Quick & easy macro calculator
Enter your daily calorie intake and desired percentages and the macronutrient calculator will provide you with a breakdown of your macros in calories and grams. After you’ve used the macro calculator, continue reading for more information on macronutrients and the pros and cons of counting/tracking your macros.
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To macro or not to macro: that is the question
Macronutrient calculators are all the rage these days, but does tracking your macro ratios REALLY make that much of a difference?
How much is science and where does the science end and the wishful thinking (or wishful shrinking) begin?
High protein, high fat diets have been around for well over a century and various iterations have come and gone, only to be resurrected in new packaging and marketing (i.e., “keto” diet).
Before I go on, here is my disclosure: I have no conflicts of interest and I am a non-denominational nutrition guy. I don’t buy into the hype or bullshit and I am not “on anyone’s team.”
What are macronutrients?
There are two main types of nutrients: micronutrients and macronutrients.
Micronutrients do not contain energy but they are vital to life and required for a number of essential cellular processes (i.e. as co-enzymes, or part of enzyme complexes).
The three micronutrients are: vitamins, minerals, and water.
Macronutrients are the nutrition rock stars and get all the attention. They are energy-containing, meaning they provide calories (or kilojoules), and fuel the your cells (i.e., muscle contraction or other energy-requiring cellular processes). Note that alcohol also contains energy but is not required for survival.
The three macronutrients are: protein, carbohydrate and fat.
A macronutrient ratio is just the ratio of your protein to carbohydrate to fat intake.
For example, if you eat:
- 20% of your energy as protein
- 50% of your energy as carbohydrate
- 30% of your energy as fat
Your macronutrient ratio would be 20:50:30.
Calories per gram of macronutrient
Here is a list of the macronutrients and how many calories per gram:
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- (1 gram of alcohol = 7 calories)
Manually calculating your macro grams
For easy numbers, let’s say you were on a 1000 calorie diet. If your macro ratio was 40% carbohydrate, 30% fat, and 30% protein, then your calories would be 400 calories of carbs, 300 calories each from fat and protein.
Now you have to put your division hat on:
- 400 calories divided by 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate = 100 grams of carbohydrate.
- 300 calories divided by 4 calories per gram of protein = 75 grams of protein.
- 300 calories divided by 9 calories per gram of fat = 33 grams of fat (33.3 to be exact).
Manually calculating your macro percentages
If you already know the macro grams and you want to determine percentages, you’ll have to put on your multiplication hat.
If you have 120 grams of carbohydrate, 90 grams of protein, and 60 grams of fat, you’d first calculate the calories as follows:
- 120 grams of carbohydrate multiplied by 4 calories per gram of carb = 480 calories of carb
- 90 grams of protein multiplied by 4 calories per gram of protein = 360 calories of protein
- 60 grams of fat multiplied by 9 calories per gram of fat = 540 calories from fat
Next, you have to add up all the calories to get the total, so:
- 480 + 360 + 540 = 1380 total calories.
To get your percentages, you divide the calories from each macronutrient by the total calories, so:
- 480 divided by 1380 = 34.8% carbohydrate
- 360 divided by 1380 = 26.1% protein
- 540 divided by 1380 = 39.1% fat
To cross check your work, you just need to ensure your percentages all add up to 100%, so:
34.8 + 26.1 + 39.1 = 100%
Protein is comprised of amino acids and is found in abundance in animal products and to a smaller extent in plants.
Some examples of protein-containing foods are fish, chicken, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, legumes.
Protein is used in the body to build and maintain muscle mass, organs (i.e., heart muscle), component of cell walls, and life-sustaining enzymes that govern cellular reactions.
To a lesser extent, protein can be broken down and used for energy, but this is only a small fraction of overall energy contribution. Most of our main energy needs are supplied by carbohydrate and fat.
Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred high octane fuel source. It is mainly found in plant products such as grains (rice, wheat, oats, bran) and all fruits and vegetables.
Carbohydrate is comprised of three types of monosaccharides (simple sugar) molecules: glucose, fructose, and galactose.
When you eat carbohydrate, your body breaks complex carbohydrate down into its component monosaccharides which are then absorbed into your blood and travel to target tissues where they’re needed.
The main form of “carb currency” is glucose. Glucose is the preferred fuel source for your central nervous system (brain and nerves) and is used as a major fuel supply during strenuous exercise.
If you’ve ever done a long hike or had an extremely high intensity exercise session but did not have enough food in you, maybe you’ve experienced what’s known as “hitting the wall” (when your blood sugar drastically drops and your body shuts down).
Unfortunately, carbohydrate has been unfairly maligned by Instagram “influencers” and so-called “diet gurus” who do not take on board the difference between high-quality nutrient-dense carbohydrates versus refined garbage like chips, candies, and colas.
Check out my article Carbohysteria, in which I dismantle the main slanders against carbohydrate.
Dietary fat is comprised of fatty acids.
There are four main types of fatty acids:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
Fatty acid saturation is a fancy chemistry term which describes the structure of the fat molecules that do not have double bonds between carbon molecules (i.e., all carbons are saturated with hydrogens).
As a general rule, fats that are solid at room temperature are typically saturated (i.e., butter).
When you perform long, slower-paced exercise like walking or jogging, your body can mobilise and oxidise fat to be used as a fuel source. With regular exercise training, it’s possible to push your fat burning threshold higher so that you’re able to mobilise more fat for fuel at higher intensities. This is an important physiological adaptation because it helps your body conserve its limited supply of liver glycogen which is needed to maintain blood sugar (see my comments above regarding “hitting the wall”).
Related article: Fat Burns in the Flame of Carbohydrate
Should I track my macros?
I’ve seen almost every diet come and go over the 30 years that I’ve been in the health field and, in that time, I’ve seen the resurrection of virtually every diet fad, the only difference being the brand name (but same old marketing script).
I’ll be up front and blunt and state that I think the whole macro tracking trend is out of hand. I’m not necessarily against counting macros, but I do believe there is a lot of misinformation and confusion around it. If macro tracking is done intelligently and without the cult-like fanaticism, it can be a useful educational tool.
Below I’ll list out some of the pros and cons to help guide you.
Pros of macro tracking
Fullness and satiety
Macronutrients provide you with a sense of fullness and satiety. Protein in particular has a greater satiety profile over fat and carbohydrate, increases thermogenesis (calorie burning), and helps build/maintain lean mass (i.e., muscle). So bumping up your protein percentage a little bit probably won’t hurt you and may help you feel fuller for longer and therefore less likely to overeat.
Many people are unaware of exactly how much food they’re putting into their mouths. So tracking macros can help raise your personal awareness of portion sizes as well as the amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in a variety of foods.
Over time, you will develop a keener eye for estimating serving sizes and can then take off the macro counting training wheels.
If you are feeling a bit stale in your food choices and looking for more variety (always a good idea), then counting macros can help you find equivalent substitutes. For example, if you’re feeling a bit stale on eating lots of chicken, you might want to substitute in fish for a change. So you’d just have to work out how much protein and fat it contains and work that into your ratio calculation.
Cons of macro tracking
Yes, calories in vs calories out is a big piece of the health puzzle, but by zeroing in ONLY on macronutrients, it can make you miss the big picture with regards to food quality (i.e., nutrient density). You might be so rigidly focused on making it “fit your macros” that you neglect to look at the larger picture and forget to include adequate fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Gateway to disordered eating
Tedious macro tracking can lead to obsessing over food and may contribute to disordered eating behaviours. It is an effort to weight out/measure food and, in some people with pre-existing eating disorders, macro counting may only exacerbate their problems.
In our busy lives, tracking macro percentages is just another ball in the air. In addition to food prep and cooking time, adding in meticulous measuring of each food portion can be an additional time suck that many people will be unable to stick with on a long-term basis.
Alienation and ostracisation
If you are strictly adhering to a rigid macronutrient ratio, you may find it difficult to eat with family, friends, and coworkers who do not share your enthusiasm for measuring every food portion.
Going to restaurants can also prove challenging because you do not know the precise amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in your meal.
If your macro counting begins to affect other people, then you may find yourself on the receiving end of fewer dinner parties.