If you care at all about weight loss, muscle growth, overall health or anything similar, then you probably know your diet is key.
And while there are many factors dictating whether your diet will be successful (both in terms of its effectiveness and your ability to actually sustain it), the two most important factors are always going to be:
- Your calorie intake.
- Your macronutrient intake (aka macros).
I recently covered the topic of calories and showed you exactly how to calculate how many calories you should eat a day.
Today I’m going to do the same, only this time I’m going to show you exactly how to calculate your macros for an effective weight loss or muscle gain diet. It’s going to be quick and easy, I promise.
What Are Macros?
“Macros” is an annoyingly overused abbreviation for the word “macronutrients,” which are the nutrients that provide the calories in the foods we eat.
There are four of them, although it’s the first three that will be getting the majority of our attention:
- Protein. (1 gram = 4 calories)
- Fat. (1 gram = 9 calories)
- Carbs. (1 gram = 4 calories)
- Alcohol. (1 gram = 7 calories)
So when you look at the nutritional information of a food and see the amount listed for “Calories,” that amount is the total combined calories from the protein, fat and carbs (and alcohol) in that serving of that food.
And when you see the word macros over, and over, and over, and over again, this is all it’s referring to. Protein, fat and carbs.
Pretty simple so far, right? Well, hang on tight, because that’s all about to change!
How To Calculate Your Macros: The Two Options
Now that you know what macros are, it’s time to figure out how to calculate how much of each you should eat per day.
To do this, you have two options. Let’s call them the unnecessary way and the smart way.
I don’t think you’ll have any problem determining which one I recommend…
Option #1: The Unnecessary Way
This option involves finding yourself what I think can best be described as a Social Media Diet Coach, one who provides some kind of “custom macro service” where they will “custom design your macros for you” and “custom tailor” them to the needs and goals of your diet.
In return, of course, you’re going to have to pay them.
How much, you ask? Well, that’s where you really start to lose me.
I’ve seen many clueless dipshits on Instagram… sorry… I mean professional diet coaches… charging hundreds of dollars – sometimes even over $1000 (yes, seriously) – for their “Custom Macro Plans.” Sometimes they even make you pay a recurring monthly fee so they can continue to “customize” your macros from that point on.
So, if paying a shitload of money to some “diet coach” whose only real qualifications are putting the words “Diet Coach” in their Instagram bio and posting 4,000 pics of their abs (guys) or their ass (girls), and having them do about two minutes worth of 3rd grade level math for you that is based entirely on freely available recommendations (like the ones I’ll show you in a second) sounds ideal for you, then hey… this is the option to choose!
But if not…
Option #2: The Smart Way
This is the option you choose when you realize A) how laughably overpriced and completely unnecessary the first option is, and B) how fast, simple, easy and free it would be to just calculate your macros yourself.
All it takes is a simple 5-step process, and it starts right now…
1. Determine Your Ideal Calorie Intake
As I’ve mentioned countless times before, your calorie intake is always going to be the most important part of your diet regardless of whether you want to lose fat, build muscle/gain weight or simply maintain your current weight.
And, since macronutrients are what provide these calories, your macros will need to be calculated based on what your ideal calorie intake is.
That’s why the first step in this process is always going to be figuring out how many calories you need to eat per day for your specific goal. Once you know that, the rest is easy.
So, if you already know what your ideal calorie intake is, you’re good. Move on to step #2.
But if you don’t, my guide right here will help you figure it out: How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day?
2. Calculate Your Protein Intake
After calories, the next most important part of your diet (and the most important macronutrient) is protein.
Because a sufficient protein intake is crucial for the overall health and function of the human body, is a requirement of building muscle, is a requirement for maintaining muscle while losing fat, and will play major roles in terms of hunger and appetite control, increasing the thermic effect of food (aka the calories your body burns during digestion), and more.
So, how much of it should you eat per day?
So, if you currently weigh 180lbs, you could aim for an even 180g of protein per day, or aim for some degree higher or lower depending on your own personal needs and preferences (as long as you stay within this range, you’ll be fine). Additional details here: How Much Protein Should I Eat A Day?
And just in case you were wondering…
- No, eating too much protein isn’t bad for you.
- Yes, your body can absorb more than just 20-30g of protein at a time.
Try to get most of your daily protein intake from higher-quality sources you enjoy and don’t have any issues digesting. Common examples includes chicken, turkey, eggs, beef, fish, dairy, whey protein powder, and so on.
And just like that… one of your macros have been calculated and “custom designed.” Told you this was easy. Let’s do it again…
3. Calculate Your Fat Intake
Next up in terms of importance is fat.
Because a sufficient fat intake is also crucial for the overall health and function of the human body in a variety of ways, including the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and optimal hormone production (e.g. testosterone). In addition, it helps with satiety and tends to make food taste better, which is nice.
So, for example, let’s say someone determined that they need to eat 2000 calories per day (this is just a random example). Let’s also say they decide to go with an even 25% of their total calories from fat. First, they’d take 25% of 2000 and get 500. Then, since there are 9 calories per gram of fat, they’d simply divide 500 by 9 and get 56g of fat per day.
You’d simply repeat this using your own relevant numbers, and let your personal needs and preferences dictate exactly where within this ideal range you decide to be so that your diet is as enjoyable and sustainable for you as possible.
Try to get most of your daily fat intake from higher-quality sources you enjoy and don’t have any issues digesting. Common examples include various nuts, seeds and nut butters, olive oil, coconut oil, fatty fish (e.g. salmon), avocados and so on.
Also try to aim for a good mix of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, with an extra added emphasis on getting a sufficient amount of the omega-3 fatty acids (a fish oil supplement can come in handy there) and avoiding trans-fat.
That’s two macros down… one to go.
4. Calculate Your Carb Intake
And finally, we have the least-important-but-still-important carbs.
A sufficient carb intake – while much less important for sustaining life and proper function compared to protein and fat – will still be crucial for your training performance and recovery, as well as your ability to generally be a happy person who doesn’t hate their diet and feel like crap all the time because they’ve restricted their carb intake unnecessarily low.
Here’s an example of how this would be done…
An Example “Custom Macro Diet Plan”
- Let’s pretend we have a random example person who weighs 175lbs and has figured out that they need to eat 2500 calories per day for their goal. (Again, these are just example numbers.)
- Then let’s say they go with an even 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Since they weigh 175lbs, that means they’ll eat about 175 grams of protein per day. Since 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, that means their protein intake will account for 700 calories each day (175 x 4 = 700).
- Next let’s say they decide to get an even 25% of their total calorie intake from fat. Since this example person will be eating 2500 calories per day, they’d figure out that 25% of 2500 is 625 calories (2500 x 0.25 = 625). Then, since 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, they’d figure out that they’d need to eat about 69 grams of fat per day (625 ÷ 9 = 69).
- At this point they have 700 calories worth of protein and 625 calories worth of fat, which means a total of 1325 of their daily calorie intake is accounted for (700 + 625 = 1325). But, since they need to be eating 2500 calories per day, they’d see they still have 1175 calories that are not yet accounted for (2500 – 1325 = 1175). So…
- All of those leftover 1175 calories will come from carbs. Since 1 gram of carbs contains 4 calories, this person would need to eat about 294 grams of carbs per day (1175 ÷ 4 = 294).
You’d simply repeat these steps using your own relevant numbers.
Try to get most of your daily carb intake from higher-quality sources you enjoy and don’t have any issues digesting. Common examples include fruits, vegetables, white rice/brown rice, potatoes, oats, beans and so on.
5. Adjust For Enjoyability And Sustainability
The previous four steps (calculating your calorie, protein, fat and carb intake) are going to be the key dietary steps for weight loss and muscle growth.
Having said that, there are still other factors that will play a direct role in your ability to actually put those key dietary factors into action AND THEN stick to it all on a consistent long-term basis.
This final step is all about adjusting those factors to make it happen.
Specifically in terms of macros, this would mean adjusting exactly where you choose to be within the recommended guidelines laid out in this article.
For example, do you prefer a slightly higher or lower carb diet? Or a slightly higher or lower fat diet? Or a slightly higher or lower protein diet?
If so, that’s all perfectly fine. Because…
In fact, you should feel free to adjust EVERY aspect of your diet (meal frequency, meal timing, food choices, diet organization, etc.) in this manner so it’s as preferable, enjoyable, convenient and sustainable for you as possible (#PECS). Both of my books – Superior Fat Loss and Superior Muscle Growth – cover all of this in detail, by the way.
In the end, this is going to be THE key factor dictating whether or not you actually stick to your diet in both the short and long term.
And That’s It
Taaadaaa! You just designed your own personalized, custom-tailored, super special and ultra magical “macro diet plan” in about 2 minutes for the low price of zero dollars and zero cents.
Even better, not a single
dipshit diet coach on Instagram got any richer in the process.
That’s as win-win as it gets.
By the way, if you liked this article, you’ll also really like my comparison of Clean Eating vs If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM).
24 thoughts on “How To Calculate Your Macros For A Weight Loss Or Muscle Gain Diet”
Pretty much on point from what I’ve researched, except for one thing.
There are quite a few peer reviewed studies that illustrate that your protein requirements are higher than necessary. Here is a good summary:
Basically, there is no benefit to consuming > .82g/lb of protein.
1. First, the range I recommend is 0.8-1.3g per pound. The magical .82g/lb recommendation is within this recommended range.
2. The research on optimal protein intake is mixed. Sure, a lot of it shows little to no physiological benefit to eating more than the low end of my recommended range (which is why it’s part of my recommended range), while some does indeed show some degree of benefit (which is why it’s part of my recommended range). Anyone definitively stating that it’s 1 specific number and the case is closed is wrong.
3. Eric Helms recently did a great job of summing up all things protein-intake (including Menno’s article and the debate he had with him about it). I’d highly recommend reading it here.
4. Even ignoring what’s in Eric’s article and any potential for something higher than 0.82g per pound to be beneficial for maximizing muscle growth, muscle retention, strength, performance, etc., also keep in mind that there is more to protein intake than just those things. For example, hunger control and personal preference. If someone finds that eating more than 0.82g per pound improves satiety and thus their ability to avoid going over their intended calorie intake target… it’s beneficial. If someone finds that they are less hungry throughout the day (and therefore less annoyed/tortured/frustrated/distracted by their diet and thus more likely to consistently sustain it) when eating more than 0.82g per pound… it’s beneficial. If someone happens to prefer eating more protein because they simply enjoy higher protein foods, and eating more than 0.82g per pound would therefore suit their personal preferences and make them happier with their diet… it’s beneficial. Saying “there is no benefit to consuming > .82g/lb of protein” fails to take any of this into account.
I merely meant the no benefit as far as maximizing muscle growth (which is why I left the link to the article).
I get what you’re saying and agree with all of it, but most people I’ve come across stress if they don’t get 1 or more g/lb (and they’re almost entirely concerned with only the maximizing muscle growth part of the equation), so it is important to know that even though there are potential additional benefits to getting a little bit extra, it isn’t generally necessary for many peoples’ goals.
Yup, agreed… which is why rather than giving a single specific number, I prefer to give a range that covers pretty much every base and allows for personal needs and preferences to come into play.
1g/lb is simply easier to say also to newbies.
Tell a newbie in the gym to take nothing more than .82g/lb and their head wanders trying to do the math.
Saying 1g/lb and anybody can understand this. They eat a little more or less and guess what they still are perfectly fine.
Yup, this too.
Also keep in mind the age of the athlete is being ignored with the fixed .82g/lb number. I’ve read from credible sources that as we age our ability to effectively utilize protein diminishes. For this reason an older athlete will need to eat more high quality protein than a young man. This seems perfectly believable to me, as practically everything we do physically as older people is less effective.
Yes, indeed data show that older adults need around 40g of complete protein/meal in order to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
By the way, Jorn Trommelen has a great article on protein and MPS here:
One question if i can only eat 100g of protein max per day how can it affect my lean bulk phase? i live in venezuela and getting dairy food is very expensive
That depends. Basically, the further 100g is from my recommended range for you (which would depend on how much you weigh), the more detrimental it will likely be.
You should start a you tube channel and show them #abs…. Most people first need to get convinced ” visually” before they even begin to search for the writer’s credentials or read up any article written down by them or follow recommendations… That’s why the insta dipshits thrive most of who don’t really have any real qualification as you rightly pointed be out or may not even be training naturally.
This is true.
And stay tuned. I have some interesting things planned… one of which involves YouTube. 😉
that sounds good … we will finally get to see how you look physically 😀
After determining that I need 75g of protein a day, it’s fairly straightforward to say I can eat 75 g of egg white since egg whites are 100% protein. But what about other protein sources such as chicken, fish, whey powders? These aren’t 100% protein weight for weight. Does this mean I need to go break the macros down for, say, chicken, and then check against my macros, to determine how much chicken I should eat for my macros?
Yup. You’re rarely (if ever) going to eat anything that is ONLY protein, or ONLY fat, or ONLY carbs. Foods typically have some amount of more than one macronutrient. You simply need to count it all towards your totals for the day.
Great article as always! I have read all of SMG and SFL and always seem to run into the same problem with regards to my diet. I am all good with determining my caloric and macro needs for a goal of muscle growth but it’s the next part that ties me up. How do you begin to pick foods and plan meals in order to hit these numbers? Do you just start thinking about foods you like to eat and try to tweak them until they work? I think I fall into the category of people who obsess about hitting my numbers perfectly. I have been able to create a meal plan that fits my numbers for one day but then I would have to eat the same thing every day and that’s not sustainable. Do you have a list of meals that you can plug in an out for different weeks knowing they can have the same macros? Any tips or resources would be greatly appreciated.
I actually have an article on my to-do list that will cover every single thing you’re asking about. Stay tuned!
Until then, this is the closest thing I’ve written that kinda sorta deals with this topic.
Is it bad if I tend to hit my calories pretty often with my macros, but some days I still hit my protein and end up getting 40% fats which is over the 35%? I am pretty relaxed with my bulk and found this is why I failed in the past because I was 2 strict always counting calories weighing food and always eating the same things to hit my target. Now I just eat what I want (not fast food) but with doing this seems to be achieving my goals at a faster rate and is much more fun.
As long as total calories and protein are where they need to be, and neither fat or carb intake are excessively low, you can pretty much adjust the ratio of fat/carbs to whatever suits your personal needs/preferences and things will end up about the same.
An unfortunate condition of the human psychology is that we believe complex problems require equal or more complex answers…. We’ve created this “body weight management” hobby to be so complex and so convoluted that it’s no wonder people listen to those who spew complete nonsense, as long as they sound somewhat educated.
The truth is well explained in this short article and I’m sad to wonder how few people will come across the simple truth and many instead will listen to the nonsensical ramblings of many famous fitness stars and diet coaches etc…
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