What Should My Macros Be?
Tracking your diet isn’t only interesting, but a great way to find out about the foods that you’re eating. Many of us don’t know the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein in our meals or the importance of them. Even just tracking your diet for a few weeks will give you a lot of information about how your body responds to different foods. Calories and macros are more than just for body composition, they affect your energy levels, your mood, and your digestive process among a variety of other things.
Today, we’re going to look at why you should track your food and what your macros should be to help you lose weight and build muscle more effectively and efficiently.
First of all, if you haven’t already guest, the term ‘macros’ is a shortened version of macronutrients. Macronutrients are simply nutrients we eat a comparatively high amount of compared to micronutrients. The three main macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates and protein. Each ‘macro’ has its own caloric value which is how the total amount of calories in a food or meal is worked out.
- Fat = 9 calories per gram
- Carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
So, let’s say you have a granola bar which contains 10 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein. The 10 grams of fat would contribute 90 calories, the 25 grams of carbohydrate would contribute 100 calories, and the 5 grams of protein would contribute 20 calories making for a total caloric value of 210 calories. Usually supplies are allowed a +/- 10% leeway on their products which is why the total calories and macronutrient value on the packet might not always add up.
Both fat and carbohydrate usually come with sub categories, too. For instance, on a nutritional label you’ll see total fat listed and then saturated fat underneath it usually written as ‘of which saturates’. Carbohydrates are similar in that the total carbohydrates will be listed with ‘of which sugars’ underneath it.
Weight Loss, Weight Gain, Meal Timing and the Best Diet
The amount of weight you lose and gain is dependent on a process often shortened to ‘CICO’ or ‘Calories In Calories Out’. Energy balance (the amount of calories we expend versus the amount of calories we consume) is the overruling factor of all body composition changes. If you take in more calories than your body expends, then you’re going to gain weight. If you take in less calories than your body expends, then you’re going to lose weight.
An extremely comprehensive study looking at the effects of different diets on body composition found there to be no benefit to any once total calories and protein were matched. Meaning that higher fat or higher carbohydrate diets work dependent on preference opposed to specific physiological processes in all of us. Vegan, atkins, paleo, fruitarian, IIFYM, zone, and all of the other diets are correct for the people who can stick with them for the longest time. When choosing to follow any diet, make sure it’s something that makes you happy, works with your lifestyle and is sustainable for the long-term. The best diet really is the one you can keep up.
You’ll also hear people say “you need to eat constantly throughout the day to stoke your metabolism” and this is true to a degree. When you eat, your metabolism does increase, therefore burning more energy. Many people forget that digesting does actually require energy and calories. However, recent research has found that the amount to which your metabolism increases is dependent on the caloric value of the meal. So, if you’re eating 2000 calories a day, it doesn’t matter whether you eat that in one go or in six 330 calorie meals spread evenly over the course of the day, your metabolism will use the same amount of energy in total. Meal timing isn’t something that many people need to worry about, so just do what works for you.
Now, the amount of calories you need for your goal might be different to someone else’s. If anyone tells you to eat a certain amount of calories without knowing any personal information, then the chances are that they’re wrong. We all have different activity levels and different metabolism speeds, meaning that one person might have to diet on 1500 calories whilst another can get away with 2000 calories. This is why tracking can be so important as it can let you know so much more about your body than you currently do.
As a good starting point, multiply your weight in pounds by 14 to find out the amount of calories you need to lose weight. For instance, an 150lb individual would need to eat around 2100 calories. If you want to gain weight, then multiply your weight in pounds by 18. So, an 150lb person would need 2700 calories a day.
When you track your calories, you also need to weigh yourself. Many people weigh themselves every day, but because weight can fluctuate so much, then 2 times a week should do it. This will give you an idea of how your body’s responding to your diet. As well as this, taking progress photos every couple of weeks will let you know where the weight is coming from. Weight can refer to so many different things such as muscle, water, fat and bone to name just a few, but we want to make sure the weight we’re losing and gaining is coming from the right place. Anyone can lose weight by eating 600 calories a day, but a lot of this weight will come from quality lean tissue i.e. muscle. You’ll also see people bulking on 4000 calories when they really don’t need it. Sure, they end up putting on a substantial amount of size to their frame, but a lot of it is fat which means they have to end up cutting for a ridiculously long amount of time to see the muscle they’ve added. Progress pictures tell you exactly where that weight change from the scale is coming from.
- Fat loss: – 1-2lbs per week
- Muscle gain: +0.5-1lb per week
If you’re weigh is straying in the wrong direction, then you know you need to alter your total calories in accordance to the change. For instance, trying to lose fat but staying at the same weight? Try taking off 200 calories from your total and see if that helps or introduce some extra activity to your week such as a brisk walk to burn those calories off. Want to gain muscle but the scale won’t budge? Add on 200 calories. It’s really that simple. These calories should come from fat and carbohydrates with your protein staying the same. 200 calories equals around 10 grams of fat and 25 grams of carbohydrates, but you can split it however works for you.
We’ll start by working out the total amount of protein you need for your goal. Contrary to popular belief, you should actually eat more protein when you’re cutting compared to when you’re bulking due to the satiating effects. Protein helps to keep us full and maintain lean tissue, perfect for when we’re in a caloric deficit and trying to lose fat. Yet, when we’re bulking you want to keep your hunger levels up so you can eat more calories.
- Fat loss: 1-1.2 grams per lb of bodyweight
- Muscle gain: 0.7-0.8 grams per lb of bodyweight
With these levels, our 150lb individual would need 150-180 grams of protein per day when cutting and 105-120 grams per day when bulking.
Now, we need to take into account our caloric values from earlier. Protein has four calories per gram, so let’s say the individual wants to eat 150 grams when cutting and 105 grams when bulking. This works out to 600 calories and 420 calories from protein respectively. All we do then is take this number away from our total caloric goal.
- Fat loss: 2100 calories (150 x 14) – 600 calories (150 x 4) = 1500 calories left
- Muscle gain: 2800 calories (150 x 18) – 420 calories (105 x 4) = 2380 calories left
Hopefully, you’ve managed to keep up with all of that. So, we did our weight in pounds multiplied by either 14 or 18 dependent on whether you’re cutting or bulking, then took away the amount of calories from protein so we can work out how much fat and carbohydrates we need. As protein is 4 calories per gram, we multiplied the amount of grams by 4 to get our total amount of calories from protein which for the example 150lb individual was 600 when cutting and 420 when bulking.
Fat & Carbohydrates
Moving on to the ‘energy’ macros as that’s they’re main responsibility, you’ve most likely heard at some point that one of these is bad for you. Yet, you’ll be pleased to hear that’s not the case. In reality, as long as you keep your calories the same, then you can eat the ratio of carbohydrates to fat that suits you.
Many people lose a substantial amount of weight by cutting out all carbs, but this doesn’t make them evil. This type of diet is called ‘keto’ and puts us in a state of ‘ketogenic’. We can enter this state either through fasting or limiting the amount of carbohydrates we ingest per day to under 50 grams. It is true that when you’re in a ketogenic you burn more fat. However, that’s because you’re ingesting more fat. If you eat more carbs, then you’re going to burn more carbs. Yet, studies have shown that when calories and protein are equated, ketogenic diets have no beneficial effects on fat loss over and above that of any other diet.
There are however, essential fats which is why there’s a minimum requirement for fat intake per day. The reason you can eliminate all carbohydrates with no serious repercussions is because there are no essential carbohydrates. Yet, carbohydrates have been shown time and time again to be beneficial for athletic performance. This means that if you care about your performance in the gym, then having at least a moderate intake of carbohydrates will be the best approach.
Once again, it’s important to stress the effectiveness of individuality. Just because something works for one of your friends doesn’t mean it will work for you. You might thrive on a ketogenic diet or you might find limiting your fats to be the best approach. Track your diet, work out what’s best for you and take it from there.
So, we’re currently left with 1500 calories for our cutting person and 2380 calories for our bulking person. As a starting point let’s do a 60/40 split of carbohydrates and fats.
- Fat loss: 60% of 1500 is 900. 900 divided by 4 (as carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram) equals 225. This means we’d need 225 grams of carbohydrates. 40% of 1500 is 600. 600 divided by 9 (as fat has 9 calories per gram) equals 67. So, we would need 67 grams of fat.
- Muscle gain: 60% of 2380 equals 1428. 1428 divided by 4 (as carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram) equals 357 grams. 40% of 2380 equals 952. 952 divided by 9 (as fat has 9 calories per gram) equals 106. This means we’d need 106 grams of fat.
In total this means our 150lbs individual would need:
- Fat loss
- 150 grams of protein
- 225 grams of carbohydrates
- 67 grams of fat
This makes for a total of 2,103 calories.
- Muscle gain
- 105 grams of protein
- 357 grams of carbohydrates
- 106 grams of fat
This makes for a total of 2802 calories.
Start with these calorie and macronutrient goals based upon your own bodyweight and see how they affect you. If you’re not losing weight but don’t want to eat less, try increasing your activity or swapping some of the carbohydrate and fat calories for protein. If you’re training your butt off but can’t seem to build muscle, then all you have to do is eat more. It really is as simple as that.
Many of you won’t want to track your calories day in and day out, and that’s perfectly fine. Instead set aside two days for tracking each week and don’t consciously change your diet. This will give you a good view of the foods you’re eating and a rough estimate of the total calories you’re getting in each day.
Finally, just enjoy the process. Changing your body in any respect is never quick, so you need to find a way to fall in love with the process. Try new things, experiment a little, Soon enough you’ll get into an easy groove and everything with fall into place.