Macros For Weight Loss: Do They Work And How To Count 2023
If you’re struggling to lose weight, you should make sure you’re eating the right balance of macronutrients — or macros — for weight loss.
Macros are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat, and—alongside being in a calorie deficit—eating the right ratio of macros is important to lose weight effectively.
But how important are macros for weight loss? Read on to learn the pros and cons of counting macros, the ideal macros for weight loss, and the best calorie-counting apps for the job.
Counting Macros For Weight Loss: Does It Work?
The short answer is yes. But the specific macronutrient balance you choose might not matter.
Scientific evidence shows that different diets with various macronutrient compositions promote similar weight loss—the crucial part is adherence to a hypocaloric diet.
In the short-term, high-protein and low-carbohydrate diets might promote faster weight loss and could be used to start your weight loss journey. However, after around six months, these diets are not easy to adhere to and hence might not be best for sustaining weight loss.
But sustainable weight management after the six-month mark isn’t dependent on the relative amounts of macros in your diet. What’s more important is ensuring you’re consuming the right amount of calories you need to sustain a lower weight — and counting macros helps.
What Are Macros?
Macros are short for macronutrients — the main essential nutrients in the diet. Carbohydrates and fats provide our main sources of energy, and proteins provide the building blocks for muscle growth and metabolism.
One of the most important macros for weight loss is protein. This is thought of as the most filling macronutrient, helping control hunger levels and reducing overall calorie intake.
However, more recent studies suggest that the control of hunger hormones and satiety is more complex than simply eating more protein, and that simply meeting the recommended daily value is sufficient to control hunger.
Conversely, the most energy-dense macronutrient is fat. Studies suggest that the fat content of the diet is more important than carbohydrate content when it comes to weight management, with a higher fat content associated with a greater risk of obesity.
But if there are so many studies suggesting you can lose weight with completely different macros for weight loss, how does counting macros help you lose weight? And which are the most important macros to count?
Does Counting Macros Help You Lose Weight?
Yes, counting your macros and counting calories can help you lose weight. Studies show that most smartphone diet-tracking apps accurately calculate calories and carbohydrates and promote self-efficacy by helping you progress toward your weight loss goals.
Many people ask: “what should my macros be to lose weight?” In fact, there’s not one answer: it’s different for everyone. So, when it comes to tracking macros for weight loss, it’s important to personalize your macronutrient requirements and know which macros you need to track to reach your weight goals.
We’ll get to the most common macro ratios later in the article, but first: what are the main pros and cons of calculating and counting your macros?
Pros And Cons Of Calculating Macros
As long as you’re following a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, there shouldn’t be many problems counting macros for weight loss. However, there are pros and cons to calculating your macro intake.
Greater Weight Loss
One plus of calculating and tracking your macros is that you’re less likely to overshoot on calorie and fat intake and hence will be more likely to lose weight.
All in all, we’re not very good at accurately estimating our calorie or macronutrient intake. Studies show that you’re much more likely to maintain weight loss if you continuously monitor your diet and modify your weight loss goals accordingly.
Plus, tracking your fat intake will ensure you don’t overeat on fat — the greatest predictor of weight gain.
So, if you don’t track your macros, you’re more likely to stagnate en route to your weight loss goals or suffer weight regain.
In fact, it turns out that the macronutrient composition of the diet itself is not the strongest predictor of sustainable weight loss. What’s more important is your level of motivation which can be enhanced with a diet-tracking app.
Diet tracking apps can improve motivation and help you continually revise and reset your health goals, which is more likely to keep you motivated to stick to your calculated calorie intake.
Moreover, self-efficacy for physical activity is another strong predictor of successful weight loss, and most diet-tracking apps include activity tracking too.
Improved Body Composition
Muscle weighs more than fat, but it’s important to maintain muscle mass when losing weight.
A low-calorie diet can promote lean mass loss, which increases the risk of sporting injuries, bone fractures, and generally poor health. It also can slow down metabolism long-term if you lose lean muscle.
Optimal protein intake recommendations suggest that most people should aim for at least 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, while those doing more physical activity or aiming to build muscle should aim for 1.4-1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
Studies suggest that the body is not able to process more than 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.
So, by following a low-calorie diet and prioritizing protein intake, you can lose weight and preserve muscle mass simultaneously.
Better Overall Health
Counting macros forces you to eat a healthy balance of fats and carbohydrates, and this can lead to better health, such as the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Macro counting can be time-consuming—especially if you calculate and count exactly how many grams of each macronutrient you’re eating.
You have to weigh out all your food and enter it into an app on your phone to keep track of what you’re eating throughout the day. This might be overkill for some people, but certain people find it very hard to stay on track without counting the grams.
If you have a strict limit on the number of grams you’re eating of a certain macronutrient, you might not be able to eat what you’d like for much of the day.
This especially applies to a low-carb, high-fat keto diet. If you’ve hit your net carb intake by lunchtime, you’ll have to avoid all carbs for the rest of the day to stay in ketosis.
Conversely, following a high-carb, low-fat diet might easily overshoot your calculated daily fat grams and have to forego the olive oil in your next meal.
However, if you’re good at planning your meals ahead of time, this should be less of a problem.
Low Diet Quality
Focusing on macros might take away from prioritizing getting all the right micronutrients for optimal health.
For example, most diets are deficient in essential healthy fats and fiber, but focusing on macronutrients usually doesn’t involve thinking about the type of fat or carbohydrate.
What’s more, counting macros doesn’t encourage variety. However, varying the types of foods and fiber in the diet might be another important factor in promoting healthy weight management.
Loss Of Lean Mass
A low-calorie c diet can lead to significant loss of muscle mass, especially in women. The risk increases as you age, too.
Luckily, studies show that eating a high-protein diet can prevent losing lean mass during weight loss. However, older adults need more protein to maintain muscle mass while losing weight.
Ensure to track your calorie and protein intake, and aim to eat at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, or more if you’re physically active.
Also, following a very low-calorie diet is more likely to have adverse effects in women compared to men, such as hormone imbalance.
For example, regularly not eating enough calories signals the female body to shut down reproduction, reducing sex hormone production.
In men, studies suggest that losing weight on a very low-calorie diet can also significantly reduce sex hormone levels and negatively affect metabolism.
Best Macros For Weight Loss
There is no perfect macro balance for weight loss. It depends on your goals and lifestyle. Here are some common macro ratios to help you achieve a calorie deficit for weight loss.
High Protein Diets
If you’re tracking macros for weight loss and muscle gain, counting your protein intake will be the most important.
No matter what macro balance you follow, ensuring you’re getting enough protein is essential for satiety, health, and maintaining lean mass.
Exactly how many grams of protein do you need? Studies show that eating 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is optimal for satiety and weight loss. If you are active, however, you may need more than this.
If you’re following a keto diet for weight loss, tracking your carbohydrate and fat intake is critical to ensure you stay in ketosis—which is when you burn fat as your main energy source.
You’ll want to keep your net carbohydrate intake low so your body doesn’t switch back to burning carbs for fuel, which is a faster source of energy.
Of course, eating enough protein is also essential to maintain muscle mass and stay healthy, so you’ll need to track this too. In fact, some studies suggest that it’s the relatively high protein content of low-carb diets that leads to weight loss.
Although many studies suggest that a ketogenic diet works well for short-term weight loss, we don’t have much long-term evidence for sustainable weight loss past six months.
Most people have long-term difficulty sustaining a ketogenic diet, which is why other macro ratio options might be better for sustainable weight loss.
There’s also lots of evidence that a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet—such as a healthy plant-based diet—can lead to significant weight loss and long-term sustainable weight management.
However, simply switching to vegan alone won’t lead to weight loss necessarily — eating more whole plant-based foods and minimizing refined carbs like pizza and white pasta is key. The biggest predictor of weight loss on a vegan diet is eating more beans and pulses.
This is the easiest macronutrient balance to follow and hence probably the best for long-term weight loss. Your calorie intake will generally come from 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat.
A low-fat diet is also associated with lower overall calorie intake and higher energy expenditure (i.e., calorie burn).
However, a very low-fat diet might not be healthy, especially for brain health as the brain needs essential fats to function. Also, women are at risk of issues with hormone balance as discussed earlier.
Macros For Weight Loss Female
The daily macros for weight loss in women differ from men.
For example, women need fewer overall calories than men but have a higher body fat ratio. Studies show up to 37% of normal-weight women have too much body fat and not enough lean mass.
Moreover, pregnant or breastfeeding women need more healthy fats in their diet, especially essential omega-3 fatty acids.
How To Calculate Macros To Lose Weight
The next question is: how to count macros for weight loss?
First, you’ll need to use a macro calculator. There are plenty online to choose from. You’ll need to enter some personal information, such as your gender, current weight, weight loss goals, and how fast you’d like to lose weight.
If you want to follow a specific macronutrient balance, such as a high-fat or high-carb diet, you’ll need to choose a calculator where you can modify the macro ratio. Some nutrient-tracking apps, such as MyFitnessPal, have this feature built-in.
The calculator should then tell you how many calories to eat per day, along with how many grams you should consume of all the macros: carbohydrates, proteins, and fat.
Then you’ll need to use a nutrient-tracking app such as Cronometer.com or MyFitnessPal.com to ensure you’re hitting your macronutrient targets for weight loss.
After you reach your weight goal, you can increase your calorie intake and should recalculate your macros for your new daily calorie target to maintain your weight.
Counting your macros for weight loss is one of the most effective ways to lose weight because it keeps you on track with your daily calorie and nutrient needs.
There are many macros for weight loss calculators available for free online, and you can use a macro-tracking app to ensure you stay on track.
One thing to watch out for when calculating your macros ensuring you’re getting enough protein to support your physical activity level and ensuring you are getting enough essential fats for your life stage.
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