Your macros are based on your age, height, weight, activity level, and your personal goals. The recommended ranges for adults are:
What is a Macro Calculator?
Tracking macros is a strategy many people use to meet their body composition goals. It can be more flexible than restrictive diets because all foods fit. Macronutrient tracking may be helpful in certain situations and counterproductive in others.
What are Macros?
Macros have become a popular focus of food tracking in recent years. People track their macros for various reasons, from boosting athletic performance to optimizing body composition.
Three macros, or macronutrients, make up the foods we eat– carbohydrates, fat, and protein. They give us energy and are responsible for performing many essential functions in the body, like building muscle. Each macronutrient has specific roles important for human health.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are made up of long or short chains of sugar molecules. These include complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates, and fiber. Rice, potatoes, and bread are complex carbs, while fruit, milk, and candy are simple carbs.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel. They are particularly important for giving your brain energy.
Dietary fats are made up of fatty acids. They are primarily classified into saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats generally come from animals, like butter, meat, and dairy products. Unsaturated fats tend to be found in plant foods, like olive oil and avocados.
Fats have many functions in your metabolism and are a component of hormones. Fat is also important for satiety or feeling full after a meal.
Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. High-protein foods include chicken, beef, dairy products, eggs, soybeans, legumes, and nuts.
The functions of protein include cell repair and building muscle. The amount of protein you eat can also help with satiety.
How to Calculate Macros
There are two steps in calculating your macros– first, you need to figure out your calorie needs. Then you can calculate how much of each macronutrient you need daily.
Finding Your Calorie Needs
Many different formulas and calorie calculators are available to help you find your estimated calorie needs. These are based on height, weight, sex, age, and activity level.
A popular formula is the Mifflin St. Jeor equation, which estimates how many calories your body burns at rest. It then adjusts that number to reflect the calories you burn in your daily activities and exercise.
Your calorie goal will also depend on whether you are trying to gain or lose weight, build muscle, or maintain your current weight. Determining the right calorie level to meet your goals can be tricky. Working with a registered dietitian will help ensure you have a healthy calorie intake.
Calculating Your Macros
Once you have your calorie goal, the next step is to use a macronutrient calculator to figure out your carb, protein, and fat goals. It is important to note that research has not identified one optimal macronutrient balance for everyone.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans instead recommends an Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for each of the macronutrients across different age groups. The macro ranges are calculated as a percentage of your total calorie intake.
The recommended macronutrient ranges for adults are:
- Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories.
- Protein: 10-35% of calories.
- Fat: 20-35% of calories.
There are free macro calculators online for men and women that you can use to estimate your needs, but these are generic and not based on your medical history or food preferences.
Tracking Your Macros
Most people who track their macros use a free calorie-tracking app. These work by calculating your calorie and macro intakes based on the foods you input into the app.
Macros vs. Calories
With macro tracking growing in popularity, you may wonder if it is more effective than calorie counting. The two methods are similar. Though macro tracking takes the focus off of counting calories specifically, it is still based on a calorie goal.
Research shows that the macronutrient balance of your diet matters. For example, a diet high in simple sugars and saturated fats can be counterproductive for weight management. Including adequate protein and fiber in your diet helps with fullness levels and proper metabolism functioning. Eating a mixture of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat with every meal helps you have stable energy levels throughout the day.
However, an optimal macro balance has yet to be discovered. Studies of calorie-restricted diets with various macro ranges have found that they all result in comparable weight loss over six months. This shows that a variety of macronutrient ranges can be effective.
Should I Track My Macros?
There are scenarios where tracking your macros may help you meet your health and nutrition goals. Many people choose to track their macros for a short time, like a week, to “spot check” and ensure they are not falling short on any macronutrients.
For example, a person who follows a vegan diet may feel concerned they are not eating enough protein. Athletes struggling with endurance may track for a few weeks to ensure they consume sufficient carbohydrates. You may choose to track macros if you feel your food choices are negatively impacting your energy or hunger levels throughout the day.
Pros and Cons of Macro-Focused Nutrition
Whichever reason you have for tracking macros, this approach has pros and cons.
Pros of Tracking Macros
The main benefit of tracking macros is that it takes the focus off of total calories and helps you understand the best balance of foods to eat. No foods are off limits, and all foods can fit into your diet if you do not exceed your macro goals. Many people feel this is a more sustainable, flexible approach than traditional dieting.
Cons of Tracking Macros
It is important to understand that body composition and metabolic function are very complex topics that are known to be influenced by more than macronutrients and calorie balance alone. Genetics, sleep habits, medications, and environment are just a few examples of the other factors at play.
Further, evidence shows that restrictive dieting is generally ineffective for long-term weight loss. Building sustainable lifestyle habits are the key to achieving positive health outcomes.
Lastly, evidence shows that intensive calorie tracking or dietary monitoring can increase the risk of disordered eating and eating disorders. If you have an eating disorder history, you may want to try an alternate strategy to optimize your nutrition. Using a tool like MyPlate can help you be aware of your macro balance without tracking.
Get Personalized Care Online with Nourish
If you are interested in learning more about tracking macros or other strategies for reaching your health and nutrition goals, sign up to meet with a registered dietitian through Nourish. Visits are online and covered by most insurance plans.