Macro Calculators and Trackers: What You Need to Know

What are macros and should you be tracking them?

Fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts
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Calorie counts are probably the first thing you look at when you look at a nutrition facts label. However, to get a better understanding of a product or meal, it’s helpful to look at macronutrients.
Food provides energy in the form of calories (which are actually called kilocalories). All foods provide calories, whether they have a nutrition label or not—and all foods have macros, too.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are defined as foods containing nutrients that your diet requires in large amounts. (Micronutrients, by contrast, are substances required in much smaller amounts such as vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.) The three macronutrients that humans need to survive and thrive are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats —you need all three, at least in some capacity.

Carbs

Carbohydrates provide us with quick energy, especially during exercise and if we get hungry in between meals. When we eat carbs, they are converted to glucose (sugar) in our body and are either used immediately or stored as glycogen for later use.

Carbs also promote digestive health because carb-heavy foods are often packed with fiber. Some examples of foods high in carbohydrates include grains, potatoes, fruits, milk, and yogurt. Other foods like vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds also contain carbohydrates, but not as many as starchy foods do.

Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks of many structures in our body. The protein we consume in our diet helps us grow, build muscle, repair injuries, produce hormones and enzymes, and fight illnesses, among other functions. Protein-packed foods include poultry, beef, fish, cheese, soy products, and some starches and vegetables.

Fats

Finally, fats are essential to almost all of our bodily processes. Dietary fat is required in order for our body to absorb any of the fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) we consume. Fat is also essential for insulation during cold weather and for allowing us to go long periods of time without eating. Plus, a certain level of body fat serves as a helpful energy reserve for endurance athletes.

Calories in Macros

Each macronutrient provides a particular amount of calories per gram.

Calories in Macronutrients

  • Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
  • Proteins provide 4 calories per gram
  • Fats provide 9 calories per gram

Alcohol, though not one of the macronutrients needed for survival, also provides calories. Each gram of alcohol is equal to seven calories.

The Best Macro Ratio

The federal dietary recommendations suggest that 45 to 60 percent of daily calories come from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent of daily calories come from healthy fats, and that the remainder come from proteins.

These recommendations are based on the fact that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel and the easiest way for the body to convert food into energy (as compared to protein and fats). The fat recommendation stems from the essential regulation properties of dietary fat.

However, every person is different. Many people thrive on a low-carb diet, while others feel like they need more carbs to function. Similarly, some people may do well on a high-protein diet, and others might get an upset stomach from too much protein.

Determining your macronutrient ratio depends on your health and fitness goals, and how certain foods make you feel.

Please note that the following ranges are generalizations. Specific macro trackers will vary in the proportion of macros they recommend depending on the certain diet being followed.

Macros for Weight Loss

A good daily macronutrient ratio for weight loss or fat loss is:

  • carbohydrates: 40 to 50 percent
  • protein: 25 to 30 percent
  • fat: 25 to 35 percent

Macros for Muscle Building

A good daily macronutrient ratio for building muscle or gaining weight is:

  • carbohydrates: 50 to 60 percent
  • protein: 25 to 35 percent
  • fat: 10 to 15 percent

Macros for Maintenance

To maintain your current weight and body composition, a good macronutrient ratio to follow is:

  • carbohydrates: 45 to 60 percent
  • protein: 25 to 30 percent
  • fat: 20 to 30 percent

Remember that although macronutrient ratios can be helpful, meeting weight-related health goals really comes down to energy balance. That is, you can look at what calories you're taking in versus the number of calories you burn. As long as you’re in a calorie deficit, you’ll lose weight; as long as you’re in a surplus, you’ll gain weight.

Calculation

The information above gives us macro ratios in percentages of total calories. However, nutrition information is given to us in grams, so we’ll want to figure out how many grams of each macronutrient to eat in a day.

There are two ways to calculate your macro ratio. One way that may be more difficult is by using an equation.

  1. First, determine how many calories you need in a day to reach your goal. Let's use 2,000 calories as an example.
  2. Determine your ratio. For instance, if you want to maintain your current weight, you'll use 50 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein, and 25 percent fat.
  3. Multiply your total calories by each percentage (don’t forget to move the decimal!). For example, 2,000 multiplied by .50 equals 1,000. So you get to eat 1,000 calories worth of carbs each day. That leaves you with 500 calories for protein (2,000 x .25) and 500 calories for fats (2,000 x .25).

So now you know how many calories worth of each food you'd get each day based on the example above. In terms of actual grams, we noted earlier that each macro offers a particular amount of calories per gram: 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein, and 9 calories per gram of fat.

Since you now have the calorie amount, all you have to do is divide the calorie number by each macro’s respective gram number.

Based on the example above, this means 250 grams of carbs (1,000 divided by 4), 125 grams of protein (500 divided by 4), and 56 grams of fat (500 divided by 9).

Luckily, you don’t have to do that all by yourself. The web is home to many macro calculators that will do this for you.

The Best Macro Calculators

Healthy Eater

Healthy Eater’s macro calculator is pretty straightforward. It calculates your macronutrient ratio based on your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. It gives you the option to calculate based on whether you want to lose weight, lose 10 percent body fat, maintain, or gain weight.

With this macro calculator, you can see your ratio in terms of all day (three meals, four meals, or five meals).

Price: Free

Muscle for Life

The Muscle for Life macro calculator is much more detailed. It asks for your weight, your body fat percentage, and your activity level. Using those factors, it determines your lean body mass (LBM), basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

This calculator also lets you pick whether you want to gain, maintain, or lose weight, and it will then auto-fill whether you need a calorie deficit or surplus. You can use the sliders at the bottom to adjust your ratio.

Tip: The Legion Athletics macro calculator is exactly the same as the Muscle for Life calculator.

Price: Free

Katy Hearn

The Katy Hearn macro calculator is super simple. It asks for your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. It gives you “recomp” as a goal option. Recomp refers to improving your body composition, or increasing lean body mass while decreasing fat mass.

Price: Free

Freedieting

The freedieting macro calculator is useful if you just need to get a breakdown from a particular calorie number. It’s not personalized and doesn’t ask for any of the variables needed to calculate the number of calories or macros you need. That said, it’s a great option if you already know how many calories you need.

Price: Free

IIFYM

IIFYM stands for “If It Fits Your Macros.” This is a phrase used by the macro-tracking community to refer to fitting foods in their diet.

This calculator gives you a step-by-step process to figure out your macros, and it collects your information with prompts. It also gives thought-provoking help. For example, if you tell it that you want to lose weight, it will ask how fast you want to lose the weight. If you choose the “fast and aggressive option,” the calculator informs you that this method of weight loss often comes along with elevated moodiness and cravings.

The IIFYM calculator goes further than the others by asking how active you are at work as well as how much exercise you get. This is important because the more information that goes into your calculation, the more accurate your ratio will be. This calculator also asks about your current diet, some medical conditions, and cravings.

Price: You must provide your email address to use this calculator

How To Track

So you’ve calculated your macros. Now what? "Tracking macros" refers to the process of adding up all the macros in your food throughout the day to make sure you’re eating according to your ratio. It’s like a food diary on a higher level. If that sounds slightly (or seriously) daunting to you, that’s because it could be if you were doing it on your own.

Luckily, there are many digital macro trackers available to you, so don’t fret! You don’t have to manually add up every gram of carb, protein, and fat you eat. Technology has made the process much easier.

The Best Macro Trackers

Just like macro calculators, the Internet is home to countless options for tracking macros. Many of them are similar or even nearly identical. Below is a breakdown of some of the best macro trackers.

MyFitnessPal

The free version of MyFitnessPal will give you a nice pie chart breakdown of your macros, which lets you see if you’re hitting your percentages. To begin tracking your macros in MFP, all you have to do is set your calories and then set your macro ratio. Once you start logging food, your pie chart will automatically update.

To get more macro feedback, you’ll have to upgrade to premium. The $9.99 per month subscription gets you features like food analyses, food timestamps, and weekly reports.

One of the best things about MFP is the massive database of foods and drinks, so you don’t have to manually enter each item you eat. You can also simply scan the barcode of any food you eat, which might give you more accurate information. (Some food databases include multiple, varying entries for the same item, which can get confusing.)

Price: There is both a free version and a premium version ($9.99 per month)

Cronometer

The cronometer tracker takes everything one step further: it tracks vitamins and minerals in addition to macros. It even allows you to track important biometrics, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, sleep, mood, pulse and more. Of course, you first have to have access to this information—so these features aren’t much good if you don’t regularly get a check-up.

Cronometer provides insight into long-term trends, so you can get a really clear picture of your overall health. While cronometer is impressive, it might not be the tracker for you if all you want to do is track macros.

Price: Anyone can sign up for cronometer for free online, but the mobile app costs $2.99 and the Gold membership is $5.99 per month.

MyPlate Calorie Tracker

The name on this one is misleading, because it does so much more than count just calories. MyPlate app is a product of LIVESTRONG and offers a handy daily snapshot of your macro intake. When you click on the chart, you’ll get a deeper breakdown that also includes some micronutrients. MyPlate also lets you track exercise, bodyweight, and water.

Price: There’s a basic version of the app for free, but a premium membership is $9.99 per month. The membership includes advanced statistics and an ad-free experience, among other features.

MyMacros+

MyMacros+ is another great app that allows you to scan a barcode to log food intake. It also has a database of more than 5 million food items. It also allows you to track body weight and enter custom foods, such as homemade recipes you eat often. You can log your food in any number of meals, so you aren’t restricted to just breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack.

MyMacros+ is also usable without the internet. This is helpful for tracking when you’re on the go or find yourself without service.

Price: $2.99 to download

Fitocracy Macros

Fitocracy Macros is an app developed by Fitocracy, an online fitness coaching platform. The macro-tracking app is free, and it’s best for people who want to manually track their macros. This app doesn’t yet have a database, so it requires you to manually input all of your macro information.

It does offer a nice weekly report of your average intake, as well as a full history of your calorie and macro consumption.

Price: Free

Do I Need to Track?

In short, no. However, many people are interested in learning how to calculate and track their macros should they ever find it useful. Tracking macros is useful for things like losing weight, prepping for a bodybuilding show, optimizing athletic performance, and building muscle.

Tracking macros can also be helpful for those who wish to implement flexible dieting.

Flexible dieting is a term that refers to eating in such a way that no foods are off-limits as long as they fit within the allotted macros. Flexible dieting is great for people who don’t mind tracking their intake and don’t want to feel restricted by cutting out foods or food groups. This is cohesive with the calories in/calories out notion.

However, there’s no real reason for most people to track their macros. The principles of a healthy diet are pretty simple: eat mostly unprocessed or minimally processed foods, drink enough water, get enough sleep, and move your body at least a few minutes every day.

Tracking macros is most beneficial for people who have very specific goals, such as winning a competition. For most people, tracking macros can be a nuisance. It’s very time consuming at first (though if you keep going, you’ll get much better at eyeballing portions), and it can be a hassle to remember to log every meal.

A Word From Verywell

Being knowledgeable about macros can be helpful in order to reach your health or fitness goals. However, calculating and tracking your macronutrients isn’t required to live a healthy, happy lifestyle.

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