This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
When you’re trying to lose weight you will probably hear the words macro counting. But what is it and how does it work for weight loss?
What are macros in a diet?
One way of dividing nutrients in food into 2 groups is by dividing them into “macronutrients” and “micronutrients”. Macronutrients are present in the human diet in a lot bigger amount.
Macros are also what provides your body with energy. Everything you do, including things like sleeping, eating, walking around,… require energy to do. The amount of energy in macros gets measured in calories. This means that calories are just another measuring unit for the amount of energy stored in something.
When your food contains more calories than you use, your body stores the excess calories on your body as body fat for later use. When your food contains less calories than you use, a calorie deficit, your body converts body fat into energy. It still needs to get the energy from somewhere.
Macros then get divided into 3 groups of their own:
These 3 groups are different possible macro components in food. In this simpler language this means most foods are not all protein, all fat or all carbohydrate. They usually are a combination in different quantities.
Each of these groups has its advantages and disadvantages for weight loss.
Macros vs calories for weight loss
What is then the difference between macros and calories for weight loss? Some people talk about them like they are the same thing.
Calories get used as the total amount of energy in all the food you eat. so for example 100 grams of nuts contain around 550 calories in different kinds of macros. If you’re only looking at calories it’s easy to know if these 100 grams fit within your daily calorie goal.
When people talk about macros they most likely have a certain macro ratio in mind. For reasons explained later you might for example decide for yourself to get 30% of your daily calories in protein, 30% in fat and 40% in carbohydrates.
If someone then says “this food fits within my macros” it means that adding the total amount of calories from each macronutrient group to their daily total doesn’t cross the boundaries for each macro group set by themselves.
What is the best macro ratio for fat loss?
Then the question becomes does the ratio of the 3 macro groups have any impact on fat loss?
The answer is yes, they have a different impact on your body. This can influence fat loss directly and indirectly.
There is not yet a golden ratio for fat loss known. However by knowing the advantages and disadvantages of the 3 macro groups it becomes a lot clearer in what range they should be when trying to lose weight.
Protein for fat loss
Eating enough protein is important for both your weight and health. Your body uses protein to build and repair countless of things inside you, including muscle.
Muscle is extremely helpful for fat loss. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn with everything you do 24/7. Consuming enough protein helps you build more muscle if you’re doing strength training and it helps you reduce muscle loss if you don’t.
Protein is also arguably the most filling macronutrient compared to the amount of calories in it. This means it can help you reduce hunger and cravings. Hunger and cravings are a big reason people fail to stick to their weight loss plan so that’s a big advantage of protein.
Simply converting protein into usable nutrients take more energy from your body compared to the other macros.
Do keep in mind that too much protein can also have negative consequences for your health. What a healthy amount of protein is for you depends on a few different things.
Not all protein is the same. Different sources of protein may also have different impacts on your health and weight loss. In general plant-based proteins and fish are considered to be the healthiest sources. However, getting your protein from animal based sources can also benefit weight loss.
Fat for fat loss
Fat has been demonized a lot in the past. The problem with that it doesn’t take into account that there are different types of fat.
A lot of fat heavy foods like fat, fish, avocados, nuts… are considered to be pretty filling and healthy.
The case on foods heavy in saturated fats isn’t completely clear. Again the difficult thing is that withing the “saturated fats group” there are different kinds of saturated fat. More research on saturated fats is needed but for now sticking to “healthier” sources of fat might be the safest option.
An advantage of foods with calories mainly from fat is that they don’t spike your insulin as much as carbohydrate heavy foods. Spikes in insulin can cause more hunger and possibly reduce weight loss.
All in all good sources of fat are pretty good for fat loss.
Carbohydrates for fat loss
A hot topic for weight loss is carbohydrates. Some claim it doesn’t matter, others say it’s the worst thing since un-sliced bread.
The carbohydrate macro group is a food category with a very wide spectrum. It has extremely bad foods for fat loss, like pure white sugar. However it also has good fat loss foods like whole grains.
In general, the carbohydrate-heavy foods are less filling than the other macro categories. They are more for peak performance during exercise. It’s also easier to overeat on them.
If you choose refined carbohydrates, such as soda and fruit juice, you will absorb this the calories in it quickly, increase insulin levels, and experience hunger within a few hours.
Choosing complex carbohydrates found in foods like fruit, legumes, whole grains, starchy vegetables will help slow digestion, minimize insulin spikes, and aid in weight loss.
The best macro ratio
To find the best macro ratio for you, you need to take the following steps:
- Find out how many calories you will consume per day
- Find out how much protein you need in calories so you can lose fat and gain muscle
- Fill the remaining calorie count with macros you will stick to
If you’re hungry a lot you might want to go for more healthy fats. If you can’t let those rice dishes go carbohydrates will be a bigger part of your daily ratio.
Try to construct a diet plan in which you eat a lot of whole foods so you don’t get hungry and one you will be able to stick to.
How do you calculate my macros for weight loss?
How does macro counting work for weight loss?
As mentioned most foods contain mutliple macros. To calculate your macros for weight loss you need to find out how many calories from each macro category are present in the food you eat.
With packaged food these numbers are normally available on the nutrition label. For whole foods you need to do some searching on sites like this.
Once you’ve done this you can start calculating what foods fit within your macro goals.
Does counting macros work for weight loss?
There are 2 main (combinable) ways to lose weight.
Reducing the amount of calories you absorb and increasing the amount of calories you use.
By choosing a calorie count that puts you into a calorie deficit and then counting macros so you stay within that count works for weight loss.
Do keep in mind that severe calorie restriction for an extended period of time can slow down your metabolism, the amount of calories you burn each day. It’s important to go for a healthy weight loss rate if you want to keep the weight off.
Some people do something called a “macro diet plan” in which they only look at macros not at source for macros. So for example all their carbohydrates are allowed to come from pure sugar.
Something like this is not adviced. It will leave you feeling hungry and you might not get enough micronutrients that come with whole foods.
Macro counting can help you lose weight if you do it the right way. However, claiming it is the only thing important for weight loss is probably not the best way to go either.