If you want to “hit your macros”, you better hurry to find out what those macros are, before you start weighing everything. So, here are the three steps you got to take before you start 😉
In view of the fact that I am getting questions like “how do I set up my macros” again and again… and did I say “again”? I would like to briefly outline a very easy you can use to create a baseline macronutrient template you can use for yourself or clients. The process itself involves some mathematics, but don’t worry, it’s easy and with the examples, I am going to give, even the math-haters out there will be able to come up with a new macro-template in ~2 minutes time. Before I go ahead I would yet briefly like to point out that I am a huge proponent of “food quality” and not a fan of “if it fits your macros” aka “I just want to eat all the shit I have always been eating!” So, for your own sake, please don’t forget to check, where those “macros” are coming from.
Don’t forget that health and looking good naked require eating right and working out!
Ok, let’s get back to the two minutes: I have to admit, if you want to do it right and have no clue how much energy you want to consume on a daily basis, the whole process may take a bit longer than two minutes, but for the rest of you, it’s going to be two minutes, I promise.
Step 1: Find your / a client’s daily energy requirements: This may be the fastest or longest-taking step. If you already know how much energy you want to consume or have a client consume on a daily basis, skip this step and go right to step 2.
You’re still there? Well, ok. This means you don’t know how much energy you want to consume or prescribe and want me to tell you how to calculate that? Well, I will do that, but I personally don’t recommend to calculate your requirements, and I am pretty sure that after you see my example calculation you will be similarly convinced that only Mr and Mrs Average will get good results with the most used equation to calculate your resting metabolic rate (RER) and total energy requirements (TEE) – the Harris-Benedict equation:
Equation 1: The Harris-Benedict Equation in all its usless glory – don’t rely on this or any other formula when you’re trying to estimate your or a client’s dietary requirements.
That’s it, the Harris-Benedict equation in all its useless glory. Well, then… let’s take an example, not a totally extreme one, though, let’s say you have two clients, a man and a woman:
Obese Man – obese at 175kg body mass, he is 27 years old, but looks like an overweight teenager, with his body size of only 179 cm he’s having an extra-hard time moving his frame to the fridge and back, which is – as he freely admits – the only “exercise” he has gotten ever since he’s lost his job 5 years ago
Active Woman – active, middle-aged, weighs 58 kg, you checked, because you know middle-aged women lie about their weight, her passport says age 47, her body size is 160 cm, and she says that she jogs regularly (“Roughly three times a week, I’d say”), no HIT, HIIT or strength training
Now, in theory you can calculate our exemplary clients’ resting metabolic rate (RER) using Equation 1. In other words, the equation is going to tell you the amount of energy our imaginary client would need if he or she was minimally physically active (that’s not 100% bed-rest, but close to). To go from the RER to the total energy their total energy requirements (TER) or total energy expenditure (TEE), you still have to multiply the value by … for …
- 1.2 – non-active couch potato and office worker,
- 1.3 – people who use the bike or walk or do other light physical exercise 1-2x/wk
- 1.4 – people who jog or do similarly medium intense physically activity 3-5x/wk
- 1.6 – the average recreational active gymrat who trains intensely at least 3x/wk
- 1.7 – someone who lives in the gym and takes the stairs 😉
For our two example clients, the obese man at 175 kg body mass (age 27, body size 179 cm) who moves to the fridge and back and our actually pretty active middle-aged women at 58 kg, who jogs regularly but hates high intensity workouts, the calculations and results are look like this:
Equation 2: Calculation of the total daily energy requirement for the two example clients.
I assume that you’d agree that that both values are way off what would make sense for the two, right? And that despite the fact I didn’t chose the people on the really extreme ends of the “ripped female athlete to sign. obese male couch potato”-scale – for people on the edges, the results may well be even worse.
So, I hope you see that you are way better off if you are having your clients log their food intakes for a week (at least three days) and determine their intake (or yours if you’re doing this for yourself) by dividing the total energy intake by 7.
Every client should to a long(er)-term food log: If you don’t have data on how much and what exactly a client eats, you cannot work with him. It’s also important to get an idea of what he likes and doesn’t like. After all, the best diet is useless if a client does not adhere to it – and we all know that a candy lover on a eggs and bacon diet is going to have a harder time than a bacon lover on a ketogenic diet. Also, for clients, this obviously means that any trainer who gives you a detailed meal-plan without having seen at least a three-day food log, is someone you should not rely on.
Using the food log will not only allow you to avoid bogus predictions for people who are not “average”, but it will also allow you to
- estimate the previously mentioned food quality of your / your clients diet,
- decide based on what you or he / she like whether a high carb or low carb approach is the one with a higher chance of 100% adherence and
- see that the current energy intake is at a level that would hardly sustain a toddler, due to years of dieting and meanwhile useless reductions in energy intake (if that’s the case, click here)
Now that you hopefully know how much energy you or your client need on daily basis, there’s one last thing you have to do before you proceed to step #2: Determine if you, he or shee needs just the TER or 15-35% less (in very overweight clients even 40%-50% less) or 10-15% more in order to lose body fat or gain muscle, respectively.
Step 2: Decide whether you want to go high or low carbohydrate: Now that you know “exactly” how much energy you or your client are going to consume on a daily basis, it’s about time to decide which dietary prescription, i.e. high or low carbohydrate, you or your client are going to follow.
Unless you’re going to go keto which would require you to set a limit of ~10-15g of protein per meal to stay in full ketosis, you still have 30s to think about whether it should be high or low carb, while you’re determining the protein baselines which are:
- 1.2-2.2 g/kg (2.0g = suggested, unless lightweight) total weight for men
- 1.2-1.8 g/kg (1.5g = suggested, unless lightweigh) total weight for women
The lower recommendation for women is due to the fact women have a lower total body weight and less muscle on their frame. If you feed a tiny woman 2.0g protein per kg body weight, you may end up having her eat so much protein that there’s no room for other nutrients, which is bad news in general, and very bad news for women who are much more susceptible to a lack of readily metabolizable energy that has not to go to the energy and time-consuming process of gluconeogenesis in the liver (and yes, you’d waste the protein anyways, because it would be turned into glucose).
I think your 30s time for consideration are over and hope you’ve used the time wisely to decide if you want to go low or high carb? In general, the rule of thumb is: “The fatter you are, the greater the low-carb advantage is going to be.” Now, as a SuppVersity reader you’ve read enough about low and high carbohydrate diets, their advantages and pitfalls on the SuppVersity to be able to decide, so (wo-)man up and take the responsibility and use
- 40-100g (80g suggested for men; 50g = suggested for women) as a minimum daily fat intake for yourself or clients on high carbohydrate diets or
- 50-120g (90g = suggested for men; 60g = suggested for women) as a minimum daily carbohydrate intake for yourself or clients on low carbohydrate diets and
- <20g of carbohydrates (best divided across meals) on a truly ketogenic diet
As you should have noticed you will always pick the macronutrient you’re “avoiding” on your diet and determine a baseline for this. The reason is that the amount of carbs and fats that are appreciable baseline on high fat and high carbohydrate diets do not scale linearly with your or a clients weight. The idea is that you want to consume as little as it takes for optimal health and function. Accordingly, you never want to go to zero fat for endocrine reasons and you never want to cut the baseline carb intake so low that you force the body to convert a lion’s share of protein into glucose. The latter is by the way something that happens if you follow a “almost only protein” diet and trust me, in the long term that’s not good for either your health, or your looks and performance.
Step 3: Calculate the amount of your primary energy source: The last step is actually the easiest one. You take the values from the previous steps, i.e. your total daily energy requirement (+/ – X% if dieting or bulking) and subtract the energy equivalents from Step #2 by filling your data into either the high or the low carbohydrate equation below:
Equation 3: Use the results from steps 1-2 to calculate the amount of the main nutrient (in g/day).
The values for TER are the ones you calculated in STEP 1, the ones for FAT and CHO are in grams per day from STEP 2. Since you’ve already determined the input values on an individual basis, the equations are identical for man and woman, fat or thin, athletic or sedentary people.
So, assuming we’d chosen the standard approach for our two previously cited clients with a weight maintenance high carbohydrate diet (intake at TER) for the female and a restricted diet for the obese guy (TER – 30% = 2292.62 kcal/day), we would end up with…
Obese man – low carbohydrate approach, maximal carbohydrate intake 50g (because he’s very insulin resistant), protein intake at 1.2 g/kg (=210g total per day | we use the lowest value, because due to his extreme body weight even that will get us way beyond the ~30g/meal rule).
Figure 1: Results of the macro calculation for the obese man. Percentages expressed rel. to total macro intake (in g | left) and rel. to total energy intake (in kcal | right).
With these values we would get a fat intake of 132.14 g/day and if we do the math on all macros we get a macro ratio of roughly 34% / 54% / 13% as FAT / PRO / CHO g/total macro intake per day. Usually, though, you see this expressed relative to the energy equivalents. In this case that’s 53% / 38% / 9% as FAT / PRO / CHO and it gives you a much better idea of the fact that fat is the main energy source, here.
Active woman – high carbohydrate approach (because she doesn’t like fat), maximal fat intake 45g (on the lower side, because her TER is relatively low, protein intake at 1.5g/kg (=87 g, that’s minimally below the 30g/meal rule, but using a higher value would reduce her CHO intake to levels that have her run largely on gluconeogenesis which is bad for everyone and particularly nasty for women whose endocrine system tanks easily); in order not to starve her, we also assume a more realistic TER of 1,250kcal/day.
Figure 1: Results of the macro calculation for the active women. Percentages expressed rel. to total macro intake (in g | left) and rel. to total energy intake (in kcal | right).
If we enter these values into Equation 3, we get a carbohydrate intake of 124.25 g/day. If we do the math, just like we did for our other example client, that’s a macro ratio of roughly 17.6% / 34.0% / 48.5% FAT / PRO / CHO in g/total macro intake per day and 32% / 28% / 40% FAT / PRO /CHO if the macronutrients are converted to energy equivalents and expressed relative to the total energy intake per day.
That’s it… well, you obviously you will have to tweak some of the input values, e.g. the protein intake or the baseline intakes for carbohydrates and fats if you are not happy with the results, but as I said this is an easy and proven way to get an idea of what your macros or the macros of one of your clients may look line. With some experience and a good knowledge of what works for you or a client you can optimize the result pretty quickly, though.
If you assume that the amount of food you or a client eats is way too little, because you, he or she have been dieting or even developed an eating disorder, here are additional ways to estimate the real energy requirement and to get yourself, him or her back on track. I have to warn you, though, this will be a tough time for everyone involved | read more
Let’s recap what you do: (1) Know your energy intake goal, which is either the total energy requirement (TER) for weight maintenance or a figure a bit above or significantly below this value – depending on whether the goal is weight gain (higher number) or fat loss (lower number). I also highly recommend you get this number based on a food log (!), not some dubious calculation and if you still choose the latter use your brains and check whether the numbers can be accurate (in our example they obviously ain’t). (2) Decide on a high carbohydrate, low carbohydrate or ketogenic approach and pick the right baselines based on weight and the ranges provided in this article. (3) Calculate the intake of the “main nutrient”, i.e. FAT on low carbohydrate or CHO on high carbohydrate diets, with Equation 3 – that’s it!
(*) Well, unless you feel you have to tweak the result, which is often necessary if you’re dealing with people who are “extreme” as in “extremely lean / muscular”, “extremely active” or “extremely overweight”. In that, I suggest you keep in mind that…
- ideally, you want to have enough protein in your diet to make sure that there’s room for at least three meals with 30g or more of high EAA protein in them across the day, irrespective of what your or your clients goal is (unless it’s becoming a fat slob obviously),
- it may be a bad idea to go much lower than 50% of your or your clients body weight in grams on fats (i.e. don’t go below 50g for a 100kg client), because if there’s almost no fat in one’s diet, the skin, the endocrine system and the overall health are going to deteriorate over time,
- that you should avoid making protein the major source of energy in the diet; while it’s good to have plenty of protein, a diet that has virtually no carbs and no fats will make the liver work overtime and convert most of the protein to glucose that’s not sustainable in the long run and a fast-track to fatigue for most people (Note: all the high protein studies showing magnificent results still have large amounts of the “energy macros” fats and carbohydrate in the diet, in the impressive study by Antonio et al. (2014), for example the carbohydrate intake was way beyond 200g and the fat intake was somewhere between 50-100g).
Alright, I suspect reading this article took you way more than two minutes. Keep in mind, though, the two minutes I speak about in the headline are for setting up your macros; and now that you’ve read and hopefully understood how this works, it shouldn’t take you much longer than he previously advertised two minutes to get to a baseline FAT / PRO / CHO value. If you still have questions or comments, there’s plenty of space for everything to discuss them on Facebook!
Antonio, Jose, et al. “The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11.1 (2014): 19.