When I first got into weightlifting I didn’t know much about macros at all. To me food was just that - food. Later I learned that not all calories are created equal and that, in fact, it is very important to get your macros right for optimal body composition and performance.
The purpose of this guide is to clarify what macros are and to guide you through every step towards determining your own macros so that you can reap the benefits of optimal nutrition.
Macronutrients - What Are They?
Macronutrients are simply nutrients that your body needs for energy, growth and bodily functions. There are three macronutrients, namely: protein, carbohydrates and dietary fat. Your body needs large amounts of all three, hence the name macronutrients (“macro” meaning large).
Each of the three macros provides energy in the form of calories, but in different amounts. While protein and carbs provide 4 calories per gram, dietary fat provides 9 calories per gram.
It is no coincidence that bodybuilders put so much attention on getting enough protein in their diet. That’s because protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle.
Meeting your protein needs is critical for: preserving lean muscle mass, tissue repair, immune function, creation of essential hormones and enzymes as well as for growth. That’s because you need enough protein in your diet to support muscle protein synthesis.
Protein is found in meats, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, nuts and legumes. You can also supplement your protein intake with a good protein powder as it’s very convenient.
Carbs are generally the body’s main energy source so they take up a big part of our diet.
That’s because carbs are easily used for fuel as all of the tissues and cells in our body can use glucose for energy. Carbs are also essential for the proper functioning of the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain and the muscles, including the heart.
Another benefit of carbs is that they can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for fuel.
A very important type of carb is dietary fiber. Fiber, which the body cannot digest, passes through the intestinal tract and insures proper bowel movements.
You need 14 grams of fiber in your diet for every 1,000 calories you consume. Dietary fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.
Although dietary fat has received some bad reputation over the years, it is actually very important for our health.
That’s because fat ensures normal growth and development, it provides a lot of energy, it aids the absorption of several vitamins, it provides cushioning for our internal organs, it helps maintain cell membranes and it provides taste, consistency, and stability to foods.
Healthy fats are found in fish, nuts, milk products, butters, avocados, olive oil. The ones you want to avoid are trans fats which are found in high-sugar processed foods like doughnuts, cookies, muffins, pies and cakes as well as in fried foods.
How to Calculate Your Macronutrient Intake
So now you know why it’s important to have a balanced diet that includes all three macronutrients. But how do you determine your personal macronutrient intake?
The first step is to calculate how many calories you need to consume on a daily basis in order to maintain your current bodyweight. If you’re currently not losing or gaining weight you can do this by counting your calories for a week and then averaging them out to find out how many calories you consume per day on average.
Alternatively, you can use one of the many calorie calculators found online to get an approximation of your caloric needs for maintenance.
To make sure you’re following along, let's use an example: for instance, a trainee that weighs 200 pounds at 10% bodyfat. Using a calorie maintenance calculator we get a rough estimate of his caloric needs - 3000 calories per day.
After you find out how many calories you need to consume per day, it’s time to determine your macros.
According to general recommendations, training individuals need to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass a day. In the case of our hypothetical trainee, 10% of his body mass is body fat, leaving him with 180 pounds of lean body weight, which means that he should consume 180g of protein per day. As you learned earlier, 180g of protein equals 720 calories which is 24% of our trainee’s caloric needs.
Next up, dietary fat should be around 20% of your total caloric intake. Meaning that our hypothetical trainee should get 600 calories from fats which equals roughly 66,7g of dietary fat per day.
What’s left of our caloric needs should come from carbs. So in the case of our trainee, that’s the remaining 56% or in other words 1680 calories (which equals 420g of carbs).
If you’re trying to gain weight you should eat 300-500 calories above your caloric maintenance needs and if you’re trying to lose weight you should eat 300-500 below maintenance. Protein intake stays the same so the change will come from consuming more or less fat and carbs.
Now that you know how to determine your macros, you’re set for optimal nutrition and you can finally focus on lifting some heavy weights at the gym.
About the Author: Mitko Kazakov is a long-time gym enthusiast and founder of Twig2Big.com, a website dedicated to teaching skinny guys how to build muscle fast.