I am not a doctor or a dietitian so this is for informational purposes only. Read the full disclaimer for my qualifications.
What Are Macros?
Macro is the shortened term for macronutrients. The 3 types of macros are protein, fat, and carbohydrates and make up the caloric content of your food. Protein and carbohydrates are each 4 calories per gram and fat is 9 calories per gram.
How much weight should I expect to lose per week?
As a general rule, you should aim to lose around one to two pounds per week. Even two pounds is too much for many individuals. If you’re losing more than this, chances are you’re also losing lean mass (muscle). Muscle is a key factor in determining your metabolism, so if you’re trying to lose fat you should also focus on retaining as much muscle as possible.
However, if you are severely obese, you are likely going to lose more than two pounds per week, even while eating a good amount of food, especially if you change the type of calories you eat and begin an exercise program. Special calculations for macros would also apply to this group.
How Many Calories Do I Need?
Your caloric intake depends on a number of factors including gender, height, age, and weight. Another important consideration is you goal. For most people, that goal will be weight loss. Let’s face it, more of us are trying to (and need to) lose weight than gain weight, but those people exist, believe it or not!
Here are the 3 types of calculations we will cover:
- Maintain the same weight
- Gain muscle
- Lose fat
For many of us, we will have one goal, though we will likely touch more than one, and possibly all three categories at the same time.
There was a time when I was counting calories and training hard, but my weight stayed the same. The scale didn’t move much, but I got stronger and my clothes started falling off. Once I had lost a significant amount of weight, weight loss slowed while I continued to build muscle.
Maintaining The Same Weight
Something many people overlook is taking the time to determine how many calories their body needs. Maintenance calories are how many calories you need in a day to stay the same weight. Knowing this number is important because then you can add or subtract calories to meet other goals. It’s hard to know how many calories to cut for fat loss without knowing how many calories you need to maintain your weight.
A good place to start for determining your maintenance calories is to multiply your body weight by 15. Let’s say you weigh 230 pounds.
230 x 15 = 3,450 calories
So you want the gains, huh? Well…you gonna have to eat more. The goal here is to add lean mass. This is going to be difficult to do if you’re trying to lose weight by cutting calories. To lose weight you need a caloric deficit, while adding muscle takes a caloric surplus. If you’re new to training, it is possible to do both at the same time, but it will take longer.
A quick way to estimate calories is to multiply your weight by 18.
230 x 18 = 4, 140 calories.
That sounds like a lot, right? I’ve known people who were pushing 5,500 calories just to add weight and it was still a slow process. By the way, eating that many calories when it’s not junk food isn’t as easy as you think.
A better way to calculate your calories is by taking your true maintenance calories and multiplying by 1.2. This is a twenty percent increase.
We’re here for the fat loss equation though, right? The simple estimate is your weight times 12.
230 x 12 = 2,760 calories
Again, it’s better to take your known maintenance calories and multiply by 0.8 for a twenty percent reduction. If your true maintenance calories were 3,450 as determined by the equation above, multiplying by 0.8 would also equate to 2,760.
What About My Macros?
Now that you know how many calories you need, you have to figure out how to break them up between protein, carbs, and fats. More maths. Yay.
Protein needs will also vary by your goal. You will need somewhere between 0.7 and 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. Of course, there is some common sense required. Someone that is 650 pounds isn’t going to need 500g or 650g of protein.
We’re going to use the following ratios as a general rule of thumb.
Maintenance = 0.8g/lb
Muscle gain = 1.2g/b
Fat loss = 1.0g/lb
Does it surprise you that you should have MORE protein for fat loss than maintenance? The reason is that we’re working to maintain that lean tissue and burn fat. Protein has a higher thermogenic effect than the other two macros (digesting it takes more calories), the extra protein helps retain muscle, and it helps maintain satiety so you minimize hunger.
From here on, we’re going to work on the assumption that you’re trying to lose fat because that’s what most of us want.
Back to our weight loss example: 230 x 1.0g = 230g…but not really
I prefer to cap this amount at 200g, especially in fat loss. If you’re really muscular/swole and just trying to cut, you might want to go higher depending on your weight, but for most normal humans, 200g is going to be enough for maintenance and fat loss. We are going to keep the calorie total, but we’ll get it from other sources shortly.
In this example, you’ll be getting 800 calories from 200g of protein.
Fats should fall somewhere between 15 percent and 25 percent of your total calories, but keep it above 0.25g per pound of body weight. You need a certain amount of fats to survive and function properly.
Multiply your weight by 0.25 to get your minimum fat grams. Now, multiply your calories by the desired percent of dietary fat to determine how many grams of fat you need. If this number is below the minimum amount required above, adjust the percentage up a little and recalculate. Multiply this number by 9 to determine calories from fat. Say what?
230 pounds x 0.25 = 57g as a minimum for fat.
2,760 calories x 15% divided by 9 = 46g. That’s less than 57g, so recalculate.
2,760 calories x 20% divided by 9 = 61g. Now you’re good.
Here we see that we are getting 549 calories from fat (61c x 9cal/g).
Now you know how many calories you’re getting from protein and fat. The rest of our calories will come from carbs. Carbs are the main fuel source for strength training, so if you’re looking to get stronger and build muscle, you’re going to need your carbs. There are a lot of other reasons why they contribute to those goals, but that’s for another article.
Subtract protein and fat calories from your total calories and you get the number of calories from carbs you need in order to hit your caloric goal. Divide by 4 to find how many grams of carbs.
2,760 – 800 – 549 = 1,141. 1,141 / 9 = 353g
Our macro gram totals are now 200p / 61f / 353c.
If this feels like too many carbs, it probably isn’t if you’re lifting weights. If you’re still gun shy, or prefer higher fat and lower carbs (low-er…not low), you can adjust fats and carbs. Remember, carbs have 4 calories per gram while fats have 9 calories per gram. If you cut 25 grams of carbs, you have to add in 11g of fat.
25 x 4 = 100kcal of carbs
100 / 9 = 11g of fats
If you adjust carbs down and fats up, work to keep calories from fat in the 15% to 25% range and don’t go over 30% fat.
What to do with this information
These numbers are a STARTING POINT. There is absolutely no way to know what the right macros are without trying them. Anyone that tells you otherwise is lying or psychic.
Ideally, you would follow these macros for 3 to 4 weeks before adjusting them. Here’s why:
The first week you’re going to be dropping water weight if, like me, you’re coming off unrestricted eating. High carb diets will cause you to retain water. This is why they are called carboHYDRATEs and why bodybuilders greatly reduce them to deplete water and cut weight leading up to a competition.
Processed food and prepared food (restaurants) contain a LOT of sodium which causes water retention. This is one micronutrient I tend to keep an eye on, though it’s less important the more you sweat during a workout.
It can be discouraging when you start a new plan and drop 4, 5, or even 10 pounds the first week and then see that progress drastically falls off the second and third week. Those first 7 to 10 days are often the product of dropping water weight. After that is where you start seeing fat loss which should be around 1.0 to 1.5 pounds per week. If you lose 6 pounds the first week, 4 or 5 pounds of that was probably water.
The second week is a better time to start noticing how your macros are working for you.
The third week of your plan is likely to give you an even better idea because now you have two full weeks of data.
At this point, if you’re not losing at least one pound per week but you’re being strict with training and nutrition, reduce your macros by 100 calories for another week or two.
Side notes: If you’re capped on protein at 200g, but are under 230 pounds, you might first try pulling protein down from 1g/lb of body weight to 0.8g/lb. For a 230 pound person, this would mean setting protein around 180g to 185g. If you’re under the cap on protein, reduce carbs by 25g.
If you have a significant portion of body fat to lose, a lower amount of protein may be appropriate. That’s why I used 200g as a general rule for maxing your protein. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone which is also where the experimentation portion has to come into play. Some formulas work by estimating protein requirements based on lean mass, but most people underestimate their body fat percentage, which is one reason why that method wasn’t used for these calculations.
Don’t be in a hurry. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Get it right AND make it sustainable. The best nutrition plan is the one you can get results with and stick to it.
There is no magic bullet for knowing what your macros should be without trial and error. Estimating is one thing, but DOING is how to find that balance to get the results you need.
You shouldn’t be constantly “dieting”. Results will be better and more long term when you move from losing weight to maintaining weight as a cycle. We’ll cover that later so be sure to subscribe for future updates!
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