Here we go! In this article, I want to pay attention to the basics of macronutrients or basically how to set your macros for achieving your goals and also educate yourself a little bit about basics of nutrition. :)
I don't go from the beginning of what is protein/carbohydrates or fat, but we will dive into how to orientate when we want to set our diet plan right. For most people, it may seem scary, time-consuming, and useless. Well, depends on what is your goal.
When I was starting to learn more about macro and micronutrients I was very confused and these memories make me smile if I remember how much time I did spend and I was still learning new and new things and then I found that everything I was doing was wrong. :)
Therefore, I decided to write a small guide that will provide a strong base to start for beginners. I was tracking my macros two years in a row and today I do it only sometimes. The reason why I do not track my macros and calories that much is simple. The first thing is that after that period of time I already know the calorie density of certain food, what amount is enough and I learn to do healthy and small choices. The other thing is that in this moment of lockdown I really do not track. :)
Just to clarify, tracking calories is not something that you have to do, this is really just a personal opinion, but I suggest it is good for beginners, for people who are serious and have an interest and/or for people who don't progress within their training and diet plan. The person that is successful in his/her fitness journey and has progress probably doesn't need to be bothered too much about it, but usually, you learn these things through your journey anyway.
So let's start!
1. As the first step, we have to find out your Basal Metabolic Intake (BMR). It determines the amount of energy (calories) your body needs while resting.
One of the most accurate methods of estimating your basal metabolic rate is the Harris-Benedict formula:
For men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5
For women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161
2. CALCULATE YOUR TOTAL DAILY ENERGY EXPENDITURE (TDEE)
Now you know the total number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. From here, you need to clarify what is your goal.
3. DETERMINING YOUR TOTAL CALORIE INTAKE
Let's make it easier for understanding, my body needs 2000 kcal to maintain weight. If my goal is to lose weight I need to decrease this total amount of calories and vice versa with muscle building. I would suggest doing it slowly and decrease/increase by about 200 kcal and see how the first two weeks will go. But let's say that in my case I am going to maintain weight and I will aim just for a body composition change so I will maintain mine 2000 kcal.
Other factors that may affect your total daily calorie intake is:
Type of training
Frequency of training
4. DETERMINING THE MACRONUTRIENT RATIO FOR YOUR GOALS
Now, you will calculate your macros ratio. What is that mean? You know your calorie intake, but now we need to set up how much protein, carbohydrates, and fat you need. For example, the keto diet, low-fat diet, high protein diet - they all have different macronutrients ratio. Determining the best macronutrient ratio all depends on what your final goal is. It may be:
Nutrition and/or Fitness Goals - lose weight, gain muscle, body composition, peak performance, etc.
Dietary Preferences - I mentioned keto, but also paleo, vegetarian, vegan, etc.
Macronutrient Preference - balanced nutrition, low-fat, high-carb, high-protein, etc.
I will pay attention only to these three goals above as a basic example.
How To Set Up Your Macros For Weight Loss
You need to be in a caloric deficit in order to lose weight (we determined calorie intake in step 3). While nutrition is very important in order to any fitness goal, regular activity and exercise are recommended, not only to achieve your fitness goal, but also to improve mental, emotional, and overall health.
If weight/fat loss is your main goal, your macronutrient ratio looks like ~35-50% protein, ~25-45% carbs, ~20-35% fat.
The ratios may always be different from person to person and other factors as I mentioned above). Fat loss may be also enhanced by carb-cycling, intermittent fasting, fasted workouts, or increasing training volume in general.
How To Set Up Your Macros For Muscle Gain
The recommended macro ratios for building muscle mass are ~around 35% protein, ~45% carbs, ~20% fat. Keep in mind that this ratio may not work for everyone as I already set. When building muscle the timing may play its role here as well, meaning, your pre-workout meal will be different from your post-workout meal, and more meals per day that contain protein will help your muscle protein synthesis.
Maintenance Or Change Of Body Composition?
I did choose maintenance as my goal when I determined my calorie intake. When it comes to maintenance, we can play with our macros in order to achieve a change in body composition. The ratios are ~25-40% protein, ~35-55% carbs, 25-40% fat. So you can really play around with ratios and see what works for you. I may want just to burn a little bit of fat and get leaner. In this case, I may decrease my carbs and/or fat and increase protein.
Remember: What you eat (your calories and macros ratios) will have the largest influence on your positive or negative results.
5. CALCULATE % INTO GRAMS
The final part is to convert these ratios from % into grams. Each macronutrient contains a specific amount of calories.
1 gram of protein = 4 kcal
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 kcal
1 gram of fat = 9 kcal
In my case, I choose to maintain my weight with a change in body composition.
I chose these ratios 40% protein, 35% carbs, 25% fat.
I will count my calorie intake per each macronutrient.
Protein: 2000 x 0.40 = 800 kcal
Carbs: 2000 x 0.35 = 700 kcal
Fat: 2000 x 0.25 = 500 kcal
Now, I will divide the kcal of each macronutrient per their calorie volume.
Protein: 800 / 4 = 200 grams of protein
Carbs: 700 / 4 = 175 grams of carbs
Fat: 500 / 9 = 55,5 grams of fat
I want to show you how it is calculated, but for sure I recommend you to download MyFitnessPal app for food tracking, where you can manage your % by your needs and the app will count grams for you. I would really recommend you to get used to this app, there is a wide range of food choices from many countries (I found my Czech meals and also meals from the UK and Ireland, where I currently live) and you will learn about food and its calorie and macronutrients value very quickly. It also helps you to determine changes in your diet, if you don't progress.
Another good calculator is here.
Whether you want to lose fat or build a muscle mass. you should know how your diet plan should look like and what calorie intake and macros ratios you have set to achieve these goals. As a beginner, do not be overwhelmed by all the information you have access to, the first thing I would suggest is to look at your current diet and clarify what changes you are going to do and what is your starting point.
Track your journey by MyFitnessPal app, body composition measurements, or photos - it is important to see if you are moving forward or you do not progress.
Macronutrient Composition of the Diet and Prospective Weight Change in Participants of the EPIC-PANACEA Study, Anne-Claire Vergnaud et. all, March 2013, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057300