How To Calculate Your Leangains Macros

This guide has been viewed over 1 million times since the first publication in 2011. I’ve made revisions over 100 times since.

There is a school of thought that it can be beneficial for nutrient partitioning (and therefore body composition) to have more calories on the days you work out, and less on the days you don’t. Martin Berkhan, in particular, took this a step further by experimenting with higher carb/lower fat intake training days, and higher fat/lower carb intake rest days as he was forming his Leangains system.

This is my guide to calculating macros based on Martin’s Leangains system. You can see the results that this system produces here. This is how I set things up for the vast majority of clients for years.

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 out.

Free Bonus: I’ve made a Quick Start Guide to help you quickly implement the Leangains nutrition principles explained below. This includes my macro calculation spreadsheet and email course detailing the 5 mistakes people commonly make. Click here to get them both, free.


First, Calculate Calorie Intake

It’s necessary to calculate calorie intake first, before then dividing it up into macros. Here are the steps.

Step 1. Calculate your BMR

I like to call BMR 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.

The Harris-Benedict formula is commonly used, but doesn’t work very well if you are particularly fat (it’ll overestimate your calorie needs) or particularly jacked (it’ll underestimate your calorie needs). Therefore I recommend the Katch-McArdle BMR formula as it’s based on body-fat percentage and is a little more accurate.

Metric: BMR = 370 + 21.6 * Lean Body Mass (in kg)

1 kg = 2.2 lbs, so if you’re used to using pounds, just divide your weight by 2.2 to find your weight in kg.

Lean Body Mass (LBM) = weight – (weight * (body-fat %/100))

You can estimate your body fat percentage with a few quick body measurements here.

ESTIMATE BMR

Step 2. Adjust for Activity

You need to add an ‘activity multiplier’ (x1.2~x1.9) to your BMR depending on your lifestyle/training.

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (training/sports 2-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (training/sports 4-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (training/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
  • Extremely active (twice per day, extra heavy workouts): BMR x 1.9

From these two calculations we now have our approximate daily energy expenditure (TDEE). We need to adjust this number based on our goal, which we’ll do next.

ESTIMATE TOTAL DAILY ENERGY EXPENDITURE

MEET BOB

AVERAGE HEIGHT, INTERMEDIATE TRAINEE, MODERATELY ACTIVE
75KG, 10% BODY FAT
GOAL: GAIN MUSCLE/BULK

STEP 1: BMR = 370+21.6*75*(1-0.1) = 1828 kcal
STEP 2: TDEE = 1828*1.55 = 2833 kcal

MEET TOM

TALL, NOVICE TRAINEE, LIGHTLY ACTIVE
90KG, 20% BODY FAT
GOAL: IRRELEVANT. HE NEEDS TO CUT AND IF HE DOES IT RIGHT HE’LL GAIN MUSCLE AT THE SAME TIME

STEP 1: BMR = 370+21.6*90*(1-0.2) = 1925 kcal
STEP 2: TDEE = 1925*1.375 = 2647 kcal

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 Goal Setting Guide.

Goal: Fat Loss

A calorie deficit is required for fat loss, so we need to have a calorie intake under our TDEE (the calorie figure calculated in the previous section). The fatter we are the quicker we can lose body fat; the leaner we are, the more slowly we must take things so that we preserve muscle mass. Therefore, it’s best to make reductions to TDEE based on our body-fat percentage:

Current estimated body fat % Reduce calorie intake by
30%> 30%
20-30% 25%
10-20% 20%
<10% 15%

Goal: Muscle Gain

Increase TDEE by 20%.

Goal: ‘Body-recomposition’ (Both)

No changes will be made to calorie intake.

I rarely recommend this.

There is the idea that if calorie intake is kept at weight-maintenance levels, but the training is right and the meal timing is right, then muscle will replace fat in a perfect 1:1 ratio. Now while this is true it is rarely the quickest way for someone to go about achieving their goals. For most people this will simply compromise both, slow up the progress of everything, which will threaten adherence to the plan significantly. The exception are certain ‘skinny-fat’ trainees.

The idea usually comes from a misguided sense of importance that tricks with meal timing can play and is especially prevalent in the Leangains community. (This isn’t a fault of Leangains, it’s just human nature to want to believe in shortcuts.)

We now have our target average daily calorie intake. The next step is to adjust that to give us more calories for our training days and less for the rest days.

CALCULATE AVERAGE DAILY CALORIE INTAKE

BOB: STEP 3

TDEE = 2833 kcal
GOAL: BULK, SO ADD 20% TO TDEE

TARGET AVERAGE DAILY CALORIE INTAKE =
TDEE*1.2 = 2833*1.2 = 3400 kcal

TOM: STEP 3

TDEE = 2647 kcal
GOAL: CUT FROM 20% BODY FAT, SO SUBTRACT 20% FROM TDEE

TARGET AVERAGE DAILY CALORIE INTAKE =
TDEE*0.8 = 2647*0.8 = 2118 kcal

Step 4. Calculate Training & Rest Day Calorie Intake Targets

We want to split the calorie intake so that we are consuming more on our training days than our rest days. The idea is to optimize recovery.

An approximate 40% difference between your training and rest day calorie intake figures will do, and if you are training 3 or 4 days a week, here is the simplest way to do this:

Take your average daily calorie intake and multiply by 1.2 – this is your training day calorie intake figure.

Take your average daily calorie intake and multiply by 0.8 – this is your rest day calorie intake figure.

If you’re not training 3-4 days a week then see my more detailed diet set up guide

CALCULATE TRAINING & REST DAY CALORIE TARGETS

BOB: STEP 4

AVERAGE DAILY CALORIE INTAKE = 3400 kcal

TRAINING DAY INTAKE = 3400*1.2 = 4080 kcal
REST DAY INTAKE = 3400*0.8 = 2720 kcal

TOM: STEP 4

AVERAGE DAILY CALORIE INTAKE = 2118 kcal

TRAINING DAY INTAKE = 2118*1.2 = 2542 kcal
REST DAY INTAKE = 2118*0.8 = 1694 kcal

Next, Calculate Your Macros

It’s now time to divide our calorie budgets for the training and rest days between the three macros. Protein will be kept high always. Training days will have a high carbohydrate, low fat intake; rest days will be higher fat, lower carbohydrate intake.

There are fairly strict guidelines for protein setting, there are looser guidelines for fat intake setting, and the carbohydrates balance the calorie budget.

Step 5. Set Your 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’s the most satiating of the macronutrients (i.e. it keeps away hunger).

Ignore what your mom says she read in the newspaper – high protein diets do not cause kidney damage, nor do they raise your risk of cancer – unless you’re eating processed red meat, all the time, and in very large quantities. (For a full summary of the research and practical recommendations regarding high protein diets see this excellent article over on examine.com.)

Protein Intake When Cutting

The research data suggests an intake somewhere in the 2.3-3.1 g/kg (~1.1-1.4 g/lb) of lean body mass (LBM) range when dieting is where we want to be. Lower than this and we risk muscle loss; higher than this serves no real purpose – it will just make your supermarket visits more expensive, as well as limit the carbs and fats you could otherwise be eating in your diet. The higher end of this range comes from research data on bodybuilders going through contest prep – you won’t need to go this high, unless you are already shredded, and wanting to get to stage shredded levels of leanness from there.

→ I recommend 2.5 g of protein per kilogram of lean body mass each day when cutting. (~1.2 g/lb)

You can choose to go to up to 3.1 g if you have issues with hunger, as protein will keep you feeling fuller for longer. Check out the site’s main FAQ also if hunger is causing you issues as you can go fairly far just from altering food choices without adjusting your macros.

Protein Intake When Bulking

When bulking the optimal range of intake it slightly lower: 1.6-2.2 g/kg (~0.8-1.0 g/lb) LBM. If you go lower than this and you may not grow as much a you otherwise could have from your training; higher than this your body simply isn’t capable of using directly for muscle growth and repair. (Unless you’re pumping yourself full of drugs, which will raise the cap on how much muscle can be synthesized from protein each day, which is why you see drug-using bodybuilders go much higher than this range.)

I suggest we set it slightly higher than this range for a couple of reasons:

  1. There are inter-individual differences on how much protein is needed. You don’t know which end of the range your needs will lie, so as long as you have the budget, I’d argue that it’s better to go with the higher end of the range to be conservative.
  2. As you’re bulking, you’ll be growing so you’ll eventually need to eat more protein as you grow anyway.

→ I recommend 2.5 g of protein per kilogram of lean mass on both training and rest days. (~1.2 g/lb)

CALCULATE TARGET DAILY PROTEIN INTAKE

BOB: STEP 5

GOAL: BULK, 10% BODY FAT, 75KG
PROTEIN INTAKE 2.5g/kg OF LBM

PROTEIN INTAKE = 2.5*75*0.9 = ~170g/DAY

TOM: STEP 5

GOAL: CUT, 20% BODY FAT, 90KG
PROTEIN INTAKE 2.5g/kg OF LBM

PROTEIN INTAKE = 2.5*90*0.8 = ~180g/DAY

Step 6. Set Your Fat Intake

Consumption of dietary fat is important for hormonal regulation, especially testosterone production. It should never be eliminated from a diet. Make sure your average daily fat intake goes no lower than 0.9 g/kg (~0.4 g/lb) of LBM.

Fat Intake When Cutting

Average daily fat intake when cutting should be somewhere in this range: 0.9-1.3 g/kg (~0.4-0.6 g/lb) of LBM.

Go with the higher end of the range if you prefer a higher fat diet, the lower end of the range if you prefer more carbs in your diet. Those carrying more body fat will do better with a higher fat intake on training days than leaner individuals. This is to do with insulin sensitivity, which increases when you get leaner.

Now, we want to set your fat intake so that you have it higher on your rest days, and a lower on your training days. This is an attempt to improve calorie partitioning (less fat storage, better recovery and muscle gain).

The average male client will typically have a fat intake somewhere in the ~40-65 g range on training days, 60-100 g on the rest days. For the purposes of the calculation box below, I’ve taken the average fat intake figure, and then set it 30% higher and lower than that for the rest and training days respectively.

CUTTING? CALCULATE FAT INTAKE HERE

Fat Intake When Bulking

  • When bulking have your average daily fat intake around 20-30% of calorie intake.
  • Choose a percentage in that range based on whether you prefer a higher fat or higher carbohydrate intake. Then divide that by 9 to find how many grams of fat you should consume on average each day. (There are nine calories in each gram of fat remember.)
  • We want to have a fairly large split between the fat intake on the training days and rest days. So, multiply by 0.7 to find your training day fat intake figure, multiply by 1.3 to find your rest day intake figure.

BULKING? CALCULATE FAT INTAKE HERE

BOB: STEP 6

GOAL: BULK,
SETS FAT INTAKE AT 25% OF CALORIE INTAKE

AVERAGE DAILY FAT INTAKE = (0.25*3400)/9 = 85g
TRAINING DAY FAT INTAKE = 95*0.7 = ~65g
REST DAY FAT INTAKE = 95*1.3 = ~125g

TOM: STEP 6

GOAL: CUT,
HE’S A FAIRLY TALL/BIG GUY SO HE’LL SET HIS FAT INTAKE NEAR THE UPPER END OF THE TYPICAL CLIENT RANGES

TRAINING DAY FAT INTAKE = 60g
REST DAY FAT INTAKE = 90g

Step 7. Calculate Carb Intake

Just think of carbs as being here to balance the equation so that you hit your training and rest day calorie targets. Carbs have 4 calories in each gram.

→ Training day carb intake = Training day calorie intake – training day fat intake – training day protein intake

→ Rest day carb intake = Rest day calorie intake – Rest day fat intake – Rest day protein intake

CALCULATE CARB INTAKE

BOB: STEP 7

TRAINING DAY CALORIE INTAKE = 4080 kcal
PROTEIN INTAKE =170g, FAT INTAKE =65g

REST DAY CALORIE INTAKE = 2720 kcal
PROTEIN INTAKE = 170g, FAT INTAKE = 125g

TRAINING DAY CARB INTAKE = 4080 – 170*4 – 65*9 = 2815 kcal = ~705g

REST DAY CARB INTAKE = 2720 -170*4 – 125*9 = 915 kcal = ~230g

TOM: STEP 7

TRAINING DAY CALORIE INTAKE = 2542 kcal
PROTEIN INTAKE =180g, FAT INTAKE =60g

REST DAY CALORIE INTAKE = 1694 kcal
PROTEIN INTAKE = 180g, FAT INTAKE = 90g

TRAINING DAY CARB INTAKE = 2542 – 180*4 – 60*9 = 1282 kcal = ~320g

REST DAY CARB INTAKE = 1694 -180*4 – 90*9 = 164 kcal = ~40g

FAQ

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 carbohydrate 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.

Do these macros look right?

It’s not possible for me to look at a set of calculated macros and say whether they are correct or not. It’s going to vary greatly from person to person.

Now, one important thing to note it that the initial calculations we make are an estimation – a starting point and nothing more. Everyone’s actual energy expenditure will vary somewhere between plus or minus ~20% of that due genetic differences, the current state of metabolic adaptations, and NEAT variance. (More on this here).

We can’t calculate for these things, so a better question is, “How are these macros working for you?

If you’re not tracking, you don’t know, so get started and make sure you don’t miss any points. From there you can fine tune things based on how you progress. Make sure you read my guide to tracking your progress.

I get a negative number for my carb intake on the rest days. What did I do wrong?

Check that you didn’t set your fat loss rate too high for your current level of body fat. If you have that right, then reduce the calorie split between the training and rest days (from 30% to 20% for example). If you’ve already done that, then reduce it further manually by just taking some of your carb intake from the training days and adding it to the rest days.

What should I read next?

Make sure you check out my progress tracking guide. A lot of people miss that at their own peril.

If you’re looking for meal timing suggestions specifically for Leangains then I’d suggest my Leangains Overview and Meal Timing Guide.

If you’d like something with fuller explanations which will allow for further customization, then check out my free 67 page Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet ebook. You’ll get my automated macro calculator also.

The guides covering how to adjust and fine tune and your diet are all here.

**********

Good luck. Thanks for reading. Questions are welcomed in the comments. – Andy

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

Hi, I'm Andy, co-author of the highly-acclaimed 'Muscle and Strength Pyramid' books and founder of RippedBody.com. This site is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing full-time, online, for the last seven years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation. (You can read more about Andy here.)

2,063 Comments

  1. Hima says:

    Hey Andy,
    The information you put in so helpful. I wonder if females can follow this macro calculation? When I calculate it gives me 2000 calories during training days and 1350 on rest days.

  2. Antonio Martinez Garcia says:

    Some packaged foods have more calories listed than the macros listed suggest when I multiply out the energy values. Which should I trust? [Edited for brevity. – Andy]

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      This is due to a quirk in the labeling laws where sometimes things can go unlisted if the quantity is small enough. The difference is small. Choose one or the other way of counting. Stick with it and don’t worry about it.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Hi Andy! Just found this article yesterday. Massive help! Thank you.
    2 questions: does your activity multiplier include lifestyle outside of the gym. I have two young children and they/we are non-stop. I feel like my multiplier should be x17 (ha!) but I chose based on my gym days only.
    and 2nd, let’s say I set up my macros for cutting and I get to my goal fat %. Can I then switch my macros overnight to bulking without putting that fat back on? Is there a “ramp up”? Assume I’m eating well and limiting the cheats. Thanks!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      1. Yes. Perhaps add 0.2 to it and then adjust from there based on progress (weight change, when looked at over several weeks).
      2. Do this instead: How to Find Maintenance Calorie Intake After Dieting

  4. Lois says:

    Does it not matter about the persons height?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Not for this method of calculating BMR.

  5. Gerardo says:

    Hi, thanks for the amazing post, i am just concerned about the weekly calories for cutting, why are different from the calculations you showed for rest days and active days?

    I will quote what you wrote

    “Take your average daily calorie intake and multiply by 1.2 – this is your training day calorie intake figure.

    Take your average daily calorie intake and multiply by 0.8 – this is your rest day calorie intake figure.”

    So weight lose happens in a weekly basis, if i have 2400 calories for cutting, i would have 16800 calories every week for cutting. But when i do your calculations. my weekly calories are quite higher.

    If i multiply 2400 x 1.2 for my training days would be : 2880 calories
    If i multiply 2400 x 0.8 for my rest days would be : 1920 calories

    Now look at this : 2880 calories x 4 days of training would be 11520
    1920 of the 3 days of rest would be 5760 and total weekly would be 17280 of 16800 i have.

    So i am quite confused here i dont know if you can help me, wouldnt be better if i just for example take from my total of 16800 calories for 4 days of training lets say 2700 calories ( 10800 cal ) and for my 3 rest days 2000 calories ( 6000 cal) then the total will be 16800.

    What you think?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      A purposeful simplification because the difference in outcome is not worth worrying about. Why? The calculations themselves are estimations in the first place. If you’d like false perfection, feel free to do the math (or just use my spreadsheet calculator – pop your email in the box) but believe me when I say it won’t make a difference because you’ll have to track and then adjust anyway.

  6. Ben says:

    I like to add in speed training (6 rounds of 4 min run/30 second walk) once or twice a week. Should I count those as rest days or training days? If I count those as rest days, how should I tweak my macros?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Just bump up the activity multiplier in step 2.

  7. Mikkel says:

    Hey Andy,
    thanks for sharing a lot of useful information, this page is gold!
    I have had success with the IF approach before for cutting.
    I am a beginner in training, and I am probably ~ 18% BF and want to cut to about 10%.

    How large is the effect of cycling fat/carbs on the non-training and training days? And is there any evidence for it in non-lean individuals?
    In the nutrition pyramid book you recommend only single-day refeeds with no macro-cycling for a person such as me.

    Hope you can help.
    Kind regards,
    Mikkel.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Mikkel, skip to the ‘timing’ section of my guide here. I’ve specifically addressed this.

      Thank you for purchasing the book.

      1. Mikkel says:

        Thanks,
        that did answer my question.
        Adherence comes first 🙂
        so it is consistent with the pyramids.

        My pleasure, the books are extremely helpful.

        1. Andy Morgan says:

          Happy to hear. 🙂

  8. Roberto Martinez says:

    Thanks for all you do Andy. I’m 41 years old, got a late start on my fitness but am in the best shape of my life. Tomorrow I start the transition to Leangains. I wanted to ask, do you see the potential for accelerated results if one were to fast longer, say 18hrs vs. 16? And if so, do you recommend any changes to macros?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      The differences, if any, will be marginally less favorable due to the possibility of poorer muscle mass retention. However, adherence is king, so if 18 hours is far easier to stick to, do that. Don’t do it for any benefits you are imagining as they aren’t there.

  9. Nairna says:

    Hello Andy
    This may be a little specific but what’s bothering me about the formulas is the activity level. What exactly constitutes ‘sports’ there? Is it resistance training only or do other activities like cardio, hours of walking or Yoga on non-training days count towards that? And since I am ‘active’ in those ways 6-7 days a week but only go to the gym 3 times a week do I account for that at all? And if so: how do I adjust?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Nairna, I’d just go with the word descriptions, despite them being subjective. Do you class yourself as ‘moderately’ or ‘very’ active, realistically speaking? You will need to adjust later (see second faq item) and we’re only after a ballpark estimate, so don’t stress it too much.

      Bear in mind that yoga is basically a glorified stretching session and does not burn a lot of calories, so don’t factor it in.

  10. Daniel says:

    I Love the New Set Up Andy! Great Job!

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