Ask the RD: How Do You Determine the Right Macro Mix?

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the RD: How Do You Determine the Right Macro Mix?

Following a healthy, well-balanced diet over the long term requires flexibility. That’s why tracking macros to ensure you have a balance of carbsprotein and fat, is so popular. The process starts by calculating a target calorie intake based on your height, weight, physical activity level, gender and age. The MyFitnessPal app can help you do this. Then, you can determine a macro mix based on your goal (i.e., weight loss, maintenance, building muscle, etc.)


MyFitnessPal’s current default ratio for weight maintenance is 50% calories from carbohydrates, 20% calories from protein and 30% calories from fat. Let’s use this baseline mix as an example for a person with a 2,000-calorie target intake.


To stay in weight-maintenance mode, you’d multiply target calories by ratio by calories per gram. Remember: Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, protein contains 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram.

2,000 X 0.5 = 1,000 calories/4 calories per gram = 250 grams carbohydrates
2,000 X 0.2 = 400 calories/4 calories per gram = 100 grams protein
2,000 X 0.3 = 600 calories/9 calories per gram = 67 grams fat


If you are trying to build muscle and enhance your physical performance, you’ll want to prioritize protein. In the above example, you’ll want to decrease carbs to 40–45%, increase protein to 30–35% and shift fat to around 20–25%.


If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll need to put yourself in a calorie deficit. Reduce your overall target calorie range by 10–15%, depending on the amount of weight you are aiming to lose. In this example, you’d drop your target intake to 1,700 or 1,800. If you don’t see results after a few weeks, then you may also want to tweak your macronutrient mix. Try decreasing carbs to 40–45%, increase protein to 25–35%, and keep fat around 20–25%.


The keto diet has become a trendy fad diet for people looking to lose weight and emphasizes calories from fat (70%) and20% for protein, leaving just 10% for carbs. (As a reminder, many experts remain cautious about using the ketogenic diet. Here are 10 things you should know before going down this path.)


If you are looking to improve heart health, you may want to put special focus on reducing saturated fat and limiting refined carbs. The good news is the MyFitnessPal app sets your saturated fat limit at less than 10% of total calories.

If you exercise less than 30 minutes per day, try a macro breakdown that’s 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat.

If you exercise an hour or more per day, you’ll likely want more energy from carbs, so try 45% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 25% fat.


Regardless of your macro mix, it’s important to focus on high-quality calories. A good rule of thumb is to prioritize whole foods over processed ones wherever possible. For carbs, choose more nutrient-dense whole grains and starchy vegetables over highly processed refined carbohydrates and sugar. For fats, choose heart-healthy options like nuts, avocados, fatty fish and olive oil.

Once you’ve determined your macro mix, be consistent about tracking with an app like MyFitnessPal, and adjust as needed. Your mix changes as your body and goals progress. It’s a constant process that requires attention when it comes to food labels and meal-time decision-making, which is why it’s more of a lifestyle change. To set yourself up for success, try to plan ahead by meal prepping.

Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like learning to track macros. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.


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