Getting A Grasp Of Macros
At some point or another in your journey to fit and healthy, you will have heard the term “macros” being used. Fitness influencers, coaches, the gym-boet you know from your local Virgin Active and many others have all used this term at some point or another when talking about the nutritional aspects of losing weight or building muscle. But what are macros exactly and how do they affect our goals? Let us have a look at this aspect of nutrition in a step by step manner.
We will go over the three big and most important macronutrients we need to concern ourselves with (alcohol is the elusive fourth but that is a topic for another day).
In a nutshell, is the essence of tissue turnover. Protein is absolutely essential in stimulating protein synthesis, muscle recovery, increasing muscle mass and strength, and maintaining muscle through means of preservation. Additionally, protein has a significantly higher thermogenic effect on the body than carbohydrates or fats do. As a result, higher protein diets are a superior choice when it comes to fat loss. These effects all make protein the cornerstone of any fitness endeavour.
A macronutrient that is an excellent source of energy for the body to use for performative functions. They can be converted into glycogen quite easily and this a primary source of fuel for your muscles when performing any physical activity. They are also a non-essential macronutrient (meaning that your body does not necessarily need them to survive). However, our western style diets are absolutely incomplete without them and they make sticking to a meal plan a lot easier.
Fats are a macronutrient that play a pivotal role in maintaining, regulating, and balancing your body’s hormone levels. Research into this macronutrient has even gone so far as to show that having less than 20% of fats in your total caloric intake daily can lead to significant drops in testosterone levels and consequently cause losses in both muscle and strength. Keep in mind that more is not better in this case. An optimal level of fat intake is required, not an overload.
These three macros each have a set caloric value based on the energy levels per gram unit in any given food source. Have you ever seen those labels at the back on food containers that say “per 100g = protein 14g, carbohydrates 40g, fats 11g, etc”? Well each of these values has an assigned energy level macronutrient gram that add up to the total calories of the food you are eating.
Protein has 4 calories per 1g. Carbs have 4 calories per 1g. Fats have 9 calories per 1g. Let us have a look at Greek yogurt for example to show you how this all adds up:
Per 100g, Greek yogurt has about 58 calories. Its macronutrient values per 100g are as follows =
Protein – 10g (10x4 is 40 calories)
Carbohydrates – 3,6g (3,6x4 is 14,4 calories)
Fats – 0,4g (0,4x9 is 3,6 calories)
Protein (40 calories) + Carbs (14,4 calories) + Fats (3,6 calories) = Total Calories for 100g of Greek yogurt (58 calories).
And that is how macros are broken down in nutshell. Everything adds and up is all parts of a larger equation. Speaking of equations…
Calculating Macros for Your Goals
There is not really a specific macro split for your goals that will work monumentally better than other for whatever outcome you are trying to achieve. There are, however, a few rules that you may want to adhere to in order to receive optimal results when it comes to muscle preservation, muscle gain and maintaining optimal hormone balance.
Let us break these down a bit:
Muscle preservation during a cut: It is recommended that you get anywhere between 2g – 3.5g of protein per kg of lean body weight. The scale mentioned here ranges from around the age of 16 right up to the age of 70 and is directionally proportional with age. In other word, the younger you are, the less protein you will need in order to preserve muscle and vice versa. Therefore, whatever you calculate your deficit caloric limit to be, make sure you get these protein numbers in first and then partition the rest amongst carbs and fats (however, keep in mind our rules for fats that we will mention below).
Muscle gain: An amount of anywhere between 1.8g – 3g of protein per kg of lean body weight would be a great range to be in. Again, the same rules for age and scaling accordingly would apply here too. Remember though, that just because you are technically on a bulk, you cannot be lackadaisical when counting your protein. If you do not get enough, you will not gain a thing.
Fat count: Whatever your goal is, maintaining optimal fat levels is the key to making sure your hormones stay well-balanced and functioning at their best. Try aiming for a fat count of 20-30% of your total allotted caloric intake for your chosen phase. Things will move a lot smoother and better if you can stick to this rule (unless you enjoy eating more fats and can still stick to your caloric limit, of course).
The rest: A general rule of thumb is this:
Calculate the necessary proteins that you need in order to maintain or gain muscle mass and calculate what that value is in terms of your total caloric limit.
Select your fat percentage. 25% is always a safe marker.
Whatever calories you have left, designate to carbohydrates, and choose sources you enjoy and can find sustainable.
For example, if we have a 25-year-old, 174cm, 80kg guy who wants to lose fat, we need to partition his macros accordingly. So, let us say that he has 10kg of fat on him and has set his caloric limit to 2300 to allow him to lose fat.
Calculate his protein intake. We will use a value of 2,2g of protein per kg of lean body weight. So that will be 70 x 2,4 = 168g of protein.
Calculate protein’s total calories. That is 168g x 4 = 672 calories.
Partition 25% of his total caloric intake to fat. 25% of 2300 is 575 calories. 575 calories divided by 9 is 63,9g (rounded to 64g) of fats.
Calculate the remaining calories. So, 672 + 575 = 1247 calories. Subtract this from 2300 calories and you are left with 1053 calories.
Use remaining calories and give them to carbohydrates. That would be 1053 divided by 4 which is 263g of carbohydrates.
Total macro split is the following:
168g of protein
64g of fat
263g of carbs
Total caloric amount of 2300 calories.
Where to from here
Look, at the end of the day, your nutrition is the most pivotal point of any goal you are running after. Whether it is to gain muscle, lose fat and keep your muscle, increase your strength, or boost your athletic performance, you cannot do it without the correct and precise nutrition strategy in place. If you go into any plan with only a general idea of what it is you are trying to achieve and a vague idea of where your nutrition should be, you will get no where real fast.
Nutrition is fuel. It is materials needed for the artwork that is your physique of performance. The body cannot make something out of nothing. Likewise, if the body does not get enough of what it needs, the job will never be completed. Everything will stall and halt and you will plateau in an extremely short amount of time, maybe even move backwards. Therefore, it is vital that you take the time to calculate the values you will need in order to make a fully detailed nutrition plan, You need to layout the blueprint for your road to success or else you will have no clear heading. If you speak to any professional physique or performance athlete, they will all tell you about their nutrition strategies long before they speak about their training regimes… and for good reason as well.
After reading this, you will now have a basic idea of how to calculate your macros and split them well for whatever goal you wish to achieve. It all starts with your nutrition and now you know how. Go forth and conquer.