The Macros For Weight Loss Definitive Guide For 2021
By: Zack Mathews
Whether this is your first nutrition program or you are a seasoned veteran of trying every diet under the sun, you are after an eating style that can fit with your life while you still get results.
Most people associate a diet with feeling miserable, having to eat the same boring foods over and over, and being hungry all the time.
Can you relate to that?
The great thing about tracking macros for weight loss is that you can get results without ever having those feelings!
I want to take the guesswork out of your transformation by giving you the correct data you should follow to get results and all the information you need to understand why you are tracking your macros for weight loss.
I'm super proud of my clients below because they took the time to learn about macros and were consistent with their tracking. Their progress speaks for itself!
In this article you will learn:
- What Are Macros?
- How To Manipulate Macros For Weight Loss
- Which Macros Are The Most Important?
- Benefits Of Calorie Counting.
- Negatives Of Calorie Counting.
- The Best Way To Structure Your Macros.
- 3 Things You Need For Accurate Tracking.
- Guidelines For Your Macros
- A Video Tutorial On How To Use MyFitnessPal
Excited to learn?
Let’s get rolling on learning about macros for weight loss.
Macros are what make up your calories for the day. It stands for macronutrients and can be split into three different categories.
The 3 different macros are:
Each of these play a different role towards your goal, and it’s important to understand how they relate to your total calories.
In terms of total calories:
- 1 gram of protein is equal to 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrates is equal to 4 calories
- On the other hand, 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories
Yes, you read that right! If you consume 1 gram of fat, it is more than double what 1 gram of protein or carbs would be.
That makes foods that are higher in fat dangerous. Dangerous not because they are bad for you, but dangerous in the sense that calories add up VERY quickly.
Think about peanut butter. Nuts are a fat and we all know how easy it is to eat peanut butter!
What about avocados? Oils? Cashews? Healthy foods that are great for you, but high in calories.
When you are calculating macros for weight loss, you want to be able to identify your foods and have a general understanding of whether it is a protein, carb, or fat.
When you add up all 3 of these macronutrients, you get your total calories for the day. And that’s why you can say macros and calorie counting are one and the same.
Here are examples of healthy choices for proteins, fats, and carbs.
Now that you understand what macros are and their corresponding number of calories per gram, it’s time to see how you use your calorie counting to promote weight loss in your body.
Side note: You'll notice I often refer to macros as calorie counting. Since macros make up calories, I often switch between both wordings.
Every single one of us has a certain amount of calories we can consume each day that will keep our weight the same.
This is called calorie maintenance.
Let’s take a look at this person who has a calorie maintenance of 2000.
What this shows is that since calories consumed is equal to the amount of calories burned on a daily basis, there are no extra calories that need to be burned or stored, so their weight will stay the exact same.
Since our goal is macros for weight loss, you need to lower your calories to put yourself in a calorie deficit.
In this example, she eats only 1700 calories, when her body still wants 2000, so there are 300 calories that her body needs. Since it’s not getting the calories it needs, weight loss will occur.
It doesn't matter what diet you do. Paleo, vegan, Keto, low carb, low fat, it doesn't matter…
They all have one thing in common. If you lose weight on any of those diets it’s because you ate less calories than your body needs.
The only way to achieve weight loss is if you keep your body in a calorie deficit.
If you were to eat above your calorie maintenance, this is called a calorie surplus, and you will gain weight.
If you want a deeper understanding of what makes up the calories from the "calories out" in the past two photos, check out...
The great thing about macro tracking is that it allows you to have a diet full of variety with no limitations.
It’s not like a Keto diet where you are completely removing one of the macronutrients.
Although you get to have a variety of all 3, there is a level of importance to each macronutrient.
First off, you should know that proteins and fats are essential to your diet, while carbohydrates are non essential. This means you can give up carbs (hence the Keto diet), and still be able to survive, but if you were to completely give up fats or proteins, it could eventually kill you.
You need the essential amino acids that protein gives and the essential fatty acids that fats provide.
Now that you know which macros are essential and non essential, let’s see how they relate to macros for weight loss.
When weight loss is your goal, your actual goal should be FAT LOSS.
If you are eating in a calorie deficit, the scale will go down and it can either go down because of fat loss or muscle loss.
You don’t want to lose your muscle. That’s what is going to help keep you strong and give you that lean, toned, defined look.
When eating in a calorie deficit, the best way to ensure you are losing fat is to keep your protein intake high and follow a well structured weight lifting program.
Eating the right amount of protein and lifting weights will help preserve your muscle, allowing for the fat loss you are after.
That makes protein the most important of the macros for weight loss.
For your carbohydrates and fats, there isn’t one that is more important than the other, as long as you are consuming a balanced amount of both.
The most important factor for fat loss is a calorie deficit and adequate protein, so play with your fats and carbs to see what your body likes.
Some people respond well with high carbs to give them more energy, while others might prefer high fat because it keeps them fuller longer. It’s totally up to you.
That’s the great thing about macros for weight loss. You get to design your plan for how your body wants to eat!
The adequate amount of protein you should be after will be broken down at the end of the article. If you want to jump to it now, click here.
Calorie counting might be the lifestyle change you are looking for because of all the awesome benefits that it brings.
Calorie counting allows a flexible lifestyle unlike any other diet.
It allows you to eat the foods that you love, as long as they fit into your macros, without feeling restrictive or that you are on a “diet” per se.
If you know that you are going to go out with friends on a Saturday night for pasta and wine, you don’t have to feel anxious or cancel with them because you think it doesn't fit into your diet.
You can plan ahead and eat lower calorie during the day, focusing on proteins and vegetables, leaving you with plenty of calories that evening to enjoy guilt free.
How about if you feel better eating high carbs?
Great! Do it.
Do you prefer to eat earlier in the day because you don’t like to go to bed feeling full?
Awesome! Consume your calories earlier and set a time where you will have hit your goals and still have plenty of time to digest your food before you go to bed.
The benefit of adjusting your macros for what makes you feel best cannot be overlooked.
There aren’t many diets out there that provide that type of stress free eating paired with eating what your body wants.
You can be as accurate as you want with calorie counting.
Tracking your macros for weight loss allows you to know exactly what you are putting into your body.
If you have done other diets in the past and not gotten results, it’s because you weren't in a calorie deficit. You may have been following the diet as you were suppose to, but since you didn’t know the exact calories, you may have been overeating.
If you aren't getting results with calorie counting, it’s easy to self audit yourself and see how accurate you have been tracking.
- Were you weighing your food?
- Did you eat out a lot and not track?
- Did you eyeball a good portion of your food?
These are good questions to ask yourself constantly while you are calorie counting because the more accurate you can be, the better.
You get to solve YOUR puzzle.
Putting together the pieces with your calories and macros is almost like a math game or a puzzle, and people enjoy building their plans to make it work for them.
It becomes personal versus just a regular diet because you are finding out how to make the foods you love work for you.
It helps you become an intuitive eater.
This one is HUGE!
Think about what happens with any skill when you get really good at it?
It almost becomes second nature to you and you don’t have to really think about it when you do it.
That’s what being an intuitive eater is!
When you get good enough at calorie counting, you start understanding the makeup of food, how they make you feel, and what you need to make fit into your diet. With enough time, you can do this without tracking and you have become an intuitive eater.
And that my friends, is a great place to be.
It takes time to learn how to track your macros for weight loss.
When you begin your calorie counting journey, you have to remember one thing…
This is a new skill you are learning.
Learning new skills take time.
You can’t get frustrated with the fact that you might not hit your numbers right off the bat, or that it takes you a lot of time to learn the app or input your food.
With time it will get easier and easier, and before you know it you will be able to look at foods and be able to get a good estimate of how many calories it is.
You can become obsessive with your tracking.
Another negative is that you can become obsessive with tracking your macros, just like you can become obsessive with any sort of diet.
I’ve been part of Facebook groups about calorie counting and I would often see people post something along the lines of “I need 65 calories, 10 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbs, and 2 grams of fat, what can I eat?!”
People try so hard to hit their numbers perfectly everyday that they start freaking out when they are nearing the end of their day and it’s not perfect.
We’ll get into ways to combat that coming up, but just know that you don’t have to be so obsessive to see results.
If you notice you are getting nervous at the end of the day if your macros aren't perfect, or you stress out at a restaurant because your numbers won’t add up perfectly, that’s the time to take a step back and look at your behaviors.
Lack of micronutrients.
Since calories are the most important factor for your macros for weight loss, it can be easy to forget about some of the other things that contribute to your overall health.
It’s common for people to be enjoying the foods they love, and forget about micronutrients, mainly the vitamins and minerals you get from vegetables and fruits.
Did you ever hear about the professor who lost 27 pounds only eating junk foods like candy bars, chips, and other bad things? You can read about it here.
This all goes back to the rule that the most important factor for weight loss is that you stay in a calorie deficit. This professor ate junk, but knew if he kept his calories in a deficit, he would lose weight. And he did!
Here’s the thing with that way of eating for weight loss.
It’s going to make you feel like crap, I guarantee that.
Your body will be missing so many essential minerals and vitamins, so it’s worth it for you to consume a diet mainly of healthy, unprocessed foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, and sprinkle in those foods that you love in moderation.
It’s hard to do forever.
Calorie counting takes time, especially at first, but even down the road it still will require you to weigh your food, input it into your app, and see where you are at for the day and strategize how you want to hit the rest of your calories.
So although it is a negative that this is hard to do forever, you can turn this into a benefit if you have the right mindset.
Your tracking of calories and macros for weight loss should be something that you don’t do forever because you eventually want to transition to a more intuitive eating lifestyle.
Use calories counting as a stepping stone and learning experience to be able to eat in a way that will be sustainable for the rest of your life.
You need to have a scale to weigh your food.
This first one is a must. If you want to get results, you need to know how much you are putting into your body.
Eyeballing foods at first wont work. You need to accurately weigh and measure your foods to ensure you are doing everything right, especially at first!
Scales are inexpensive and easy to find.
It was 10 dollars and works perfectly. Order yours on Amazon or head over to Target or Walmart to get one when you are ready to start tracking macros for weight loss.
Be aware of labels and serving sizes.
It’s very very important to be aware of what the food label is telling you for every food that you are eating.
Make sure to see if it tells you if you should be weighing before or after you cook, and to be aware of what unit of measurement it is using.
Your food scale should be able to change settings to match up with the proper unit.
Additionally, when tracking your food, always weigh it by what the unit of measurement is, not by the suggested serving size.
For example, chips.
If your bag tells you 13 chips, and then it also says 30grams, always weigh it out in grams. If you were to take 13 chips out, it could be off in calories.
Take a look at this Instagram post I made a while back with a bag of Trader Joe’s tortilla chips.
The amount of calories was almost double when I counted out 14 chips versus weighing out 28grams!
Don’t forget to track the small things.
Lastly, in order to have success in tracking macros for weight loss, you have to track EVERYTHING.
If you don’t track everything, that could be the difference between being in a calorie deficit or gaining weight in a calorie surplus.
Some items that are common to overlook and not track are:
- Oils used for cooking
- Condiments and dressings
- Taking bites from your kids plate
- Grabbing a piece of candy at someone’s desk at work
- Coffee creamer
Seriously, anything that is put into your mouth needs to be tracked, don’t forget it!
Before I give you advice on how you should structure your macros for long term success, I want to revisit a couple key points.
These key points will make my reasonings for how you should track more understandable.
The two biggest takeaways I want you to remember are this:
- The only way to lose weight is by being in a calorie deficit. It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat or how many meals you consume, at the end of the day you want to be bringing in less calories than your body needs to maintain your weight.
- Your goal for your macros for weight loss should be to lose FAT. In order to lose fat, you want to make sure you keep your protein intake is high to promote muscle retention, thus resulting in fat loss if you are in a calorie deficit.
Did you remember those? I hope so!
Now, when it comes to your calorie counting, structure your plan like this:
- Use ranges instead of exact numbers. If your goal is 1725 calories a day, shoot for a range of 1700-1750, or even 1675-1775. This helps promote a more relaxed approach so you don’t have to become obsessed with hitting a specific number.
- For your specific macros, only track your protein. Remember, calories are most important for weight loss and protein helps you preserve your muscle. If you focus on those two numbers, you will get the results you want. Tracking your fats and carbs is just another thing that will make tracking macros harder than it needs to be.
- Use a range for your protein intake as well. If your goal is 150 grams, set a goal of 145-155. 5-10 grams on each side will be a great range.
You’ve learned everything you need to know about how macros work and some of the best strategies for long term success.
It’s time to get into some number so you know where you should begin.
How to find your calories to put you in a calorie deficit.
Instead of stressing about how different calculators give you different numbers for how many calories you need to eat, multiply your weight by 10 - 12. That will get the majority of people without underlying health issues in a calorie deficit.
Let’s do an example. If you weigh 150 pounds, multiplying by 10 and 12 would give you a range of 1500 - 1800.
Remember, we want to give you a range of about 100 calories so now you decide on how aggressive you want your diet to be.
Would you rather have faster progress that might be harder to maintain over the long run? If you do, use the 1500 calories to make your range, maybe 1475-1575.
If you would rather take it slow and chip away at it and more than likely have better adherence long term, use the 1800 calories for your range, maybe 1750-1850.
There is no wrong choice here as long as you try and be around that 10-12x your bodyweight range.
For the next 3-4 weeks, try to be as accurate as you can with that calorie range. If you are seeing results, great! If you aren’t, figure out if you are being as accurate as you can with your tracking. From there, either increase your competence or lower your calories.
There are two ways to find out how much protein you should be eating everyday and it depends on your current physique.
If you are currently at a fairly decent body weight, maybe wanting to lose 10-25 pounds, you should eat 0.7 - 1.0 grams per pound of bodyweight. So are example from above of the 150 pound person, they would eat somewhere between 105 - 150grams of protein a day.
Again, we want a 5-10 gram difference so this person could say I am going to eat 125-135grams per day and be in a good place to retain muscle while they track their macros for weight loss.
The other way to track protein would be by eating 1gram of protein per pound of LEAN body mass. This will be for the person that has a lot of weight to lose.
For example, if you weigh 300 pounds and want to lose weight, can you imagine trying to eat 280 - 300 grams of protein a day?! That’s ridiculous!
That’s why its better for this type of person to find their LEAN body mass, which is their weight minus the amount of fat they have on their body.
First you need to know your body fat percentage. No problem if you don’t!
Take a look at these pictures to find a rough estimate of your body fat, it doesn't need to be 100% accurate.
If you are 300 pounds and 40% body fat, that means you have 120 pounds of fat on your body, and 180 grams of lean mass. So your 1gram of lean body mass would have you consuming 180 grams of protein! Set a range of 175 - 185 and go hit your target!
Does that sound like a lot of protein. Try this.
How many grams of carbohydrates and fats should I eat?
You should be able to answer that question right?! I hope so.
Remember, fat loss is dictated by eating in a calorie deficit and eating adequate protein.
You don’t need to track carbs and fats since they don't affect macros for weight loss.
If you want, you can still enter then and play around with the numbers to see how you feel with different combinations of carbs and fats.
There are lots of great apps you can use to track your calories.
I’ve been teaching macros for a long time, and the only reputable tracker back in the day was MyFitnessPal. I’ve stuck with that over the years and have had success with my own tracking and my clients.
I am not associated with them at all, but if you would like to use that app, here is a 5 minute video showing you the basics on how to use it.
Let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to comment below or reach out to me HERE.