almost all human cells,' explains registered dietitian Mascha Davis, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Your body digests them quickly and turns them into sugar, or blood glucose, which you then store in your liver and muscles as glycogen. Together, blood glucose and glycogen fuel high-intensity exercise—the kind you need to burn fat and build metabolism-boosting muscle.

Carbs are also tied to your levels of the happy-maker neurotransmitter called serotonin (so carbs may impact your mood).

Macro #2: Protein

Food high in protein. Healthy eating and diet concept. top view. flat lay © Getty Food high in protein. Healthy eating and diet concept. top view. flat lay You know that protein intake is used to build and maintain your body’s lean muscle, but it does a whole lot more than that. 'Protein makes up the enzymes that power chemical reactions in the body,' Davis says. “It also makes the hemoglobin that transports oxygen through the body.' And if oxygen doesn’t get where it needs to go, you can forget about having the energy to take the stairs, let alone power through an hour-long run.

Plus, when it comes to boosting your satiety levels so that you can feel full on fewer calories, protein kills. (When you eat protein, your gut makes hormones that slow down the movement of food through your GI tract, meaning that you stay fuller for longer.)

By slowing digestion, protein also slows the release of glucose into your blood stream to prevent the blood sugar and insulin spikes that can create health issues, explains Alexandra Sowa, MD, a New York City-based internal medicine physician and diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine.

Macro #3: Fat

Sources of saturated fats © AlexPro9500 Sources of saturated fats If the keto diet has taught us anything, it’s that consuming fat does not automatically lead to weight gain—even if fat does contain more calories, ounce per ounce, than the other macros.

Here's the thing: Fat makes up cell membranes, promotes nerve and brain health, and increases the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are crucial to healthy weight-loss efforts. And while fat doesn’t trigger the exact same satiety-boosting hormones that protein does, it is relatively slow to digest, further stabilising blood sugar levels and keeping cravings away.

Here's exactly how to count your macros

First, this is how many calories are in each gram of the three primary macronutrients (you'll need this information later on):

a screenshot of a cell phone: How to Count Macros,if You Do Want to Lose Weight © Jewelyn Butron How to Count Macros,if You Do Want to Lose Weight
  • Carbs have four calories per gram
  • Fat has nine calories per gram
  • Protein has four calories per gram

Everyone’s macro goals can vary slightly, but the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says adults should try to get 45 to 65 percent of their calories from carbs, 10 to 35 percent from protein, and 20 to 35 percent from fat. While Snyder recommends chatting with an RD for a specific plan, here's a pretty good idea of how your macros are being calculated.

How to Count Macros,if You Do Want to Lose Weight © Jewelyn Butron How to Count Macros,if You Do Want to Lose Weight

Because percentages are complicated, there's a specific formula you can follow to determine how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein you should get on a diet, according to how many calories you're taking in. (FYI: A 1,600-calorie diet is a reasonable ballpark for active women trying to lose weight, says Angelone, though those calorie goals may not be accurate for everyone.)

  • Carbs: Calories per day (1,600) x percentage of calories from carbs (.50) / Number of calories per gram in carbohydrates (4) = 200 grams of carbs per day
  • Protein: Calories per day (1,600) x percentage of calories from protein (.20) / Number of calories per gram in protein (4) = 80 grams of protein per day
  • Fat: Calories per day (1,600) x percentage of calories from fat (.30) / Number of calories per gram in fat (9) = 53 grams of fat per day

Are there any downsides to counting macros to lose weight?

As you’ve probably already guessed, this diet involves a good amount of planning and math. 'It’s a bit cumbersome to count macros unless you eat the same thing every day,' Angelone says. 'But, then your diet becomes monotonous and probably not nutritionally adequate.' Still, she says, it gets easier to follow the diet once you get the hang of it.

Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept. © Getty Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept. But there are a few side effects Snyder says people should be aware of, especially those considering counting macros without the help of an RD. Setting macro goals too low, for example, might cause energy fatigue, brain fog, and nutrient deficiency. While setting them too high might not promote the health goals you’re looking for (weight loss, performance, etc.).

And when it comes to these numbers, some people may find themselves getting a little too focused on their daily macro counts—which could possibly lead to a form of disordered eating. Your macro goals should act as guidelines, but you shouldn't feel obligated to hit them every single day.

For people who feel overwhelmed by counting macros, Snyder recommends incorporating counting in spurts. 'Try and track for a week and then you have a really good idea of the kid of foods you’re typically eating and where you need to adjust and that may give you some really good insights,' Snyder says. 'I don’t encourage tracking forever, but I do think checking in with yourself every once in a while and seeing if you’re on track can be helpful for some clients.'

Gallery: Dinner Recipes That Are on the Macro Diet (PureWow)

Interested? It's super easy to get started on a macro diet

The macro diet can seem a little overwhelming, but you can start pretty simply. If you want to test it out first before upending your current diet, Angelone recommends kicking things off by keeping a food diary to get an idea of what you eat on a regular basis. Track and calculate your macros (per the instructions above) and look at your food choices to see what changes you need to make based on those numbers.

'Be sure to choose less processed foods, choose whole grains and high-fibre foods, and healthy fats, limit refined sugar, and drink plenty of water,' Angelone says. 'And be sure to incorporate regular exercise and more activity into your day.' After that, you should be good to go.

Overweight, Medical Exam, Dieting, Waistline, Nutritionist © Getty Overweight, Medical Exam, Dieting, Waistline, Nutritionist If you're looking to officially swap your diet for the macro diet for a longer period of time and have some serious weight loss or performance goals you're looking to achieve, consult an RD as soon as possible to get a personalised plan developed, says Snyder.

A calorie-tracking app might be helpful, too

  • MyFitnessPal: The app comes in two versions with over 1 million foods in its database. In the free version of the app, you can track how many proteins, carbs, and fats you've eaten for the day. And if you upgrade to premium you can actually set a target for each macro. (Free for iOS and Android, and
  • Lose It: You can track your macros easily on the Lose It app. Just log your meals and the app will calculate all of your macros consumed under its "nutrients tab." (Free for iOS, at, or $29.99 per year for the premium version)
  • Eat This Much: You can use this app to not only track macros but create meal plans that coincide with your goals. One of the best features about the app is its barcode scanner, which scans food items directly into your account. (Free for iOS and Android or premium $5/a month with annual subscription, and
  • My Plate: Not only will you be able to track the macros of a single meal, you'll be able to break down how many carbohydrates, fats, and proteins you've eaten throughout the entire day. (Free for iOS and Android, and
  • My Macros+: This app gives users a macros countdown, body-weight tracking options, and has a database with over 1.5 million foods. (Starts at $1.99 for iOS,

The bottom line: Counting macros can be a good weight-loss move for those who don't vibe well with eating plans that involve restricting your foods, like keto. But talk to an RD first about whether a macro-focused way of eating is right for you.

Gallery: Here Are the Best Diets of 2020, According to Experts (Eat This, Not That!)


More from Women's Health UK

Women's Health UK
Women's Health UK
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon