Macro Counting Q&A – The Real Food Dietitians

Wondering what ‘macros’ are or if macro counting is right for you? Check out this Macro Counting Q&A with Laura Ligos, MS, RD to get the scoop before you take the leap.

Take it from an expert.

Today we’re thrilled to have fellow Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Laura Ligos of The Sassy Dietitian, joining us to share her expert insight on macro counting. Like intermittent fasting, macro counting has quickly become popular in the health and wellness world so that’s why we’ve asked Laura to share her expert opinion and advice to help you decide if it’s a good fit – or not!-  for you (in case you were wondering what it was but were too shy to ask or too busy to do the research).

Macro Counting Q&A: The What and the Why brought to you by Laura Ligos, MS, RD

Every week there seems to be a new fad diet on our news feeds, in the media or in our community. We see our favorite friends, celebrities, athletes, and influencers doing something new with their diet, and we want in! While some of these fads certainly need to be avoided, others, like macro counting have a time and a place. This blog is to help you learn what macros are, how to use them, if you should use them, and what the big deal is.

Just know when it comes to your diet, you are in the driver’s seat. When you get lost, a knowledgeable coach is the way to go so that you can get help tailored to your specific needs and goals. After all, you’re unique, why isn’t your diet?!

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. We do not support nor discourage the use of macro counting but rather, want to make the information available to you in an accurate and non-biased way so you can decide what works best for you. If you need more detailed information or have questions about your personal nutrition needs, we strongly encourage you to work with a qualified nutrition professional. 

What Are Macros Anyway?

Ah, yes, the lovely “if it fits my/your macros” conversation again. I get asked almost daily about someone’s “macros” and if they are doing it right, if they should be doing it, if they should change anything, and what in the world macros are anyway. So before diving down the rabbit hole of why someone would use macros for their diet, health, and/or performance let’s first break down what a macro is anyway. The word ‘macro’ is short for macronutrient and ‘macros’ refers to the practice of macro counting. In layman’s terms, macros are simply the major nutrients/components found in edible food (plants, animals, etc.) known as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that are required for you to live, breathe, and function. I wrote a whole post here breaking each macro down for you.

Now that we know what macros are, we can see why one would want to focus on them while trying to improve their diet. So let’s take that deeper dive now.


What is a Macros Diet or Approach?

Macros are the basis for your diet and many people are currently boasting that by counting your macros (basically a new way to count calories) you can lose weight, improve body composition and even balance hormones. The funny thing is that macros are nothing new. In fact, dietitians, the original “macro coaches” are trained on what these are from the get-go in their studies.

We are taught what macros are, how they are digested, absorbed and utilized in the body and how to calculate needs for our clients. Very rarely would we give specifics to our clients as far as macros go unless they were critically ill patients on tube-feedings or are elite athletes that have elevated needs and are looking to get 1% better.

That being said, many regular folks have had success tracking their macros for weight loss, weight gain, body composition change, and more. This approach is designed to help you figure out the best breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and protein that you need to reach your goals and fuel your life. It involves the use of an online tracker, like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal, to determine your daily breakdown of protein, carbs, and fats to help hold you accountable and keep you honest with your macro intake.


How to Find Your Macros?

This is a somewhat loaded question in that it cannot simply be answered in a blog post. While we can certainly give some blanket statements, it really depends on the person. To determine a person’s macros you must know a good deal about them. Things to consider include objective data like height, weight, sex, age, and body fat percentage. From there it’s important to know activity level and type, non-exercise activity (i.e. how many steps you take in a day not exercise-related), hunger, energy, performance, and most importantly goals. It’s not as black and white as one would think as the human body is an amazingly complicated thing.

Not sure where to start? For the majority of people, once they know their general caloric needs*, they can divvy up their macros as follows:

  • Carbohydrates: 40-60%
  • Fats: 30-35%
  • Protein: 20-30%

A general rule of thumb is that the more active you are, the more carbohydrates your body needs. However, it’s hard to generalize, so you could start somewhere in the middle (say 50% carbs, 30% fat, 20% protein), track for a month and see if you are able to hit your goals, fuel your performance, and maintain energy levels. If not, it may be time to work with a coach and/or adjust your macros. Just make sure you are eating ENOUGH! I’ll let you in on a secret, 1,200 calories are enough for a 4-5-year-old NOT a grown adult, read more about that here.

*To find your general caloric needs, try using an equation like this one. 


Filling Your Macros with Quality, not just Quantity

Okay, a quick note on quality. Certainly, there are loopholes with macros. You could approach it from a numbers only game, and while it may get you somewhere, in the beginning, it’s not something I recommend for long-term health. While ice cream or cupcakes or pizza can fit in there, it shouldn’t be the only thing fitting in there. I recommend taking a look at your micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc.), more on that here, and focusing on the quality of the macros you are consuming for both short and long term health benefits.


Who are Macros For?

It depends. While macros can indeed work for some, they may not be the answer for others. It also may work for you in the short-term but not in the long-term, and that’s okay too. I find that macros can work for anyone if they are able to recognize that it is a short-term approach that is not meant to become obsessive or restrictive or last a lifetime.

When I ask many of my clients if they want to be counting macros into their 90s, they laugh, because they recognize that they do not want it to be a lifelong tool. So who is this macro counting approach good for?

Macro counting may be good for someone who is…

  • Looking to understand portion control
  • Interested in weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance but isn’t sure if they are eating the right amount of protein, fat, and carbs
  • Interested in improving the quality of their diet
  • An athlete trying to improve performance
  • Someone who may be suspecting food allergies/intolerances and needs to determine if their current diet is serving them appropriately

The major point of macros is to learn how much you are currently eating versus how much your body actually needs. Tracking can be a big “ah-ha” moment for many and a good accountability tool.


Who are Macros Not For?

Once again, it depends. Honestly, some may not know if it’s for them until they try it out.

Macro counting is not for someone who…

  • Has a tendency to have a poor relationship with food
  • Has a history of food restriction or disordered eating
  • Is not willing to make lifestyle changes to support the extra time/effort to track
  • Finds that weighing, measuring and tracking adds more stress than success in their life

If you find that tracking macros causes you to become obsessed with food as numbers instead of food as food, it might be time to give it up. Tracking is just one tool in the health and nutrition toolbox – it is not the only tool. So, while some may find complete success and comfort in tracking the macros of their diet, others may find it causes more harm than good.


How Long Should You “Do Macros”?

You guessed depends! I have found in my practice that macro counting is a good short-term tool to help clients reach goals such as improved quality of diet, improved ratio of macronutrients, and improved understanding of what they are eating. It is also a great tool for accountability purposes, as a coach can help a client check-in and remain consistent.

However, I do not believe that macro counting is meant for long-term usage. I use them with clients for anywhere from 1 day to 1 month. Beyond that, it can become addictive and feel like a ball and chain. While certainly, some prefer to use it longer, it should be something that you can live without. It’s kind of like coffee, you may like the taste and enjoy the caffeine-jolt, but if you can’t go a day without it (and even get a headache if you do) then it might be time for a hiatus.


Is macro counting for you? 

As with anything, we are all uniquely different and we all have unique relationships with food and with our bodies. We must learn to honor what works for us and what is best for our overall health. If you find tracking gives you freedom and reduces stress while helping you reach your goals without obsession and restriction, that’s great! Keep going. If you find, however, that it causes guilt, obsession, restrict and binge cycles or just puts a damper on your lifestyle, then it is not for you and stopping makes the most sense for you. No judgment here!

At the root of it, all macros are just the macronutrients that we need to eat in order to sustain life. Don’t overcomplicate it and don’t assign any more value to it. Quality should always come first in your diet, and when you need extra help, macro counting is one approach but it’s not the only approach to help you. Even if macro counting isn’t your thing, you can start focusing on trying to be consistent with the quality of your diet (hello, fruits and veggies), moving more, stressing less, sleeping more, and drinking plenty of water and still realize significant health benefits. 

Have more questions? Let us know in the comments or stop by my website and look around or find me on Instagram!

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About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.

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