Macro Diet For Dummies
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The macro diet, also called the macronutrient diet, macro eating, macro tracking, or the If It Fits Your Macros diet (IIFYM diet) is a balanced eating style that can be tailored to help you reach any health or fitness goal. So, if you’re looking to lose weight, gain muscle, get fit, or simply feel stronger and more focused throughout the day, this evidence-based eating plan has you covered. On this program, you track the amount of protein, carbohydrate, and fat you consume each day to reach personalized targets for optimal health.

How to track macros in 3 easy steps

The process for figuring out your ideal macro balance doesn’t have to be complicated. Just follow these three steps to get your numbers.

  1. Estimate calories. You need an idea of the number of calories you’ll consume on this eating plan. You can simply track your food (calorie) intake for a week to get this number. If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want to consume fewer calories than your current intake. If you want to gain weight, you’ll want to consume more, and if you are trying to maintain your weight, you’ll want to keep the number the same. You can also use an online calculator to estimate your caloric intake, like the one provided by the National Institutes of Health Body Weight Planner (

  2. Determine your ratios. Decide how much of each nutrient you want to consume based on your goals. Each target will be expressed as a percentage. For instance, if your goal is to gain muscle mass, then you’ll want a slightly higher percentage of protein because it helps to build and repair muscle tissue. You can tweak these numbers along the way, so don’t worry too much about getting them perfect when you are first starting the macro diet.

    The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) provides these recommendations for general health:

    • 10 percent to 35 percent of your calories from protein
    • 45 percent to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates
    • 20 percent to 35 percent of your calories from fat
  3. Calculate grams. When you know how much of your daily calorie intake should come from each macronutrient, you have to do a bit of simple math to get the number of grams to consume each day. You need to know how many calories are in each gram of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

    • Protein has 4 calories per gram.
    • Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram.
    • Fat has 9 calories per gram.

    Use this simple equation to figure out how many grams of each nutrient to consume:

    Total calories × target percent ÷ calories per gram

    Here’s an example to help you through this step. Let’s assume that the calorie target is 2,000 calories per day with a macro breakdown of 30 percent protein, 50 percent carbs, and 20 percent fat.

    For protein:

    2000 calories × 30% = 600 calories

    600 ÷ 4 grams = 150 grams of protein each day

    For carbohydrates:

    2000 calories × 50% = 1000 calories

    1000 ÷ 4 grams = 250 grams of carbohydrate each day

    For fat:

    2000 calories × 20% = 400 calories

    400 ÷ 9 grams = 44 grams of fat each day

    You can further divide each macro target into the number of meals you eat per day. For example, if you eat three meals per day (each about the same size), you’d consume about 50 grams of protein, 83 grams of carbohydrate, and just under 15 grams of fat per meal.

10 top tips for tracking macros

After you have your macronutrient targets figured out, you’ll want to count the grams of each nutrient that you consume each day. This ensures that you get all of the nutrients your body needs to be healthy in balanced amounts. To help with the tracking process, follow these tips:

  • Use an app. The easiest way to keep track of your macro intake is to use a smartphone app, like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer. Dozens of them are out there, and most of them have basic versions that are free.
  • Buy a digital scale. You’ll want to weigh your food (especially when you are first starting out) to make sure you are eating the right amount of food to reach your targets. As you get more comfortable with the program, you’ll get better at estimating portion sizes without the scale.
  • Plan meals in advance. Most people on the macro diet use meal prep strategies to reach their nutrient goals. It’s convenient and budget-friendly, too! Take one day per week and prepare several days’ worth of macro-balanced meals to keep in the refrigerator or freezer. Then you’ve got meals ready to go when you’re hungry.
  • Build meals around your primary target. Your goals may determine which macronutrient is most important for you. For instance, if you’re a runner, you want to make sure you consume nutrient-rich carbs to fuel your workouts. To make sure you get enough, build your meal around the primary target first and then add extras to your meal to get enough of the other two macros.
  • Take time off now and then. You don’t have to track your macros every day for the rest of eternity to be successful on this plan. In fact, you should take time off now and then just to give yourself a break from counting nutrients. Taking breaks helps to make the program more sustainable.
  • Don’t obsess. Your macros may not add up perfectly every day. That’s okay! Do your best to reach your targets, but don’t worry if your grams are off a bit. Nutrition labels can be off by as much as 20 percent, so there is already a margin of error built into the system.
  • Learn to read labels. A product might advertise on the front of the package that it is low in fat or high in protein, but the truth is found on the Nutrition Facts label (usually on the back or side of a product). This label is your most reliable source of information regarding the amount of each macro that is contained in one serving.
  • Get personal! Make sure your numbers are personalized for your specific goals and your lifestyle. Don’t use numbers that you see online or on social media. Those macro targets may be calculated for someone whose calorie intake and macro targets are very different.
  • Be realistic. The macro diet is wildly popular on social media. But sometimes, influencers post images that are simply not realistic. If you see images of your favorite celeb or social media influencer that look aspirational, keep in mind that there may have been several factors other than diet that went into that picture (such as lighting, Photoshop, supplements, or extreme training protocols).
  • Enjoy your meals! Continue to eat the foods that you enjoy. You may have to tweak portion sizes or meal frequency to meet your targets and your goals, but you need to enjoy eating if you want this lifestyle to be sustainable.

Sample macro foods

Most foods contain more than one macro. For example, cottage cheese is a good source of protein, but it also provides fat and carbohydrates. Use this list (or create your own with your favorite foods) to get an idea of the top nutrients in these common foods.

Macro Food Chart

Amount Macro Grams
Protein foods
Chicken breast 3.5 ounces 32
Cottage cheese 1 cup 24
Egg 1 large 6
Salmon filet 3.5 ounces 22
Tofu 100 grams 10
Tuna (canned) 1 can (172g) 40
Carbohydrate foods
Apple 1 medium (161g) 21
Beans (black, canned) 1 cup 40
Brown rice (cooked) 1 cup 52
Oatmeal (dry) 1/3 cup 18
Pasta (enriched, dry) 1 cup 48
Whole-wheat bread 1 slice 14
Fat foods
Avocado 1 whole 30
Butter 1 tablespoon 12
Nuts (almonds) 1 ounce (23 nuts) 14
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons 16
Olive oil 1 tablespoon 14

Lastly, remember to take your time when starting the macro diet. This isn’t a quick fix for weight loss or any other goal. Tracking your macros can be a lifestyle that changes with you as your needs change. Enjoy the process of cooking and preparing food that help you reach your macro targets and support good health and wellness.

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