How To Set Up Your Diet: #2 Macros, Fibre & Alcohol


#1 Calorie Setting, #2 Macro Setting, #3 Micros & Water, #4 Nutrient Timing, #5 Supplements


When people in the industry refer to their ‘macros’ they are talking about the three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat. You may have heard it said that while energy balance determines whether weight is gained or lost, macronutrients determine whether that change is fat or muscle mass.

Though that is a gross oversimplification, as their position in the pyramid above would indicate, macros play the second most important role when it comes to the fat loss/muscle gain equation. Simply put, get them right and you’ll reach your physique goals quicker and more painlessly than if you ignore them.

The following guidelines are based on research, other coach recommendations (main influences being Alan Aragon, Lyle McDonald, Martin Berkhan and Eric Helms), as well as personal observations from client work.

There are sometimes individual differences and considerations which I have tried to cover in the explanations below.

Note to geekier friends: ‘Re-feeds’ and macro cycling strategies will be discussed in the timing guide. This will form the base for that though, so don’t skip it.


Protein Intake Guidelines

Protein Section Header

There are 4 Calories in every gram of protein.

Why is it important?

Protein helps us to recover from our training, it preserves lean tissue when dieting, helps us grow more muscle when bulking, and has the highest effect on satiety of all the macronutrients.

Protein is therefore very good stuff. However it is not as simple as saying more = better. Here is what I believe defines ‘optimal’ intake for physique goals:

A quantity of protein consumed that is high enough to reasonably cover all potential benefits, without being so high that it becomes unnecessarily expensive, and limiting to food choice by reducing the quantity of the other macronutrients we can consume while keeping to our calorie budget for the day.

NB: This is not the same as the government RDA which is usually very low. There is a very big difference between minimal human needs, versus what is optimal for our physique goals. (Personally, in the face of the evidence I think that the RDA needs to be raised so that the muscle loss which sick, bed-bound people experience is minimised. But issues with the RDA and politics why it doesn’t change are another story for another day.)

How much protein should I consume?

 CuttingBulking
Protein2.3-3.1g/kg LBM (~1.1-1.4g/lb)1.6-2.2g/kg LBM (~0.8-1.0g/lb)

The amount of protein that is optimal depends on our lean mass. As body-fat ranges vary dramatically I don’t like to base calculations on body weight because that risks giving fatter people too much protein and leaner people too little.

The most important factor in determining our protein intake requirement is lean body mass (LBM). The more you have, the more you need. We can determine this by taking our weight and subtracting the amount of body-fat we carry. (You will have estimated this in part #1, Calorie Setting).

If you have no idea on what your body-fat percentage is, get an estimate either through body-fat caliper measurements (only if you are fairly lean), or the BIA machine your gym will likely have. (DEXA, Bodpod and underwater weighing are other options if available.)

Important:All of these methods have inaccuracies and inconsistencies, so save yourself the heartache and DO NOT USE THESE DEVICES TO TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. They are fine for the purpose of making these calculations but not for tracking progress. (My guide for that here.)

Reason for the difference between bulking and cutting

  • Protein helps spare muscle mass when in a calorie deficit, so the requirements are higher when cutting.
  • Protein intake past the range given when bulking, though not likely detrimental other than to our wallets, isn’t likely going to be beneficial either – protein synthesis will already be maxed out. (Unless drugs are used, which is why you may read in a magazine about a Mr Olympia competitor’s 600g per day consumption.)

Reason for the range of intakes

  • Ripped dude side image‘Optimal’; intake is also determined by Severity of the Calorie Deficit, Body-fat percentage, and Training Status.

  • When cutting, the greater your deficit, the higher protein intake you’ll need to keep your body from eating into lean tissue. The steadier you take the fat loss, the less you’ll need.

  • Fatter people can get away with greater deficits. However, greater deficits mean more hunger, and as protein is the most satiating macronutrient (meaning we stay feeling fuller for longer on higher protein diets) you might want to keep your protein intake at the higher end of the range anyway.

  • Beginners trainees seem to have lower protein requirements. (Perhaps their calorie partitioning is better with the new stimulus their bodies are experiencing.)

NB: While these numbers are based in the research, we can only use the research to use what is good for people on average.  There will be outliers – people that need more, and those that can get away with eating far less. However, there is no way to tell this without painstaking trial and error.

Beware of the Industry Nonsense

Protein is the most expensive macronutrient to get in your diet, which means we can find a lot of nonsense online and in magazines surrounding the subject of optimal intake. If you are new to this and about to increase your protein intake, here’s likely what will happen:

  • “Oh damn, that’s going to be expensive. Let’s get some protein powder.”
  • Your mum/partner/auntie laughs at your protein tub in the kitchen, starts to worry it isn’t healthy.
  • They google “Are high protein diets safe?” It comes back with an article about kidney damage regarding either high protein diets or protein powders specifically. They start harassing you.
  • You start second guessing this and get worried yourself.

Just to be clear: High protein diets do not cause kidney damage.

The origin: Back in 1983, researchers first discovered that eating more protein increases your “glomerular filtration rate,” or GFR. Think of GFR as the amount of blood your kidneys are filtering per minute. From this finding, many scientists made the leap that a higher GFR places your kidneys under greater stress.

What science really shows: Nearly 2 decades ago, Dutch researchers found that while a protein-rich meal did boost GFR, it didn’t have an adverse effect on overall kidney function. In fact, there’s zero published research showing that downing hefty amounts of protein—specifically, up to 1.27 grams per pound [2.8g/kg] of body weight a day—damages healthy kidneys. – Alan Aragon from Mens Health Online

NB: That’s per pound of bodyweight, not lean mass, so that’s a very high number indeed. 

For a full summary of the research and practical recommendations regarding high protein diets see this excellent article over on examine.com.

 

Protein Powder or Real Food?

Protein powders are a very useful tool to make hitting protein targets affordable, not to mention the convenience factor when out and having to rely on restaurant portions of meat which tend to be small.

However, getting your protein intake from real food is always going to be more filling. By that I mean mainly through meat, fish, eggs and dairy consumption. When we diet, hunger is our enemy. So it’s best to prioritise real food.

On the flip side, when bulking it can be tough physically get in enough food without feeling sick or bloated. In this situation calorie dense foods or liquid meals, like protein shakes, can be your friend.

Alright, now with protein intake set, it’s time to decide where the rest of the calorie intake (that you calculated in part #1, Calorie Setting) will come from.

 


Fat Intake Guidelines

Fat Section Header

There are 9 Calories in every gram of fat.

Why is it important?

Consumption of dietary fat is important for regular hormonal function, especially testosterone production. If you drop very low with your fat intake the most obvious change you will notice is a decrease in sex drive. It should never be eliminated from a diet.

How much fat should I consume to cut or bulk?

 CuttingBulking
Fat0.9-1.3g/kg LBM (~0.4-0.6/lb)20-30% calories

Cutting

When cutting we need to take in fewer calories. Fat is the most energy dense of the macronutrients, so decreasing fat intake is an easy way to make large changes to your overall energy intake.

As with protein though, there is a minimum amount you don’t want to go under. In this case it is for the hormonal reasons mentioned above. I’d suggest that you don’t go below 0.9g of fat per kilogram of lean body mass. (If you cycle fat macros in your diet then consider this the average intake number not to go under.)

Why the range?

Those carrying more body-fat will do better with a higher fat intake than leaner individuals. This is to do with insulin sensitivity, which increases (generally, but not always) when you get leaner. So, if you have a very high body-fat percentage then go with the upper end of the range, leaner folks go lower.

Bulking

When bulking we need to take in more calories. Due to fat being the most energy dense macronutrient, aside from being a good way to reach calorie numbers without severe fullness, increasing our fat intake also increases our food choices available.

I tend personally not to think in terms of percentages, so previously I hadn’t given specific fat recommendations for bulking (publicly), as I am waiting for more experience with clients. However, after watching Eric Helms’ video series I compared his 20-30% recommendation with the results I’ve seen with clients and it works out quite nicely.

Why the range?

There is room for personal preference, also, some people simply do better with different fat intakes (which is probably also largely linked to insulin sensitivity), so feel free to experiment.

I am not a proponent of very high fat, low-carb diets – they are overly restrictive (thus threatening long-term diet compliance) and they hamper performance, certainly in athletic populations. Anything over 40% of a person’s calorie intake from fat, while it may work, is not likely to work optimally.


Carbohydrate Intake Guidelines

Carbs Section Header

There are 4 Calories in every gram of carbohydates.

Why are they important?

Carbohydrates are the only macronutrient we can live without. However, carbs have positive impacts on hormones, help fuel us through our workouts, replace muscle glycogen (the primary and preferred fuel source of our muscles), and make life a lot tastier. So, while we restrict them (through lack of any other choice) I do not recommend eliminating them from your diet.

Resistance training is likely equally, if not more important than adequate protein intake for retaining muscle mass when dieting. I mention this here because it’s relevant when it comes to setting your carb intake.

We need to eat enough carbohydrate to still get effective workouts so that we can maintain our muscle mass – which a lot of people find isn’t possible when restricting carbs severely. (~80% of a workout is fuelled by glycogen stores, a low glycogen state will compromise your ability to train hard.) This is not to say your workouts won’t be tougher when in a deficit, they will, because you’ll have less energy overall, but you want to avoid leaving yourself glycogen depleted also.

How much carbohydrate should I consume?

 CuttingBulking
Carbs– the rest –– the rest –

Think of carbs as just balancing the equation as per your ‘calorie’ targets decided in, #1 Calorie Setting. The difference between cutting and bulking will be the greatest with this macro number.


Fiber Intake Guidelines

Dietary Fiber Section Header

There are 0-2 Calories in every gram of fibre.

Why is it important?

Fibre is a classification of carbohydrate. We cover this here because fibre keeps us feeling fuller without adding significantly to the calorie content of food, lowers blood sugar levels and delays digestion of food, lowers cholesterol, helps us avoid constipation, and reduces colon cancer risk. It is clearly very good stuff (full list of benefits here).

However, it’s also possible to have too much, the side effects being gas, diarrhoea (and thus the increased risk of browning your pants in public), constipation and bloating.

Keep between the following numbers and try not to have large jumps in your intake and you’ll be fine:

  • Minimum – 20g/25g for women and men respectively.
  • Maximum – 20% of your carb intake.

Further Reading: Fibre – Nature’s Broom by Lyle McDonald.


Alcohol Considerations

Alcohol Section Header

There are 7 Calories in every gram of alcohol.

Why is it important?

Makes dull people interesting, reduces pain, masks social insecurity, makes us forget the midnight kebabs. Technically a macronutrient but not an essential one, unless you are from Glasgow.

How much alcohol should I consume?

This really varies with location. Sober observations in singles bars leads me to conclude that, in England at least, it is a fine balance fraught between being pissed enough so that the girl sitting alone at the bar has become pretty enough to talk to, while still being able to stand up, walk over and not slur speech. Further supplementation may or may not be required depending on levels of dutch courage.

More seriously though…

For many people alcohol consumption is a fact of life. Complete avoidance will work, but that’s not going to be sustainable approach for most people.

Alcohol has calories with 1g containing 7kCal and that is usually combined with carbs (either from fruit as with wine, hops/wheat/barley as with beer, or sugar from carbonated drink mixers).

Beer Side ImageWhen drinking in moderation it’s possible to adjust for the alcohol without messing things up. Look up the drink you’re consuming and see how many calories are in there. Then subtract the appropriate amount of calories from the macros you see fit to maintain the calorie balance for the day. This way you’ll have maintained the number one most important thing in our nutritional pyramid, while remaining close to the macros for the day.

For Example: You drink three beers

Carbs and Protein contain ~4kCal/g, Fat contains 9kCal/g.

If the calorie total for those three beers comes to 600kCal, consider taking out 75g of carbs (300kCal) and ~33g of fat (~297kCal).

  • Alcohol gives us energy, but with none of the benefits associated with the other macros. Thus, frequent binge drinking isn’t going to be sustainable.
  • You’re likely not going to want to adjust the protein macro, given it’s muscle sparing properties.

Yes, there are strategies for occasional binge drinking in, The Alcohol Guide. Don’t abuse it.


Putting That All Together – Two Examples

We’ll continue with our examples of Tom and Bob, whose calorie requirements we calculated in the previous guide.

Tom

Remember Tom

NB: Tom is 90kg at 20% body fat, thus his lean body mass is 72kg. [90*(1-0.2)]

Protein

  • Protein intake in grams = 2.3~3.1g/kg LBM
  • We’ll choose 2.5kg, as Tom is a beginner trainee and the deficit is modest.
  • Protein intake in grams = 2.5*72 = 180g

Fat

  • Fat intake in grams = 0.9-1.3g/kg LBM
  • Tom has a moderate amount of body-fat, so we’ll choose 1.1grams.
  • Fat intake = 1.1*90*(1-0.2) = ~80g (Technically 79.2g but rounded for simplicity.)

Carbs

  • Carb intake in calories = Daily Calorie Intake Setting – Protein Calories – Fat Calories
  • Carb intake in calories = 2152 – 180*4 – 80*9 = 712kCal
  • Carb intake in grams = 712/4 = ~180g (Again, technically 178g but rounded to make life easier.)

Tom’s Daily Macros: 180g Protein, 80g Fat, 180g Carbs

Bob

Remember Bob

NB: Bob is 75kg at 10% body fat, thus his lean body mass is 67.5kg. [75*(1-0.1)]

Protein

  • Protein intake in grams = 1.8~2.2g/kg LBM
  • We’ll choose 2.2kg, as Bob loves eating meat.
  • Protein intake in grams = 2.2*67.5 = 150g (Rounded from 148.5)

Fat

  • Fat intake = 20~30% of calories
  • Bob likes a nice balance in his diet and doesn’t have a preference for carbs or fat so we’ll choose to eat 25% of our calories from fat.
  • Fat intake in calories = 3141*0.25 = 785.25kCal
  • Fat intake in grams = 87.5g (Rounded from 87.25)

Carbs

  • Carb intake in calories = Daily Calorie Intake Setting – Protein Calories – Fat Calories
  • Carb intake in calories = 3141 – 150*4 – 87.5*9 = 1753.5kCal
  • Carb intake in grams = 1753.5/4 = ~440g (Rounded from 438.375)

Bob’s Daily Macros: 150g Protein, 87.5g Fat, 440g Carbs


Addendum for Leangains System Followers

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 in forming his Leangains system.

I believe that this works very well, however, in terms of the order of priority for results it belongs under section #4 Meal Timing & Frequency, so I will discuss it there. For many people (though not generally the readers of this blog) this is an additional, unnecessary layer of complication. So if you were linked this article by a well-meaning friend and are feeling overwhelmed don’t add it in yet, remember the order of importance.


Summary of Macro Guidelines

 CuttingBulking
Protein2.3-3.1g/kg LBM (~1.1-1.4g/lb)1.8-2.2g/kg LBM (~0.8-1.0g/lb)
Fat0.9-1.3g/kg LBM (~0.4-0.6/lb)20-30% calories
Carbs– the rest –– the rest –

********

Getting your micronutrient intake bases covered is essential if you’re not going to short-circuit your long-term progress. But it doesn’t have to be the ball ache that is sounds. We’ll cover some simple tips for this next.

Prefer to keep with the web version? #3 Micronutrients & Water →

Questions? Clarifications? Hit me up in the comments. – Andy.

Note: Questions asking me to confirm your calculations will be deleted. If you’re worried about your calculations being correct, I have you covered in the second question of the FAQ.


About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this 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 online, via email, for the last six years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

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