Macros For Cutting – Dietitian Step-By-Step Guide

If you’re looking to lose some body fat and need clarification on what your macros should be, let me guide you through the precise steps to calculate your macros for cutting.

I’ll also provide useful meal planning and tracking tools to assist you in achieving your fitness goals.

Let’s dive in!

What are macros

Macros or macronutrients can be broken down into three categories, protein, fats, and carbs, all of which provide our body with energy in the form of calories. See the table below:

Macronutrient Calories per gram
Protein 4 calorie 
Carbohydrates 4 calorie 
Fats 9 calorie

Not only do these macros provide us with calories, but each nutrient also has a very specific role in the body. An easy way to think about each is fats and carbohydrates give you energy while protein helps build and repair tissue. (1)

Macros for cutting

As a dietitian, I’d recommend focusing on a calorie deficit and adjusting your macro ratios for cutting by increasing protein intake, moderately reducing carbohydrates, and maintaining healthy fats. Additionally, incorporate regular strength training and cardio exercises to support fat loss while preserving muscle mass.

Cutting calories vs macros

While calories and energy balance are the key factors in weight loss, macronutrients also play a crucial role in maintaining muscle mass and supplying essential nutrients to the body.  

Individuals looking to lose weight should pay close attention to their calorie intake, macronutrient composition, and all five food groups within MyPlate. (lean protein, whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables)(2)

Macro ratios for weight loss

The macro ratio refers to the percentage of calories derived from each macronutrient. The USDA has established the following recommended macro ratio.

Macronutrient % of daily calories
Protein 10-35%
Carbohydrates 45-65%
Fats 20-35%

The macro ratios for weight loss typically will fall within the recommended ranges. However, the percentage of calories from protein will be on the higher end, and because we are in a deficit, fats, and carbohydrates will be on the lower end of the recommended range.

Step 1: Find the calories you need to maintain weight.

𝗖𝗔𝗟𝗖𝗨𝗟𝗔𝗧𝗘 𝗧𝗛𝗘 MACROS 𝗜𝗡 𝗠𝗬 𝗙𝗢𝗢𝗗? 1 gram of protein  4 calories 1 gram of carb 4 calories 1 gram of fat 9 calories Activity Factor, 1.2 sednetary, 1.375 light, 1.55 moderate, High 1.7

The number of calories you need to maintain weight is your total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. Your TDEE comprises four categories, your basal metabolic rate, non-exercise energy expenditure (NEAT),  turmeric effect of food, and exercise activity thermogenesis. 

Your TDEE is like a balancing beam; if you consume more than what is required, you’ll gain weight, and if you eat less than what is required, you’ll lose weight. Weight loss is built upon the idea of being in a caloric deficit, so it’s essential to know how many calories you need to maintain weight. (3)

Step 2: Calculate your calorie deficit. 

To calculate your calorie deficit, you should subtract a certain number of calories from your TDEE. Keep in mind that this calculation can vary for each person. Typically, a good starting point is to subtract 200-500 calories.

For example: If your maintenance calories are 2000, a 10% calorie deficit would be 200 calories, and a 25% calorie deficit would be 500 calories. Leaving you with a daily calorie target of 1500 to 1800 calories per day.

I suggest a slight calorie reduction and gradually decreasing your intake instead of immediately cutting the recommended maximum. This can be referred to as periodization and will look like the example below.

Weeks 1-4200010%2001800
Weeks 5-8200020%4001600
Weeks 9-12200025%5001500

Program Your Calorie Deficit: 

Maintaining a caloric deficit is hard. You have to restrict calories, which sometimes can mean forgoing some of your favorite foods. For that reason, think about setting aside 6-12 weeks for a fat loss phase. Anything shorter than 6 weeks, it will be hard to see results. 

Let’s also discuss the possibility of needing to lose a significant amount of body fat. If this is the case, a 12-week fat loss phase is probably not going to be enough time.  

Instead of maintaining a caloric deficit for more than 12 weeks, consider breaking up and planning out more than one 12 week fat loss phase. In between each fat loss phase, implement a diet break. 

Adjusting your calories and macros

As you go through your transformation, your body will change. You will lose body fat and possibly some lean muscle mass. You will be lighter in weight and probably become more efficient or conditioned with your workouts and physical activity regimen. Therefore it is important to recalculate your energy requirements. 

Step 3: Protein

The first macro we are going to account for is protein. Protein requirements are based on weight/lean body mass, activity level, and calorie intake. The current US Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (1)

This recommendation may need to be higher for individuals in a calorie deficit or strength training. Instead, a protein range from 1.4-2.2 grams per kilogram is recommended for most people trying to lose weight and maintain their muscle mass. (5, 6,7,)

When calculating protein intake for individuals with higher body fat, it is important to use the lean body mass instead of current weight.

The tendency is to think if some are good, more is better. Similar to adjusting calories, you are better off starting with the minimal effective dose of protein and gradually increasing it as you progress.

Find your daily protein intake by multiplying your lean body mass by 1.4-2.2 grams of protein.

Example: 

170lbs (77kg)man (multiplied by 1.4g-2.2g protein/kg)=108-170 grams of protein

1 gram of protein = 4 calories so 108-170 grams of protein=432-680 calories. 

Step 4: Fats

Including dietary fat in your diet is crucial because it is an essential nutrient, meaning our body can not make it, and we must obtain it through our diets. Often, people trying to lose weight reduce their fat intake too much.

The USDA suggests 20-35% of your daily calories from fat. Due to the calorie deficit, following these ratios could result in an insufficient fat intake. It is recommended to find out your individual needs to avoid any deficiencies.

To find your daily fat intake, multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.5-1 g/kg—about .23g-.45g per pound. 

Example:

170lbs (77kg) man (multiplied by 0.5 g-1 g protein/kg)= 39-77 grams of fat

1 gram of fat = 9 calories so 39-77 grams of fat= 351-693 calories. 

At this point, it is a good idea to add up the fat and proteins. That way we are just left with the remaining number of calories which we will use to find daily carbohydrates needs.  

Example:

2000 calorie diet with 170 protein (680 calories) 56 grams fat (504 calories) 

2000 calories – 680 calories – 504 calories = 816 calories 

Step 5: Carbohydrates 

Last up, carbohydrates. Carbs provide your muscles with quick energy, are a good source of fiber, and provide essential vitamins and minerals.

So how many carbs for cutting? Until this point, we have identified our maintenance calories, grams of protein, and the grams of fats we need for our cut. 

To calculate the remaining carbs, add the calories from fat and protein and subtract the total from the sum. This will leave the remaining calories that should be divided by four to determine the number of grams per day.  

Example: 

2000 calorie diet with 170 protein (680 calories) 56 grams fat (504 calories) 

2000 calories – 680 calories – 504 calories = 816 calories remaining

816 calories / 4 calories per gram of carb = 204 grams of carbs  

Step 6: Distribution 

While in a weight loss phase, managing your hunger should be expected. A simple yet effective strategy for hunger management is to distribute your calories and macros throughout the day. Eating 5 times per day might resemble eating 1-2 sacks and 3 meals daily.

macros for cutting distribution.

Example:

Say you have a total of 2000 calories per day. Of those calories, 34 percent will be used for protein, equaling 680 calories or 170 grams per day. 41 percent will come from carbohydrates or 204 grams per day. 25 percent will be from fats or 56 grams per day. 

Setting up a macro distribution using the somewhat standard meal timing of breakfast lunch and dinner with a few snacks. 

If you prefer a different style of mealtimes, other than breakfast lunch, and dinner, this will still work.

Instead, distribute your macro’s by dividing each of them by how many times you want to eat throughout that day. 

Start by getting the sum of the calories and macros for your snacks. 

Normally I like to get these planned so that I can just divide the remaining calories and macros by 3 for breakfast lunch and dinner. 

Once you have eliminated the calories and macros coming from your snacks. You can simply divide the remaining calories by three.

  • 170 grams of protein (34% of 2000 calories) – 40 grams, of which go to two snacks.
    • That leaves 130 grams of protein for the three meals.
      • Divided by 3 meals would be about 43g protein per meal 
      • (~equivalent to 5-7 oz serving of meat choice)
  • 204 grams carbohydrate (40% of 2000 calories)  – 30 grams, of which go to two snacks.
    • That leaves 170 grams of carbohydrates for the three meals.
      • Divided by 3 meals would be about 40-50 grams of carbohydrate per meal 
      • (~equivalent to 1-3 servings of carbohydrate choice)
  • 56g Fat (26% of 2000 calories) -19 grams, of which go to two snacks.
    • That leaves 37 grams of fat for the three meals.
      • (~equivalent to 1 serving of fat choice)

Meal planning and prep: 

You know your calories and macros, and you have evenly distributed them throughout the day. That is only half of the battle. You now have to eat a diet rich in these macros. This is when meal planning and preparation come in handy. 

Keep it simple. When starting with meal planning, you should find lean protein sources, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Ensure you know each food group and what each will provide regarding macros. 

When preparing your food, weighing and measuring your potions will ensure you know how many calories and grams of each macro you consume with each meal.

Tracking: 

Keeping a food journal using pen and paper or an application like Cronometer can be a great tool. It can provide you insight and accountability into your diet adherence.

I will reiterate this is just a tool. Sometimes the recipe or food choice does not have a nutrition fact listed. And sometimes, you won’t be able to find that information in a food tracking app. 

That is ok; the point of tracking your macros is to give you better insight into your daily behavior so you can make adjustments as needed. Please, if you have any negative impacts from tracking your macros, stop importantly. 

Like weighing out your portions, tracking your macros is not something you will need to do for the rest of your life; rather, do it for three months to a year just to give you a better idea of food and all that it offers. 

Frequently asked questions

What are macros, and why are they essential for cutting?

Macros, or macronutrients, are the nutrients your body requires to function optimally. They consist of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. When cutting calories for fat loss, it’s vital to ensure you still get adequate macros—especially protein—which help maintain muscle mass while you diet.

How do I calculate my ideal macro ratios for cutting?

You can calculate your ideal macro ratios for a cutting diet using the formula of 10-35% protein, 45-65% carbohydrates, and 20-35% fat. This will provide an adequate macronutrient balance for maintaining energy levels while burning fat.

What is the optimal protein intake during a cutting phase?

The optimal protein intake during a cutting phase is typically 10-35% of your daily caloric intake. Under a doctor’s or dietitian’s supervision, you can calculate your protein based on your body and goals.Add image

Can I still enjoy my favorite foods while tracking macros for cutting?

Yes, you can still enjoy your favorite foods while tracking macros for cutting. Tracking your macros is like balancing a checkbook, as long as the total amount of macros you take in meets your daily goals, then you can enjoy foods that fit into your macro goals.

Summary: 

You should know precisely how many calories and grams of protein, fats, and carbs you’ll need on your next cut. 

I hope you found this helpful, and if you need some help figuring out your macros for cutting, schedule a discovery call today. 

Disclaimer

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

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.

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