If you’ve been a macro tracker for even a short period of time, you’ve undoubtedly considered adjusting your macros. Whether you’re preemptively thinking about what you’ll do when progress stalls or just flat out doesn’t happen, or you’ve reached a plateau, knowing how to adjust your macro targets is a valuable tool to have at your disposal.
I'm Tami, Certified Macro Coach and I've been counting macros for a few years now.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through how to adjust your macros to suit your goals and help you continue to make progress on your nutrition and fitness goals.
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Understanding Your Macro Targets
Before we even dive into the topic of adjusting your macros, let’s first address the fact that your starting macros, regardless of where you got them (online calculator, macro coach, etc.), are a best-educated estimate of your personal needs. There’s no “perfect” set of macros and you’re very likely to be given different numbers from different coaches or calculators - this is all normal and to be expected.
That said, whatever your best estimated starting macros are, it’s usually a great place to start when you’re a beginner. The idea is to just start tracking, monitor your progress and results, and then make adjustments accordingly. Your needs will change over time along with your goals and your preferences. To keep up with these changes and to make sure that your still making progress toward your goals, you’ll want to know how to adjust your macros to continue getting the best results.
STOP: Before You Make Any Adjustments
I know how tempting it can be to blame your macro targets for your lack of results, but this is a case where you need to be very honest with yourself. Have you truly earned the right to make adjustments? Are macro adjustments truly warranted at this time? Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you been consistently hitting your current macro targets most days of the week within 5g + or - for a minimum of 3-4 weeks?
- Are you using all progress measuring tools at your disposal (body measurements, progress pics, fit of your clothing, energy levels, etc.), and not just the scale number?
- Are you tracking on the weekends? If you’re not tracking your intake on the weekends, it doesn’t matter if you hit your macros perfectly every other day. Chances are, you’re undoing what you did during the week over the weekend.
- Are you counting all of your BLTs (bites, licks, and tastes)? Although little nibbles throughout the day feels harmless and insignificant, I can assure you that they’re adding up, and when we aren’t tracking them, it’s very likely that we’re taking ourselves out of our macro targets.
- Are you counting alcoholic beverages? Are you tracking your alcohol properly?
The hard truth is that 9 times out of 10 when we get really honest with ourselves, we’re not following our macros with the level of adherence that’s required to see results. If you aren’t tracking consistently, and accurately (using a food scale, not just eyeballing!), then your results are going to be sporadic at best.
Get really honest with yourself, and if you identify an area where you might be inconsistent with your tracking and intake, fix that first before you think about adjusting your macros. Especially before adjusting your macros down! The goal of macros is to eat as MUCH as possible, not as little. If you tighten up your adherence to your current macros before you cut them down, you might just start to see results - all while eating more food!
Consider Adjusting Your Macro Targets Without Adjusting Your Calories
One of the biggest A-HA moments that I’ve had since I started tracking macros a few years ago was to worry less about my carbs and fats, and instead focus on my overall calorie and protein intake. These days, especially when I’m in maintenance, I generally only focus on these two critical numbers, but sometimes when we have a specific goal, it’s nice to optimize our carbs and fats.
Your personal preferences will play a major role in your carb and fat intake. Some people, then tend to gravitate towards more carb-heavy foods, while others go for more fat-dense foods. There’s no right or wrong way here! When it comes to macros and results, consistency is key, and you will not be consistent for the long term if you are not eating in a way that’s enjoyable for you.
Before you make any adjustments, take some time to evaluate your macros. Do you find yourself consistently going over on either carbs or fats and leaving the other with room to spare? Do you often wish you had room in your day for more of either? If so, here’s an example of how you can make some adjustments to your carb and fat macros to fit your needs:
If you’re looking to increase your carb intake, you will want to “borrow” from your fats to create balance. There are about 2 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of fat, so in order to decrease your carbs and increase your fats, you’ll want to do so in a 2 to 1 ratio. For example, if your current carb target is 160g and your fat is 70g, you can add another 20g of carbs and subtract 10g of fat. Your new targets would be 180g carbs and 60g fat. Remember, this will NOT change your calories and protein targets.
The same applies in the opposite scenario where you’d like to increase your fats and decrease your carb targets. Simply apply that same 2:1 ratio in the inverse to “borrow” from your carbs to increase your fat. In that same example, you would increase your fat target to 80g and decrease your carb target to 140g.
Decreasing Macros Down For a Calorie Deficit
A calorie deficit is required to lose body fat. However, you don’t want to just slash calories haphazardly - the goal of a calorie deficit is to lose body fat while maintaining muscle mass. This is where macros come in clutch. Protein is key for muscle retention, therefore we don’t reduce the amount of protein we’re eating while in a caloric deficit. Instead, we cut our calorie intake by taking from our fats and carbs.
In order to go from your maintenance calories (the intake at which you are maintaining your current body weight) to cut calories (the intake that will cause you to lose weight), you will want to decrease your overall calorie intake by anywhere from 10-30%.
Now, I know it can be tempting to jump right to that 30% decrease so that you can get results as fast as possible, however, that plan rarely works, and definitely not in the long term. Your goal when entering into a calorie deficit, aside from losing weight, should be to be able to eat as much as possible while still making progress toward your goals.
So, if you cut your calories by 10% and you’re seeing results, great! No need to reduce any further. However, if you aren’t seeing results, you might need to increase your deficit to 15% and so on. It will likely take some time and consistency before you figure it out - it’s all part of the process!
Here’s an example of how you can adjust your macros to find your calorie deficit:
- Decide how much of a calorie deficit you want to start with. Remember, I recommend starting on the conservative side so that you have room to make adjustments as needed!
- Multiply your maintenance calories by .90 for a 10% reduction, .85 for a 15% reduction, etc. This calculation will give you your deficit calories.
- Decide where you’d like to take your calories from to create your deficit. Remember, protein will remain the same, so we’re choosing between fat, carbs, or a combo of both. Personally, I like to do a combo of both, but this will come down to your personal preferences.
- If decreasing calories from fat, take the number of grams of fat that you wish to decrease and multiply it by 9 (fat contains 9 calories per gram). For example, if you want to reduce your fat by 10g, you would multiply 10 x 9 = 90 calories. If decreasing from carbs, you’ll follow a similar formula, however, carbs are worth 4 calories per gram. For example, if you want to decrease your intake by 30g of carbs, you would multiply 30 x 4 = 120 calories. If you’re taking from both fat and carbs in this example, you would add those together to get your total calorie deficit (90 + 120 = 210 calories). You’ll want to manipulate these figures until you get as close to possible to your calorie deficit calculation that you started with.
The same procedure but in the inverse can be applied for those who are looking to go into a calorie surplus.
Adjusting Macros For a Reverse Diet
After your dieting phase is over, you’re going to want to reverse diet and take your calories back to maintenance. A calorie deficit should only be utilized for short, strategic periods of time, so when your time is up, it’s important that you reverse your calories back up to maintenance so that you can keep your metabolism and body strong and healthy. By the way, it’s OK if you didn’t hit your end all, be all weight goal with your deficit. It may take several dieting cycles before you get there.
For some people, once their dieting phase is over, they’ll go right back to maintenance, and that’s certainly an option. If you go this route, you may notice an initial bump up in the scale just due to more food volume, but it will quickly level back out. However, if going back to maintenance is not comfortable, you can ease back into it with a reverse diet. With this method, you will slowly increase your calories gradually until you reach your new maintenance numbers.
How Often Should You Adjust Your Macros?
The boring answer: it depends. You will undoubtedly need to make some adjustments across your macro tracking journey, but these adjustments will likely be made less frequently than you might think.
I know we already harped on what you should consider before adjusting your macros at the top of this post, but this is another area where those considerations come into play. If you’re feeling adjust your macros, make sure you’re doing so for the right reasons and because you truly need a change.
Times to adjust your macros include:
- Going from maintenance to a deficit
- Going from a deficit to maintenance
- Going from maintenance to a surplus
- Going from a surplus to maintenance
- When you’ve had a significant weight gain or loss and are now occupying a smaller or larger body
- When you’ve hit a plateau (a true plateau, not one caused by a lack of adherence)
Based on these criteria, you really should only be adjusting your macros as often as you are adjusting or achieving your goals. Of course, everyone’s journey is different, so it’s important to work with someone who can help you through the process.
There are also some macro tracking apps that will auto-adjust your macros for you as you make progress toward your goals. For example, the 1st Phorm App will adjust your macros for you in conjunction with the progress that you’re tracking via daily or weekly weigh-ins. This might be a good option for those who don’t have the budget or the desire to hire a macro coach.
The methods and information that I presented here are based on my knowledge and experience, but they certainly aren’t the only ways to adjust your macros. That said, these methods are tried and tested and generally considered to be standard across the industry.
If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or confused about your macro targets, I recommend considering all of the information I presented in this post and implementing them as a first step toward continuing to make progress. If you’re in need of extra help and support on your journey, come join our FB community!