We often think about food in terms of its calorie count. But to better understand the nutritional value of a meal, it might be more beneficial to look at the macronutrient (macro) breakdown of the food instead.
While food provides energy in the form of calories—which are actually called kilocalories—understanding the correct amount of macros can be helpful as well. Understanding macros in your food can better help you meet your dietary needs and understand how different foods impact energy levels.
To put it simply, macros are defined as foods containing nutrients that your diet requires in large amounts, compared to micronutrients, which are needed in much smaller amounts and includes vitamins and minerals. The three macros that humans need to survive and thrive are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Calories in Macronutrients
- Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram
- Proteins provide 4 calories per gram
- Fats provide 9 calories per gram
Alcohol, though not one of the macros needed for survival, also provides calories. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates provide us with a quick source of energy as they are converted in our body to glucose (sugar), and are either used immediately or stored as glycogen for later. Carbs that contain fiber, also support digestive health.
Some examples of carbs include grains, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and yogurt. Other foods like vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds also contain carbohydrates but do not contain as high of a count as starchy foods.
Protein is the building block for many structures in our bodies, helping us to grow, build muscle, repair injuries, produce hormones and enzymes, and even fight illnesses. Protein-packed food includes poultry, beef, fish, cheese, soy products, legumes, and some grains and vegetables.
Dietary fat is required for our body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins we consume like vitamins A, D, E, and K. It is also essential for keeping our bodies insulated during cold weather. Plus, a certain level of body fat serves as a helpful energy reserve for endurance athletes.
What Is a Macro Calculator?
A macro calculator helps you evaluate the breakdown of a particular food, which can be useful for those following a specific diet that requires monitoring of your macros. For example, anyone working on building muscle will require an increase of protein, compared to the daily minimum intake in order to fuel growth.
Or, for those who love endurance sports, a higher carb intake may serve you well to sufficiently fuel the body for longer periods. And then there is monitoring for fat loss, whereby a reduction in carbs can reduce the likelihood of excess glucose storage that might convert to fat if unutilized.
Fortunately, to save you the trouble of calculating the macro content of specific foods, there are online calculators to crunch the numbers for you.
Best Macro Calculators
Depending on your needs, you should be able to find a macro calculator that will give you the information you desire. Here are some of the best macro calculators available.
If you are looking for a straightforward calculator, Healthy Eater’s macro calculator is a good choice. It uses your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level to calculate your macronutrient level.
You also have an option to do calculations based on your goals. So, you let the calculator know if you want to lose weight, lose 10% percent body fat, maintain weight, or gain weight. You also can see your ratio in terms of the entire day regardless of whether you eat three, four, or five meals.
Muscle for Life
If you want a much more detailed macro calculator, Muscle for Life may be the one for you. This calculator asks for your weight, your body fat percentage, and your activity level. It then utilizes those factors to determine your lean body mass (LBM). It also determines your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Depending on whether you want to gain, maintain, or lose weight, this calculator will then determine whether you need a calorie deficit or surplus. To personalize your ratio, you can use the sliders at the bottom of the calculator. It is important to note that Legion Athletics macro calculator is exactly the same as the Muscle for Life calculator.
If you are looking for something super simple, then check out the Katy Hearn macro calculator. After asking for your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level, this calculator gives you “recomp” as a goal option. Selecting this option means you want to improve your body composition or increase your lean body mass while decreasing fat mass.
To get a breakdown from a particular calorie number, the Freedieting macro calculator can be particularly useful. Although it is not personalized, it is a good option if you already know how many calories you need.
IIFYM, which stands for “If It Fits Your Macros,” is a phrase used by the macro-tracking community to refer to fitting specific foods into a diet. With this calculator, you get a step-by-step process to calculate your macros. It collects your information with prompts but also gives thought-provoking help.
For example, if you indicate that you want to lose weight, this calculator will ask how fast you want to lose. Then, it lets you know how this could impact you. So, if you choose the “fast and aggressive option,” the calculator lets you know that this weight loss method often comes with moodiness and increased cravings.
The IIFYM calculator also asks probing questions like how active you are at work and how much exercise you get. This information is helpful because it is used for your calculation. Thus, your ratio will be more accurate. This calculator also gathers information about your current diet and your cravings as well as some medical conditions.
Price: You must provide your email address to use this calculator
What Is A Macro Tracker?
Now that you know how to calculate your macros, you may want to track them in order to keep an eye on your eating patterns. Think of it as a digital food diary that manually adds up your daily intake of carbs, protein, and fats for a simple way to keep track of your eating habits.
The Best Macro Trackers
Macro trackers can be particularly useful in keeping all of your information in one place. Plus, these tools can let you know if you are on track to meet your goals. Here are some of the best macro trackers out there.
The free version of MyFitnessPal (MFP) provides a useful pie chart with a breakdown of your macros. This unique visual lets you see if you are hitting your percentages.
To start tracking your macros, you will need to establish your calorie and macro ratio. Then, after you start logging food, your pie chart will automatically update.
If you are interested in additional macro feedback, there is a premium version that provides features like food analyses, food timestamps, and weekly reports. What’s more, MFP touts a huge database of foods and drinks, so you won’t have to enter each item manually.
There also is a feature where you scan the barcode of any food you eat, which might give you more accurate information. However, a word of caution—some databases have multiple, varying entries for the same item, which can get confusing.
Price: Depending on the version you choose, MFP is free or has a premium version for $9.99 per month or $49.99 a year.
The Cronometer tracker tracks vitamins and minerals in addition to macros. Plus, it allows you to track your blood pressure, cholesterol, sleep, mood, pulse, and more. Of course, these features are not useful if you do not regularly have access to this information.
With this information, Cronometer is able to provide you with long-term trends so that you can get an accurate picture of your overall health. Even though Cronometer is impressive with all the data it provides, if all you want to do is track macros, this might not be a good fit for you.
Price: Cronometer is free online and via the app, but the gold membership, which is $5.99 on a month-to-month subscription, unlocks extras and removes all ads.
MyPlate Calorie Tracker
Even though the name of this tracker implies simplicity, it is anything but. The MyPlate app is a product of LIVESTRONG that provides a daily snapshot of your macro intake.
If you click on the chart, you will get a more detailed breakdown that also includes some micronutrients. In addition to tracking macros, MyPlate also lets you track your exercise, body weight, and water intake.
Price: Although there is a free basic version of the app, the premium membership is $9.99 per month or $44.99 a year, which includes advanced statistics and an ad-free experience.
With MyMacros+, you simply scan a barcode to log food intake. Plus, it has an extensive database of more than 5 million food items. This tracker also allows you to track body weight and enter custom foods, such as homemade recipes.
You also are not restricted to just breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack on the app, so you can even log your food in any number of meals. MyMacros+ also is usable without the Internet, which is helpful for tracking on the go.
Price: This tracker costs $2.99 to download and $1.99 a month for premium features.
Developed by Fitocracy, Fitocracy Macros is an app with an online fitness coaching platform. This tracker is best for people who want to track their macros manually.
Keep in mind there is no database with this app, but it does offer a nice weekly report of your average intake, as well as a full history of your calorie and macro consumption.
Potential Ricks of Calculators and Trackers
There is no requirement for you to track your macros unless you are a high-level athlete. Although it is helpful for flexible eating plans—a concept that refers to eating in a way where no foods are off-limits—tracking can sometimes lead to an obsession.
Whether it is societal pressure or a desire to track perfectly day to day, macro calculators and trackers can breed an unhealthy habit that ultimately removes the pleasure of enjoying food. When we are tied up in the smallest of details regarding what we eat, our social lives can be impacted to the point where eating out with friends is avoided due to uncertainty of what’s going into your body.
This can lead to a number of things, including a lack of sufficient fuel for your body if you have undercalculated, or on the flip side, overeating if your tracker is not adjusted properly to your energy needs.
It can also spark what’s known as orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where an individual develops an obsession with consuming only foods deemed healthy and clean. In some cases, this eating disorder can lead to malnutrition.
A Word From Verywell
It is important to take tracking and calculating macros with a grain of salt. These tools are designed to help bring awareness to what we eat, help us reach personal goals, and ensure our bodies receive sufficient foods in order to fuel them in the best possible way. But, these devices—and the process of tracking—are not foolproof.
If you are confused about what you should be doing or how to approach nutrition in your life, it could be beneficial to meet with a registered dietitian for input and guidance.