If you want to know, in simple terms, how to calculate your macros for effortless muscle gain and/or fat loss, then you want to read this article.
You’ve probably heard that all you have to do to gain muscle and lose fat is “get your macros right.”
You’ve also probably heard that, if your macros are dialed in, you can basically eat whatever you want.
That there’s no need to obsess over “eating clean,” and that you can focus on just enjoying your meals.
“If it fits your macros,” they say.
Well, these things are true.
If you know how to calculate your macros correctly, the whole diet side of the fitness game becomes simple and straightforward.
You eat the right amounts of protein, carbs, and fats (macronutrients, or “macros,” collectively) every day, you follow a sensible workout program, and you build the body you really want.
Figuring your macros out is pretty easy, too. There are just five steps:
- Calculate your calories.
- Calculate your protein intake.
- Calculate your fat intake.
- Calculate your carb intake.
- Adjust everything based on how your body responds.
That’s all there is to it, and by the end of this article, you’re going to know how to do each of these steps with ease.
So, are you ready to learn how to make meal plans that actually work?
Great, let’s do it.
1. Calculate your calories.
You’ve probably seen fit people eat stuff that you thought you had to avoid if you want to have a great physique.
You know…pasta, ice cream, cereal, candy, and the like.
Are these Instagram show-offs just genetically blessed? Lying? On steroids?
Well sure, some have great genetics, some are just sharing the occasional cheat meal, and some are most certainly on drugs.
But none of that has any bearing on their “ability” to eat like a hedonist and stay lean and muscular.
You can do it too, and here’s why:
When we’re talking body composition, the kind of food you eat is far less important than the amount.
In other words, the total number of calories that you eat, and how those calories break down into protein, carbs and fat, controls your body weight and composition, not the individual foods themselves.
And why this guy lost 56 pounds eating nothing but carefully controlled portions of McDonald’s for six months.
Their stories illustrate a simple, but important, point:
If you consistently eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight, even if those calories come from junk food.
This is old news, too.
Nearly a century of metabolic research has conclusively proven that the only way to reliably lose weight is to eat less energy (calories) than you burn.
That’s why bodybuilders have been using these simple principles for decades to consistently and predictably raise and lower body fat levels as desired.
Calories go the other way, too, because the only reliable way to gain weight is to eat more calories than you burn.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
All this this doesn’t mean that you have to count calories and macros to lose or gain weight or that they’re all that really matters in the realm of dieting (nutrition is very important, too).
What it does mean, though, is you need to have a firm grasp of these fundamentals if you want to know how to change and control your body weight and composition with ease.
So, with all that behind us, let’s get to the point:
How many calories should you be eating?
Well, there are many different ways to figure this out, but I’m going to make it really simple for you. Just use this calculator:
In case you’re wondering, it’s based on the Katch-McArdle equation, which is more accurate than other formulas commonly used.
As you see, all you have to do is enter your weight and approximate body fat percentage and activity level, and it will estimate how much lean muscle you have (LBM) as well as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Now, once you have your TDEE, you can determine how many calories you should be eating by doing the following:
- If you want to lose weight, you should eat 75 to 80% of your TDEE, or 20 to 25% less energy than you’re burning every day.
- If you want to gain weight, you should eat 110 to 115% of your TDEE, or 10 to 15% more energy than you’re burning.
- And if you want to maintain your weight, you should eat 100% of your TDEE, or more or less exactly what you’re burning every day.
(As you can see, the calculator above also lets you set and adjust your macros, and you’ll understand how these work by the end of the article.)
Want to know more about how to calculate how many calories you should be eating? Check out this article.
2. Calculate your protein intake.
This is step number two because out of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), it’s the most important.
Get your protein intake right, and studies show that you’ll…
- Recover better from your workouts.
- Lose less muscle when restricting your calories for weight loss.
- Feel fuller and more satisfied from your meals.
The bottom line is a high-protein diet beats a low-protein one in just about every way, and especially for us fitness folk.
How much protein should you be eating, then?
Research shows that somewhere between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day is optimal.
Want to know more about how much protein you need to eat and why? Check out this article.
3. Calculate your fat intake.
It wasn’t so long ago that health “gurus” everywhere were blathering about how eating fat made you fat.
People listened, and low-fat dieting became a craze.
Well, while getting your fat intake to as close to zero as possible can help you lose weight (it’s a great way to drastically reduce caloric intake), it’s also quite unhealthy (and unnecessary).
That said, eating too much fat isn’t going to do your body any favors, either (and especially in the case of saturated fat).
The idea, then, is to eat a moderate amount of fat that allows you to control your calories and optimize your health and macros.
In other words, you want to eat enough fat to support general health and well-being, but not so much that you have to reduce protein and carbohydrate intake unnecessarily to stay within your caloric limits.
For most people, that’s around 0.3 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day.
Some people prefer a bit more and some a bit less, but that’s the “sweet spot” for most of us.
Want to learn more about how much fat you should be eating and why? Check out this article.
4. Calculate your carb intake.
And now the final step: calculating your carbs.
There’s little argument about the merits of eating enough protein and fat, but carbs are another story.
These days, “everyone knows” that the only way to get lean and healthy is to cut all carbs from your diet.
Well, it’s not true.
So long as you regulate your caloric intake properly, you can be as lean as you want eating all the carbs you like.
What’s more, if you’re in a normal body fat range, exercise regularly (and especially if you lift weights), and are otherwise healthy, then you’re going to do better with more, not fewer carbs in your diet.
That’s right. I’m saying that you shouldn’t eat a low-carb diet, and for a few good reasons:
Carbs are the primary fuel source for intense exercise and can help you gain muscle and strength faster. They also don’t get in the way of fat loss, and serve as a great source of various micronutrients and fiber.
So, now that I’ve (hopefully) eased your mind about eating carbs, let’s talk about how to calculate your carb intake.
It’s very simple: just allot your remaining calories to them.
I know that doesn’t make any sense, but let me explain.
By now, you’ve calculated how many calories you should be eating every day as well as how much protein and fat.
Well, a gram of protein and carbohydrate both contain about 4 calories, and a gram of fat contains about 9, so to figure out your carbs, you…
- Multiply your protein target by 4.
- Multiply your fat target by 9.
- Add these together and subtract the sum from your total calories, giving you the number of calories you have remaining for carbs.
- Divide this remaining number by 4 to get the number of grams of carbs you should eat every day.
Let’s look at an example of how this plays out.
I weigh about 190 pounds and my TDEE is about 2,700 calories, which is what I intend on eating every day to maintain my weight and body composition.
I need to eat 190 grams of protein and 60 grams of fat per day, and here’s how I figure out my carbs:
- 190 x 4 = 760
- 60 x 9 = 540
- 760 + 540 = 1,300, and 2,700 – 1,300 = 1,400 calories remaining for carbs.
- 1,400 / 4 = 350 grams of carbs per day.
Thus, my macros are:
- 190 grams of protein
- 60 grams of fat
- 350 grams of carbs
Want to know more about how many carbs you should eat and why? Check out this article.
5. Adjust everything based on how your body responds.
You’ve just learned the biggest “secrets” to building your best body ever.
- Calories always count.
- A high-protein diet always helps with muscle growth and fat loss.
- Everyone needs to eat a healthy amount of fats, but no more.
- And most people into working out will benefit from more carbs rather than less.
That said, the formula I just gave above may not work perfectly for you right out of the box. You may need to tweak and really dial it in for your body and circumstances.
There are quite a few reasons for why a one-size-fits-all approach to calculating macros doesn’t always work.
Your metabolism may be naturally faster or slower than the formulas assume, for example.
You may engage in a lot of spontaneous activity throughout the day without realizing it, like walking around while on the phone, hopping to the bathroom, drumming your fingers while you read, or bobbing your legs when you think.
Your job and/or hobbies may burn more energy than you realize (causing you to underestimate actual energy expenditure), and you may burn more (or less) energy than average during exercise.
The good news is you don’t have to try to account for all of this when figuring out your macros. Instead, you can start simple and just adjust your numbers up or down based on how your body is actually responding.
Here are the basic rules of thumb:
- If you’re trying to gain weight but aren’t, you probably just need to eat more.
Most “hardgainers” just don’t eat enough. End of story.
If your weight just won’t go up despite putting in high-quality work in the gym, increase your daily caloric intake by 5%, give it a couple weeks, and see what happens.
- If you’re trying to lose weight but aren’t, you probably need to eat less or move more.
If you’re not losing weight, you’re probably eating too much.
The solution isn’t to necessarily cut food intake right away, though. There’s a bit more you should know, and this article breaks it all down for you.
Want to know more about how to gain weight effectively? Check out this article.
Want to know more about how to lose weight effectively? Check out this article.
Want to Know Even More About Calculating Your Macros?
If you want to know how to turn your macros into meal plans that you love, then you want to check out this article:
The Bottom Line on Calculating Your Macros
When applied correctly, macronutrient dieting is the single most effective nutritional tool you have for controlling your body composition.
It might seem like a lot of fuss at first—calculations, meal planning, and so forth—but trust me, it’s worth every bit of the time and effort.
And it gets easier and easier the more you practice, until it’s eventually second nature.
So, do yourself a solid:
Follow these five simple steps, stick to the plan for a month, and you’ll never look back.