One of the biggest topics in bodybuilding is nutrition; particularly getting the right ratio of macros into your daily diet. Here’s a quick-start guide to getting your daily macros down.
It’s all good and well to read that you need to get plenty of protein or that you need to cut back on carbs, but if you don’t know what your starting points are or what constitutes a good ratio, getting your daily macros down can be difficult.
This quick-start guide will help you get started on managing your macros properly and knowing how to put together a nutrition plan and a meal that meets your macro needs. It’s not the final word on macros, but a beginner’s guide to help you begin taking control of your diet.
There are basically three things you need to know to break down your macros:
- The proper ratio of macros for your needs.
- How to plan your daily diet to get those macro ratios.
- How to measure your macros.
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Finding the Proper Ratio of Macros
Finding the proper ratio of macros means figuring out what percentage of your daily calories should be spent on protein, on carbohydrates, and on fats.
The first thing you should know about this is that there is no set ratio. While one person may do really well on a 40/40/20 ratio of proteins, carbs, and fats, another person may do better on a 40/50/10 ratio.
Also, your own ratios won’t and shouldn’t always remain the same. You may need to up your carbs when you’re bulking or lower your carbs when you’re cutting.
There are guidelines you can start with like the ratios just mentioned, but they should be guides, not rules. Try something like 40/40/20 and if you’re hungry all the time, you may want to adjust your macros.
If you find your energy lagging, you may want to try upping your fats or carbs. Nutrition for bodybuilding is part science and part art and we’re always trying to strike the right balance between the two.
Planning Your Daily Diet – Breaking Down Your Macros
The first number you need when planning your diet is the number of calories that your body needs. This number is called your TDEE or Total Daily Energy Expenditure and is based on your age, gender, weight, rate of metabolism, activity level, goal, and the amount of time you have to achieve your goal. There are a number of calculators online, like this one, that can help you get that number.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that you have figured out you need 2,000 calories per day and that you’re working out but not in a bulking or cutting phase at the moment.
Now you need to break your macros down so that you know how many calories you should be spending on each one. Again, for simplicity, let’s say you’re going to start out on a 40/40/20 plan.
On a 2,000 calorie diet, that means you need 800 calories worth of protein, 800 calories worth of carbs, and 400 calories worth of fat. Now you need to convert those calories into grams so that you know how many grams of each macro you need to get into your daily diet.
A gram of protein contains 4 calories, a gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories, and a gram of fat contains 9 calories.
On that 2,000 calorie diet, you will calculate your macros in this way: 800 calories/4 calories per gram = 200g of protein. You will get the same number for 40% carbs. For 20% fat (400 calories), you will get this calculation: 400 calories/9 calories per gram of fat = 44g of fat (rounded down).
So now, for this 2,000 calorie, 40/40/20 example, we know that we’re looking for 200g of protein, 200g of carbs and 44g of fat daily.
Now you need to know how to measure and track your macros so you stay within that guideline.
How to Measure Your Macros
When you are just learning to break down your macros and track your nutrition, the three best tools you can have on the kitchen counter are a food scale, a calorie/gram counting book or mobile app, and a set of measuring cups.
Eventually, you probably won’t need any of them, as you will get better at eyeballing portions and memorizing the protein/carb/fat content of most foods.
When you measure your meals and report them in a journal, your results will improve even faster, because of the accountability factor. Every successful businessman knows this and savvy bodybuilders are stealing this approach for their bodybuilding success.
Now, where were we?
The calorie-counting paperback may be thick, but if you think about it most of us tend to stick with about 20-30 favorite foods. Before you know it, you will remember that a 6-ounce chicken breast has about 140 calories, a little over 26g of protein and 3g of fat.
You will also know what 6 ounces of the chicken breast looks like without having to put it on the food scale.
For food that is generally weighed by the ounce, such as most meats, you’ll want to use the food scale. For foods where the calorie count is usually measured in cups, you’ll use your measuring cups.
Keep a small notebook handy or download an app like MyFitnessPal and log everything you eat at each meal, and what the calories, protein, carb and fat grams were for each food.
This way, after a few weeks you can probably plan your weekly meals from your notes. This brings us to actually planning out your daily meals.
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Planning your Meals with your Macros in Mind
Continuing with the above example of:
• 2,000 calorie maintenance diet
• 40/40/20 breakdown
• 200g protein, 200g carbs, and 44g fat
Let’s assume that this person is working out in the mornings, goes to work all day at an office job, and is fairly sedentary in the evenings.
Again, they are not trying to gain or lose; they’re strictly interested in maintaining. For this person, I would recommend getting the majority of their calories and the majority of their carbs by about 7 p.m., since they aren’t working out at night.
Because your diet is so individual, rather than breaking it down by foods, let’s break down an example day’s food by grams. Remember, this is a guideline.
A typical day’s diet may look like this:
Breakfast: (Maybe some scrambled eggs with veggies and a little olive oil, plus a piece of whole-grain toast, and a piece of fruit)
Post-Workout Protein Shake:
Morning Snack: (maybe some Greek yogurt, some cut veggies, and a few ounces of nuts)
Lunch: (maybe some chicken breasts, steamed veggies, and a sweet potato)
Afternoon Snack: (maybe a piece of fruit and a slice of turkey or some low-fat dairy)
Dinner: (Maybe some fish, a ton of roasted veggies, and some quinoa)
Evening Snack: (maybe a small piece of cold chicken and salad)
This is a really simplistic breakdown with fairly rough numbers, but you get the idea.
Some Last Points to Remember
Don’t make yourself crazy with the calculations. Get as close as you can to your macros and when you’re not at home or in a rush, eyeball your portions the best you can.
If your protein is a little low one day and your carbs are a little high on another, don’t get stressed about it. The last thing you want is for the stress of calculating perfect macros to kill your motivation for eating well.
Don’t get too hung up on minute differences in the ratios. Eating roughly 40/40/20 is better than not knowing what you’re eating at all. If you can’t track everything, every day, just do your best.
If the ratio you’re using leaves you hungry or unable to get through a workout, adjust it. The only rule to this is that you eat the ratio that works for your body.
If all this seems like a lot of work, don’t worry. You’ll be able to do this on the fly before you know it.
Frequently Asked Questions About Macros
What are macros?
Macronutrients are the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that are in foods.
How do I count macros?
The article above goes into how to count macros based on your specific goals.
What is the best macro tracking app?
Many people use MyFitnessPal to track their macros.
What is the best macro ratio?
There is no one “best” macro ratio option. The best ratio is the one that suits your body, and your goals, best. A common macro ratio is 40/40/20 (40% protein, 40% carbs, 20% fat). However, women may find that they need a higher percentage of fat to stabilize their hormones.
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