You may have tried various diet plans in the past and be hesitant to count your macros, but rest assured that doing so is simple and effective.
When determining the timeline for results, there are a few important aspects that should be taken into account.
It’s important to determine your calorie intake, your macro ratios (e.g. protein, fats, and carbohydrates), the quality of food you’re eating, the accuracy of tracking macros, and your activity level.
Additionally, dieting history, lifestyle, and any medical or physiological factors will all affect how quickly you’ll see results.
This article will address these factors to determine an estimated timeline for seeing results from counting macros.
First, your total calorie intake will have the most significant impact on how quickly you will see results. Whether you are trying to lose weight and body fat, your calorie intake will have the most direct effect on your progress.
Your calorie needs depend on a variety of factors, including:
- Age – With age, it is common for you to need fewer calories
- Gender – Men typically need more calories than women.
- Weight – The more you weigh, the more you may need.
- Height – The taller you are, the more calories you may need
- Activity Level – How active you are will influence your calorie needs
Remember that this is just an estimate, and you may need to adjust these numbers based on your own experience. (1)
To find your Total Daily Energy Intake (TDEE), you can use the online calorie calculator provided by the National Institute of Health – The Body Weight Planner.
You can also use a calorie tracking app to determine how many calories you need per day. My personal favorite is Cronometer. Not only will you get a comprehensive review of your calories, but you will also get a good idea of your macronutrient and micronutrient intake. Check out Cronometer today
The next factor to consider is your goal. How long it will take to see results from counting macros depends on what exactly you are trying to achieve.
If you’re looking to lose weight, a calorie deficit of 5-20% is ideal. This means that if your TDEE is 2000 calories, then a calorie deficit of 1900–1600 would render results. You can expect a weight loss of 1/2 – 2 lb per week. (2)
If you’re aiming for muscle gain, you will need a calorie surplus in addition to a high-protein diet along with a strength training regimen. The combination of these three should yield visible results. (3)
Next, let’s discuss macro ratios. How much protein, fat, and carbs you should be eating depends on your goal.
For weight loss, a typical macro ratio is 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Now there are exceptions to this. However, this is a general starting point. (4)
The type of food choices you make can also significantly impact your progress. Highly processed foods are usually designed to trigger a pleasure response in the brain in addition to being lower in nutrient density and higher in calories. This trio is known for overconsumption and weight gain. (6)
Focus on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These will provide more nutrients for fewer calories, allowing you to meet your goals with ease.
Accuracy of tracking
As a dietitian, I understand that there is an intricate harmony between the science and biochemistry of food consumption and our emotional perception regarding nourishment.
To achieve success with macro counting, it’s essential to be as accurate and precise as possible.
In terms of weight loss, we are working with a rather small margin (5-20%) calorie deficit. Any inaccuracies in tracking can lead to an underestimation of the calorie deficit and, subsequently, a lack of results.
I like to suggest that the first few weeks to be an exercise in tracking accuracy. Weigh and measure all your foods, track everything you’re eating and make sure that you are hitting your macros.
Your activity level can also impact how quickly you will see results from counting macros.
Because your TDEE is based on your self-reported activity level, if you start or stop an exercise regimen and increase or decrease your activity level, you will need to adjust your TDEE accordingly.
Therefore if you’re not getting the results you want, look at how active you’ve been and make any necessary adjustments.
Chronic dieting and yo-yo dieting can have a significant impact on the progress of your macro counting regimen.
If you have a history of chronic dieting, there is a higher probability that you are in a phase of metabolic adaptation.
When your body adjusts to a caloric deficit, it is called metabolic adaptation. As a result of this process, you will experience decreases in muscle mass, an imbalance in hunger hormones, and reduced physical activity. (7)
If you find yourself at a plateau, take some time off to restrict caloric intake and focus on strength training and eating enough food.
Finally, your lifestyle, which includes your stress level, sleeping habits, and mental health, will impact your progress.
For instance, if you’re stressed out and not getting enough sleep, your judgment will be impacted, and you may not do the things that will move the needle forward. (8)
In addition, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or are in a negative headspace, it can be hard to stay consistent and motivated. In these situations, I recommend working with a mental health professional and/or coach to get the help you need.
Frequently asked questions:
How quickly can you lose weight by counting macros?
It depends. We are all unique, and our bodies are going to digest and absorb these nutrients at different rates, and we are going to respond to changes in caloric intake differently. Factors such as dieting history, activity level, and lifestyle can impact how quickly you see results.
I feel like I’m eating too much on macros.
It is common to feel like you are eating way more food than previously. When you compare a well-balanced meal to a fast food burger and fries, the volume of food is going to be much high in the well-balanced meal.
Counting macros but not losing weight
There are a few reasons why you are not losing weight while you are counting macros. Are you sure that you are eating in a calorie deficit? How accurate is your tracking? How active have you been, and what is your lifestyle like outside the kitchen?
Gaining weight first week of counting macros
It is possible to gain weight while counting macros, especially if it’s your first week. This could be due to an adjustment period in which you are consistently consuming the right amount of food which could be more than you have been eating just before counting macros.
In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to counting macros. How quickly you will see results depends on factors such as calorie intake, macro ratios, food choices, the accuracy of tracking macros, activity level, dieting history, and lifestyle.
Suppose you need additional help getting started or feel stuck in your progress. In that case, I highly recommend working with a registered dietitian who can review your current eating habits and recommend the necessary adjustments.
Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.