What Are Macros + How to Calculate Them?


There’s a growing trend known as macro counting. Macro counting, also referred to as flexible dieting and IIFYM (“If It Fits Your Macros”), is a practice of knowing, tracking and eating in accordance with certain proportions of macronutrients – that is, the three main energy-yielding nutrients that make up all foods – protein, carbohydrates and fats.

The practice of macro counting began years ago in the bodybuilding world but it is now sprawling into the mainstream. If the more than 8 million #IIFYM hashtags on Instagram are any indication, we can expect to hear more about this trend in coming years.

So how does it work?

Firstly, you need to establish your total daily calories (or kilojoules). This number is unique to you and will vary depending on factors like your age, gender, goals, weight, height and physical activity levels.

Once you have determined this unique number, you can proportion it between the three macros. For example, someone with a total daily calorie intake of 1,800 calories and following a moderately low carb diet of 30% carbohydrates, 25% protein and 45% fat;

Carbohydrates = 1,800*0.3 = 540/3.991 = 135.3 grams

Protein = 1,800*0.25 = 450/3.991 = 112.8 grams

Fat = 1,800*0.45 = 810/9.01 = 89.9 grams

And of course, you would just round it to the nearest whole gram. There you have it! That’s how you calculate macros, simply?

Calculating macros can seem overwhelming at first, but it does get easier. Most nutrition professionals can help you work through the above calculations and numbers or will have access to accurate, professional databases. There are also a growing number of online nutritionists and coaches who do this sort of work. Just be cautious of the types of programs or formulas they use, as some can be more or less accurate than others.

How do you convert your macros into practice?

Perhaps where counting macros gets tough is the implementation stage. After all, we eat food, not macros.

We eat food, not macros.

To see how this works, I’ll put together a one day meal plan for our hypothetical moderate carb individual above.

Meal Food Carbs (g) Fibre (g) Protein (g) Fats (g) Total (cal)
Breakfast 2x wholemeal toast

40g avocado

1 tbs peanut butter

Small low-fat latte

38.6 7.1 19.8 22.6 450
Snack 30g blueberries

1 almond Quest bar

8.7 15.2 21.3 9.2 232
Lunch 115g firm tofu

15g baby spinach

40g edamame shelled

25g walnuts

¼ cup quinoa

14.4 9.5 21.5 48 588
Snack 1 medium apple

1 square dark chocolate

23.9 4.1 0.8 2.8 135
Dinner 100g chicken breast with bread crumb

½ cup brown rice

60g steamed broccoli

30g steamed carrot

30.6 4.1 39.9 6 347
 Total: 116.4g (26.5%) 40g (4.5%) 103.3g (24%) 88.6g (45%) 1753

The above was done using nutrition software. So the numbers are not necessarily going to add up to match the calculations above – although they’re pretty close! This is the reality of nutrition. It is not a precise science.

There are also complicating factors. An example is the non-digestible carbohydrates (NDC) including dietary fibre and resistance starch. In the meal plan, you’ll see I separated them out. But usually when calculating macros, most people include them within the carbohydrates proportion. This is despite NDC contributing significantly fewer calories than other carbs.

Macro counts are always going to be estimated at best.

Nevertheless, you now have a good idea of what counting macros can look like and how pretty involved it can be.

Lastly, disordered eating & counting macros

Any discussion of calorie counting or food tracking is incomplete without bringing awareness to disordered eating. This type of practice can be a major trigger for susceptible people. In this case, steering clear of macro counting is preferable and mindful eating or the non-dieting approach may be more suitable.

For more on building a healthful relationship with food and your body, please check out my other latest article:

How to view food as nourishment & enjoy it!


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About Jodie

(ANutr, GDipNut, BSc, BA) Jodie is the director of Moving Nutrition, a postgraduate university qualified nutritionist, personal trainer, ex-dancer and choreographer, and a new mum. Jodie specializes in mood (depression, anxiety, irritability, OCD), gut health, weight concern, and establishing a postive relationship with food. She is also knowledgeable in sports nutrition for recreational athletes and competitive dancers. The Moving Nutrition blog is here to educate, encourage and empower you to live your healthiest, happiest life, and is filled with simple, delicious, real food recipes. Jodie is on a mission to harmonize nutrition science and intuitive wellness. Stay in touch #movingnutrition Read More…

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