Counting macros, or the macro diet, has become a popular strategy to promote changes in body composition and assist with weight management. I see it all over TikTok these days, so let’s discuss what the macro diet is, the pros and cons, how to calculate macros, with two sample macro meal plans.
What Is the Macro Diet?
Instead of counting calories, the macro diet is all about counting the percentage of macronutrients. Essentially, this specific percentage of macros amounts to a caloric range which is ideal for you and your goals. Carbohydrates, protein and fat are the three macronutrients which provide us energy (or calories).
There’s a reason why carbs are the highest percentage when counting macros – carbohydrates are our body’s preferred energy source. Complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber can help to stabilize blood sugars, promote digestive health, decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, decrease cholesterol, and even help with weight loss.
Protein is the macronutrient which takes the longest to digest, increasing meal satiety and satisfaction and potentially leading to less overall caloric intake.
Healthy fats are crucial for hormone production, brain function, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Pros and Cons to Counting Macros
Pros of Counting Macronutrients
Counting macros can be a useful strategy in that the focus is more on eating well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals and snacks and less on counting calories. It switches the focus from counting calories to mindfully selecting a meal composed of the three macros.
Another advantage to the macro diet is the focus on consuming adequate protein – which can promote positive changes in body composition and help preserve lean body mass when in a caloric deficit. Protein has the highest thermic effect, which means it burns the most calories while digesting.
When compared to counting calories, tracking macronutrients can help to ensure we are adequately meeting our nutrient needs while also identifying areas of improvement.
Cons of Counting Macros
On the downside, counting your macros can be time-consuming and difficult to maintain. While meal tracking apps can help, trying to meet these percentages may place a lot of stress and attention on counting, measuring and recording your food intake. This could possibly lead to obsessive or disordered eating.
Further, following a strict diet plan can create stress when eating out or in social situations.
If you’re interested in following a macro diet, the hope should be that it increases awareness of macros and what a balanced meal looks like so you don’t have to continue to track them long-term.
Figuring OUt How to Make a Macro Meal Plan
Figuring out your macros depends on a variety of factors: your age, weight, height, physical activity level, and personal goals. There are some calculators online and apps like MyFitnessPal that will calculate this for you.
Determining Your Calorie Needs
First, you will want to figure out your caloric needs. There are four ways our bodies burn calories: at rest (basal metabolic rate), through the thermic effect of food (calories burned as our body digests our food), NEAT (activities of daily living), and through physical activity or working out.
There are numerous BMR formulas that have been developed (over 200!). These formulas give you a rough estimation. They don’t take into account our body fat or lean muscle percentage, and can sometimes overestimate BMR.
If your goal is weight loss, subtract 300-500 calories from this number. It is never a good idea to consume less than our BMR, as our body needs those calories to function. Even more importantly, it can decrease metabolism and hinder long-term weight loss goals.
Below shows a break-down on how to calculate your macros.
Sample Macro Meal Plans
Here is are two sample macro meal plans with an approximation of nutritional information.
Note: this is just an estimation and individual ingredients and preparation can cause discrepancies.
1700 Calorie Meal Plan #1 (190g carbs, 109g protein, 56g fat)
Banana Cinnamon Overnight Oats
385 calories, 48g carbs, 30g protein, 10g fat
4 oz. Grilled Chicken, 1/2 cup Quinoa, 1/2 cup Diced Potatoes, Mixed Veggies with Olive Oil and Vinegar
458 calories, 58g carbs, 34g protein, 10g fat
Apple Slices with Almond Butter (2 Tbsp.)
8 oz. Fat-Free Milk
357 calories, 36g carbs, 15g protein, 17g fat
4 oz. Baked Salmon with Butter, Steamed Broccoli (1 cup), Brown Rice (1cup)
500 calories, 48g carbs, 30g protein, 18g fat
2200 Calorie Meal Plan #2 (247g carbs, 138g protein, 73g fat)
Egg and Cheese Burrito – 2 eggs scrambled with 1/2 cup cottage cheese, 12″ high fiber tortilla, 1/2 avocado
634 calories, 59g carbohydrates, 32g protein, 30g fat
1 cup of Garbanzo Beans + 1 cup of Cucumber + Drizzle of Olive Oil and Vinegar
1 cup of Whole Grain Crackers
262 calories, 41g carbs, 11g protein, 6g fat
4 oz. Grilled Chicken Breast Over 1 cup Brown Rice, Mixed Vegetable and Apple Salad and 1 Tbsp. Olive Oil Vinaigrette
600 calories, 70g carbs, 43g protein, 16.5g fat
Buffalo Chicken Pasta (cottage cheese buffalo sauce, chicken, high protein pasta, red peppers)
508 calories, 61g carbs, 48g protein, 8g fat
1/2 Banana + 1 Tbsp. Peanut Butter + 1 Tbsp. Hemp Hearts
197 calories, 16g carbs, 4g protein, 13g fat
For more high-protein ideas, check out this post on Eating 120 Grams of Protein Per Day.
Best Apps for Tracking Macros
Phew, it is no easy feat counting macros. Here are some of the best apps for tracking:
- MyFitness Pal
Is Tracking Your Macros Necessary?
There are pros and cons to counting your macronutrients, and it might be too tedious and time-consuming for some.
It can, however, help people become more aware of creating well-balanced meals and become more in tune to macronutrients they might not be prioritizing enough.
In my personal opinion, prioritizing protein with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats can be just as beneficial – without all the stress of tracking every single gram you’re eating.
If you’re experienced with tracking macros, what are the tips that work for you?