This is the second chapter in my five-part guide on nutrition for fat loss and muscle growth. You can read the introduction (which gives important context) and download the full PDF version of the nutrition setup guide here.
When people refer to their macros, they are talking about the three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
Calorie intake determines whether weight is gained or lost. The macronutrient content of those calories has a significant effect on:
- Whether that change is fat or muscle mass,
- How you feel and perform, and
- How easy your nutrition plan is to stick to.
Protein helps with muscle repair, muscle maintenance, and muscle growth. Recommendations will be based on body weight and slightly higher when in a cutting phase.
Think of carbohydrates and fats as the main fuels of the body. They will make up the remainder of your calorie intake.
Here are the sections of this chapter:
- Protein Intake Guidelines
- Fat and Carbohydrate Intake Guidelines
- Example Macro Calculations
- How To Factor In Alcohol
PROTEIN INTAKE GUIDELINES
There are 4 calories per gram of protein.
Why Is protein important?
Protein provides the building blocks for muscle mass. Protein helps us to recover and grow from our training, helps preserve muscle when dieting, and has the highest effect on satiety of all the macronutrients.
Protein is therefore very good stuff. However, more does not mean better.
How much protein should We consume?
We want to eat enough protein so that we cover the muscle growth and preservation benefits, without being so high that it becomes limiting to food choice.
Past a certain point, higher protein intakes can limit our performance because they reduce the number of carbs we can eat while keeping to our calorie budget. (The most important macronutrient for performance is carbohydrate.)
This is of particular concern when dieting because maintaining training quality is the single most important thing we can do to signal to our bodies to hang on to muscle mass.
Protein needs are slightly higher when cutting. This is because as the glycogen and fat stores in your body decrease, the body is forced to rely more on protein as an energy source. Your body can break down both dietary protein and muscle protein to do this, so setting protein intake higher can help limit this.
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.
People get upset with that recommendation, so I created the following sketch to illustrate why I don’t believe it makes a big difference. You’re free to set your protein intake higher, though.
A Caveat On Setting Protein Intake for Those With A Lot Of Fat To Lose
While a good heuristic for many, the “1 g per pound rule” will set protein intake too high for overweight or obese people. I’d suggest you set your protein intake as per your height in the chart below.
So, if you’re 260 lbs and 6’0, instead of consuming ~260 g of protein as I have in the calculator, consume 180 g and swap the 80 g remaining for carbs to maintain the calorie balance. This will be better for satiety, diet variety, and training quality.
Some people may argue that this protein figure is a little too low to be protective of muscle mass when dieting, but I disagree.
Having a lot of fat mass is protective of muscle mass. This makes sense when you think about it from a survival perspective. When the body has to choose between releasing fatty acids or breaking down muscle into amino acids for fuel, the smarter decision for survival is to burn off fat when there is an abundance of it. Therefore, protein needs are likely a bit lower for the 260 lb guy with 160 lbs of muscle mass vs. the 200 lb guy with 160 lbs of muscle mass.
Protein Powder or Real Food?
Protein powders are a useful tool to make hitting protein targets affordable, and highly convenient.
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 prioritize real food.
On the flip side, when bulking it can be tough, physically, to 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 will come from.
FAT & Carbohydrate INTAKE GUIDELINES
There are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate, 9 calories per gram of fat.
There is scope for personal preference in how you split the remainder of your calorie budget between the carb and fat intake, but all the possible ways you can split it are not equal for performance, muscle maintenance, and growth.
Why Are Fats and Carbs Important?
Fat is an essential nutrient. This means your body cannot make it, it has to be consumed. Dietary fat is necessary for regular hormonal function. You should never attempt to eliminate it from a diet.
Carbohydrates fuel performance, and also have positive impacts on hormonal function. They replace muscle glycogen, which is the primary and preferred fuel source of our muscles, fueling us through our workouts.
Strength training is the single most important thing we can do to prevent muscle mass losses when dieting. A lot of people find it isn’t possible to maintain training quality when restricting carbs severely.
Therefore, the fat and carb recommendations reflect the balance point between the two.
How Much Fat Should We Consume?
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.
How Many Carbs Should We Consume?
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.
In summary, my recommendations for fat and carb intake are as follows:
|CUTTING||BULKING & MAINTENANCE||DAILY MINIMUM|
|Fat||15–25% calories||20–30% calories||0.25 g/lb (~0.5 g/kg)|
|Carbs||– the rest –||– the rest –||0.5 g/lb (~1 g/kg)|
Example Macro Calculations
I’ll round the macro results for each person to the nearest 5 for simplicity.
Fat Freddie’s MACRO Calculation
Freddie’s target daily calorie intake is 1824 kcal. He weighs 180 lbs, so he is overweight but not obese. Therefore, he’ll set his protein intake at 180 g, which is 720 kcal.
He doesn’t have any particular preference for high or low fat intake, so he’ll choose to consume 20% of his calories from fat. This is 365 kcal, which is 41 g.
The calories remaining for carbs are 740 kcal, which is 185 g.
Shredded Sam’s MACRO Calculation
Sam’s target daily calorie intake is 3107 kcal. He weighs 175 lbs so he’ll set his protein intake at 175 g, which is 700 kcal.
He likes to have a fat intake on the higher side, so he’ll choose to consume 30% of his calories from fat. This is 932 kcal, which is 104 g.
The calories remaining for carbs are 1475 kcal, which is 370 g.
Thicc Thelma’s MACRO Calculation
Thelma’s target daily calorie intake is 1397 kcal. She weighs 190 lbs and at 5’4 is obese, so she’ll use the height chart to set her protein intake at 130 g, which is 520 kcal.
Thelma chooses to consume 25% of her calories from fat, which is 349 kcal, which is 39 g.
The calories remaining for carbs are 510 kcal, which is 127.5 g of carbs.
Noobie Natalie’s Macro Calculation
Natalie’s target daily calorie intake is 2254 kcal. She weighs 135 lbs so she’ll set her protein intake at 135 g, which is 540 kcal.
Natalie loves carbs, so she’ll choose to consume the lower threshold of recommended fat intake, 20%. This is 451 kcal, which is 50 g.
The calories remaining for carbs are 1263 kcal, which is 315 g.
How To Factor In Alcohol
Why Is Alcohol Important?
Alcohol makes dull people interesting, masks social insecurity, and makes us forget the midnight kebabs. Technically, alcohol is a macronutrient, but not an essential one (unless you are from Glasgow).
How much alcohol should we consume?
- It will impact your sleep quality, which will impact hunger, mood, and your ability to train and recover.
- It will impact your growth response.
- If not accounted for in your calorie budget, it will eat into your calorie deficit when dieting, and cause you to store an unnecessary amount of fat when bulking.
- If accounted for in your calorie budget by reducing the other macronutrients, it will steal away your ability to recover.
The dose makes the poison in all cases.
I have known many people over the years who have an alcohol habit that was the sole cause of their lack of progress and it doesn’t have to be extreme.
If you’re shooting for 1 lb of fat loss per week, you need a 500 kcal deficit (550 kcal for 0.5 kg).
Let’s say you keep your diet on point, but are in the habit of drinking two large whiskeys (~250 kcal), two pints of beer (~300 kcal), or two large glasses of wine (~400 kcal), to “wind down” with your partner or friends every evening… BAM, you’ve just erased 50–80% of your efforts.
If you want to go out but feel awkward, consider ordering zero-alcohol, zero-calorie beers. They look the part, don’t taste as terrible as you’d imagine, and this small psychological trick you pull on yourself could be helpful.
SUMMARY OF MACRO GUIDELINES
|CUTTING||BULKING & MAINTENANCE||DAILY MINIMUM|
|Protein||1 g/lb (2.2 g/kg)||1 g/lb (2.2 g/kg)||0.7 g/lb (1.6 g/kg) bulking|
1 g/lb (2.2 g/kg) cutting
|Fat||15–25% calories||20-30% calories||0.25 g/lb (~0.5 g/kg)|
|Alcohol||Preferably none.||Preferably none.||–|
|Carbs||– the rest –||– the rest –||0.5 g/lb (~1 g/kg)|
Thank you for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments.