In this article I’ll explain as simple as possible how to calculate your daily requirements that go with your desired result.
Uh, what are macros?
Ok, so you might be a bit new to this, but that’s ok. Macros is short for macronutrients:
– Protein (4 calories per gram)
– Fat (9 calories per gram)
– Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
There is technically a 4th, alcohol, but I’m not going into that one specifically. However if you drink alcohol, you should know that 1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories and they do count. They just won’t build muscle.
1) Determine your goal
When setting up a macro goal, this can be for 2 reasons:
gain weight (muscle)
What’s important, is to actually find out how much you’re eating now. This can simply be done by keeping track of your food intake for 2-4 weeks. An excellent tool for that is MyFitnessPal. Weigh yourself before and after.
Did you lose weight? Then you are not eating enough. Did you gain weight? Then you are eating too much. No change in weight? Then you are eating enough (but I’m sure you figured that out by now)
In all cases it’s handy to calculate your daily caloric intake. Simply add up all the calories you’ve consumed and divide them by the days. This will give you a daily average.
Also, by documenting your current eating habits, you can assess more easily what types of changes you need to make, or find out if you were already on the right track.
2) BMR & TDEE
A BMR is the Basic Metabolic Rate, this is the amount of energy your body needs to survive each day. This energy is needed for breathing, your heart beating, nails growing, digestion, you get the idea.
On top of that, you need energy for daily activities, like walking, weightlifting, running, etc. These 2 combined are called the Total Daily Energy Expenditure, TDEE. This is different for everyone, since it depends on gender, height, weight and activity level.
There are easy tools to help you calculate these numbers. The one I like is 1percentedge.com. This tool is pretty accurate with calculating the BMR & TDEE.
Why still calculate this you ask?
If you compare the numbers in step 1 with the numbers in step 2, you can get the most accurate number possible in order to set your macro goals. It’s simply eliminating as much error as possible.
3) Calculating the Macros
This depends on your goal in step 1. The drop-down in the tool will give you options. The – or + numbers indicate how much % you need to be below or above your TDEE. The tool will do the calculating for you, don’t worry.
Which option to choose? Again, this depends on you goal, but good options are:
Lose weight: Weight Loss (-20/0)
Gain Muscle: Lean Massing (-10/+20)
Both options are in a safe range, Weight Loss will cause a slower, gradual weight loss, Lean Massing will ensure a slower gain without too much fat gain.
4) Keeping track
This is where it really starts. Assuming you are using MyFitnessPal, you can enter the desired calories, protein, fats & carbohydrates in your profile:
Now it’s up to you to track what you eat every meal, every snack, every day.
This may sound tedious, but after a few times this becomes a habit quickly.
You may have guessed it, but if you want to be as accurate as possible, a kitchen scale is an essential tool. At some point you will get better a estimating portions without the scale, but in the beginning you will need one for sure.
There are of course multiple tools out there to keep track of your food intake, but MyFitnessPal is used by most people (including athletes), has a huge database of foods (that you can scan the barcode of as well) and also provides an overview on how your progress is during the day and if you are on the right track:
The graph on the left gives an easy overview on the macro intake during the day, the summary on the right gives a more detailed overview of both macro- and micro-nutrients.
This way you can tweak your food intake as you go along, and you won’t run into surprises at the end of the day, when you might have gone over your target, or perhaps are still way under.
5) Measuring progress
This is very important to define right from the beginning. How are you going to measure your progress? If you want to lose weight, the scale is a logical option, but should not be the only way to measure your success. The scale can give conflicting results as well.
For example, if you are also doing weight training, you will gain muscle mass, which results in more bodyweight.
To make sure you can truly see results, do the following:
– Take before & after pictures. Take them preferably at the same location, at the same time (heck, even wear the same underwear) to really see the difference.
– Take measurements. Muscle tissue may weigh more than fat tissue per square cm, but takes up less space.
So get out a measuring tape and measure up. The most common areas to measure:
– Body fat measurements. Another way to really see results, is by measuring body fat. This should be done by a skilled person, and is usually done with calipers. The skin fold will be measured on several parts of the body, and the average body fat percentage is calculated.
There will always be a discrepancy, for more accurate body fat measurements you can do a DEXA scan, hydrostatic weighing or a bodpod, but these are often not always available everywhere and are more costly.
The tutorial above is intended for those that have a specific goal in mind, whether that is losing fat, gaining muscle mass or both, but is not intended to turn you into an obsessive calorie counter. But to be realistic, calories DO count.
The fact of the matter is, that in order to achieve a certain goal, you need to define the path towards it and this can be a way for you to do that.
Simply saying “I want to lose weight, so I’m going to eat less” will perhaps work for a while, but sooner or later you will hit a plateau and without insights into your eating habits, things could get a lot more difficult. To be honest, the more I talk to people about nutrition and calories, the more I realize that most people have no clue on how much they’re eating. This study comes to an interesting conclusion on that very issue.
Educating yourself in what your numbers are, what the caloric value of food is and how to implement it in your life will make the road to achieving your goals a lot easier.