Now that we’ve covered the biggest part of the pyramid, the foundation that truly determines the results we see with our nutrition – Energy Balance, a.k.a. Calories (Click Here Now if you missed it, that’s a must read before going into this part OR if you want to get the entire series, parts 1 through 5, wrapped up into a 60 page EBook which covers setting up your entire diet from calories, to macros, to micronutrients, to meal timing and supplements… Click Here Now) –
We can dive into “Macros”, which is likely the most popular topic of the entire pyramid. For some reason, at some point in time, every person trying to get in shape decided they needed to track macros in order to get in shape…
Is that completely true? Probably not.
Is it true that if you understand where your macros should be and how to adjust them along the way, that you’ll likely perform better and see better body composition changes? I believe so, yes.
That’s why I am writing this, but before I go any further… Let’s just do the damn thing!
[picture credit to Eric Helms of 3dmj.com]
Part 2 – MACRONUTRIENTS (A.K.A. Macros)
So what are macronutrients?
Macronutrient – A substance required in relatively large amounts by living organisms, in particular.
- A type of food (e.g., fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the human diet.
In other words, it’s the nutrients that build up our caloric intake. See Vitamin-B and D are important, but they’re “Micronutrients” because the size of them is literally smaller than macronutrients. Add to that, they do not have any caloric value to them.
Macronutrients contain calories and when we add them up, they equal our total daily intake.
Protein has 4 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram as well.
And Fats have 9 calories per gram.
(Alcohol has 7 calories per gram)
Now, alcohol is NOT a macronutrient… but most of us will argue and claim that it is our 4th macro. Because of that, I’m going to break this down in one simple line and if it’s not enough for you – click here and check out my article all about alcohol and staying lean.
Alcohol is a chemical nutrient called ethanol, which is metabolized and processed in the body similar to fat. It has calories in it and those calories can add up quick, because it’s liquid form and it’s fun to drink. Because of this, it’s not recommended to drink too often when trying to drastically change your body composition nor is it recommended if you’re attempting to achieve maximal health – but some in low quantities is fine.
When tracking alcohol, you should still include it within your caloric intake, or as closely as possible. The best way to go is to remove some fats from the diet that day to make room for the alcohol itself – because fats have more calories per gram and alcohol gets metabolized similarly to it.
Now that we’ve covered alcohol, which took me longer than 1 line, we can move onto the important stuff (not that alcohol isn’t’ an important consideration to make here).
Why Are Macronutrients Important?
Can’t I Just Track Calories?
Well technically, yeah you can. As we know from part 1, energy balance is the biggest mover in fat loss or body composition changes in general which means if you’re in a deficit you will lose body fat and if you’re in a surplus you will gain weight.
But when we consider performance, optimizing recovery, creating hormonal balance, and building muscle – Macronutrients become very important.
For most people reading this, you’re interested in more than just losing weight…
You probably have some kind of interest in building more muscle, lifting more weight, performing at a higher intensity or level (whether that’s crossfit or competitive basketball), or maybe you just know that you want to have some dense muscle on your body when you do strip off all that body fat.
Well in that case, you need to consider macronutrients.
Case Study Example:
Meet John, he wants to lose weight and just “get rid of his belly”. He commits to tracking calories but not macros, because he doesn’t want to over complicate things and he really doesn’t care about how much weight he lifts or how big his guns are.
He’s 5’ 10”, weighs 198lbs, 32 years old, and trains 4 days a week.
Now, meet Matt. He wants to lose weight too, but he also wants to build more muscle mass in the process so he can perform better in his pickup games and in the gym (he wants to build his bench up, like most guys).
By coincidence (not really) he is the same height, weight, and age as John! And he’ll also be training 4 days a week.
The difference here is, he tracks his calories and macronutrients. So we have full control over his entire intake, versus just his daily calories.
6 months later, they both reach their goals.
John has lost 33lbs! He’s down to 165lbs now, got rid of his belly and is much healthier than he once was. He consistently trained, but didn’t see any remarkable strength gains. He’s happy and healthy, that’s all that matters.
Matt has lost 27lbs! He’s down to 171lbs now, got rid of his belly and is also much healthier. The difference here is that he added #’s to all his lifts across the board! He’s now playing better than ever in his pickup games, added ½ inch to his arms, and build up his chest, back and shoulders significantly.
So what was the difference here?
Matt lost about just as much body fat as John, but he added 6lbs of pure muscle in the process, which may not seem like much but is actually a significant amount of meat to slap on your body (think of steaks).
Matt was a little more disciplined with his tracking, because he did pay attention to every single macro vs. just his calories. John only looked at one number, which fit his lifestyle, personality, and goals better.
So the question to ask yourself, is which do you fall under? Both are fine, they just build different physiques by the end of things.
See when we dial in the ratio of proteins, fats and carbs – we can have more control over how much muscle we build over time, which will allow us to not only burn more body fat and increase our metabolism, but it will also increase longevity and improve hormonal balance.
So in my personal opinion and experience, tracking all the macros makes more sense.
[ If you want a chance to get your nutrition individually designed for your body type, activity level, metabolic history, and your specific goals – Click Here Now to Apply ]
“What if I don’t care about how much I lift,
but I do want to live longer and fix my hormones
in the process of dropping body fat?”
This is common and there is a simple answer for it, one that meets both ways in the middle.
For these folks, you’re going to want to dial in your calories and your protein intake. Then just let your carbs and fats fluctuate, based on how you feel and what you crave more often. That way you get the benefits of protein being higher and still have your calories dialed in.
So how do you figure out where to set your personal macros? Before we can do that, you need to know about each macronutrient so you get a full understanding of why we set things the way we set them.
Protein is debatably the most important macronutrient there is. The reason is simple; is an essential nutrient, which means you literally cannot survive without consuming it.
Protein is what helps us rebuild tissues and keep systems running, from the muscular and skeletal system to the nervous system and the immune system. Almost every function of the body needs at least some protein to function, manage and continue working.
We need protein for enzymes in our body, skin and hair growth, and many hormones like metabolism, adrenaline, testosterone, and growth hormone.
The point is, you need protein and when it comes to changing your body composition the biggest reasons are:
- Protein rebuilds muscle tissue which allows us to recovery, train hard again, and build more muscle. The more muscle we build, the more fat our body will burn.
- Protein has a very high TEF (Thermic Effect of Food), which means it takes more calories to digest it. Yep, you actually burn calories just digesting protein! This is because it’s harder to break down and utilize than other nutrients and because of this, it’s smart to have a high percentage of calories coming from protein.
- Protein is very hard to store as body fat. It’s smart to burn fat while consuming as many calories as possible, which makes having protein higher even more valuable because it is damn near impossible to store as body fat. Now there is clearly an upper limit, you can’t just keep consuming more and more as you will have issues in your gut and possibly other organs of the body. But we do know that it’s necessary to have a larger percentage of calories coming from protein (~40%).
- Protein is the most satiating nutrient you can consume. In other words, you stay more full when consuming it and as anyone who has ever been on a “diet” before knows, this is a very good thing. If we can keep you full and satisfied during a diet, adherence and consistency becomes much easier.
So as you can see, you’re going to need to prioritize protein if you plan to drastically change your body composition – whether that’s for less fat, more muscle, better performance, or all the above.
Fats are another essential nutrient, which is why we’re discussing this right after protein – you can’t live without it.
So technically you could just eat protein and fats for the rest of your life and you’d be fine. That’s why the ketogenic diet has become so popular as of late. But in my honest opinion, living “fine” isn’t good enough and I know with a balance of all macronutrients I can thrive.
That’s not a knock on keto diets, some people do function much better on them but from my experience and knowledge, the majority of people work better on a balance of all three macros.
So why are fats so important?
- Fat is crucial for hormonal health, which is one of the biggest and most recognized reasons to consume an adequate amount of fat. This is one of the reasons why this is an essential nutrient, one you cannot live without.
- Fat is primer for the nervous system and the axon, which is a major part of the nerve that transmits electrical signals from the brain throughout the body to initiate all functions, is made up of 80% lipids (fats). This means for full neurological capabilities and optimization, we need adequate fats in our diets. This, in my opinion, is the most underrated benefit of fats because when we look at building strength in any movement, it’s 80-90% neurological and without a primed nervous system strength is just not an option.
- Fat is a secondary energy source. When we look at low intensity activities, things like walking or any other slow physical movement, and even daily activities, things like deskwork and moving around the house, fat is our fuel source. It’s not great for explosive energy, but it’s great for daily energy needs when glycogen doesn’t need to be utilized.
Hopefully by now, you’re starting to see the benefits of considering more than just calories. There is so much to this macro game and when you can create an individualized approach to your nutrition, you win in the game of reaching results.
[ Want to apply for an opportunity to have your nutrition completely designed for you, making sure that every aspect is individualized and optimized for results? Click Here Now. ]
We’ve discussed how important protein is and we’ve broken down how crucial fats are… So why do we need carbs?
“Because they’re tasty and I crave them, all the time….?”
No, not quite. Although that statement holds a lot of truth to many of the people reading this right now, it’s not why we should be consuming carbohydrates in our diet.
It’s because it creates balance and allows us to thrive. Each macronutrient has benefits and “duties” in our bodies, which allow us to live life at a much higher level. Which is why I don’t think we should neglect any of the macros. But here are some specific examples as to what carbs help with:
- Performance, first and foremost. Carbohydrates aren’t technically needed to survive and go about daily tasks and activities, but if you want to perform… then carbs are your fuel. Carbs are the body’s primary fuel source when it comes to higher intensity activities and muscles being able to actually work for us.
- Recovery is another huge reason and although protein is the number one source for this, carbs help replenish muscle glycogen for future performance and actually can help rebuild muscle tissue when protein isn’t available or is scarce.
- It is the easiest way to get enough fiber in your diet, because 75% of fibrous foods are also carb dense foods. Whether that’s from veggies or fruit or whole-wheat grains, typically more carbs will lead to more fiber. Fiber is essential for health… But we’ll get to that later.
- Hormonal health. Even though fats are known as the big mover for hormonal balance, if we do not consume enough carbs we risk negatively impacting hormones like leptin, ghrelin, the thyroid, and even the adrenals. Mainly hormones revolving around metabolism and energy/fatigue (adrenal glands). Now you can keep those regulated and balanced on a low carb diet, it just becomes a bit harder and if you’re in a situation where your adrenals are already in pretty bad shape… you want to make sure you include a decent amount of carbohydrates into your diet. The biggest regulatory factor with keeping hormonal health high, is making sure you’re not in a serious caloric deficit for too long – so all the macros matter!
- Carbs are practically everywhere… And as much as that’s kind of a joke, it’s also somewhat true. Often when we look at social settings or eating with friends/family, carbs are included. So if we remove them completely, normal life just gets harder. Having a balanced diet with carbohydrates included in, allows us more freedom and flexibility that more importantly leads to more adherence and consistency.
That about covers it for carbs, but I do want to go back and reflect on something a bit more…. Performance.
Performance is the number one thing that will lead to body composition changes, from a strength and muscular standpoint. See nutrition is by far the biggest mover for fat loss – if you don’t focus on it, you’re not going to get far. But if you’re not training, hard, then you’re not going to create long-term results or a body that you truly can be proud of.
So if we can utilize carbohydrates in our diet in order to train much harder, then we will build more muscle, burn more fat, and even just burn more calories per session – because we have more energy!
That is why the term, “Eat less move more” makes sense from a technical and scientific basis. Because yes, less calories in and more calories out means you will burn fat – but after a certain period of time, your body will not work as efficiently because it’s energy is beginning to be tapped out (this is going to effect hormones and a gang of different things).
The term I instill and try to preach to my clients is “Eat more, train more”.
This way, everything is thriving and although it may take a little longer for fat and weight to start falling off your body… the results will last MUCH longer and they will be MUCH more prominent.
(When it comes to building muscle, eat more train more is the ONLY way to go…)
For example, ever enter your info into a calorie calculator (maybe you did on part 1 of this article series) and the number you saw, seemed to be really high?
Maybe it actually was way above what you were currently taking in?
Well, it’s because in an ideal world you would be losing fat or even maintaining weight at the number you received.
We need to be aware and always remember that losing weight or body fat at the highest amount of calories is always going to be ideal. In fact, we pretty much always want to practice the “minimal effective dose” principal when it comes to cutting calories or adding in cardio.
Because again, going at it too hard and to fast can have detrimental effects to your health and will cause weight loss to stall shortly after it starts. This is why so many struggle to lose weight or transform their bodies on their own. Patience and consistency take accountability.
Calculating Your Macros
So now you know everything you really need to know when it comes to what macros are and why they’re important, together and individually. So what’s next?
Next is breaking down where you should be at with each macronutrient.
So for easy math, we’re going to go back up to our client example Matt and base our calculations off his stats.
He was 198lbs and as you remember in Part 1 Energy Balance, we should multiply his bodyweight by 10 to get his estimated maintenance (remember that this isn’t the way I do this nor recommend most, but since we don’t have his food logs from the past 2 weeks it’s what we’re going to use).
So his maintenance is 1,980 and we’re going to round up to make things easy (you can do this too, round up or down to the closest 50) and give him 2,000 calories.
Besides Matt’s pick up games a few days a week, he’s pretty inactive so we’re going to use 1.3 (low end) as his activity multiplier.
2,000 x 1.3 = 2,600 calories
We’re going to cut 500 calories per day, in hopes of getting a 3,500 weekly caloric deficit to lose 1lb of fat per week, which leaves us with 2,100 calories.
The reason I broke this down first is because we cannot determine macros without calories being determined first, which is a big reason why part 1 was all about calories and energy balance.
First thing to calculate is protein.
We’re always going to set this first because it’s most important in terms of having a set number. It also changes a bit depending on where you’re at with your goals, cutting or gaining (fat loss or muscle gain).
Studies have shown time and time again, that having a higher percentage of your diet coming from protein will help aid muscle preservation while dieting – which is massively important if you want to retain muscle while losing body fat.
Studies also showed that there isn’t much difference in the results of body composition change occurring between 0.72g/lb. to 1.09 g/lb. (both which are higher percentages than most diets). But what they did find is that the athletes on higher protein noted less fatigue from training and did not store extra body fat despite the extra calories coming from protein.
The big take away is simple… If you like to eat some extra protein, do it. It really can’t harm you and there is a possibility it actually may benefit you, especially if you’re in a serious deficit for a period of dieting.
My recommendation is to set it at your 0.7-1.2g per lb. of your bodyweight depending on where you’re at in the weight loss spectrum (see below).
Protein Requirements For Cutting/Fat Loss
|50+ lb.’s or More|
0.7g x BW
0.8g x BW
|0.9 – 1g x BW|
1 – 1.2g x BW
Protein Requirements For Gaining/Muscle Gain
0.8g x BW
1.0g x BW
Ok let’s get back to Matt…
He’s consuming 2,100 calories, his goal was to lose body fat, and as we saw in the example earlier on – his weight loss goal was about 20lbs.
So that puts him in the 0.9-1g per lb. category. So how do we determine the exact number? Ease, adherence, and preference. I just ask the client or base it off what I feel would suite them best.
In his case, because he wants more muscle mass at the end and he can eat a good steak, we’re going to base it off 1g per lb. (and because simple math is always best).
198 x 1g = 198g -> Rounded Up For Easier Math –> 200g of Protein.
This means -> 200g x 4 (calories per gram of protein) = 800 Calories.
This leaves us with 1,300 calories to spare for fats and carbs.
We’re going to tackle fat first because even though it doesn’t directly impact his performance in the gym or on the basketball court as much as carbs do, it’s crucial for life.
We’re going to set his fat at 25% of his calorie intake. 20% is the bare minimum for healthy fat loss and any higher than 35% takes away from carbs and/or protein a bit too much. So 25% is plenty for hormonal health and dietary flexibility, but allows wiggle room in case we need to adjust down the road.
(15% is the absolute lowest I suggest allowing fat intake to reach and that is when you’re on an extreme fat loss protocol or have 50+ lbs. to lose)
2,100 calories x 0.25 = 525 calories
525 calories ÷ 9 (calories per gram of fat) = 58.333333… Lets call it 60g, which is actually 540 calories and not 525.
540 calories + 800 calories = 1,340 calories
2,100 – 1,340 = 760 calories left
Carbs are always the most simple to figure out; because whatever we have left… we give to them!
760 calories ÷ 4 (calories per gram of carbs) = 190g of carbs.
So Matt’s macros are:
Now let’s be difficult for a minute, since I know many of you reading this out there are just that… Difficult.
What happens if Matt keeps going over his carb intake and/or feels like his performance is suffering a bit?
We can adjust his carbs and fats, to help him optimize adherence and performance.
We know that 20% of calories from fat is the bare minimum, which would be 46g of fat in his case. So we can strip some fat and add some carbs.
What happens if he is performing just fine, but actually struggles to hit his carbs? He keeps going over his fat and is fine being well under 210g of carbs.
As you can see, there are a million ways to skin a cat. There is really no “best ratio” or macro number to follow, it comes down to how you personally feel on the given macros and exactly what you can adhere to easiest in the long run.
Low carb works, high carb works, an even balance works… They all work! Remember that calories in vs. calories out is king, macros just allow us to fine tune things to get you performing better and following the diet more consistently.
This is where having a coach who has experience and expertise in which macro ratios seem to work best for the given individual and the specific goal seems to always work out best.
It can be confusing, it can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to determine what you individually need – but if you can manage the math and be patient, your results will speak for themselves.
If you want a chance to have your macros created specifically for you, without you having to worry about which ratio to choose and how to adjust along the way, Click Here Now and Apply for a Free Consultation Call. We’ll discuss what would be best and how we can create a straight path to results, without the confusion and stress.
Here’s a table to summarize the above calculations:
|1 – 1.2g Per lb. of Bodyweight||15-25% of Total Daily Calories|
Whatever is left!
|0.8 – 1g Per lb. of Bodyweight||20-30% of Total Daily Calories|
Whatever is left!
So what’s left?
The last thing to touch on is fiber, which is really important for gut health and overall satiety because it is filling – again, something we want to utilize when on a serious diet.
A healthy intake for daily fiber is generally 20g for an average sized female and 25g for an average sized male. Another easy way to calculate it would be to give yourself 10g for every 1,000 calories; so 20g for 2,000 calories or 15g for 1,500 calories.
This is general and you’ll have to play with things. For example, I consume roughly 2,500 calories daily and I easily hit 45g of fiber per day.
As long as I feel ok with this and it’s not causing any gut issues, I’m absolutely safe to consume this amount. If I decide to cut calories, it’ll likely lower as my carbohydrate intake lowers because fiber is a part of your daily carb intake.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve officially completed 2 of the most crucial parts in setting up your diet for body composition changes – Calories and Macros. But there’s still a lot more to cover…
So if you want to fully understand exactly how to set up your calories and macros, figure out exactly which vitamins and minerals you need to optimize health and avoid nutrient deficiencies, learn to time your meals properly, and finally get a grip on which supplements actually work… Click Here Now