The Macro Counting Basics

The Macro Counting Basics


We hear the words “Macros” thrown around a lot these days. Why would we care what a macro nutrient is? Well, they make up what calories we consume through food on a daily basis, and many people get confused on how to make losing body fat and gaining lean muscle tissue through food.

We all want results without having to either be set in a strict diet plan or having to do a lot of thinking about what we eat. Eating should not be a stress.  It is meant to be enjoyed. We all need basic knowledge on how to substitute different foods throughout each day to achieve our goals. So by learning the basics about macros we can know how to fit those delicious treats in, but still hit our calorie goals for the day. Sometimes we run out of groceries, or family and work functions come up. What do you do when someone surprises you with a homemade cookie they made and brought it to work? Do you just throw your goals out the window after you ate the cookie at work and devour what ever you want the rest of the day because it was not in your meal plan? It is very beneficial to know when we are vulnerable to excessive eating, and to pre plan what we are going to do in advance. But it doesn’t always happen. Get right back on track because the big picture is and should be staying at healthy body fat level and adding in daily activities long term. Studies show that belly fat and inactivity are the main contributors to strokes, heart disease, adult on-set diabetes, and that is why I developed my own style of teaching people how to include their favourite foods, for long term sustainable success. Many people just do not want to change enough to only eat whole nutritious foods. Let’s be honest, food is everywhere! Wouldn’t you rather know how to have a brownie AND lose body fat? Everyone would, but mainstream health and fitness says “YOU CANNOT” despite numerous studies showing you can.

I have coached hundreds of people over the years and have included huge amounts of so called “junk food” to very little depending on the lifestyle and food preferences/intolerances. 

A little 200 calorie cookie is not going to put a damper on your progress but throwing out the rest of the day and eating 3000-3500 calories can. Especially if you are doing this every week. If you are tracking macros, then you could either look up the average home made cookie on a calorie tracker and subtract the macros later in the day from a meal. It is super simple once you get the hang of it.

People want the body of their dreams, which easily can be accomplished and maintained.  However, fast fat loss results on a low calorie meal plan leaves you stuck when you drop the fat fast. What do you do once you get to your goal? It is more sustainable to learn the basics of what macro nutrients are in your food. Then you can make switches to your low calorie plan. Fitness is better thought as a life skill. So learning how to consistently manipulate and count macros is the ticket to your long term success. So instead of losing fat on a crazy diet once or twice a year (only to gain it back because it wasn’t flexible or sustainable), let’s learn to count macro’s!

So lets get into it.

Macronutrients or Macros make up the majority of our diets. There are three main macros: Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate. One gram of each macro has a calorie value.

  • 1 Gram of Protein = 4 Calories
  • 1 Gram of Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
  • 1 Gram of Fat = 9 Calories
  • 1 Gram of Alcohol = 7 calories
  • 1 Gram of Fiber = 2 calories on average (subset of carbohydrates)



Proteins supply energy, but the primary role of protein in the diet is for healing injured tissue and for growth and development in the body. “Alive: The Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition” describes the other essential function of protein in maintaining the immune system and hormonal balance. Examples of proteins fall under the meat, milk and vegetable food group. The meat food group contains both animal protein such as poultry, meat, eggs and fish, and plant proteins such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. The milk food group contains the protein foods milk, cheese and yogurt. The vegetable foods with protein content includes such items as peas, tofu, soybeans and lentils.  These are not complete protein sources however, and these would also be included in the carbohydrate category as well.


Carbohydrate foods contain sugars and starches to provide energy in the form of glucose. The body prefers glucose for the brain, central nervous system and red blood cells to function. The Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes for Macronutrients list the food groups consisting of grains, vegetables and fruits as sources of carbohydrates. Grains include foods such as whole wheat, rolled oats, barley, rye and brown rice. Corn, pasta, potatoes and breads constitute vegetables that contain carbohydrate in the form of starch. Fruit sources of carbohydrate food include apples, grapefruit, grapes, peaches and oranges.


Three forms of fat — saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — produce fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid that are required by over half the cells in the body, according to “Consumer Medical Journal.” Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for neurological growth and development. Omega-6 fatty acids form the structural membranes in cells and are required for normal skin function. Olive, avocado, canola and peanut oils contain monounsaturated fat; fish, walnut, safflower and corn oils contain polyunsaturated fats. As well as coconut oils, butter, eggs and meats have an abundant supply of saturated fats.

So the question remains, how much do I need of each?

It really depends on age, gender, height, body fat levels, weight, and activity levels.

For the sake of an example:

Jen is 31 years old and weighs 140 pounds,  she is a school teacher, so she walks a few hours a day, she exercises 4 days a week so she is moderately active and has no health issues. Since we do not know her body fat percent we will just use her body weight.

Typically if she has not been dieting, and has been gaining a bit of body fat the past 4-6 months she would start her calories off at the high end for a calorie deficit, which is 13 times her body weight. That way she has wiggle room to lower them at a fat loss plateau. (previous dieting may lower basal metabolic rate up to 15% in some cases)


A rule of thumb would be to aim for 0.8-1g per pound of body weight to help support lean muscle tissue with her activity levels. (We typically use approximate lean body mass pounds  which is fat pounds subtracted from your bodyweight. But for simplicity sake if you are over 160 pounds or so as a woman aim for the 0.8 per pound of body weight) Protein I would try to keep relatively the same grams daily as often as you can within 10 grams or so.


You will hear various opinions on carbohydrate recommendations. It depends on your carb tolerance, your body type, activity levels, and what you prefer as food choices daily. Seeing as your brain may burn through 100-125 grams a day and a workout can burn 30-70 grams  per hour on average lets go for a little over 1g per body weight. I’ll use 1.2 grams as an example.


Fats I do not like to go under 20% of total calories for men and 25% of total calories for woman. Fat is needed for hormone production as well as the other reasons mentioned earlier. So it really depends on how many grams of carbohydrates you choose to consume daily.

TOTAL CALORIES: 13 Times Bodyweight

1820 Calories

Protein 140g X 4 = 560 calories

Carbohydrates 168g X 4 = 672 calories

Remaining calories 1820-560 cals of protein,-672 cals of carbs, = 588 calories.

Fat 588 calories divided by 9 = 65g daily

We could take this one step further and divide the macros evenly with how many meals is appropriate for your daily schedule and preferences. It wouldn’t work if you like a small breakfast and large dinners, however. Try to pre plan a few of your meals to make sure you get your protein, (palm size for females if consuming 4 meals on average) Balanced macronutrient meals for most people seems to work the best for satiety.  In the above example, an average fist size portion of cooked rice, potato, beans, and corn, 3 times a day and two pieces of fruit would be close to the carbohydrate grams represented. If you are cooking with a tbsp of healthy oils and eating a few tbsp of nut butter, added into your meals that typically takes care of the fat grams represented above.

Remember your micronutrients!

I typically recommend a natural source multivitamin-multimineral, 2000-4000IU of vitamin D3, with a meal, 300-400mg of magnesium glycinate before bed and extra various nutritional supplements depending on the needs of the client. 

A probiotic (dairy free if you have food sensitivities) 10-100 Billion live cultures daily. 


Buy a food scale. Simple and easy, and for accuracy, it is very helpful. You can use measuring cups, and spoons and look at the nutrition labels on the food item. Many foods are labeled in grams on the package so weighing them can be very helpful. Record your portion size with the protein, carbohydrate, and fat grams. One very important factor is nibbles. Say you have 3-4 crackers and one candy while making dinner for example, but you decide to not track it or forget later. This is a usually daily habit that never gets recorded, these calories can easily add up. I would simply add in around 10 grams of carbs. or you nibble on cheese then add in a few grams of protein and fats to your totals. Try to be consistent. Self control is sometimes hard after a stressful day, so ball park those nibbles and subtract a little from your food intake.

Drink up! Get 2-3 liters of purified water, sometimes downing a large cold glass of water when food cravings hit may be just what you need to curb your appetite at that moment.

It can be hard tracking while eating out, especially if you cannot find your meal in a calorie tracker. The easiest way is to look at the portion sizes that you are eating and ball park how big it is. Now that you are a pro and have been weighing food it will be easier. Many restaurants label the meat grams on the menu, however if you are getting a sandwich or a dish, you are going to have to wing it. It isn’t a huge deal if you are a little off your macro grams. One thing to look out for is the added oils and butter on meals. Ask for it on the side or without oil or butter if the calories of the meal are not found on their site. It is advantageous to find the meal you want in advance online and record your macros. Or try to use familiar meals with chicken, meat and fish portions. I typically save 80 grams of carbs and 40 grams of fat for restaurant outings. Then you know if you have extra calories left even after eating out, you can have a snack later.

It gets easier over time! If you miss tracking a meal once or twice a week, do not sweat it. Just get back on track the next day. You can reuse your favourite days that you have tracked, over and over or just make one small meal or snack switch. If you drastically consume extra calories one day,  you can lower your food consumption the next day or later in the week. Enjoy the process. You will do great! Eventually you will be able to ball park portion sizes and be a pro!

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About the Author:

Founder of FitNSync and Fit N Flexible NCSF Certified Personal Trainer Author of "Finding Balance" 2015 Team Canada Natural Men’s Physique Competitor Published Fitness Model In Inside Fitness Magazine and Muscle Memory Magazine