Learning how to calculate macros can be game-changing when it comes to fuelling your fitness correctly. But, as a nutrition novice or someone without the macro-know-how, it can seem like a lot of math without a lot of clarity. We're here to change that.
Here you'll find your counting macros cheat sheet with everything you need to know about macros, how to use a macro calculator, as well as step-by-step instructions to hitting yours bang on every day. Whether you're looking for the best macros for fat loss or just want more clarity around how many calories you should be eating (and where they should be coming from), we've got your back. All you need to do is scroll on.
What are macros?
Okay, so first things first, you definitely know more than you think. Macros is an abbreviation of the word 'macronutrient' and simply refers to the three main nutrient groups:
The way you tinker with your macros (e.g. how many calories you eat a day) can help you lose body fat, maintain your weight or help with gaining weight safely depending on whether you're eating above or below the amount you're burning each day.
If you need a reminder of what foods fall into each category, save this handy infographic to your camera roll:
What's the difference between calories and macros?
Most food plans work by cutting calories – it's an approach that's worked for many people – but as we said before, it's not just about how much you're eating every day but what you're eating.
On a CICO (calories in, calories out) diet, eating 20 calories of kale would be equal to eating 20 calories of chocolate. An extreme example but one that paints a picture.
Let us elaborate. On a calorie focused diet you could consume solely "junk" or nutrient-devoid food and still stay under your assigned calorie amount. However, you'd most likely be protein deficient and most probably eat much more fat than necessary.
Research published in the journal Engl J Med, found that what you're eating, as well as how much, is important for both fat loss and general health. By tracking your macros, you'll be able to make sure you're not only prioritising nutrient-dense foods but eating them in the amounts your body and training needs.
And, by counting your macros you can optimise your diet so that you're fuelling your body from the right sources by keeping your carb, fat and protein intake in balance.
Plus, it can help with keeping your nutrition balanced between foods that fuel you and "fun" foods. For example, if you have a hankering for a white chocolate mini-magnum (and why shouldn't you), you can add it into your daily macro allowance and work the rest of your meals around it. Easy as.
Sold? Okay, let's get down to figuring out your macronutrient split using our super handy macro calculator. Remember, your results will be totally individual and catered to your body's needs so no peeking at anyone else's, k?
What is a macro calculator?
It's an easy equation to work out how many macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) your body needs each day based on your weight and daily activity levels.
The calculation eventually gives you how many grams of carbohydrates, fat and protein you should be eating each day to hit your goals bang on.
How to calculate your macros using WH's macro calculator
This detailed infographic walks you through the process but if you need more of a deep dive check out the step by step instructions below:
Step 1. Work out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns each day without you doing anything. If you were to lie in a room without moving for an entire day, this is the number of calories you'd burn through.
To find your BMR, use the following Harris-Benedict equation:
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x your weight in pounds) + (4.7 x your height in inches) – (4.7 x age)
So, for example, a 128-pound, 5 foot 2, 33-year-old woman would do:
- 655 + (4.35 x 128) + (4.7 x 62) - (4.7 x 33) = 1348.1
- 1348.1 would be her BMR.
Step 2. Decide your activity level
Then, to find out your exact ratios based on your daily activity you multiply your BMR by your average activity level based on the following categories:
- Little or no exercise: 1.2
- Light exercise a few times a week: exercise a few times a week: 1.375
- Moderate exercise 3-5 times a week: 1.55
- Heavy exercise 6-7 times per week: 1.725
So, if the same woman above cycled to work three times a week and attended two yoga classes, she'd be classed as a moderate exercise so would multiply 1348.1 (BMR) x 1.55 (activity level) = 2089.5.
The number she's then left with is her daily calorie intake.
Step 3. Choose your macro split
If you're keen to stay lean while adding muscle, WH suggests splitting your daily calories into a macronutrient split of:
- 40% protein
- 30% carbohydrates
- 30% fat
This split provides sufficient carbohydrates to fuel your workouts, enough protein to build and repair muscle and healthy fats to maintain optimal hormone production- vital for staying lean.
Step 4. Work out how many grams of each macro you need to eat
Not all macronutrients are created equally. For every gram of protein and carbohydrate, your body is provided with 4 calories of energy, while fat provides 9 calories per gram.
To work out how many grams of each you need, you multiply your total daily calories by 0.4 for protein and 0.3 for carbohydrates and fat. The protein and carbohydrate figures are then divided by 4 and the fat figure by 9. The final figures will be how many grams of each to eat.
For example, here’s an 1800-calorie diet with a 40% protein, 30% carbohydrates, 30% fat ratio.
- Protein = 1800 x 0.4 = 720/4 = 180g
- Carbohydrates = 1800 x 0.3 = 540/4 = 135g
- Fat = 1800 x 0.3 = 540/9= 60g
Step 5. Make it work for you
Hitting your macros doesn't have to be a total slog. It can be as easy as batch cooking a protein, carbohydrate and fat on a Sunday and boxing up for the week: roast chicken, quinoa and some avocado, for example. It's a meal that hits each macro, keeps you satiated and sounds bloody delicious if you ask us.
Or, try adding a dollop of Greek yoghurt and a teaspoon of peanut butter to your morning oats to add a serving of protein and healthy fats first thing in the morning.
To make sure you're staying within your macronutrient split, whack it all into a food diary app like MyFitnessPal can be great. It tracks each macronutrient as well as your daily intake and lets you know how much of each is left.
The beauty of tracking macros is that if a 3pm chocolate craving hits or you're rabidly hungry one morning and fancy an extra scoop of porridge, it doesn't throw you off track. It just means the rest of your food may be adjusted accordingly.
It's an easy approach to keep you feeling happy and hitting your goals without sacrificing the occasional treats that keep you sane and ticking along. For more inspo, check out the #IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) hashtag on Instagram for a whole fit community using the nutrition technique.
Looking for recipe inspiration?
So, you've got your macros down pat and know what you're aiming for each day. But, what actual foods do you want to eat? Let us guide you through some handy WH resources to keep your diet varied, versatile and flexible enough for fun.
- 15 Joe Wicks overnight oats recipes to try next breakfast time
- 25 protein pancakes to flip your day the right way round
- 26 easy porridge recipes to switch up your normal breakfast bowl
- 33 high protein recipes to hit your protein requirement every day
- 53 Joe Wicks recipes suitable for breakfast, lunch or dinner
- 26 expert-approved high protein snacks for that midday slump
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