Weight loss: it's a battle that so many of us face at some point in our lives. Keeping your diet on point is the best way to battle the bulge. The burning question is how many calories should you eat in a day to lose weight? The answer to this question is difficult because every person's body is different. However, there is an answer! It lies in your daily macronutrient intake.
You may have heard the term "macros," but maybe you don't know how to calculate macros. You don't have to hire anyone to do this for you. Instead, we consulted Sarah Chadwell, NASM, certified personal trainer and natural bikini competitor, to explain this concept so that you exactly know how many calories per day to eat to lose weight.
What Are Macros?
Chadwell said, "Macronutrients are molecules found in the foods you eat that your body breaks down for energy. We know them as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and eating foods with each of these macronutrients in the correct amounts is necessary for your body to function optimally and to lose weight."
The key macronutrients are:
- Carbohydrates: These are the first source of energy that your body looks to because they are a quick energy source. We get carbs from the sugars and starches in vegetables and fruits and from dairy products. One gram of carbohydrate contains four calories.
- Proteins: These are large molecules of amino acids. They keep our body's structure, functions, cells, tissues, and organs functioning properly. One gram of protein contains four calories.
- Fats: These are a concentrated source of energy that our bodies require. You even need to eat a certain amount of healthy fat in order to burn unwanted fat. One gram of fat contains nine calories.
Why Should I Count Macros Along With Counting Calories?
"A calorie deficit is typically necessary when you are trying to lose weight," Chadwell told POPSUGAR, "But it's not the only piece of the puzzle. Where your calories come from is equally important. You can't go on a 1,500-calorie doughnut diet and expect your body to respond well. You should always eat high-quality calories."
Counting macros ensures three things:
- You lose the stubborn fat that you want to get rid of.
- You maintain lean muscle mass.
- Your body stays satiated.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Lexi Lambros
How Do I Start?
"Calculating macros can be useful for a variety of body goals, but today, we are going to use a macronutrient ratio geared for weight loss," Chadwell said. "There are three easy-to-follow steps to this process."
Step 1: Determine daily caloric intake
The number of calories you need per day depends on your age, gender, weight, and level of activity. It's a complex algorithm, but you can calculate it easily.
Step 2: Break down your caloric intake via a macronutrient ratio
Next, you need to use a macronutrient ratio to determine what food group your calories will come from. A good starting ratio for weight/fat loss is 40 percent carbohydrates, 45 percent protein, and 15 percent fat.
Step 3: Calculate your daily total
Calculate your caloric intake by macronutrient. Pretend that your target caloric intake is 1,900 calories per day (as calculated from step 1), and you are using the 40:45:15 (carbs/protein/fat) ratio. Now we can get specific numbers.
- 40 percent of your calories are coming from carbohydrates.
- 1,900 x 0.4 = 760 calories.
- There are 4 calories per gram of carbs.
- Divide the calorie amount (760) by 4, and now you know the total amount you need is 190 grams of carbohydrates per day. (760/4 = 190)
- 45 percent of your calories are coming from protein.
- 1,900 x 0.45 = 855 calories.
- There are 4 calories per gram of protein.
- Divide the calorie amount (855) by 4, and now you know the total amount you need is approximately 214 grams of carbohydrates per day. (855/4 = 213.75)
- 15 percent of your calories are coming from healthy fats.
- 1,900 x 0.15 = 285 calories.
- There are 9 calories per gram of fat.
- Divide the calorie amount (285) by 9, and now you know that you need approximately 32 grams per day. (385/9 = 31.6)
Math does suck, so there is a tool you can use to do it for you.
Will My Macros Change?
One thing is certain: your macros can and will change. "Once you lose weight and hit that next sticking point in your diet, you can manipulate your macros to start the next phase of weight loss. What's great is that counting macros helps you adopt a lifestyle change over time which in turn helps you lose weight and keep it off forever," Chadwell told POPSUGAR.
Remember, this is not a "one size fits all" weight-loss plan, but a proven method because it's flexible and can be tailored to work for different body types.
If the above ratio is not working for you after a couple of weeks, you can make one change. Either change the ratio or reduce your calories and keep the same ratio. The reason you make one change at a time is to determine if the variable you manipulated yields change or not. If you change both variables at the same time, you won't know which factor was most helpful to you in your weight-loss goal.
Should I Consider Other Factors?
Of course, there are always other things at play when it comes to losing weight. It's important to remember to eat five to six smaller meals a day, every two and a half to three hours. You also want to do your supermarket shop around the outer edges of the store, where all the fresh stuff is. Stock up on lean meats like turkey, chicken, fish, and lean red meat. Eat a lot of whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and steel-cut oatmeal. Drink plenty of water and dramatically cut back on sugar — or just cut it out completely. You'll also want to cut back on alcohol, unless you want to figure it into your macros, and up your exercise.