The Macro Diet: How To Calculate Your Macros + Pros And Cons

Analyzing the Customizable Approach to Macronutrients

Macro Diets provide guidelines for how to partition your total calories among the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.

There is no one cookie-cutter Macro Diet that everyone should follow because each individual has different nutritional needs and personal goals. Therefore, one macro diet breakdown for one person, may not be ideal for someone else.

Figuring out which breakdown works for you will help you achieve your goals. But, what exactly is the Macro Diet plan? Is the Macro Diet good for weight loss?

In this guide, we will discuss the principles of the Macro Diet, how to follow it, the different macro breakdowns, and the primary Macro Diet benefits and potential drawbacks.

Let’s jump in!

Healthy food surrounding a blank notebook.

What Is the Macro Diet Plan?

A Macro Diet plan dictates the relative percentage of each of the three macronutrients you eat. Macronutrients are the nutrients that provide calories/energy, and include carbohydrates, fats, and protein. 

Alcohol also provides calories, but it is not grouped within the other macros in a macro ratio diet because alcohol does not provide any nutritional value.

Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes like beans and lentils, potatoes and starchy veggies, and various other foods.

Foods high in protein include meat, poultry, fish, seafood, tofu, eggs, and low-fat dairy such as Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.

Healthy fats are found in olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, salmon, avocado, and peanut butter.

Note that for the sake of completion, micronutrients include vitamins in minerals such as vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, K, and all of the essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, etc.

Protein sources.

How Do You Follow the Macro Diet Plan?

There isn’t one set Macro Diet plan or single way to follow a Macro Diet split.

Rather, you can partition your calories from each macronutrient according to your weight goals, activity level, food preferences, and perceived benefits of eating more fat vs carbs, carbs vs fat, protein vs fat, etc.

Let’s take a look at some macronutrient breakdowns:

For example, some followers of a Macro Diet plan go with a 40/30/30 macro split, which involves consuming 40% of your calories from carbohydrates, 30% of your calories from protein, and 30% from fat.1Schoeller, D. A., & Buchholz, A. C. (2005). Energetics of Obesity and Weight Control: Does Diet Composition Matter? Journal of the American Dietetic Association105(5), 24–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2005.02.025

‌Other people who follow a macro ratio diet prefer a high-protein Macro Diet with something like a 40/40/20 macro split.

This would be 40% of your calories from carbohydrates, 40% of your calories from protein, and 20% of your calories from fat.

An endurance athlete like a marathon runner might prefer a high-carb diet with a macro split such as 60/20/20.

Carb sources.

This Macro Diet plan would provide 60% of the athlete’s calories from carbohydrates, 20% from protein, and 20% from fat.

Depending on the particular health resource you are looking at, the typical recommendations for macronutrient ratios for a balanced diet are along the lines of 50/20/30.

This would be 50% of the calories from carbs, 20% of your calories per day from protein, and 30% of your calories per day from fat.

However, the keto diet is a high-fat diet that aims to provide at least 70 to 75% of the calories from fat and only 5% from carbohydrates, so it is typically something like a 75/20/5 Macro Diet split.

Healthy fat sources.

What are the Benefits of Following a Macro Diet for Weight Loss?

There are several potential benefits of Macro Dieting, but the exact Macro Dieting benefits that you glean will depend on the specific macro ratio diet that you choose to follow.

For example, Macro Diet plans can have different metabolic and health benefits if you are following a high-fat low-carb Macro Diet vs high-carb low-fat Macro Diet.

However, when looking at a Macro Diet plan relative to other weight loss diets, there are some general benefits:

#1: The Macro Diet is flexible dieting.

No foods are necessarily off-limits unless you have a very polarized macronutrient ratio split. This gives you flexibility to choose the foods you want to eat as long as they stay within your daily macro targets.

A calorie dial.

#2: The Macro Diet is scalable for different caloric needs and physique goals.

So, you can follow a Macro Diet for weight loss, a Macro Diet for weight gain, or a Macro Diet for athletic performance.

For example, bodybuilders often use a different Macro Diet plan for bulking vs cutting. The athlete will probably manipulate the macro split as well as the total daily caloric intake on the Macro Diet for fat loss or to build muscle mass.

However, despite the flexibility benefits of Macro Diet plans and the potential health and weight loss Macro Diet benefits based on the ratios you use, there are also some inherent challenges and downsides to macro split diet plans.

#1: Macro diets are time-consuming.

The biggest challenge is that Macro Diets are cumbersome because you must be carefully tracking macros and all your food. 

With regular weight loss diets, you often pay attention to your total daily calorie intake—or perhaps the number of calories you are eating plus how many grams of protein you eat per day, to ensure you are getting the right amount of protein. 

However, with a Macro Diet plan, you need to keep track of everything you eat with a good food logging app, such as myfitnesspal, so that you have your fat, protein, and carbohydrate intake for every meal, snack, and drink throughout the day. 

You have to be precise with weighing or measuring every ingredient in your meals to have accurate macro calculations.

Nutrition planning with post it notes.

#2: Macro Diets can trigger disordered eating. 

This type of diet plan may be unsafe or unhealthy for someone who has a history of an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or who is at risk of developing disordered eating behaviors.

This is because you have to be meticulous with measuring your food and logging everything you eat. 

#3: Macro Dieting requires expertise.

There is an inherent lack of structure in the Macro Diet vs weight loss diet that provides more rigid outlines for the specific macro ratio you should be following or, even more precisely, what foods you should eat to reach your weight or health goals. 

You may be wondering, how do I figure out my macros?

Unless you are very self-motivated or knowledgeable about nutrition, trying to follow a Macro Diet plan without the guidance of a registered dietitian and nutritionist can be frustrating and may not help you achieve your goals. 

Even just deciding what Macro Diet meal plan you want to follow in terms of the ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that you want to have in your diet can be mind-boggling for a beginner. 

If you don’t choose the optimal macronutrient split for your calorie goals and needs, it is like selecting the wrong destination on a map and hoping to get to where you want to go—a recipe for failure.

A person calculating calories.

#4: Macro Diets aren’t inherently better for weight loss.

Some studies suggest that counting calories matter more than the specific macronutrient ratio that you follow.2Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

In other words, if you want to follow a diet for weight loss, what matters most is that you are in a calorie deficit

You need to be consuming fewer calories per day than you are burning. 

The caloric balance will have a greater impact on your weight loss than whether you are consuming more grams of fat vs grams of carbs or a high-carb diet vs high-fat diet. 

If you search the top nutrition research journals, you can find studies demonstrating the benefits of different Macro Diets. 

Some studies show that low-carb, high-fat diets for weight loss are more successful, whereas others find that low-carb diets for weight loss are better than high-fat diets. 

Still others suggest that a relatively even macronutrient balance is best for weight loss.

A calorie counting app.

What is the Ideal Macro Diet?

All of this is to say that the evidence is not yet clear, or there doesn’t yet seem to be an overwhelming consensus from dietary interventions to suggest that any one Macro Diet plan is better than another for weight loss. 

This isn’t to say that you can’t lose weight on a Macro Diet plan; rather, it is unclear what the best Macro Diet for weight loss would be. 

This is partially due to the fact that every individual has their own unique biochemistry, food preferences, metabolic leads, and physical activity habits. 

You may need to experiment to determine which macronutrient split is best for you if you decide to try a Macro Diet plan. 

Above all, consider working with a nutrition professional to help you find the best diet for your goals.

A person working with a nutritionist.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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