First, start with an online calorie calculator. (You’re not going to count calories, but this will help you figure out your macros). The calculator you use should ask for factors like your age, gender, activity level, and goal weight (or your current weight, if you’re trying to maintain it). It will estimate how many calories you need in a day to hit your target. “It’s not set in stone, but it’s a starting point,” says Salter.
To lose weight, lower your usual daily calorie intake by 100 to 250 calories, suggests Irick. That may not sound like a lot, but this way you can adjust to macro counting, give it time to work, and see a downward trend in your weight. “I am pretty conservative because for me as a coach, the goal is to keep you eating as much as possible while still seeing progress,” she says. Plus, if you reduce it too much, it’s hard to go any lower and adjust as needed when your weight loss hits a plateau.
Next, Salter suggests aiming for a number of grams of protein per day that’s equal to your weight in pounds. So a 140-pound woman should set her protein goal at 140 grams per day. You’ll notice that’s far more than the RDA of 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. In the latter scenario, a 140-pound woman would need about 50 grams of protein daily. Given protein’s important role in weight loss, you’ll want to consume more of it.
Then, fat and carb numbers will totally depend on your goals and taste preferences. Let’s say your calorie goal is 2000 calories per day. One gram of protein supplies four calories. If you’re eating 140 grams of protein, you’re getting 560 calories from protein. You have 1440 calories remaining to split between fat and carbs.
One gram of carbohydrate also supplies four calories, and one gram of fat contains nine calories. From there, you do the math (aka, count your macros). “You plug in and adjust the number of grams of fat and carbs that meets your taste and energy preference,” says Salter. For example, a healthy plate can be broken up as a four-ounce serving of protein, one to two cups of vegetables, one-half to one cup whole grains, and one to two tablespoons of fat via butter, salt, or salad dressing, adds Irick.
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Counting macros is a trial and error process, and it can take time before you arrive at a macros combo that works best for you. You’ll know you’ve found it when you feel good, have energy, can tackle your workout, and you start to move toward your weight loss goals at the healthy rate of 1-2 pounds per week on average.