Are you frustrated that you’ve tried everything diet under the sun and you’re still not losing weight? If so, then this article will solve your problem.
You’re going to learn exactly how to calculate the best macronutrient ratio for weight loss.
At the end of the day, it’s about calories in versus calories. Sure, quality does matter, but if you eat more calories than burn, you won’t lose weight.
For starters, let’s cover the basic of macronutrients.
Macronutrient Basics For Weight Loss
Macronutrients are the primary sources of calories in our diet. There are three essential macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
These macronutrients are the building blocks of our body. Each playing a very specific role in the building, repairing, and transporting vitamins and minerals to our cells.
Moreover, the ratios in which we eat each macronutrient creates a blueprint for one of the following: weight loss, weight gain, and weight maintenance.
Then, there’s calories.
The list below shows the caloric content of each macronutrient:
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
To better understand how to adjust each one to fit your lifestyle, you must first calculate your daily energy and calorie needs.
How to Calculate Your Ideal Macronutrient Ratio
You’ve probably heard of the term IIFYM, which stands for If It Fits In Your Macros. It’s a popular dieting strategy that emphasizes counting macros, rather than just counting calories.
Counting macros helps ensure you’re the right calories to match your health goals.
Let’s take a more in-depth look on how to do exactly that.
Step 1: Calculate Your Baseline Level
Your baseline level refers to bedrock of counting macros.
It’s focused around three principles:
- Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
- Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
- Whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight
Calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) stands for how many calories your body burns at rest. It’s literally the minimum amount of calories you need to function.
Eating at a macronutrient level that is lower this number is dangerous. It can quickly cause hormone imbalances, brain fog, excessive grogginess, and contribute to chronic disease.
BMR can also vary greatly from person to person. Things like age, sex, weight, and height all play a factor.
The most effective way to calculate your BMR is to follow the below equation:
Calculating your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
Now that you know your BMR, you can calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
This represents the amount of calories you burn each day through exercise and daily activity.
Use the scale below to calculate your TDEE:
Calculate Your Calorie Deficit, Surplus, or Maintenance
Now, you need to ask yourself this: what is my goal?
If you want to lose body fat, then you want to be in a calorie deficit (eat less than you burn).
If you want to gain weight or put on muscle, you need to eat in a caloric surplus (eat more than you burn).
Lastly, if your goal is stay at the weight you’re at, then you need to eat around the same amount of calories that you burn in energy.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Yet even with the perfect macronutrient set-up, there other factors also play a supporting role:
- Type of training
- Frequency of training
- Training volume
- Training experience
Some we can control. Others we cannot.
One thing we can control however, is how much we choose to eat.
Calories for Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit. There is no other way around it.
Research shows that creating a deficit between 10 and 25 percent of total calories is ideal for weight loss.
That deficit is anywhere between 200 – 800 calories, with 500 calories being most common.
The higher your caloric deficit, the faster you’ll lose weight.
Keep in mind though that the higher the deficit, the more discipline it takes. Macro-counting beginners should start between 200-500 calories.
For example – if your TDEE comes out equal 2,100 calories per day, you would want to eat between 1,600 – 1,900 calories per day.
Calories for Weight Gain
Most people want to gain muscle mass when they reference gaining weight. In order to achieve that goal, you have to eat in a slight surplus.
Starting between 5 to 15 percent surplus for calories is ideal. This translates to 100 to 300 additional calories above your TDEE.
As an example, if your TDEE is 2,300 calories per day, you would want to eat between 2,400 – 2,600 calories per day to gain weight.
Following this range will help you avoid adding too much unwanted body fat in the process.
Calories for Weight Maintenance
Once you calculate your TDEE, plan your diet around that exact number of calories.
If you notice changes in your weight, adjust the total calories in either direction.
For example – after you calculate your BMR, you get 1,700 calories. You’re a moderately active adult, so you would then multiply 1,700 x 1.55 = 2,635 calories per day.
That is your maintenance calories.
Step 2: Calculate The Best Macronutrient Ratio for Your Goal
Now that you have a handle of how many calories you need each day, it’s time to determine the optimal macronutrient ratio for your goal.
At the beginning of this article, I referenced how macronutrients play specific roles in the body.
These are what they do:
- Protein – builds and repairs muscles
- Carbohydrates – energy for our muscles and brain
- Fat – long-term energy and transport vehicles for vitamins and minerals
Calculate Your Protein
You’ve heard it before and will hear it again, you must prioritize protein for positive body composition changes.
Protein helps repair muscle damage and builds our tissues to become stronger. It also plays a role in helping us feel full, something very important when on a fat loss diet plan.
For physically active adults, 0.5 – 0.8g protein per pound bodyweight is recommended.
(As an example – A 150lb person would need 75-120g protein per day)
For sedentary individuals, the Institute of Medicine states that we need a bare minimum of 0.35g per pound of bodyweight.
This falls between 10 and 35 percent of total calories.
What is your goal?
For muscle maintenance, 10 to 20 percent of calories in protein is adequate.
Rapid fat loss is best achieve when eating between 20 to 35 percent of calories in protein.
Research consistently points to higher intakes of protein for the best results for weight loss.
Since we are eating less calories than we burn, protein helps to slow muscle loss and feel full.
Thus preventing overeating, which leads to unwanted fat gain.
For muscle building, both research and recommendations have been controversial. Most of us think that we need more protein than normal to build muscle.
However, that’s not the case.
Consuming between 0.7- 0.8g/lb (or 15-25 percent total calories) of bodyweight is adequate for gaining muscle.
This study actually revealed that bodybuilders, who are the epitome of muscle builders, only needed slightly more protein than that of sedentary individuals.
In other words, 0.72g protein/lb of bodyweight was sufficient for building muscle.
High intensity exercise will need a more protein than low intensity exercise.
As an example, regularly engaging in hour long classes at the gym will require more protein than simply walking.
Likewise, if you train as an endurance amateur or athlete, your protein needs will be greater too.
For all types of exercise enthusiast, your needs will fall between 0.6g-0.9g protein per one pound bodyweight.
Calculate Your Fat
Now that your protein needs are set, it’s time to move on to fat. Fat is essential for our body for several reasons outside of a long-term energy source.
The four major processes of fat include:
- Energy reserve for long term energy
- Protects vital organs
- Transport for fat soluble vitamins
Fat is particularly important for the transport of vitamins. Specifically, fat helps absorb Vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Each one critical to the proper functioning of our hormones and cells.
Fat also helps stimulate stomach receptors to indicate that you’re full or satisfied.
This is extremely helpful, especially when dieting to lose fat.
We want foods that help keep us full, so prioritize healthy plant fats like nuts, seeds, and avocados.
As a rule of thumb, the World Health Organization recommends keeping total fat below 30 percent of total calories.
You need to eat fat to lose fat.
Research consistently shows that both high fat and low fat diets are effective for weight loss.
As a starting point for any goal, stick between 10 to 30 percent of fat for total calories.
It’s best to experiment, as you may feel better at one end or the other. Set a limit and follow that plan for one week.
Assess how you feel after meals and during the day, then adjust the ratio as necessary,Research has shown that both high fat and low fat diets are effective for weight loss. Click To Tweet
What About Keto?
A ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, and extremely low carbohydrate diet. The main goal is to shift from a carbohydrate burning to a fat burning state, 24/7.
The standard ketogenic diet is comprised of 75 percent of calories from fat.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s less about protein than most people assume.
What about Paleo?
The Paleolithic diet is a close cousin of the keto diet. They both are diets that have the highest amount of calories coming from fats.
As a rule of thumb, the upper limit of fat on the paleo diet is 65 percent total calories.
Calculate Your Carbs
Last, but not least, you need to calculate your carbohydrate needs.
Carbohydrates provide our muscles and brain with energy.
The RDA for carbohydrates is 130g per day. This is the least amount you should consume.
Typically, people tend to overeat carbs rather than under-eat them, so you should have no problem meeting the daily minimum.
Typically 40 to 60 percent of your total calories will come from carbohydrates.
The first macronutrient that is usually reduced when losing weight is carbohydrates. That is for good reason too: eating more carbohydrates than you need for energy can cause them to get stored as body fat.
Something we want to avoid when losing weight.
Also, rather than just grouping all carbohydrates together in one bucket, it’s best to view them separately for fitness goals.
However simple carbohydrates like sugary foods or processed grains are not optimal choices.
If you do choose to consume simple carbohydrates, it’s best to eat them before activity. Since they digest extremely quickly, eating them before exercise will convert them to fuel.
Otherwise, they may be stored as body fat.
Overall for fat loss, keep carbohydrates between 35 and 65 percent of total calories.
The range is large because each person responds differently. Test, assess, then make any necessary changes.
Carbohydrates For Muscle Gain
Gaining muscle is a different story.
We need adequate carbohydrates to help fuel high intensity training sessions.
Not only that, carbs also help the muscle building process by:
- Fueling longer training sessions
- Assist in recovery between sets
- Assist in recovery between training sessions
- Puts the body in an anabolic state (ideal for building muscle)
You can see how they are for building muscle.
So to achieve the best results, your carbohydrate intake for muscle building should be between 50 and 65 percent total calories.
Defining your activity level is extremely important when deciding on your carbohydrate intake. One thing to keep mind is “when in doubt, choose less.”
This means if you are unsure of your activity level, choose the level that’s below your first, initial guess.
You can always adjust from there.
To simplify your decision, use these guidelines to determine your activity level:
- Sedentary (little to no exercise): < 1.5 g/lb
- Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days/week): 1.5 – 2.3 g/lb
- Moderate-intensity exercise (1 hour/day): 2.3 – 3.2 g/lb
- Moderate to high intensity exercise (1-3 hours/day): 2.7 – 4.5 g/lb
- Moderate to high-intensity exercise (4-5 hours/day: 3.6 – 5.4 g/lb)
*Most people fall somewhere between Sedentary and Moderate-intensity exercise
What About Keto?
Carbohydrate intake on a keto diet is drastically different than the recommendations above. That’s because keto is a high fat, very-low carbohydrate diet.
A carbohydrate intake between 5 and 10 percent is recommended.
What about Paleo?
Similar to a ketogenic diet, the Paleolithic Diet is another low carbohydrate diet plan. In this diet, you’ll want to eat no more than 20 percent of total calories from carbohydrates.
Step 3: Tracking Your Macros
Now that you have an idea of your ideal macronutrient ratio for weight loss, it’s time to put it into practice.
Tracking macros may seem tedious at first glance, but over time it becomes second nature. It will not only help you reach your goals, but also teach an extraordinary amount of portion sizes.
These are the two things you should do to start tracking your macros:
#1 Buy a Food Scale
We tend to grossly miscalculate how much food we eat. Even using measuring cups and spoons are sometimes inaccurate.
That’s why you should buy a food scale for home cooking.
Identifying how many grams is in your total meal will help you track accurately.
Don’t rely on guessing, otherwise you will spin your wheels for weeks on end.
#2 Track using an App
There are several popular food tracking apps available today that take the guessing game out of how many macros are in your favorite foods.
Instead of relying on pen and paper, use technology to make your life easier.
Some of these apps even send you reminders as your approaching your macronutrient limit for the day. Talk about a helping hand!
Five of the most popular calorie counting apps are:
Although Cronometer has less bells and whistles than the others, it shows more in depth calculations for micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals).
Tips for Macro Counting Success
You now have everything you need to start prepping your food for your diet plan success!
Whether your goal is to lose weight, maintain, or gain muscle, you know have the tools to do just that.
Here are some other important tips to help you have success on your macro counting plan:
- EAT ALL YOUR MACROS (the most important on the list, hence the capitalization).
- Generally speaking, women use fat more effectively than men. Therefore, women tend to thrive toward the higher end of fat recommendations (it’s the opposite for men).
- Create a consistent eating schedule. Keeping your blood sugar levels even throughout the day will help you avoid food cravings.
- Sleep as much as you can. The best results come those who sleep closer to eight hours per night.
- Eat protein and complex carbohydrates after exercise to maximize recovery.
- Fill your plate with nutrient dense food sources. Eating highly processed foods will only add to your calories, but not help you feel full.
- Use this calculator to easily calculate your macros.
The Best Macronutrient Diet Books
These are the best books on macro dieting you can find:
- Macronutrients: Most Straight Forward Guide To Counting Macros And Flexible Dieting/IIFYM
- IIFYM & Flexible Dieting: The Easy Way to Burn Fat & Build Muscle Eating the Foods You Love
- Thinner Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Female Body (The Muscle for Life Series Book 2)
- Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body (The Muscle for Life Series Book 1)
- The MacroNutrient Diet: The Complete “Do It Yourself” Guide to Getting Lean
- Flexible Dieting: How to Lose Weight and Build a Leaner, Stronger Body While Eating The Food You Love
Wrapping It Up
Tracking your macronutrients is a great way to help you reach your fitness goals. Whether those goals are fat loss or muscle gain, tracking macros works for both.
It’s best to start by calculating your BMR, then your TDEE, then your fitness goal.
After that, calculate your requirements for protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Then, buy a food scale and download a tracking app.
Lastly, remember that consistency is the key to reaching your goals. Practice the above guidelines and it will become a habit.
Developing habits will help you reach your goals faster and with more ease than ever before.