There is a famous saying, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” With the new year of 2016 here, many of us are looking to improve various aspects of our lives and optimizing body composition along with enhancing gym performance are certainly among the commonly shared goals of ours. When coupled with a sound training program, implementation of a structured nutrition plan can go a long way in helping us reach our fitness goals.
While there are many ways to go about structuring the nutritional intervention, counting macronutrients also as known as flexible dieting or IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) has been a very popular approach and for good reasons: it allows you to have food that you like eating every now and then, its flexibility in food choices lets you enjoy social occasions, and it simply works.
However, many people have not yet tried this approach because they are not entirely sure how to set up their macronutrient ratio to effectively reach their goals. In today’s article, I aim to provide an easy 4 step guide to calculate how many grams of fats, proteins, and carbs you want to eat for your new year’s fitness resolutions.
Whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or maintain your current body weight, you will have tools and information to adjust your macro ratio to meet your needs.
Calculate Your Maintenance Calories
First we start by calculating our maintenance calorie level. Here, we define maintenance calorie level as the amount of calories we need to eat daily in order to maintain our current body weight. This level will vary among individuals depending on gender, age, activity level, and other factors.
There are many ways to assess the maintenance calorie using various testing in lab, keeping track of body weight and food intake for an extended period of time, etc., we can use the following simple calculation to estimate a good starting number:
Body weight (lbs) x 14-17 = Estimated Daily Calorie Maintenance Level
For example, for a 200-lb individual, his/her daily calorie maintenance level is estimated to be somewhere between 2800 and 3400 calories. If you are a female with smaller body frame and/or have an inactive lifestyle, then you would want to use the number closer to 14. If you are a male with bigger body frame and/or have an active lifestyle, then you would want to use the number closer to 17.
Once you have calculated your maintenance calorie level, adjust your daily calorie goal by either subtracting or adding 300-500kcals to your maintenance calorie level depending on your goal. If you want to lose weight, you would subtract 300-500kcals. If you want to gain weight, you would add.
Set Your Protein
Protein is the single most important macronutrient when it comes to improving body composition, and therefore it is a good idea to start by setting your protein needs. Much like calorie needs, your protein needs will vary depending on several factors including your activity level, muscle mass, training age, etc. The general recommendation of how much protein is optimal in order to maintain or increase muscle mass ranges between 0.8 and 1.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
For example, for a 200-lb individual, his/her recommended daily protein needs would be somewhere between 160 and 280 grams. Protein also tends to be the most satiating macronutrient so if you are dieting or if you like the feeling full after meals, then you may consider eating higher end side of protein amounts.
Determine Your Dietary Fat Intake
Once you have set your protein needs, it is time to determine how many grams of fat you would want to consume daily. Because a gram of fat yields more calories (9kcals/g) than a gram of protein or carbohydrate (4kcals/g), people often think it is a good idea to cut the dietary fat completely out of their diets. This is a big mistake since an adequate amount of fat intake is crucial in regulating hormone levels, maintaining joint health, etc., which in return can help not only with health but also with improving body composition. The general recommendation of daily fat intake ranges between 20% and 40% of your daily calorie level.
For example, for a 200-lb individual with 3000kcal as his/her daily calorie level, he/she would want to consume somewhere between 600 and 1200kcals worth of fat, which equates to between 600/9 = 66.7 grams of fat and 1200/9 = 133.3 grams of fat. If you prefer eating fatty food (steak, whole eggs, butter, cheese, etc.) then you would want to set your fat intake at higher end. If you prefer eating more carbohydrate-dense food (bread, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.) then you would want to set your fat intake at lower end.
Calculate Daily Carbohydrate Intake
After setting your calorie goal, protein target, and fat intake, lastly you want to calculate how many grams of carbohydrate you will consume daily. Whatever calories you have left from subtracting your daily calorie goal by caloric intake from your protein and fat will determine how many grams of carbohydrate you will be eating. For example, for a 200-lb individual with 3000kcal goal, 200 grams of protein intake, and 100 grams of fat intake, he/she will have 3000 – (200*4) – (100*9) = 1300kcals that will come from carbohydrates, which equates to 1300/4 = 325 grams of carbohydrate.
So there you have it. After a few mathematic calculations, you now have good estimations of how many grams of each macronutrient you want to eat in order to reach your fitness goals. Remember that this is simply a starting point and a guideline of how to calculate your own individual macronutrient ratio and this can and should change depending on how your body weight responds to these estimations, which macronutrient you prefer to eat, etc.
You are a unique individual, and so should your diet be. By following and implementing this easy 4-step guide, you will have tools and knowledge in how your body functions in response to different macronutrient ratio and how you can adjust your food intake to meet your needs.