I get questions and emails all of the time from friends and strangers asking about my transformation from typical gym rat to men’s physique competitor. My first thought is “don’t these guys have the internet?”. Kind of a jerk thing to think, but then I started to learn that most people don’t even know where to start. It doesn’t matter if you are cutting, bulking or trying to maintain weight or just trying to figure out how to get ready for your first bodybuilding, bikini or figure competition, you’ve gotta understand macros and how they figure into getting the results you are looking for.

Truth is no two people’s body will respond the same to a diet, there are just too many factors – age, weight, sex, activity level, thyroid health, current caloric intake, genetics, supplementation, etc. I wish it were just as simple as picking up a Flex Magazine or reading a cookie-cutter article on BodyBuilding.com on “how to put on mass” or “get your beach body”. It isn’t. If you were to simply copy those generic meal plans or cookie cutter diets, odds are two things are gonna happen. You will get fat because you are eating as many calories as a pro bodybuilder, or be at a calorie deficit which could potentially be catastrophic for your metabolism and set you back even further in your progress.

My goal is to help you understand macro-nutrients, or “macros”, and how to figure out the right macros and caloric intake that suits your body and fitness goals. But first, we need to understand what macros are.

What Are “Macros”?

If you are thinking MS Excel when I speak of Macros, you are probably on the wrong site 🙂 Macro-nutrients or “macros” are nutrients that provide calories or energy expenditure and ultimately muscle growth and fat reduction. Nutrients are substances needed for muscle growth, fat metabolism, and for other body functions. Since “macro” means large, macro-nutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts. There are three macro-nutrients:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fats

5 Simple Steps to Calculate Your Macros

1. Know Your Body

Not like that perv. You need to know your age, height, weight,and what physical activities you perform on a daily basis. It also helps to know your body fat. If you don’t know it, don’t guess!! Go out and get measured, do the bod pod, the dunk tanke, or 7 point caliper test. Those seem to be the most accurate. With these tidbits of information, we can then use them to calculate your TDEE or “Total Daily Energy Expenditure”

2. Calculate Your TDEE

TDEE is the amount of calories your body burns in one day. Calculating your TDEE tells you how much you need to eat in order to maintain your weight at your current activity levels. There are a TON of TDEE calculators found all over the internet, you can just do a Google Search or you can use my favorite calculator found over at IIFYM.comhttp://iifym.com/tdee-calculator/.

I know of a few really good trainers who will simply take your current body weight and multiply it by 16. When I punch my numbers into the TDEE calculator I get a TDEE of 3200 calories per day. If I take my body weight and multiply it by 16, I get 2960. So you can see they are pretty close. I prefer the calculator because it takes into consideration your current level of activity and body fat.

3. Calculate Your Macro Split

Now that you know how many calories you need to maintain your current weight, the next step is determining how you want to split up your macros ie how many calories should go towards protein, carbs and fats. In order to correctly calculate your macros you need to know the caloric values for each gram of macro-nutrients.

  • Protein: 4 Calories Per 1 Gram
  • Carbohydrates: 4 Calories Per 1 Gram
  • Fat: 9 Calories Per 1 Gram

When it comes to macro splits you will find that everybody follows a lot of bro-science. Most people will stick to a ration of 40/40/20 (protein/carbs/fat). I prefer to take Dr. Layne Nortons approach to calculating macros. For protein intake, he recommends using 1-1.6g of Protein per pound of body weight. For simplicity, I will use 1g. For fat intake he recommends using 17% – 28% of total calories. I will use 25%. Whatever calories have not been allotted to protein or fat will go to carbs. Here is how my Macro Split looks using my TDEE of 3200:

  • Protein: 231g
  • Carbohydrates: 369g
  • Fat: 80g

Converting the Grams to Calories

  • Protein: 231g*4 = 924 Calories
  • Carbohydrates: 369g*4 = 1,475 Calories
  • Fat: 89g *9 = 801 Calories

Calculating Your Split

  • Protein: 924 Calories/ 3,200 Calories = 29%
  • Carbohydrates: 1,475 Calories/ 3200 Calories = 46%
  • Fat: 801 Calories/ 3200 Calories = 25%

So, in short, if my TDEE is 3,200 calories I will be eating (trying to eat) 231g of protein, 369g of carbs, and 89g of fats every day to maintain my current weight. Now a lot of people like to take a totally different approach to their macro splits. Using this scenario, my ratios are 29/46/25. A lot of people will lower their fats while cutting and increasing protein, but leave carbs the same.

4. Put Together a Meal Plan

That’s right. Now that you know what your daily goals are, you can split up your daily caloric intake between 3-6 meals. I prefer 6 meals and like to eat every 2-3 hours. It is just what my body is used to and when your metabolism is firing on all cylinders you get hungry pretty fast.

Determining which foods to stick in your meal plan, how much you need, how many meals you need, carb sources, protein sources, fat sources – those are all HOTLY debated topics across every single diet and bodybuilding forum on the internet. You have the crowd that sticks to the old school meals of oatmeal, chicken, brown rice, sweet potatoes, veggies, natural peanut butter, tilapia, maybe some lean sirloin and salmon. Then you have the IIFYM crowd that says “a calorie is a calorie” and “If It Fits In Your Macros”, IIFYM, then it doesn’t matter what it is as long as you hit your macros at the end of the day.

If you are planning on eating fast food and twinkies all day, hitting your macros is next to impossible. You need those lean sources of protein, ie chicken, fish, steak, protein shakes. But if you want to have ice cream, if you have room in your meal plan for those macros, then by all means, go ahead and plug it in! If you want to go to Subway or Taco Bell, plug the values into your meal plan and make sure you are hitting your macros. Apps such as MyFitnessPal, LiveStrong and others have made it really easy to plug in your macros and track them daily.

5. Maintenance Phase

Now that you have your macros, meals, and everything all ready to go and planned out it is really important that you hit those numbers for a couple weeks to see how your body responds. Are you staying lean, losing weight, gaining weight? If your weight is roughly the same, then you did a great job at figuring out your maintenance level. If you are losing weight, and weight loss isn’t your goal, your maintenance level is too low. You should slowly increase your calories and see how your body responds. When I make adjustments, I simply bump up my carbs every week until I am able to maintain my weight.

The same goes for those who are gaining weight while eating “maintenance”. If this is the case, your maintenance is too high. Slowly decrease your carbs and see how your body responds. There is no magical formula for this. My only recommendation is that you take it slow and easy.

What’s Next? To Bulk, Cut or Maintain…

Now that you know exactly how many calories your body needs to maintain, what you do next is totally dependent on your fitness goals. If you are wanting to bulk, then you slowly start bumping up your calories, by 5%-10% per week. You will have to go back and tweak your meal plan to make sure you hit your macros. The same goes for cutting. You are going to want to slowly decrease your calories and see how your body responds. Remember, the nothing drastic! If your maintenance is 1500 calories, you don’t want to drop down to 1000. You will only find it harder to continually drop fat. Dr. Layne Norton has a great YouTube video on this subject, called “Metabolic Damage” – check it out here –

Are You Ready?

By now you probably understand more about macros and their importance than 85% of the people at your gym. Now it’s time to apply your diet. Figuring out your meal plan does take some time, but I find it the most fun! You get to figure out the Nutritional Values of your favorite snacks and meals and simply plan your diet. Sure, you can stick to the “old school” bodybuilding and contest prep diet of chicken, brown rice and sweet potatoes, but wouldn’t you rather eat the foods you want and get the SAME results? Wouldn’t you like to be able to add that cup of ice cream to your diet at the end of the day without it totally ruining your diet or making you feel guilty? If so, be sure to read my article about IIFYM.

About The Author

Brian E. is from southern California and has worked for names like GNC and Vitamin Shoppe as a supplement expert and consultant. He currently lives in Utah and is studying marketing.

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