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What are Macros, and Should You Count Them?

By: Amanda Suazo
November 23, 2018

  • Macros, short for macronutrients, are the fat, protein, and carbohydrates that make up food and help you create energy. You can find them called out on nutrition labels.
  • When you count macros and adjust their ratios, you can use them to achieve health goals like losing weight, gaining muscle, or entering maintenance mode.
  • The Bulletproof Diet recommends a range of macronutrients that you can customize to help you feel your best — however, tracking them is not mandatory to success.

You may have heard of macros before, especially in reference to the ketogenic diet. You’ll hear references to “tracking your macros” or “food that fits your macros” — but what exactly are macros, anyway? And could counting macros help you lose weight or achieve other health goals?

What are macros?

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

Macros is the shortened term for macronutrients — the fat, protein, and carbohydrates that make up a food’s composition, and help you create energy. You can find them listed on the nutrition facts panel of most foods, or by using calorie counting apps and calculators.

Gram for gram, macronutrients are responsible for the calorie count in your food. One gram of carbohydrates provides 4 calories, one gram of protein provides 4 calories, and one gram of fat provides 9 calories. Alcohol is also considered a macronutrient and provides 7 calories per gram, but it adds no nutritional value to your body and is not included in most macro calculations.

When you follow a macro diet, you go beyond counting calories and focus on tracking macros. Depending on your health goals, you can adjust the ratios of macronutrients you consume to lose weight, build muscle, or enter maintenance mode. If you follow a ketogenic diet, you’ll also pay attention to net carbs as part of your macros to determine how many effective carbs you consume.

Macronutrients are not to be confused with micronutrients, the key vitamins and minerals your body needs in smaller quantities to do everything from regulating hormones to brain performance. Macros are also different from a macrobiotic diet, a fad diet with principles drawn from Zen Buddhism.

Is counting calories the same as counting macros?

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

Counting calories is not the same as tracking your macronutrients. The calories in, calories out approach (CICO) alone won’t tell you the balance of fat, carbohydrates, and protein in the foods you eat.

Related: The No.1 Reason You May Not Lose Weight on the CICO Diet

Macros zero in on the composition of your daily calories so you can alter each one for the most healthful impact. For example, you may unknowingly get 70% of your calories from carbs on CICO, which will make you feel much different than if that 70% came from healthy fats. With tracking, you can understand the source of the imbalance and adjust accordingly.

People who count calories alone may not see meaningful results in their diet. If you want to track what you eat, counting macronutrients is a much more productive approach to achieving your health goals. Plus, when you focus on the quality of your macros, you can increase your fat-burning potential while naturally regulating how many calories you consume.

Counting macros: key benefits

Learn more about your food

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

For anyone who has never tracked macros, learning the ratios of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in what you eat can tell you a lot about your dietary habits. After a few days, you may realize that you eat mostly carbohydrates or more protein than you should — and that adjusting their levels may make you more energized throughout the day.

Flexibility and customization

There are no one-size-fits-all macros — depending on your unique health goals, you can manipulate them to achieve different effects. And when special occasions come around, you can plan around them so you can join in the festivities without running your diet off the rails. This kind of flexibility may help you stick to a long-term eating plan.

More balance in your diet

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

Unlike some restrictive diets, counting your macros does not force you to eliminate entire food groups. Instead, you can focus more on getting the best balance of nutrients to amp up your performance.

When your macronutrients are balanced, you can also avoid some of the problems with overeating in one macro category (such as feeling fatigued after eating too many carbs, or feeling constipated from too much fat and not enough fiber).

Manage medical conditions

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

Some research suggests that managing macros may help individuals manage chronic diseases. Studies support the benefits of controlling macronutrients for conditions such as diabetes,[1] certain cancers,[2] and polycystic ovary syndrome.[3] For best results, consult with your healthcare team to determine how to safely manage your macros if you have a medical condition.

Drawbacks of counting macros

Lower-quality food (maybe)

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

The macro diet follows the philosophy that if it fits your macros (IIFYM), you can eat whatever you want (similar to dirty keto). However, this method is counterproductive to developing solid eating habits and achieving long-term health goals.

With no set standard enforcing high-quality food, you might eat nutritious meals every day — or eat three donuts instead if it fits your macros. This approach could lead to micronutrient imbalances, food cravings, and weight gain.

Potentially stressful

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

While counting macronutrients is a fun game for some, it can border on obsession and disordered eating for others. If you find that it causes you stress or creates an unhealthy view toward food, this approach isn’t worth practicing.

It takes time

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

Since counting macros allows for so much flexibility, it may take time to experiment and find the ideal balance for your body. With no single recommended approach, you’ll have to tailor it to fit your health goals.

Should you count macros? The Bulletproof stance

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

The Bulletproof Diet takes a loose approach to macros. As a general recommendation, you’ll get 50-70% of calories from healthy fats, up to 20% from protein, up to 20% from vegetables, and up to 5% from fruit or starch. The range allows for more customization depending on your dietary needs and goals — you don’t need to force yourself to hit certain numbers or count calories.

Beyond the ratios, the Bulletproof Diet also recommends a range of food group servings so there is no counting or measuring required. If you follow the servings on the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap and stick to “green-zone” foods, you can still hit your goals without the stress of tracking macros.

Unlike macro tracking alone, the Bulletproof Diet also recommends high-quality foods to fill your micro- and macronutrients without feeling foggy or inflamed. With clean meals, you can eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and have all-day energy — all with no mandatory tracking.

You can still count your macros on the Bulletproof Diet if you like, especially if you’re a beginner or have specific health goals in mind.

How to start tracking your macros

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

Tailor macros to your needs

First, narrow down a good macro range for you and determine your ideal carb intake and your ideal protein intake. You’ll need some basic details about yourself like body weight, activity level, plus a health goal such as gaining muscle or losing fat. To achieve the perfect balance of macros, you will also add enough healthy fats to keep you satisfied and an abundance of fiber-packed veggies to help you digest everything and support your micronutrient intake. (Check the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap for a good baseline of how much of these foods you should eat.)

Set yourself up for success

Scrutinize nutrition labels, and pick up a food scale to help you measure foods that don’t come with a label. Consider meal prep so you don’t have to measure for many different meals every week. Most importantly, decide how you will track your macros: Use a food tracking app, journal, or note on your phone so you can log all the data in one place.

Adjust and experiment

Macros differ depending on all kinds of factors, including gender, chronic conditions, age, weight, and many more variables. If one range doesn’t work for you, keep experimenting until you find one that does.

To tailor your macros, listen to your body and notice how you feel. You may perform best when you eat fewer carbs, or realize that you have more energy when you bump up the fat intake. Change one macro at a time to isolate an ideal level for each one.

Don’t stress

Don’t feel obligated to perfectly hit your macros every day. Finding the right balance and sticking to it may take trial and error — and if it causes too much stress, remember that you can still achieve your health goals without it.

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