Last major update: March 31st, 2020
This is my guide to calculating macros based on Martin Berkhan’s Leangains system.
I have been using this with clients since 2011 years. You can see the results that this system produces on my online coaching results page. If you’re looking for an overview of Leangains, see my Leangains Guide.
As with any serious nutrition strategy, these initial calculations are just the start point. The key to your success will be fine-tuning your macros so that you keep progressing. These will come in later guides on the site. For now, I’ve worked to make this guide as simple as possible, without compromising on the efficacy. I’ve given the bare-minimum theory because most people don’t want it when they are first starting.
Calculate Your Leangains Calorie Intake
There’s a calculator at the bottom of this page. But first, I’ll teach you briefly about each of the steps. This way you’ll understand what’s going on and what choices to make in the calculator.
Step 1. Calculate your BMR
Think of your basal metabolic rate (BMR) as your ‘coma calories’ — the energy intake you need, should you fall into a coma, to maintain your body weight. There are a variety of formulas, all of which produce a guess at best, so don’t worry about trying to calculate things perfectly because we’ll adjust our intake based on how we progress.
There are a variety of formulas designed to estimate basal metabolic rate. I like the Harris-Benedict formula because it’s just as effective, yet simpler to do.
For those who use pounds and inches:
- Men: BMR = 66 + (6.2 x weight in lbs) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age)
- Women: BMR = 655 + (4.4 x weight in lbs) + (4.6 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age)
For those who use kilograms and centimeters:
- Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age)
- Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age)
Step 2. Find Your TDEE By Adjusting For Activity
You need to add an ‘activity multiplier’ to your BMR depending on your lifestyle/training. This will calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
- Sedentary (little or no exercise) [BMR x 1.15]
- Mostly sedentary (office work), plus 3–6 days of weight lifting [BMR x 1.35]
- Lightly active, plus 3–6 days of weight lifting [BMR x 1.55]
- Highly active, plus 3–6 days of weight lifting [BMR x 1.75]
Step 3. Adjust Calorie Intake Based On Your Goal
It’s important to choose a goal – fat loss or muscle gain. Yes, I know you want both, and you might be able to achieve that to a degree, but for now, I need you to look at yourself in the mirror and choose what you think is most important right now.
[If you need help with this, have a read of my article: Should I Cut or Bulk? The Definitive Guide.]
How To Adjust Your Calorie Intake For Fat Loss
I recommend a weight loss rate between 0.5–0.75% of body weight per week.
For busy individuals who can’t afford the lethargy and brain fog, 0.5% seems to be the sweet spot. (I’m basing this on my years of client work.)
As it requires an approximate 3500 kcal deficit to burn 1 lb of fat (7700 kcal per kg), to lose 1 lb of fat per week, you need a 500 kcal daily deficit (1100 kcal for 1 kg).
The calculation to adjust your calorie intake for a fat loss goal is as follows:
Target daily calorie intake (TDCI) = TDEE – (Bodyweight x target weekly fat loss rate x 500*)
*1100 if you use kg
However, our metabolisms adapt to fight a caloric deficit, which means that if we use the calculation above, it will not likely lead to the 0.5% of body weight loss per week we are hoping for. Therefore, I have set the calculator below to use 0.75%.
HOW TO ADJUST YOUR CALORIE INTAKE FOR MUSCLE GAIN
The newer you are to training, the faster the rate you can gain muscle; the more advanced you get, the slower this will happen. Therefore, it is best to set weight gain targets based on your level of training experience. If you ignore this, you’ll either gain too much fat or make slower progress than you could have.
Categorizing training advancement is tricky, but here is my preferred method along with the monthly rates of weight gain I recommend:
- Beginner: 2% (Totally new to training.)
- Novice: 1.5% (Still able to progress most training loads in the gym on a week to week basis.)
- Intermediate: 1% (Able to progress most training loads in the gym on a month to month basis.)
- Advanced: 0.5% (Progress is evident only when viewed over multiple months or a year.)
It takes roughly ~2500 kcal to build 1 lb of muscle and ~3500 kcal to burn or store 1 lb of fat.
As people typically gain fat and muscle in a 1:1 ratio in a bulk phase, and if we assume a 30 day month, this means we need a 100 kcal daily caloric surplus to gain 1 lb of weight per month (~220 kcal for 1 kg).
However, like the additional downward adjustment I made for metabolic adaptation when cutting, I believe we should make an additional upward adjustment when bulking. This is because as we raise calories, some of that calorie increase will be eaten up by NEAT and not result in a caloric surplus. So I’ve set the calculator to add 50% to these numbers.
The calculation to adjust your calorie intake for a weight gain goal is as follows:
Target daily calorie intake (TDCI) = TDEE + (Bodyweight x target monthly gain rate x 150*)
*330 if you use kg
Calculating Your Leangains Macros
Now that we have our daily calorie intake target, we can calculate our macros.
Setting Protein Intake
Protein is good. You’ve heard this even if you can’t remember why. Here’s why: It forms the building blocks for muscle, it has a protective effect on muscle tissue when dieting, and it keeps hunger at bay when dieting.
Taking all the research into account, we can come up with the following guidelines for protein intake:
|CUTTING||MAINTENANCE OR BULKING|
|Protein||1.0–1.2 g/lb (2.2–2.6 g/kg) of body weight||0.7–1.0 g/lb (1.6–2.2 g/kg) of body weight|
You’ll notice that the common number between each of these is 1 gram per pound of body weight and for simplicity, this is where I would suggest you set your protein intake regardless of whether you are cutting or bulking.
If you have a lot of fat to lose, the “1 g per pound rule” will set protein intake too high for overweight or obese people. If this is you, I’d suggest you set your protein intake as per your height in the chart below.
You’ll need to adjust the number the calculator spits out at the end. Just swap the protein for carbs.
So, if the calculator gives you 200 g of protein (because you are 200 lbs) but you are 5’6, reduce your protein intake down to 145 g and add 55 g to your carb intake number.
Setting Fat Intake
I recommend that 20–30% of your calories come from fat when bulking, and 15–25% when cutting. The reason for the lower range when cutting is because of the relatively higher importance of keeping up carbohydrate intake for performance.
The minimum fat intake I recommend is 0.25 g/lb (0.5 g/kg) per day.
Setting Carb Intake
Carbs should make up the remainder of your calorie budget.
The minimum carb intake I recommend is 0.5 g/lb (1 g/kg) per day.
These bottom-line recommendations aren’t likely to be relevant when you do your initial dietary calculation, but after a few months of dieting when you are considering where to make cuts to your calorie intake, you need to consider them.
Adding Leangains Calorie and Macro Cycling
As mentioned at the start of the article, your training days will have a higher carb and lower fat intake, with a higher calorie intake overall. Your rest days will have a higher fat but lower carb intake, with a lower calorie intake overall. This looks something like as follows:
I have set the calculator to calculate the rest day fat intake 20% higher than the training days. As carbs balance the calorie budget, this means the training days have more carbs than the rest days.
The Leangains Macro Calculator
^ If the calculator doesn’t load above the first time, please refresh the page. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Leangains Macros FAQ
1. What about macro ratios? I read somewhere that I should have 40/40/20.
Ignore the idea of macro ratios; these are just a function of the stage of dieting rather than something to target.
As you have just seen, protein intake is best set based on lean body mass, there are minimum recommendations for fat intake, and carbohydrate just makes up the calorie balance. What this means is that the ratio of the macronutrients that make up your diet will change as you progress – there will be more carbs when we are bulking, and less when we are cutting. If you target specific macro ratios, you’ll end up with a diet that is suboptimal for you.
2. Do these macros look right?
It is impossible to say. You won’t know that until you try them out. Initial calculations are an estimation, a start point from which to adjust based on how you progress, nothing more.
- Your actual energy expenditure will vary somewhere between plus or minus ~20% of what you calculate due to genetic differences,
- Your metabolism adapts when you are in a calorie surplus or deficit; your calorie target is a moving target, not a static one.
You need to make sure you are tracking your progress in detail so that you have data from which to base fine-tune adjustments to your calculations off of. You then, of course, need to know how to make the adjustments. Fortunately, I’ve put together those guides for you here:
3. The macros I calculated using your guides are different from what I have currently been using, should I change?
Not necessarily, for the reasons mentioned in the previous answer. You are better off tracking how your current set up is doing and then adjusting it if necessary.
Good luck. Thanks for reading. Questions are welcomed in the comments. – Andy