What Is the Macro Diet?

Dieting is a word that makes many people cringe. It’s hard. It leaves you feeling restricted, and most of the time, dieting doesn’t work. Fortunately, there is another way to eat great while shedding some pounds or meeting other fitness-related and nutritional goals. It’s called the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) approach to dieting, also known as “flexible dieting.” The only thing you need to do is count your unique macronutrient ranges every day. Counting your macros will help with making better choices, because you will need to account for the nutrients, not the calories, of said food.

Intrigued? Keep on reading to find out more about the macro diet and whether it will work for you and your goals.

What is the Macro Diet?

For starters, If It Fits Your Macros has nothing to do with the macrobiotic diet. That is a completely different style of dieting that has foundations in Zen Buddhism. IIFYM has nothing to do with the kind of food you decide to eat. It only takes calorie counting a step further. Instead of saying you are going to eat within a calorie range, you look at the macronutrients of a food and see if it fits into your macro range.

Now, this might sound confusing right now, but don’t worry. All will be explained.

The main point of this diet is that you aren’t restricting anything. You aren’t required to go low-carb or low-fat or high-protein. You don’t have to cut out the foods you like, either. Theoretically, anything fits into the IIFYM diet, because every kind of food contains macros.

What are Macronutrients?

All this talk about macronutrients—but what are they, really? You probably already know what they are. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the three main sources of energy, or macronutrients. There are also micronutrients, known as vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates equal 4 calories per gram. Protein is the same. Fat is the highest at 9 calories per gram.

Everything people consume has a full spectrum of macro and micronutrients. Some foods might be devoid of fat, but they will always have protein and carbohydrates. Others might be very low in protein and high in carbs and fat. For example, lean beef is high in protein while peanut butter is high in fat.

However, macronutrients differ in quality. The carbohydrates you get from white bread are going to be different from the carbs found in sweet potato, for example. You want to make the healthiest choices possible.

Good choice examples include:

  • Fats: Nuts, seeds, nut butters, olive oil, and coconut oil
  • Carbohydrates: Whole grains, leafy green vegetables
  • Proteins: Eggs, fatty wild-caught fish, poultry

How Do I Calculate My Macronutrients?

Calculating macronutrients isn’t that difficult, even if you aren’t a math wizard. For those who would rather avoid doing pen and paper calculations, you can head on over to IIFYM.com to use the calculator or use other fitness apps like My Fitness Pal, HealthyEater, or Fitocracy to figure out the ideal macro ratio for you.

Want to figure it out yourself? Then here is what you do: First, figure out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Again, calculators for it exist. The formulas are seen below. Use pounds and inches for the measurements of weight and height.

To calculate your total daily energy expenditure (which uses the BMR equation too), use the equation for Imperial/US units:

  • Women: TDEE = Activity Factor x [(4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.70 x height in inches) + (4.68 x your age) + 655]
  • Men: TDEE = Activity Factor x [(6.25 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.76 x your age) + 66]

Your “activity factor” is a number that is determined by your activity level and the thermic effect of food (TEF). Select your activity factor from the list below:

  • Sedentary – Very little to no daily exercise; desk job. Activity factor is 1.2.
  • Lightly active – Low intensity exercise 1-3 days a week, including things like walking and yoga. Activity factor is 1.375.
  • Moderately active – Low to moderate intensity exercise or sports 3-5 days a week. Activity factor is 1.55.
  • Very active – Moderate to intense exercise and sports 6-7 days a week. Activity factor is 1.725.
  • Extremely active – Physical job and intense exercise and sports multiple times a day, 6-7 days a week. Activity factor is 1.9.

Don’t round up any of the numbers in the calculations or for the activity factor.

So if you are calculating your TDEE, it might look something like this:

  • Male TDEE = 1.725 x [(6.25×190) + (12.7×74) + (6.76×28) + 66]
  • Male TDEE = 1.725 x [562.5 + 939.8 + 189.28 + 66]
  • Male TDEE = 3031.8 calories per day

That means that this man is burning 3032 calories a day with vigorous exercise. Keep that in mind, you then think of your goals. In the case of our example, let’s say this man wants to put on muscle. He’s going to need surplus of calories in order to do that. Since protein is required to build muscle, he will want to prioritize his intake of protein. If his goal was to lose weight, he might opt to increase protein and fat while reducing carbohydrates.

The recommended ratios for macronutrients is generally 45-65% carbohydrates, 10-20% protein, and 20-30% from fat.

If you want to gain muscle, you might opt for 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat.

If you are working out for long periods of time, you would up your carbs for more energy, so the ratio would then look like 45% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat.

Bodybuilders choose 40-60% carbs, 25-35% protein, and 15-25% fat.

To lose weight, try 10-30% carbohydrates, 40-50% from protein, and 30-40% fat.

Returning to our example, if this person wanted to calculate how much protein they needed to gain weight, they would first bump up their caloric intake by 200-500 calories then figure out the percentage of calories from each macronutrient. For instance, you can take 3232 calories times 30% protein (3232×0.30) to find that you need 969.6 calories from protein. Since protein is equal to 4 calories per gram, you divide 969.6 calories by 4 to get 242.4 grams.

Then you repeat for both fat and carbohydrates.

Once you have those numbers, you know your macros and can then decide what will fit into that daily allotment.

What are the Benefits of the Macro Diet?

The macro diet has a lot of fans for good reason. Flexible dieting means you don’t have to restrict certain types of foods, offering more options and even the occasional decadent treat. That alone is enough of a reason to give it a try.

But the real benefit is this: You learn how to make smart decisions. For instance, let’s say it’s snack time. On one hand, if you were counting calories and had 200 calories set aside for snacking, you might pick up a bag of chips or 2 cookies to satisfy your hunger pangs. On the other hand, if you were counting macros, you might have to fill in protein and fat, so you would choose a handful of roasted nuts instead.

In terms of weight loss, choosing foods higher in protein and fat will keep you satiated longer than simple carbohydrates. The advantage here is clear.

Disadvantages of the Macro Diet

The downside of the macro diet is the planning. Counting macros is generally easier than counting calories, but that doesn’t mean everything is going to fit perfectly together all the time. If you follow general guidelines and always eat recommended serving sizes, it’s fine; but who is going to eat the serving size 100% of the time?

Right, no one.

Plus, you have three totals to worry about, rather than one amount for your calorie consumption. When you follow a specific diet, this can make your plan a bit more rigid—and that can mess with some people. Remember, you have to think about every single macro. It’s no longer just 100 calories of yogurt but 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of fat that you have to consider!

How To Begin The Macro Diet

Getting started is easy once you have calculated your macros. After that, you can figure out your menu and start meal planning.

You can choose your timing. Whether you like small meals throughout the day or 3 big meals, that doesn’t matter. What matters is fitting in the correct amount of macros. Ideally, you want to keep your blood sugar from bottoming out, so if you need snacks, do it. You will also need to consider timing, your budget, and your dietary restrictions. Some people like pairing the ketogenic diet with IIFYM, for example.

It is also wise to get a macro dieting app for your smartphone. This will save you time since you just have to plug in the food and serving size. The app will do all the complicated math for you then give you the results. You will be able to access your data throughout the day to make sure you are staying on track.

The first few weeks are trial and error. You might find that your ratio isn’t working for you. Hunger might be an issue, or you might get tired. If you have trouble filling up, opt for more protein and fat. If your weight isn’t changing, cut out carbs during dinner time and add more fiber and protein. See what works with you. Once you find that sweet spot, stick with it.

Macro Diet Meal Planning Tips

The macro diet does require some time in the kitchen. You might not be a master chef, so it’s understandable if switching to IIFYM seems a bit intimidating. Here’s some tips to help make the transition easier:

  • Consider your eating schedule. If you eat 3 square meals a day, that’s 21 meals a week. You might also have 2 snacks a day, totaling 14 snacks a week.
  • Instead of thinking of those 21 meals and 14 snacks as separate, cook meals in bulk. That way you can portion out the exact amounts, freeze them, and eat them later. Buy ingredients and make your own snack mixes.
  • Buy in bulk. Not only will you stick to your grocery budget better, but you will then be able to prepare larger meals that can be divvied up.
  • Buy ingredients that can be prepared multiple ways, like brown rice, oatmeal, eggs, peppers, fruits, and so on. For example, you could make an omelet with mixed vegetables in the morning then have fried rice in the evening.
  • Invest in scale, crock pot, and some bento lunch boxes that are freezer-safe. That will streamline preparation, cooking, and keeping.
  • Get creative! The world is full of food to discover. If you are cutting carbs, you can try substitutes like cauliflower rice and pizza crust, zucchini and carrot noodles, broccoli tots, and more.
  • Don’t forget to treat yourself once in a while. You’re human, after all. Give yourself some ice cream once in a while. Enjoy the finer things. That is why we call this flexible dieting after all. Just remember to track your indulgences!


The macro diet makes it easier than ever to stick to a diet, because you don’t have to deprive yourself of anything—as long as it fits your macro ratio. You can lose weight eating a wide range of foods or even gain muscle, thanks to IIFYM. Whatever your goals are, macro dieting is an approach that will help you find success. Give a try!

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