What are macronutrients, and what do they have to do with weight loss?

  • 5 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Educator

Tracking macronutrients, or "macros," for weight loss is a strategy in many plans. Learn tips for maximizing your macronutrients, as well as pitfalls to avoid.

Macronutrients for weight loss

Why should you keep track of macronutrients for weight loss?

"Macro-" means large (as compared to "micro-," meaning tiny). The macronutrients carbohydrates, fat, and protein appear in larger amounts in foods than micronutrient vitamins and minerals.

Macronutrients are calorie sources. Carbohydrates and protein provide four calories per gram, and fat provides nine calories per gram. (Picture this: a raisin weighs about a gram). Creating a calorie deficit is key to any weight-loss plan. Yet, plans may differ regarding which macronutrients are limited or emphasized, as in low-carb, high-protein, etc.

What is the ideal macronutrient mix?

Regardless of the macronutrient composition, you will lose weight on any plan that reduces your calorie intake. Fortunately, there are many options for healthy eating plans within a wide range of macronutrient profiles.

A study evaluated the weight-loss effectiveness of several diet plans with different macronutrient profiles (including low-fat, low-carb, and higher-protein). It found that the best predictor of weight-loss success was not the mixture of macros but how well the participants adhered to the plan. In other words, the plan that you can stick with is probably the best one for you.

Higher-protein intake may have weight-loss benefits by helping manage appetite and preserve muscle mass while following weight-loss plans. Likewise, reduced carbohydrate intake may help lower blood sugar for people with diabetes and prediabetes. This is why considering macronutrients for weight loss is something many dietitians include when building meal plans.

Tracking macronutrients with MyNetDiary Premium

Setting your macronutrient targets

The Institute of Medicine's DRI (Daily Reference Intake) for macronutrients provides guidance for a healthy macronutrient distribution range (see table below).

MyNetDiary uses default macronutrient targets for weight loss as shown:

Macronutrient DRI: Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges MyNetDiary default
Carbohydrate 45-65% of total calories 45% of total calories
Protein 10-35% of total calories 20% of total calories
Fat 20-35% of total calories 35% of total calories

If you follow an eating pattern that requires a different macronutrient distribution, you can customize your macronutrient goals with a Premium membership.

MyNetDiary also allows you to select from suggested macro distributions for numerous diet plans (low-carb, keto, low-fat, and more). Choose one of these options in the Macros tab under My Weight Plan.

Note: Alcohol is technically a macronutrient, providing seven calories per gram. As enjoyable as a glass of wine might be, it provides no nutritional value (and counts against your calorie budget). For this reason, MyNetDiary does not include alcohol in your macronutrient goals.

Fixed macro gram target

You may have a specific target for grams of carbohydrates, fat, or protein. What if you want to "fix" your target? For example, suppose you set a target of 120 grams of carbohydrates per day. In that case, this value will not change with your daily calorie budget. You may also have a fixed goal for two macros (for example, protein and fat), meaning the remainder of your calories will come from the third nutrient, such as carbohydrates.

To choose a set macro gram target in the app, under My Weight Plan, choose Macros tab (or Carbs Plan tab if on a Low-Carb or Keto diet plan), then tap "Switch to Grams."

Macro cycling

You may want a different macro target for certain days of the week, for example, if you are following a carb-cycling plan. Our Macro Cycling feature allows you to adjust your macro targets for specific days of the week. Go to "Cycling" under My Weight Plan to set up macro cycling.

Macro distribution of exercise calories

If you add exercise calories to your calorie budget, you may want a different macro distribution for these additional calories than your baseline plan. For example, you may choose a higher percentage of carbohydrates. Adjust the distribution of your exercise calorie macros under Exercise Plan.

Analyze and display macros

It's easy to quickly see how macros stack up for individual foods and meals. Go to "Settings" and select "Macros & Nutrients in Meals & Foods."

Want a visual representation of your macro intake for the day? Then, go to "Customize Dashboard" and add the macro pie chart to your dashboard.

Perhaps you would like to see your macro distribution by meals and snacks. Then, under Customize Dashboard, select the chart that allows you to view this information on your dashboard at a glance.

You may also display a bar chart on your dashboard indicating your macronutrient gram intake compared to your daily targets.

Avoid these macro pitfalls

Although tracking macronutrients can be useful for weight loss, it can lead you off-track if not used wisely with a few considerations.

Ignoring calories

It might look like you have an ideal macro mix, but you might fall short if you aren't eating enough calories. An 800-calorie day with 20% protein only provides 40g of protein. That's below the minimum recommendation for most people.

Likewise, a very high-calorie intake may include macros in the right proportions. Still, it could be too high in total intake. For example, a 3000-calorie day providing only 30% fat amounts to 100g of fat.

Overlooking food quality

Getting hung up on macros can keep you from focusing on the quality of food choices. Many healthy eating plans, such as Mediterranean, DASH, and vegetarian, aren't defined by their macro breakdown but rather by their nutritious foods.

Example: A Mediterranean-type meal of baked salmon, a sweet potato, olive oil, and green beans features the identical macronutrient breakdown to a large slice of pepperoni pizza (39% fat, 39% carb, 22% protein). However, the Mediterranean-style meal provides healthy omega-3 fats and fiber. The pizza, on the other hand, is high in saturated fat and sodium and low in fiber.

Missing the big picture

Don't rule out foods if they don't meet your macro targets, but balance your meal with other choices.

Will you track your macros as part of your weight-loss plan?

Tracking macronutrients for weight loss can be a valuable strategy, and MyNetDiary makes it easy. Remember to consider your overall calorie intake and the quality of your food choices.

Fat facts: what you need to know about the 4 types of fats in foods
Starch, sugar, and fiber: Here's what the 3 main types of carbohydrates mean to your health, plus how to track them
The benefits of eating protein for healthy and achievable weight loss

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Nutrients->"Carbs: Fiber, Starch, & Sugar" Nutrients->Fats Nutrients->Protein Weight Loss->Diets
Sep 19, 2022

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