You’ve probably heard of them, pretty much any fitness or nutrition article seems to mention them.
So, what are macronutrients?
MACROS, or macronutrients, are the 3 basic blocks of what makes up food. You’ve got your carbohydrates, (sugars, starches, and fibers), your fats (oils, animal fats, nut fats) and proteins (found in any animal-based food and some nuts and plants). Each type contains calories (a unit of energy). Using macronutrients to your advantage is arguably the biggest factor for success in your goals.
Let’s break it down.
Carbohydrates. Each gram contains 4 calories (sometimes debated but that measurement is what the majority of people go off of). Some people shriek at even hearing the word “Carbs” because they are considered “bad” and are what make you fat, which can be true. But not all carbs are created equal, as some provide much more nutritional value than others. Carbs are used as the primary source of energy for your muscles and bodily functions, so they’re extremely important in a normal, healthy diet and I’ll include a link to the best types of healthy carbs at the end of this post. If you’re doing any kind of high-intensity training, your body likes to utilize carbs.
Fats contain 9 calories per gram, which is why it’s so hard to get rid of! For every gram of fat burned, you have to expend 2 times the energy as a gram of protein or carbohydrates. They are still essential to a balanced diet though. Fats help with the absorption of vitamins and development of the brain, as well as numerous other processes throughout the body. Similar to carbs, there are healthy and unhealthy fats. The unhealthy side of fats can raise cholesterol, increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and cause unhealthy weight gain.
Proteins contain 4 calories per gram, essential for muscle growth and bodily recovery. Proteins are essential for your immune system, organs, muscles, bones and just about every part of your body. Protein is vital to any type of exercise routine, especially when working towards gaining muscle. It is found in most animal products including meats, milk, eggs, and cheese. Protein-rich foods make you feel full much faster than carbs or fats, making it a lot easier to stick to a calorie goal. Lean meats like fish or chicken are the best sources of protein available, and supplementing with dietary shakes makes it easy to consume enough for adequate recovery. A great list of proteins has linked the bottom of the lesson.
Water. It’s not a macronutrient, but vitally important to all your body processes as well as to properly intake all the macros we just talked about. It’s recommended about one ounce per 2 pounds body weight should be consumed a day. This obviously increases if you’re exercising hard and losing some throughout as well, so drink plenty. Not only does it allow your body to integrate all the foods you eat, but it also lubricates your joints, protects your brain, cools you down and serves a plethora of other functions. Staying properly hydrated is the easiest way to ensure you make as much progress as possible.
Bringing them all together
So how do we approach meal planning and counting the grams of each macronutrient?
This is where the magic happens. Essentially, no one diet or calorie amount will work for everyone. What I eat could make someone else my same age and size gain fat, while helping me gain muscle. It all depends on your body and metabolism, as well as the amount of work/exercise you’re doing. And the type of exercise.
There’s a ton of variables aren’t there?
To determine what works well for you, you have to start somewhere. There are calorie calculators all over the internet, all giving different answers and outcomes to how much you should eat and why. And just like an exercise, one can work well for some people while the other works well for other people. It’s truly a guessing game until you find out which one works best for you. So to start off, this is a basic equation to find out how many calories you should eat in a day.
- Weight Loss: 11-13 calories x per lb body weight
- Maintenance: 15-16 x per lb body weight
- Weight Gain: 17-19 x per lb body weight
Example: For a 130 lb female wanting to gain muscle would be 18 (calories) x 130 (pounds) = 2,340 a day.
Now where those calories come from matters. A LOT! For example, if you’re trying to build muscle the recommended amount is 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per lb body weight.
I’ll give an example (going to have to do a little math)
A 180 lb male is trying to gain muscle.
- 180 x 18 (weight gain)= 3,240 calories a day.
- Protein intake= 180 lb x 1.8g per day= 324g of protein. 324g x 4 calories per gram= 1,296
- So, each day he has to eat 324 grams, or 1,296 calories, of protein.
- (That’s a ton of protein, actual amounts vary with your metabolism)
- Now we subtract those calories from the total needed daily, 3,240.
- 3,240 – 1,296= 1,944
So, the 1,944 calories will consist of the essential fats and carbs. Depending on the source, you’ll hear that you need to eat all fats, or all carbs, or only this specific carb or fat. It can be a nightmare trying to navigate all the nutritional advice out there. I try to keep it simple. Perfection isn’t a requirement as long as you’re improving regularly over where you were before.
Let’s go with 30% fat 70% carbs, since the training volume will most likely be high.
- .3 x 1,994= 583 calories from fat. 583/9 calories per gram gives us 65 grams of fat per day.
- .7 x 1,994= 1,396 calories from carbs 1,393/4 = 350 grams of carbs a day.
So the grand totals are:
- Protein– 324 grams
- Fat – 65 grams
- Carbohydrates– 350 grams
Keep in mind this example is to gain weight, and most of the time it won’t be all lean body mass unless you have some killer genes. That means you will gain some fat, and a lot of muscle with the proper program. But that’s why we program and meal plan, to offset fat gained by cut cycles.