You have probably heard the advice before that in order to build muscle or lose body fat all you need to do is track your macros.
But you aren’t sure what macros are, or exactly what your macros should be for your goal.
Tracking macros is great because it can add flexibility and structure into your fat loss or muscle gain diet.
But before we get into the macros, let’s first go over the principles of dieting for fat loss and muscle gain.
The principles of dieting for fat loss and muscle gain are listed here:
This picture is taken from the RP Diet Book 2.0.
As you can see the most important factor in changing your body composition is calorie balance. Second are macros. Calories and macros make up most of that pyramid. Which tells you just how important your macros and calories are to manipulating your body composition.
If your goal is to lose weight then you need to make sure you are taking in fewer calories than you expend, if you want to gain weight then you need to make sure you are taking in more calories than you expend. Read here for more about energy balance.
However, you could be hitting your calorie amount but if your macros are off then you may not be happy with your look and you could be making fat loss or muscle gain tougher than it needs to be.
In saying that, macros and calories are interrelated, as you will find out here in a minute.
What are Macros?
Macros are short for macronutrients.
There are three:
All three of these contain calories and added up together is your calorie intake for the day.
>Protein has 4 calories per gram.
>Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram as well.
>Fats have 9 calories per gram.
For example, if you read the nutrition label on something and it says it has:
- 10g protein
- 20g carbohydrates
- 5g fat
- 165 calories
Protein: 10g x 4= 40 calories
Carbohydrate: 20g x 4= 80 calories
Fat: 5g x 9 = 45 calories
These 3 added up equals 165 calories in total.
Each macronutrient plays important roles within the body. So we must ensure we get adequate amounts of all three while staying within your calorie amount based on your goals.
For example, you could be hitting your calorie amount for the day, but your protein may be low. This will make maintaining/building muscle very tough, low protein can also increase your hunger.
Let’s say your goal is to lose body fat. In order to do this you need to be in a negative energy balance (taking in less calories than you expend), so you can expect your calorie intake to be lower than what it normally is.
When this happens your body uses stored energy to make up for the lower amounts of energy it is getting. If you get lean enough or are in a negative energy balance for a long period of time, one thing your body could do is use your lean body mass (think muscle) for energy, so in order to protect this lean body mass you want to make sure you are taking in enough protein so you are at least maintaining lean body mass.
Your hunger usually rises the more weight you lose and the longer you are in a deficit. Protein can lower hunger levels and help keep you feeling fuller. So again it’s important to make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet.
So while calories are the most important for fat loss or muscle gain, macros also play a large role in this process.
Now lets go over how to find YOUR macros.
Step 1: Find Your Calorie Amount.
As we discussed earlier this is the first step and the most important to manipulate body weight. You could have the “perfect macros” but if the calorie amount from those “perfect macros” takes you out of the preferred energy balance (weight gain= positive, weight loss= negative), then it doesn’t matter.
People will over complicate their calorie intake.
With calories, there is no magic amount. Your body is very complex. It’s going to vary from person to person as well as day to day.
Your calorie needs will vary based on:
- Body size
- How active you are
- Muscle mass
- Stress etc.
Let’s also not forget that there is human error in tracking and with the number of calories that are in food.
So the goal here is to find a starting point, get consistent with them, and then make adjustments from there.
There are two ways you can find your maintenance level calories.
With online clients, we keep it simple.
>Multiply your body weight by 14-16 or 16-18 if you are very active.
For example, if you are 150lbs you would simply multiply by 15, 150×15= 2,250.
That’s your starting point.
Is this number perfect? No. But it gives you a general idea of where you need to start, and it beats trying to find the “perfect number.”
By trying to find the ”perfect amount” you are choosing that over actually taking action.
If you want to get a little more in depth you can use this calculator (https://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html).
But again you can overcomplicate this, just pick a number and start there and make an adjustment when/if you need to.
Moving forward we will use the 150lb person as an example. So now we are set, 2,250 calories is your starting point.
Practical Application: Multiply your body weight by 14-16 or 16-18 if you are very active.
Step 2: Find Your Protein Amount
Now that you have your starting calorie amount you can start to figure out your macros. The most important macro when it comes to fat loss or building muscle is protein. This must be the first one you get figured out.
Studies show that .8 to 1.2g of protein per lb of bodyweight is a great range to shoot for. Anything less and you risk higher hunger levels and loss of lean body mass.
Anything more and it’s just taking away from your carb and fat intake (tastier foods), without any extra benefit.
You CAN go higher. Studies show that high protein intakes do not cause any harm.
But if you are like most people, you won’t want that much protein or want to spend the money on all the food, since lean protein foods are usually a bit more expensive.
**Side note: it may be a good idea to increase protein intake to around 1.2 when on a fat loss phase to maintain lean mass/lower hunger levels whereas on a weight gain phase you could drop down to .8g since your hunger levels will be lower.
For most online clients we stick to 1g per lb of bodyweight.
> So in this example we will go for 1g per pound of bodyweight.
150 x 1= 150g.
150 x 4 = 600 calories.
So we have used up 600 of the 2,250 calories.
Leaving us with 1,650 calories between fat and carbs.
Practical Application: Multiple your bodyweight by .8 – 1.2g per lb of bodyweight.
Step 3: Find Your Carb/Fat Amount
Why are these together? Because this mostly comes down to preference/activity level.
If you like higher fat/lower carb than you can do that, if you like higher carb/lower fat then you can do that, if you like both then you can do an even split.
However, I recommend hitting a minimum amount of carbs and fats and then go from there.
Meaning it probably isn’t a good idea to go super low carb. For one, this is tough to do, and second, it will hurt your recovery and gym performance.
Plus carbs are great.
On the other hand with fats, if they are too low your hormones may start to get out of whack, so you want to avoid that.
With online clients, we set a minimum for both and then fill in the rest however they like.
> Carb minimum 1g per pound of bodyweight.
> Fat minimum .3g per pound of bodyweight.
Example person: 150lbs x 1= 150g carb
150lbs x.3= 45g fat
So just to update:
Protein 150g = 600 calories
Carbs 150g = 600 calories
Fats 45g= 405 calories
These are your minimums.
This equals 1605 calories. Our calorie intake is supposed to be 2,250 so that leaves us with 645 calories left over.
Now you can decide how you want to split it up based on your preferences.
Personally, I would add more carbs, and then fill in the rest with fats. But again, this is all preference.
Males tend to do a bit better on slightly more carbs, whereas females tend to do a little better with slightly more fats.
Also, you can base your carb intake on your activity level.
1g carb for low activity, 1.5g for moderate activity, and 2g for high activity.
So for males it could look something like this:
>2g of carbs per pound of bodyweight
150g protein= 600 calories
150 x 2 = 300g carb = 1200 calories
So this leaves you with 450 calories left for fats. You would then do this: 450/9= 50.
50g fat = 450 calories
600 + 1200 + 450 =2,250 calories
So the macros would be:
150p, 300c, 50f.
And for females it may look something like this:1.5g of carb per pound of bodyweight
150g protein = 600 calories
1.5 x 150 = 225g carb= 900 calories
So this leaves you with 750 calories left for fats. You would then do this: 750/9= 83
83g fat = 750 calories
600 + 900 + 750 = 2,250 calories
So the macros here would be:
150p, 220c, 85f.
We want to round to the nearest tenth for carbs/proteins and then the nearest fifth for fats to keep it simple.
The carbs and fats all come down to preference, so long as you stay within your calorie amount.
The best thing you can do is stay consistent from day to day to keep it simple.
Changing up your macros from day to day can add complexity.
The biggest key here is overall calories – meaning if you cannot plan perfectly to hit the listed macro goals, focus on the calorie goal over everything else.
Calories and macros will never be spot on. Don’t stress it. Aim to be within 50 calories (+ or -), 10g protein & carbs (+ or -), and 5g fat (+ or -).
Practical application: Minimum carb amount: 1g per lb of bodyweight
Minimum fat amount: .3 per lb of bodyweight.
Fill in the rest of your calories with either carbs or fats based on your preference.
Step 4: Adjustments
The macros and calorie amounts are estimated starting points.
Some people have quicker metabolisms, some people move more than others, so there is a large individual component to this.
So at some point you may need to make an adjustment.
Before making any changes to your calorie amount or macros, first make sure you are actually plateaued. If you have one day where you weigh in a bit higher, its something to pay attention to but stay patient. If 2 weeks go by and things aren’t moving then its time to make an adjustment.
Its also worth pointing out that your macros/calories may be fine, but its your adherence that is off. If that’s the case then you need to work on that first before making any adjustments to your calories or macros.
> If you are wanting to gain weight and your weight isnt going up or its staying the same over 2 weeks then adjust your calories up 5-10%. So in our case you would take 2,250 and multiple by 10%.
2250 x 10%= 225.
2250 + 225= 2475 calories.
You would add these calories in via fats or carbs. Preferably carbs.
> If you are wanting to lose weight and are gaining/maintaining for 2 weeks then look at decreasing calories by 5-10%.
2250 x 10% = 225.
2250 – 225 = 2,025.
You would decrease these calories through carbs. (unless you are already at the minimum, then look at decreasing fats).
I hope this helped you learn how to set up your macros for fat loss or muscle gain!
If you want extra guidance/accountability for setting up your muscle gain or fat loss diet then click the link here, and lets get started.