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Macro Diet For Weight Loss: Does It Work?
Updated on January 31, 2024
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Diet / Weight Loss
Macro Diet For Weight Loss: Does It Work?

Healthy weight loss requires more than calorie counting. It should involve making healthy food choices, and knowing how much of them you should consume.

According to Elise Harlow, the macro diet gives you guidance on how many calories should be coming from each of the macronutrients — which include proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Harlow is a registered dietitian with a Masters in Nutrition. We asked her to help us talk about the macro diet and provide tips on how to follow the diet.

Macro Diet For Weight Loss: Does It Work? 2

What are Macros?

A balanced diet contains macronutrients or macros such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They’re your body’s major source of energy and nutrition.

Different foods (like meats and vegetables) contain macros in varying amounts. Calories are used to measure the energy they provide.


Proteins build and repair tissues. Many bodily functions require them. They play a role in immunity, cell function, and the transportation of nutrients — among others.

Different parts of the body are also comprised of proteins. These include your muscles, body organs, skin, and even bones. 

You can get protein from either animal or plant-based sources. Most people get a combination of both. These include:

  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Eggs

Your age, muscle mass, and health goals determine how much protein you need. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that calories from protein make up 10 to 35% of your total daily calorie intake.6 One gram of protein contains 4 calories.1


Many people think fat is bad for you, but it’s not entirely true. Your body needs healthy fats to function properly.

Your nerves and vital organs are covered with a layer of fat. It helps protect them and speeds up the transmission of nerve impulses.

Fat also helps maintain your body temperature and regulate your hormones. Some excellent sources of healthy fats are: 

  • Avocados
  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Butter
  • Meat

These are both calorie-dense and nutrient-dense foods. This means they are high in both calories and nutrients.

Foods that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the best. Saturated fats should be consumed in limited amounts because they are linked to more health risks.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fat calories should make up to 20 to 35% of your total calorie intake.6 Each gram of fat contains about 9 calories.1


Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for your body. Carbs are found in many food sources, such as:

  • Breads and pasta
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Snack foods and sweets
  • Fruits and juices

Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N. recommends eating more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and starchy vegetables. These foods are usually high in fiber and help you stay full on fewer calories.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should consume 45 to 65% of their total daily calories from carbs.6 One gram of carbohydrate gives you 4 calories.1

What is the Macro Diet?

The macro diet is like a fine-tuned version of calorie counting.

But instead of counting calories, it regulates your daily caloric intake by controlling the amount of macronutrients you consume.

This diet provides guidance on what foods your daily calories should be coming from. It can sometimes feel less restrictive than simply counting your calories.

Health Benefits of a Macro Diet

Here are some of its health benefits:

Weight Loss 

It’s not enough that you learn how to count calories. For most people, calorie counting isn’t a sustainable way to lose weight.

The macro diet helps you to choose more balanced meals. It typically helps you to fuel your body more than simply focusing on depriving yourself of calories.

Assuring you get adequate protein through your diet can help you to reach your fitness goals. It provides enough protein to build and repair muscles, and support their growth.2

Build Muscle

Meeting your daily calorie intake isn’t enough to build muscle. Where you get your calories also matters.

Proteins should make up most of your diet if you want a lean and muscular body. You can switch to a low-carb and high-protein macro diet to reach your fitness goals.

This will provide enough proteins to build and repair muscles, and support their growth.2

Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies 

When you focus strictly on the number of calories, you can deprive your body of nutrition. Counting macros can help you lose weight while meeting your dietary needs.

“A diet that focuses on macronutrient distribution instead of just calories can help you to reduce your total caloric intake while still assuring you consume food from each major food group,” says Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N.

Boost Metabolism 

Your body needs energy to break down food. How much energy it spends will depend on your food intake and the type of food being digested. 

Eating more proteins helps your body burn more fuel and prevents weight gain. A high-protein diet can raise your metabolic rate by up to 15 to 30%.3

How Does the Macro Diet Help You Lose Weight?

No two macro diets are the same. You can create a personalized meal plan to meet your health goals. 

The macro diet is all about planning what goes into your meals. Its flexibility can allow you to lose weight safely.

You can set up your macro diet to be low in carbs and/or focused on eating more fiber-rich foods. Foods high in fiber help you feel full and can make it easier to reach a calorie deficit.

Alternatively, you can try a keto diet by decreasing the amount of fat in your meal plan and increasing the amount of protein. If done correctly, keto diets can trigger ketosis and can help with weight loss.

How to Count Macros for Weight Loss

Counting macros might seem complicated, but it’s something you can learn over time. Here’s a simple breakdown of the process. 

1. Know How Many Calories You Need

Figuring out your daily calorie needs is the first step. This depends on your age, activity level, sex, and current health. 

You can try an online calculator to get an estimate of your daily calorie goal.4 Simply fill in the needed information and wait for the result.

Alternatively, you could calculate the calories yourself. There are several formulas you could use. The Mifflin-St. Jeor equation is usually the most popular choice.

Step 1: Calculate Your Calories Per Day

First, you have to calculate the calories you need daily:5

  • Men: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) + 5
  • Women: calories/day = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (y) – 161

Step 2: Get Your Energy Spending

Multiply your result from step 1 with your activity factor. This will depend on the amount of physical activity you get each day.

Here’s a guide to your daily activity level: 

  • Sedentary: x 1.2 (little or no exercise; desk job)
  • Lightly active: x 1.375 (light exercise 1-3 days a week)
  • Moderately active: x 1.55 (moderate exercise 6-7 days a week)
  • Very active: x 1.725 (hard exercise every day or exercise twice a day)
  • Extra active: x 1.9 (hard exercise twice a day or more)

The final result is your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), or how much energy you spend each day.

Step 3: Decide On Your Daily Calorie Limit

Ultimately, your weight goals will determine how much you should eat daily. 

For instance, you can eat more calories than your TDEE if you’re trying to gain weight. But if you want to lose weight, you should cut down on your intake. 

When deciding on your daily caloric limit, you should make small adjustments, so your body has time to adapt.

2. Set Your Macronutrient Ratio 

Once you know how many calories you need per day, you can set your macronutrient ratio. This determines how much carbs, proteins, and fats you can eat in a day. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend splitting your daily calories this way:6

  • Proteins — 10 to 35% 
  • Fats 20 to 35% 
  • Carbs 45 to 65% 

This ratio may not fit your goals. You may need more carbs if you’re an endurance athlete; and more proteins if you’re building muscle.

It’s best that you talk to a dietitian about your macro distribution.

3. Calculate Your Daily Macros

After getting your macro ratio, the next step is to calculate your daily macros. This will help you figure out how much carbs, proteins, and fats should make up your daily calorie limit. 

To do this, you can use this formula:

  • (Total daily calories x macronutrient percentage) / calories per gram

If your calorie intake is set at 1,800 calories per day and your protein ratio is 30%, you can calculate your macros this way: 

  • 1800 X 0.30 / 4 = 135 grams of protein daily

How Is Counting Macros Different From Calorie Counting?

Counting calories and macros share many similarities, but they have different approaches. With calorie counting, what matters is you reduce your daily calorie intake.

Unfortunately, this can leave you feeling hungry, tired, and possibly at risk of not getting a balance of nutrients.

When you count macros, the focus is on reaching your macronutrient goals versus restricting calorie intake. You also have flexibility in choosing which foods you will eat to reach your macronutrient goal each day.

“The flexibility of the macro diet makes it easier to follow than others. You can modify your macronutrient ranges depending on your goals, such as weight loss, weight gain, or muscle gain, just to name a few,” says registered dietitian Elise Harlow.

Is the Macro Diet Easy to Follow?

It depends. Both macro counting and calorie counting can be difficult to follow since they require you to track some aspects of your food. Which one is easier will depend on the specific person. 

Any diet with rules such as how many calories or grams of protein you should eat can be hard to follow and make it difficult to go out to eat with friends. 

“If you feel tracking calories or macros isn't the right fit for you, there are other options. I recommend talking with a registered dietitian who can help make a customized nutrition plan that is specific to you and your goals,” says Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N.

The macro diet also has its limits. For example, focusing too much on tracking macros puts you at risk of missing out on valuable micronutrients. 

Like most popular weight loss diets, being overly strict with food measurements can increase your chances of developing an eating disorder.7

Before you start on a macronutrient diet, you should talk to your dietitian. They can help you develop a safe way to reach your ideal weight.

Updated on January 31, 2024
Elise Harlow
Elise Harlow, M.S., R.D.N.
Medical Reviewer
Elise Harlow is a registered dietitian with a Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences. She is the founder of an online nutrition consulting and coaching business.

Elise helps people use the power of food to lead healthier lives. She works with various clients, including those who want to achieve a healthier weight, improve their gut health, lower cholesterol, manage their blood sugar, or balance their hormones.
Ada Sandoval
Ada Sandoval
Content Contributor
Ada Sandoval is a B.S. in Nursing graduate and a registered nurse with a heart for abandoned animals. She works as a content writer who specializes in medical-related articles and pet health.
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