So, what’s the deal with macros for weight loss? Macro counting is basically nutritional number-crunching to help quantify the amount of each macronutrient you’re eating.
Learning how to count your macros is nothing new — especially with our handy macros calculator, however this approach to healthy eating hasn’t always been as mainstream as it is today.
Within the dominion of gym-lovers and bodybuilders, learning how to count your macros for weight loss is a zeitgeisty way to sculpt up — and it’s a far more effective (and less soul-destroying) strategy than cutting cals.
But, before we geek out over the origins of macro counting, let’s recap on what it actually means.
If your goals include building muscle and learning how to lose body fat, read on… (No, we’re not mindreaders, we’ve just got a pretty good suss of how to help you achieve your goals safely and sustainably.)
What are macros?
The word ‘macros’ is shorthand for ‘macronutrients’, a term used to describe the three key food groups you require for your body to function:
- carbohydrates (to give you energy)
- fats (to keep you satiated)
- proteins (to build and repair muscle)
Striking the right balance of these macros and being aware of your overall calorie consumption can be the game-changing hack to effectively build muscle, maintain weight or lose body fat — hence all the chat around macros for weight.
Why do I need protein?
As you may already know, protein is crucial if you want to maintain or build muscle. An important factor of healthy nutrition, consuming adequate protein helps to increase lean body mass by building muscle – the most sustainable path to long-term weight loss.
‘Protein is the building block of all muscles and muscles synthesis,’ says Catherine Rabess, dietitian and NHS dietetic manager. ‘It’s really important to have it in our diet because protein is a source of essential amino acids, which we aren’t able to get anywhere else.’
Amino acids are vital for things like nutrient absorption and tissue repair – both crucial in recovering from exercise. Rabess suggests grabbing some protein within an hour of your workouts. ‘It doesn’t have to be a protein shake or protein bar – a glass of milk or a handful of nuts will get the job done too.’ Heck, even a spoon of nut butter in your smoothie.
Why do I need carbohydrates?
Fact: carbs are a necessity. 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 (e.g. those HIIT workouts at home you’ve been doing) – the kind you need to burn fat and build metabolism-boosting muscle.
Why do I need fat?
Fat makes up cell membranes, promotes nerve and brain health, and increases the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. It also helps protect your bones and organs, as well as being a backup fuel store for energy. Bonus: it’ll also keep you feeling satiated, which cuts back on snacking.
How to track macros for weight loss
If you’re new to the concept of macro-tracking and haven’t the foggiest where to start, we recommend you check out our step-by-step macro calculator.
Or, for a broad overview: counting your macros means monitoring how much protein, fat and carbs you eat within a day. In a nutshell, the macro equation: your total calories = carbohydrate + protein + fat.
The easiest way to keep on top of all those numbers is with an app like MyFitnessPal, which does all the brain-melting maths for you.
Seriously though, read our guide to counting macros before trying to tweak them for the best macros for fat loss or weight loss.
The best percentage of macros for weight loss
Until recently, a common equation for fat loss was 45% protein, 30% carbs and 25% fat. However, more modern research has revealed there is a second formula that can prove successful when trying to decrease body fat into a healthy range.
- 50% carbs
- 35% protein
- 15% fat
According to McMaster University research, a 5 : 3.5 : 1.5 ratio of carbs, protein and fat (when coupled with doing a four-week workout programme) can deliver healthy fat loss results. And in fact, perhaps better results than when reducing carbs and increasing protein.
In the study, subjects who ate to this ratio lost 10.5lb fat and gained 2.5lb muscle, compared with subjects eating 15% protein, 50% carbs and 35% fat.
Those in the second group lost only 7.7lb fat and gained no muscle.
If you struggled with maths at school, you may want to try our step-by-step macros calculator and get your phone out because – as with all things in the health and fitness world – the specific numbers are personal.
Once you’ve worked out your activity levels and your basal metabolic rate (BMR), you can find the number of calories you need to be taking in – and from which sources.
What should my plate look like?
An example plate hitting the above macros would look as follows:
- 110g roasted turkey
- 55g brown rice
- 150g stir-fried cauliﬂower in 15g oil
These are general recommendations from nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shaughnessy, but it’s best to work out what your body needs. This will establish the best percentage of macros, bespoke to you.
Which foods contain which macro?
It can be easy to forget exactly what category some foods fall into – so here’s a handy reminder, whether you’re carnivorous, veggie or plant-based.
What’s the difference between macros for weight loss and macros for fat loss?
Though they sound similar, the best macros for weight loss and macros for fat loss are slightly different. Tweaking your macros to lose body fat involves manipulating the ratio of the macronutrients you eat to achieve fat loss, not for all-encompassing weight loss (which can include water weight and muscle tissue loss, too). This includes prioritising protein and carbohydrates, and being aware of how much fat you’re eating – the 50% carbs, 35% protein, 15% fat ratio we discussed before.
If you’re just starting out on your journey and trying to lose weight (which includes body fat, plus muscle mass and water weight), eating in a calorie deficit is an easier, more simple way to achieve your goals.
Macro tracking is an advanced nutritional technique and only something to try when you feel confident eating with more attention or have specific body composition-based goals. General weight loss doesn’t need to be so involved, so don’t stress if you feel like eating the best macros for fat loss is out of your wheelhouse. Focus on staying in a healthy calorie deficit, keeping your NEAT exercise levels up and scheduling in regular sweat and downtime.
Here’s how to calculate a safe calorie deficit:
And here are some resources to help you on your healthy weight loss journey – don’t say we don’t look after you!
A reminder: please be sensible with your macros for fat loss
If you’re turning to macro tracking to help you lose fat, it’s wise to seek support and advice from a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, says Rabess. Calorie counting and macro tracking can also be an easy way to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
If you start to feel anxious about the occasional Saturday takeaway or enjoying a glass of wine on a Friday it might be wise to take a step back. ‘Feeling the need to quantify every morsel can take the fun and joy out of food,’ she says.
Got that? Use it, but use it wisely. Health is always more than just about one metric.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with an eating disorder, contact Beat, the UK-based charity that hopes to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.
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