Counting Macronutrients


Counting macronutrients is vital when it comes to nutrition. Many people believe that balanced nutrition is based solely on consuming the calories you need.

However, this approach is wrong for being too reductionist: it assumes that all calories are equal.

Science has long shown that knowing that counting macronutrients is just as important as counting calories.

But for many, counting macronutrients is a challenging and complicated task.

This article will learn how to count macronutrients with a scientific and straightforward method to bring you results without complicating your life.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are substances that either provide energy to the body or serve for growth and regeneration functions. They are found at least one of them in all foods and are essential for our cells’ proper functioning.

They are divided into three:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Fats

If you want to know more about them, remember that we have an article about proteins (and essential amino acids), fats and cholesterol, and carbohydrates.

Why counting macronutrients is important?

For decades, nutritionists’ basic premise was that all calories are equal regardless of their origin and that people get fat because they eat more calories than they expend.

From this point of view, it is not surprising that many experts suggest a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates if we consider that a gram of fat has 9 Kcal and a gram of carbohydrates has 4 Kcal, that is, just over 50% fewer calories.

Unfortunately, this method does not work.

You have to check how, since the war on fat began, there are more and more obese people.

Caloric Restriction

It has been proven that a caloric restriction leads to a decrease in caloric expenditure that ends up slowing down weight loss and generating symptoms such as an obsession with eating, constant cold, or feelings of sadness.

However, there is another current of thought. It is proposed that obesity is actually due to a disorder in the expression of hormones and enzymes in our body, caused by specific foods in our current diet.

For example, the expression of some hormones such as insulin, glucagon, or leptin, whose function is to regulate the storage and use of fats, is related to the number of macronutrients we eat daily.

This macronutrients counting approach understands that even though two foods have the same amount of calories, their macronutrient ratio can differentiate between beneficial or detrimental to your health and your figure.

This, as fiction, as it may seem, is a matter of common sense. If we measure the calories of 1 a piece of bluefish versus a glass of Coca Cola, the fish will lose out, but we all agree that eating fish is much better than drinking Coca Cola.

As you read this, the good news is that the Nutrition Science Initiative has launched a multi-million dollar program to conduct more scientifically rigorous nutritional research and find the reason that causes the problems we currently suffer from—related to food.

How to calculate the amount of macronutrients to eat

Now that we have done this introduction, we will see how to calculate protein, carbohydrates, and fat. In this calculation, we have not gone deeper into the nutritional richness of foods (for example, egg protein, which has all the essential amino acids, is better than that from soybeans).

First, we calculate the amount of calories that a person needs approximately:

  • In general, we can say that the energy consumed by a person is: TDEE = (BMR + TEF + NEAT) + Ex + EPOC
  • Both BMR + TEF + NEAT are the calories you spend at rest, that is, what your basal metabolism consumes.
  • This added the calories expended doing an exercise (Ex = exercise and by EPOC = Post-exercise effect).

To calculate it, it is best to estimate the macronutrients for a rest day, and we will extrapolate it to a training day.

From here, we start the calculation of protein consumption.

How to calculate protein?

The WHO (World Health Organization) recommendation for an adult person is a minimum of 0.66 g protein for each weight kilogram.

These values ​​can often be confusing considering that the WHO establishes minimum requirements to avoid nutritional deficiencies, that is, the minimum to avoid being malnourished.

Our proposal differs a bit considering that health is not only that your life is not at risk but that you are in the fullness of your physical and mental capacities. We have added a little more protein to what is recommended by the WHO.

This table will help us select our necessary amount of protein-based on our level of physical activity and your goal:

Activity levelLose weightBe healthy Gain strength
Very active1.81.82
Super athlete2.62.62.8

Remember that these amounts indicate grams of protein per Kg of body weight, as we already explained in this article.

How to calculate carbohydrates?

Calculating carbohydrates is somewhat more difficult because scientific data diversity does not allow a more clarifying perspective on the amounts needed per day.

It is also true that many nutritionists use tables to calculate carbohydrates that do not correspond to body weight.

For example:

  • Glycemic intake goal (g / day)
  • Ketosis 30
  • Low carb sedentary diet 100
  • Sedentary person 116
  • Inactive person 132
  • Active Person 141
  • Very active person 150

Among the calories that a person tends to consume, weight and body composition are considered one of the most important variables. To give an example, a 50 kg girl consumes 1500 kCal while a 100 kg big man can consume 2800 kCal, and if we provide the same recommendation for both, one may have a deficiency and another a large caloric surplus.

Suppose we have already coherently calculated the proteins with the body weight. In that case, it is coherent to do the same with the amount of carbohydrates to complement each other instead of working independently and in parallel.

There is, however, another problem. The only studies that we found that spoke of carbohydrate consumption based on weight were in the context of high-level athletes.

Calculating Carbohydrates

For these cases, the proportion and quantity of carbohydrates were very high (up to 12 grams per kilogram of weight on days of activity and a minimum of 3 grams per kilogram of weight on rest days). Almost 70% of all calories in the diet and intakes of items with a high glycemic load such as bread and pasta are food and not products.

For this reason, for the calculation of carbohydrates, we have used an article from The British Journal of Nutrition in 2010, in which Dr. Remko S. Kuipers proposed various Paleolithic diet scenarios with an animal/vegetable contribution range of 30% – 70% to 70% -30%, with a carbohydrate ratio around 40%.

And those would be the parameters that we will use to calculate carbohydrates.

And from this approach we will also use the following premises for food:

The protein is of animal origin. Carbohydrates are of plant origin. Fat has a mixed origin:

Meat 22%4%
Olive oil100%0%

With the premise that this is valid for a regular diet but does not work for eating protocols such as the ketogenic diet, whose purpose is the mobilization of fat stores. If your interest lies more in this branch, I suggest you get your free ketogenic diet eBook.

Amount of Protein based on the Activity Level

Our proposal differs a bit considering that health is not only that your life is not at risk but that you are at the top of your physical and mental capacities. We have added a little more protein to what is recommended by the WHO.

This table will help us select our necessary amount of protein-based on our level of physical activity and your goal:

Activity level CaloriesIndex Increase concerning BMRBMR
(Basal Metabolic Rate)
Very active1.55258455%
Super athlete1.9316790%

Remember that these amounts indicate grams of protein per Kg of body weight, as we already explained in this article.

How to calculate fats

Fat is the easiest to calculate because, by default, you have to fill your caloric needs after subtracting proteins and carbohydrates.

If you like calculations, the formula would be similar to this:

FAT TO EAT = (TDEE – (Grams of protein x 4 kCal) – (Grams of carbohydrates * 4 kCal)) / 9 kCal

Indeed, part of the pure fat you will eat (as in oils) will depend on the protein you have eaten since animal protein sources contain a significant fat percentage.

And that’s it, that simple.

But counting macronutrients for a day of physical activity is missing.

In reality, the formulas would not change much, but the calories needed would increase.

Let’s go for it!

How to calculate macronutrients on a training day

A training day is a rest day in which we expend the session’s energy and the energy used by the higher post-exercise oxygen consumption.

For example, a person on a rest day spends 2000 kCal, but on an exercise day, he spends 2500 kCal.

This person is expending 25% more energy and should increase that extra in their diet.

If you remember what was explained in our previous post, to calculate the TDEE, we used the BMR multiplied by a factor determined by the level of activity.

Each of these factors results in a jump of approximately 20% relative to the BMR.

We could say that a person with little physical activity raises her caloric expenditure by 40% in a training session is no longer at the passive person’s level but rather an active person.

And after testing many mathematical models on caloric intake, we have opted for a proportional increase of each macronutrient to increase caloric expenditure.

How to measure macronutrients on the ketogenic diet?

In the ketogenic diet, you can follow a series of similar formulas based on the following proportions:

Follow the same recommendations with proteins:

  • 70% of the total calories expended must correspond to fat
  • The rest, fill it with grams of carbohydrates.

In total, you will have approximately: 

  • 70% fat, 
  • 25% protein, and only 
  • 5% carbohydrates to stay in ketosis.

If you want to avoid these calculations, a practical way is to use our macro calculator in our ketogenic diet course. You can enroll in its free version here:

Conclusion on how counting macronutrients works

You are surely wondering why so much formula, and we do not give recommended absolute numbers.

The answer is that due to our scientific objectivity, it is essential for us not to give general recommendations for everyone, but something that is completely adapted to you.

We have done the best we know to conform to scientific rigor and the evolutionary diet guidelines.

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