How to Calculate Your Ideal Macronutrients Intake

All you need to know to figure out your ideal macronutrient ratio.

Do you want to build muscles, lose fat, or simply maintain your physique? Whatever your fitness goal is, what you eat is critical for achieving it. Craft your ideal macronutrient ratio now with our pro tips or by using our macro calculator!

Catching the word “macros” in your local fitness club is not a surprise. Focusing on your daily macronutrient intake instead of your calorie intake has become the new norm in today’s health & fitness world. And quite frankly, we should all get on board with it. According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, you won’t reach your fitness goals without the essential macronutrients, which is probably what started the buzz around the so-called IIFYM, or the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet.

If It Fits Your Macros

Macronutrient Basics

The IFFYM diet completely revolves around three macronutrients all foods are composed of: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. As explained by the Washington State University, macronutrients are that group of nutrients that your body needs greater volumes of. The simple explanation behind this is that macros are made up of calories that fuel your body with energy.

The calorie content of each macro is as follows

  • A gram of protein contains 4 calories
  • And a gram of fat contains 9 calories
  • A gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories

What’s the IIFYM Diet?

Essentially what the IIFYM diet advocates for is personalization, flexibility, and not just a smarter, but also a more human form of dieting.

It is based on the fact that there’s no ideal diet that fits all sizes. Your body’s macronutrient needs will vary based on several factors, such as personal characteristics, your everyday life, and your objectives. Even though life would be a lot easier with a typical ‘ideal ratio’ of carbs, fat and protein, reality is much more complicated than that.

This is one of the reasons why the IFFYM diet is considered to be superior over a simple calorie counting method. With the IFFYM, you’ll follow a macro ratio that is entirely tailored to you. You’ll learn about the meaningful stuff behind calories, the nutrient value of various foods. And most importantly, what you eat will not block you from your fitness goals, but will help in reaching them.

Learn more about why macro counting is better than simple calorie counting

So let’s get into the specifics and see how to calculate your ideal macro ratio to get you on that IFFYM diet!

Step 1: Set your optimal daily calorie intake

If you ever hear someone saying ‘calories don’t count when you do a macro diet,’ don’t believe them! First of all, you could eat the most nutrition dense magic food, but if you ate 10,000 calories worth of it, you’d still gain weight. And secondly, like most diets, IFFYM and your personal macro ratio also have to be based on your target calorie intake. To get this number, you need to go through a three-step process.

  1. Calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
  2. Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
  3. Decide on your calorie deficit or surplus

Calculate your BMR

The very first calculation you need to make is to get your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR number is the number of calories your body burns at a resting state. Meaning that this is the amount of energy your body uses to function.

BMR varies person by person, as the amount of calories your body burns depends on several personal factors. These include your sex, age, weight, and height.

Calculate Your TDEE

BMR is the basis, but since you are not just sitting at home all day, it needs to be adjusted. To get your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), you have to account for your physical activity.

Use this simple calculation to get your TDEE👇

Decide on your caloric deficit or surplus

Once you know your TDEE number, all you have to do is decide what your fitness goal is to get your target calorie intake. To keep things simple, here we talk about three main goals: 1) maintain your weight, 2) lose weight 3) gain muscles.

Calories for Weight Maintenance

The first option is the easiest. If you’re aiming for weight maintenance, your ideal calorie intake is simply your TDEE. Since in this case, you’ll burn the same amount of calories as you consume, resulting in no weight gain or loss.

Calories for Weight Loss

If you’d like to lose weight, you have to aim for a caloric deficit. This means that your calories in should be less than your calories out, creating a deficit. The commonly recommended deficit for a healthy and sustainable weight loss is around 10-25% of your TDEE. Research shows that this moderate calorie-cutting will help to maintain muscle mass while losing weight. However, the exact amount of this deficit depends on specific factors, like how much weight you want to lose in what time span, your training specifics, genetics, and so on.

Calories for Muscle Gain

On the flip side, if you’d like to gain muscles, in most cases, you’ll need to have a caloric surplus. You’ll need to consume more than what you burn. Since this number is also dependent on many personal factors, even more so than the caloric deficit, it is hard to give a general recommendation for an ideal surplus. While you might gain more lean mass with a greater surplus, you might also increase your body fat during the process.

Factors that can affect your caloric deficit & surplus include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Genetics
  • Type of training
  • Frequency of training
  • Training volume
  • Training experience

Read this Sci-fi article for an overarching literature review on caloric deficit & surplus

Step 2: Calculate your ideal macro ratio

Once you have a target daily calorie intake, you’ll have to break it down into the three macros. This is how you’ll know how many calories you should spend on each macronutrient.

Calculate your protein target

When crafting your ideal macro ratio, you should start with the most important one, which is protein. Protein is an essential element of your body cells (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, IOM), and is also used for maintaining, repairing, and building your tissues. Therefore, regardless of your fitness goals, your body needs dietary protein to simply function in a healthy way.

The tricky thing about protein is that while it’s nonessential amino acid components can be produced by our body, we can only gain its essential amino acid components from food (FDA). Stressing further how much we need to pay attention to our protein intake.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA – set by the IOM), which is the bare minimum our body needs for functioning, is 0.36 grams of protein/lb of body weight. Raising this amount, the IOM suggests that if you’re physically active, you should consume 0.5-0.8 grams/lb of body weight.

Protein should make up 10-35% of your daily calorie intake. Where you sit within this range or whether you fall outside of it is again dependent on several factors.

Fitness Goals

If you aim to lose weight, research suggests moving towards the higher end of that protein spectrum. Increasing your protein intake can help in boosting your energy expenditure, as well as reduce your hungriness.

When it comes to gaining muscles, protein intake recommendations get a lot more controversial than with weight loss. You’ve probably heard crazy numbers, like 1.5-2 grams/lb before, but this is just a myth. Based on previous research [1, 2, 3, 4], the very maximum amount of beneficial protein is thought to be 0.8 grams/lb of bodyweight, which is also at the higher end of the general recommendation range.

Check out Bayesian Bodybuilding’s article for a comprehensive analysis of studies about ideal protein intake for muscle building!

Recommended protein intake/day for weight loss & muscle gain: 25-35%

Exercise Type

Another factor that very much influences the daily protein needs of your body is your exercise type. Different types of workouts burn energy differently, have different effects on your body and hence, vary in the nutritional support they need.

Based on previous studies, if you’re participating in endurance training, your body needs relatively lower amounts of approximately 0.5-0.6 grams of protein/lb. But if you are focused on strength training, your daily protein intake should range around 0.7-0.8 grams/lb.

Recommended protein intake/day for endurance training: 15-25%

Recommended protein intake/day for strength training: 25-35%

Calculate your fat target

As the IOM says, fat is one of the key energy sources for our body, but it’s a lot more than that. Healthy or saturated fatty acids are critical for absorbing Vitamin A, D, E, and K, help with cell membranes construction and also tend to decrease appetite.

It’s important that we make a distinction between saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids, which are unsaturated and mainly generated via industrial processes. While the former one is essential for healthy living, the latter is associated with negative outcomes. Therefore, trans fatty acids should be avoided.

Unlike protein, there’s no generally accepted RDA for fat. However, the IOM’s Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat is 20-35%. While just like with protein, you might jump out of this range based on personal factors, here you are only recommended to go beyond, but not below.

Fitness Goals

As healthy fats have various benefits for your body, the recommended range is going to remain relatively the same regardless of your fitness goals. While it sounds pretty ironic that you need fat to lose fat, it is true. As we’ve said before, research has proven that healthy fats lower the sensation of hunger and can aid weight loss.

On the other side of the story, saturated fatty acids also play a key role in building muscles. Hence, they shouldn’t be neglected in this case either. But it’s important to note that with both fitness goals, it’s usually suggested to follow a “less is more” philosophy and stay in the 20-35% range.

Recommended fat intake/day for weight loss & muscle gain: 20-35%

Special Diet

Macro Recommendation for Ketogenic Diet

One circumstance that is going to significantly move your fat intake is the diet you preach for. As the Ketogenic or Keto Diet is widely known to be a high-fat-diet, your range is going to climb up quite a bit. According to the Keto Diet App team, ideally 60-75% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat.

The idea behind such a diet is that the ultimate fuel supply for your body becomes fat. This lowers your insulin volumes and intensifies your fat burning. A theory that makes Keto Diet an alternative for low-fat weight-loss diets.

Listen to our 20 Minute Fitness Podcast About The Keto Diet

Recommended fat intake/day for Keto Diet: 60-75%

Calculate your carbs target

In contrast to protein and fat, carbohydrates have only one role, but it’s a big one. They provide your body with energy. Therefore, your carbs intake also needs attention, especially if you’re a regular at the gym and need to fuel your workouts.

The RDA for adults is 130 grams of carbs/day, which is the least amount you need for having enough energy. And if we are thinking about percentages, the usual recommendations revolve around 45-60%. But again, these are just general numbers, which might not match with your targets. Your actual ideal carbs intake can depend on your gender, age, fitness goals, diet preferences, and so on.

Fitness Goals

First and foremost, if you’re en route to weight loss, you won’t want to consume the same amount of carbs as those who’re building muscles.

Probably the most common tip you hear for weight loss is the low carbs diet. But the real question here is how low is that low. As discussed previously, carbs are your energy source, so you should still consume enough of it. Therefore, we recommend a moderate intake of 35-45% of your daily calories to be carbs. Aim for the lower end if you’re not that active, and for the higher end if you’re regularly hitting the gym.

And if you’re a muscle builder, there’re a ton of benefits you’ll be able to gain from adequate carbs intake. According to the Juggernaut article, carbs will increase your training intensity, intensify your recovery between both sets and workouts, and lower the intensity of your drop-off rate during longer sessions. Additionally, carbs will also help to increase training volumes above your overload threshold and protect your muscles from injury. For these reasons, we suggest hitting the higher end of the carbs target when building muscles.

Recommended carbs intake/day for weight loss: 35-45%

Recommended carbs intake/day for muscle gain: 50-60%

Activity Level

Since carbs are the energy that fuels your body, it’s clear that your carbs intake is influenced by your activity level. As the length and intensity of your exercise go up, your carb needs also increase. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ manual, you need the following amounts of carbs/day based on your physical activity.

Special Diet

Macro Recommendation for Ketogenic Diet

Carbs, just like fat, highly depend on the particular diet you follow. If you’re on a Keto Diet, your carbs intake has to drop significantly below the recommended range. As the Keto Diet App’s team recommends, your daily carbs target should be merely 5-10%. This decrease in carbs leaves the necessary space for the high fat intake.

Macro Recommendation for Paleolithic Diet

Not as drastic as the Keto Diet dictates, but if you’re following a Paleo Diet, you still have to cut on carbs. As mentioned by Paleo Leap, when you’re on a Paleo Diet, your carbs intake should be about 20% of your total daily calorie intake.

Recommended carbs intake/day for Keto Diet: 5-10%

Recommended carbs intake/day for Paleo Diet: 20%

Ok, so this is a ton of information, that’s for sure. So here’s a quick recap on the different macro ratios.

And while you could start doing the math with a pen and paper, we have a much better solution for you.😉 Just put your deets in our magic calculator below, and get your ideal macro ratio in seconds!

Best Macro Calculator

Additional Macronutrient Tips

Not All Macronutrients Are Equal

However, your ideal macro ratio is not everything you should pay attention to. It’s also key to have healthy macronutrient sources. For instance, getting your daily carb intake from sugary cookies won’t have the same effects on your body as complex carbs. Just like your body reacts differently to animal protein than plant protein.

Meal Timing and Quantity

Additionally, the number of meals you have also matters. Your body’s absorption reaction won’t be the same if you try to stuff all macros in your belly at once versus over 4-5 smaller meals. And lastly, nutrition timing is also something to look out for, especially if you work out regularly. Your body has different needs pre and post-workout, and if you’d like to maximize your results, you’ll need to give it what it needs.

Read More About The Ideal Nutrition Timing

Step 3: Track your macros

So you’re all done, right? No, not at all. The harder part is just about to begin. Once you have your ideal macro ratio, you’ll have to start eating accordingly and make adjustments if needed.

Learn About ShapeScale

First of all, you’ll have to start tracking what you eat. To do this, we have two basic tips.

#1 Buy a food scale

This is going to be your very first step towards keeping your diet. With a food scale, you’ll be able to accurately measure how much you eat from what and precisely track your nutrients. And trust me, guessing the amounts is a very dangerous game, so you’ll definitely need a scale.

#2 Download a calorie and macro counting app

The second step is keeping track of what you measure. The best way to do it is with an app on your smartphone that is smart enough to handle the calculations for you. The best apps will let you personalize your macro ratios and give you little warning signs if you’re heading towards exceeding them.

Check Out The Best Calorie & Macro Counting Apps

And finally, what is even more important than tracking the actual process, is tracking the results. You have to be aware that your macro ratio is not set in stone. You might get it right for the first time and see great results. But you also might need to go back and forth to adjust it several times.

So how exactly will you get fast enough results not to waste your time eating what’s not ideal for your body?

#3 Use ShapeScale

ShapeScale will give you faster feedback on how your body is changing than you could ever dream of. With our extremely accurate visual features, such as the different views and the 3D heatmap, you’ll see changes on your body in only a couple of days.

This will allow you to see whether your body’s reacting to your macro ratio as expected. And if not, you’ll simply be able to adjust the ratio and use ShapeScale for further tracking.

Ultimately, you’ll find the perfect macro ratio and reach your fitness goals easier than ever!

Pre-Order Your ShapeScale Now For Accurate Tracking

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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.
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