The Alpha XR macro calculator allows you to customize your plan according to gender, weight, height, age, activity level…and finally…the most important…your body goals.
Try it…it takes 15 seconds:
1.15 grams per lb. of body weight
1.25 grams per lb. of body weight
Custom grams per lb. of body weight
.40 grams per lb. of body weight
.45 grams per lb. of body weight
Custom grams per lb. of body weight
GRAMS per day
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GRAMS per meal
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Each of these macros play a different role in nutrition, and their amount and distribution is going to change based on whether you are trying to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain the same weight.
The specifications of your diet are going to dictate your macro ratio, as different weight loss programs are going to call for different ratios of fats, carbs, and proteins. Tracking your macros, and not just your overall caloric intake, is important because each macro has different effects on your body.
What are macros?
We’ll take a quick look at each of these macros first, then dive in to how to use our macro calculator to achieve your health goals, whether those are weight loss, weight gain, or simply maintenance of your weight while ensuring long term health.
Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are the macros you’ll get in bread, pasta, fruit, vegetables, and other starchy or sugary foods.
Not all carbs are created equal, but emerging research suggests that refined carbohydrates (like white flour or white rice) behave a lot like sugars when it comes to determining your body’s response, so lumping them into the same category is starting to make more sense.
According to the “carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity”, advocated by researchers like David Ludwig at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, carbohydrates are at the heart of fat gain (1).
This theory states that excessive carbohydrate consumption causes a spike in insulin, which in turn causes your body to pull blood sugar out of the blood and store it as fat.
The result is that, a few hours after a carbohydrate-rich meal (especially if it’s mostly refined carbs), blood sugar crashes, body fat increases, and you get hungry again.
This vicious cycle, according to researchers like Ludwig, explains many facets of obesity in a new light. According to this theory, hunger and overeating aren’t the cause of obesity—they’re a symptom.
Now, this theory is not without its critics, as indicated by a counterpoint article published by Kevin Hall and other researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Columbia University (2).
Still, it emphasizes that tracking carbohydrate intake is very important if you think that insulin and blood sugar have to do with obesity, weight gain, and fat mass.
Protein makes up the lion’s share of the calories you’ll find in lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish, and is plentiful in all kinds of animal products like dairy, beef, lamb, and pork.
There are plenty of vegetarian protein sources too: you’ll find tons of protein in chickpeas, soybeans, and tofu, to name just a few sources. Beyond this, there’s the option of protein powder, which comes in both animal and plant-derived forms.
Protein plays an incredibly versatile role when it comes to weight loss, gain, or maintenance. It has several unique properties that make it an essential part of all but the most obscure diets.
For weight loss, protein has the unique capability to increase your feelings of fullness (“satiety” in technical terms) as well as increase your body’s energy expenditure.
According to research published in 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, protein’s ability to increase your energy expenditure is a result of the increased caloric expenditure needed to break down the amino acids in protein (3).
Animal protein seems to be slightly more effective at achieving this increase in caloric expenditure, but plant-derived protein will also work.
Protein is also the only macro that provides amino acids, which are essential no matter who you are. These molecules are the building blocks of just about everything in your body, and not all sources of protein have all of the essential amino acids.
Animal-based sources of protein, like dairy, eggs, and meat, have a balanced amino acid profile, but with vegetable sources, you’ll need to mix and match to get a full profile of regular and branched chain amino acids.
It’s still possible to get a high quality and balanced distribution of plant based proteins in your diet, though; many vegetarian and vegan athletes do this every day. It will just take more focus on getting different sources of protein, and you’ll probably want to opt for a vegan protein powder too.
Fats are the energy dense molecules that make up oils, butter, and many of the calories in foods like cheese, nuts, and coconut.
Gram for gram, fats have twice as many calories as carbs and protein, so many traditional dieting programs emphasize keeping fat intake low.
However, emerging nutrition research suggests that discarding fats may be premature. Metabolically-based weight loss programs like the Atkins diet take advantage of the slow rate at which fat is metabolized by your body (compared to simple carbohydrates, which are metabolized very rapidly).
Further, the success of more aggressive diets like the ketogenic diet makes the role of fat in weight loss more complicated.
If you dial in your macro ratios such that almost all of your calories come from fat, a little bit from protein, and almost none from carbohydrates, you can achieve a powerful metabolic state called ketosis, where your body shifts its metabolism to burn primarily fat molecules.
Ketogenic diets have been cited as many as a life-changing way to achieve profound amounts of weight loss, and are an active area of a tremendous amount of nutrition and physiology research.
Despite all being lumped into the same macro category, not all fats act the same in your body. Even some saturated fats, which have been much-maligned due to early research suggesting they were associated with heart disease, have been found to be helpful. MCT oil, for example, is a form of saturated fat found in coconuts, but its been found to improve markers of heart health and decrease risk for cardiovascular disease.
So, even once you’ve figured out your fat macro proportion, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to portion that out among the various sources of fat in your diet.
How to use the macro calculator
The first thing you’ll need to do with the macro calculator is enter your gender, weight, height, and age. Why are these important?
Enter your gender
First off, men and women differ when it comes to their caloric requirements. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, energy expenditure among men is higher than in women, even after controlling for body weight (4).
This is partly due to metabolic differences, and partly due to differences in body composition: on average, men have more muscle than women, even for the same body weight. Since muscle burns more energy than fat, men will have a higher energy requirement than women.
Enter your weight
The connection to your weight is more obvious. The bigger you are, the higher your energy requirements.
This is why some people have trouble losing the last few pounds of weight during a weight loss program—as their body mass decreases, their energy expenditure goes down as well, and as a result, the same caloric intake that produced an energy deficit early on doesn’t create a significant deficit anymore.
Enter your height
Why does height matter? That one is pretty easy. If you’re 6’4, being 200 pounds is not such a big deal. If you’re 5’4, it’s a different story.
Height and weight can be combined to compute your body mass index, which is a much better predictor of health outcomes than simply knowing your weight.
Enter your age
Finally, age is an important variable because your energy expenditure goes down as you get older. Many people notice a slowdown in their metabolism in their 30s and 40s, and the scientific research confirms this finding (5).
These decreases seem to be related, in part, to the changes in body composition that occur in conjunction with getting older.
A very fit and very strong person with very little body fat might be the exception to this rule, if you can maintain your muscle as you get older, but for almost everyone, age is going to be a factor when it comes to determining your macro ratios and overall caloric intake.
Enter your activity level
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that your physical activity levels influence your energy expenditure. The more you exercise, the more calories you burn.
Moreover, beyond simple caloric expenditure, doing high-intensity exercise shifts the profile of the macros that you burn. If you do a lot of intense aerobic exercise, you’ll be burning more carbohydrates, and as a result, you can get away with a lot more carbs in your diet.
In contrast, if you are sedentary, even the same proportion of carbohydrates (even if the energy intake is adjusted) could cause you to gain fat mass or shift to a less healthy metabolic profile, because your body isn’t burning carbs the same way that it would if you were exercising.
Setting your activity level is necessary because it, along with your age, sex, weight, and goal, determine your baseline caloric “set point”—what level of energy intake will keep you at a constant weight.
Research on physical activity has come to a surprising conclusion: merely increasing your physical activity levels leads to only a moderate amount of weight loss or prevention of weight gain. That was the conclusion of a meta-analysis of many different studies conducted by researchers in Finland and published in the journal Obesity Reviews (6).
The lack of a clear benefit to exercise alone is the result of a number of different factors, but one of the biggest is your body’s desire to counterbalance increased energy expenditure with increased energy intake.
In other words, more exercise increases your appetite, as it should for someone at a healthy weight. But for someone trying to lose weight, this is a problem.
The amount of exercise that’s needed to make a big dent in weight loss is also quite large: you’d need to exercise enough to burn almost 300 calories per day, which would require doing some vigorous exercise like running or swimming for at least half an hour every single day.
The difficulty of actually accomplishing this underscores why you need to take macros and overall energy intake into account. This is the most effective way to lose weight, or to prevent weight gain in the first place.
That was the conclusion of a meta-analysis of nutrition and weight loss studies published by James Clark in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders in 2015 (7). According to Clark, the most effective way both to lose weight and to ensure long term health is exercise in conjunction with controlling overall energy intake.
It should be no surprise that your macros and your overall energy intake is going to be different depending on whether you want to gain weight, maintain the same weight, or lose weight.
While the macro calculator ensures that you’ll be on a healthy diet regardless of your goal, each of these three strategies results in a different dietary approach. These strategies are also going to be associated, in most cases, with different macro ratios.
Gaining weight is a primary goal for many athletes, and if this is your plan, you want to go about it in the right way. For optimal health and for optimal athletic performance, gaining weight should mean putting on muscle mass, not putting on fat mass.
To this end, your macros are going to be tilted heavily towards protein, as this is what it takes to put on muscle mass. Protein requirements for athletes are in the range of 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, though bodybuilders and other athletes that focus intently on adding muscle mass have been studied while on much higher levels of protein intake without any ill effects. For serious hard-gainers, you can opt for a mass gainer.
Fortunately, high protein intake is also connected to keeping your body fat levels low, so it works twice-over to help with putting on weight in the most effective way.
Weight maintenance is all about balance. To maintain the same weight, you need balance between your calorie intake and your calorie expenditure.
Macro ratios can help achieve this by keeping your carbohydrate intake modest while balancing out your fats and protein to ensure an active metabolism to keep you in an energetic equilibrium.
Maintaining weight can be done with a higher proportion of carbohydrates than weight loss, but even so, these carbs need to be “good carbs,” not bad carbs. This means whole, unprocessed carbohydrates like brown rice and steel-cut oats, as opposed to white flour or powderized and flavored instant oats.
When it comes to losing weight, protein comes back into the equation as an important factor.
Many studies on weight loss have attributed the addition of 50 grams or so of protein per day to improvements in weight loss.
This is counterintuitive, as adding food to your diet doesn’t seem like it would help your weight loss program. But thanks to the thermogenic and satiety-inducing effects discussed earlier, research has consistently found that increased protein intake is a useful way to lose more weight. As such, your macro ratios should reflect these effects.
Can I eat whatever I want?
As long as you hit your macros, yes. One of the big advantages of a diet oriented around total caloric intake and macro ratios is that you are totally flexible to eat whatever kinds of foods you like.
This makes it a lot more likely that your diet will success, and that’s good, because dieters need all the help they can get.
According to research published in the journal Health Psychology, many different scientifically-based diets have been shown to be very effective in the short term when it comes to achieving weight loss, but when these people are followed up long-term (a year or longer after starting the diet), very few have been successful at maintaining their weight loss (8).
It’s hard to find any explanation for this other than the challenge of sticking to a diet. While the most aggressive and restrictive diets sometimes produce the most impressive short-term weight loss benefits, they’re also the ones that tend to be the most difficult to follow for months or years at a time.
With a macro-based diet, you are not restricted in the same way, making it easier to follow in the long run.
Moreover, because our macro calculator allows you to switch from weight loss to weight maintenance, it’s’ even easier to have an adaptable and flexible diet that still keeps your energy intake and macro ratio under control.
How do I actually track my macros?
Not too long ago, tracking macros was incredibly difficult. You had to read nutrition labels and jot down serving sizes, running calculations on calories and grams of each of the three primary macronutrients. Today, smartphones and apps make the process much easier.
Apps like Pertinacity, MyFitnessPal, or Calorie Counter can help you hit your macro goals, and some can even scan nutrition labels directly using your smartphone camera.
As you go about your day, you can easily track your intake, making notes of the macros in what you eat. Or, if you prefer to map out your diet beforehand, you can use the macro calculator to help you plan meals that have the right balance of fat, protein, and carbs.
Recap: Long term success with the macro calculator
Tracking your macros—i.e. Your carbohydrate, fat, and protein intake, and how they relate to your overall caloric intake—is one of the simplest and most effective approaches to weight loss, weight gain, and weight maintenance.
After entering some basic info, like your age, sex, height, weight, exercise level, and health goal, you can get easy to follow instructions on the caloric intake and the macro ratios you need to follow to achieve your goal.
If you are on a weight loss or weight gaining protocol, you should come back and re-calculate your macros once every month or two.
Why? Well, first of all, your weight is likely to change if you are indeed following your macro ratios correctly. Second, it will let you check up on whether you are actually hitting the right proportion of fats, carbs, and protein in your diet.
As discussed earlier, the flexibility that’s inherent in a macro-based approach makes it far easier to use long-term. The only catch is that you need to track your macro ratios, or pre-plan your meals so that they have the right caloric and macro content, but that’s something that’s shared across any organized dieting plan.
If you are tired of ineffective, half-measure approaches to getting your diet under control, you can use our macro calculator to make a real change.