Calorie Counting, Macros and Flexible Dieting
What the hell are macros!?
Macronutrients, quite simply, are the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that make up almost everything that we ingest. However, a lot of people don’t actually know what macros make up their choices of food and drink, which can easily lead to too many calories being consumed, usually in the form of carbs (sugar).
A bottle of orange lucozade when you feel tired.. 58g of carbs, and 236 calories!
Peanut butter! I used to eat at least 100g per day as it was “healthy” and high in protein. 100g = 650 kcal, 56g fat, 6g carbs and 28g protein.. and I wondered why I couldn’t get lean…
10g of jelly beans, approximately 4, yes I weighed them! 40 kcal, and 10g of carbs.
So should I track what I eat?
Yes, even if you only track what you eat for a week or so, this will give you a valuable insight into what you’re actually taking on board, and how you can adjust your daily eating habits to meet your goals.
All that you need is a set of kitchen scales, and a calorie/macro counting mobile app, such as MyFitnessPal (which I will further explain in a future blog).
Now to most people this seems like a lot of effort, and perhaps taking fitness too seriously. But if you have a specific body goal in mind, then a few nutritional tweaks could be all that you’re lacking. For instance, the difference between 80g and 100g of porridge is approximately 75 kcal. Neglible right? However, these differences throughout the day can quickly add up and take you from a fat loss calorie deficit, and into weight maintainence or weight gain.
How do I know what macros to consume?
Firstly, you must work out your basal metabolic rate (BMR), that is the amount of calories that you must consume in order to maintain your current weight (if you were to lie in bed all day).
One well respected way of doing this is the Harris-Benedict equation (however the calculations on MyFitnessPal aren’t far off, which is useful for what you’re about to see).
Male BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight (kg)) + (4.799 x height (cm)) – (5.677 x age (years))
Female BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x kg) + (3.098 x cm) – (4.33 x age)
Using myself as an example (Male, 85kg, 184cm, 23 years)
88.362 + 1,138.745 + 883.016 – 130.571 = 1,980 kcal per day
Now take into account your activity level, and multiply your BMR by the following figure:
Little or no exercise, BMR x 1.2
Exercise 1-3 days per week, BMR x 1.375
Exercise 3-5 days per week, BMR x 1.55
Exercise 6-7 days per week, BMR x 1.725
Exercise twice daily, or plus physical job, BMR x 1.9
As I exercise 6-7 days per week, I will multiply 1,980kcal by 1.725 for my recommended calorie intake, which will give me 3,416kcal to maintain my current weight.
To burn 1lb of fat a week requires using 3,500 kcal worth of energy, so for a sustainable weight loss this would equate to a calorie defecit of -500kcal per day (3,416 – 500 = 2,916 kcal for me*). To put on 1lb of lean muscle (keeping belly gains to a minimum) over two weeks, it is recommended to have a calorie surplus of +500 kcal per day (3,416 + 500 = 3,916 kcal).
*MyFitnessPal is currently recommending me 2,910 kcal.
Carbs are the body’s main source of energy. If your goals are performance based, or muscular size and recovery, then you’ll need a lot of these. Carb sources include bread, rice, potato, oats, grains, fruit and sugar (4 kcal per gram).
Fats are another source of energy preferred at low to moderate intensities, or for ultra-endurance events. Essential fatty acids are an important part of the diet for many biological processes, and joint health. Fat sources include nuts, seeds, nut butter, cheese, oils and oily fish (9 kcal per gram).
Protein is not a preferred energy source, but can be metabolised for fuel if the other sources are low (I’ll come back to this). Other than that, protein is very well known for rebuilding muscle after exercise, and is a very important part of any diet. Protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, and quorn for the vegetarians amongst us (4 kcal per gram).
Alcohol has no nutritional value or benefit, but is very important for good times (7 kcal per gram).
At the moment I am utilising a fairly balanced diet (40% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fats) based mainly on personal experience and bro science. Protein is the staple of my diet and kept consistent throughout the day, having around 25-50g per meal, every 3-4 hours. As I am currently in a calorie deficit, my body is depleted of energy and forced to use its stored sources (fat burning). So, in an effort to maintain lean muscle and stop it being broken down for energy I like to keep protein levels high (40% – 291g). This amount is most likely more than my body can process, and have no impact on my performance whatsoever. However, I like to use protein to replace the reduced carbs in my diet, and as it has a high thermogenic effect, could further increase my metabolic rate (leading to an increase in fat loss).
NOTE: Ladies, eating protein WILL NOT turn you into a muscle bound monster, and including more protein into your diet could be that tweak you need to “lose weight and tone up”, aka lose body fat whilst maintaining lean muscle mass.
Carbohydrates are set at a moderate level (30% – 218g) to allow me enough energy to go H.A.M. in the gym and recover fairly well (bearing in mind I have 5 years training experience, so increased levels of recovery). I don’t often do cardio, reducing my need for the high levels of energy. Therefore I keep my fats moderate to high at 30% (97g) for the slower released energy throughout the day.
As you can see, my macros are tailored to my training, my goals, and what actually works for me. So just copying my diet is not going to guarantee you similar results. Therefore it is important that you experiment with your diet and don’t be afraid to make mistakes, this will lead you the macros that your body best responds to.
Here are some of my recommendations:
Weight gain/High performance
50-60% carbs, 30% protein, 10-20% fat
High carbs for recovery and gains, lower protein as there’s less chance of muscle being used for energy, and lower fats as you will be in a calorie surplus, therefore having more calories and maintaining a suitable level of fats.
Fat Loss (weights + cardio)
30-50% carbs, 40% protein, 10-30% fat
Dependant on the type of cardio you do. High intensity will deplete your glycogen stores, so carbs will need to be kept generally high. Low intensity will use more fats for energy, so keep fats high. Protein kept high to maintain muscle mass.
Fat loss (weights + little cardio)
30-40% carbs, 40% protein, 20-30% fat
Fat Loss (little exercise)
20% carbs, 40-50% protein, 30-40% fat
If you’re not doing much exercise, you don’t need the energy. Instead keep fats and protein high as they are more filling macros, hopefully lessening the need to snack.
These percentages can easily be converted to grams using MyFitnessPal, but if you want to work them out manually all you have to do work out the percentage of your BMR, and then divide it by the amount of calories in the macronutrient.
40% carbs from 2,500 kcal (2,500 x 0.4 = 1,000 kcal. 1,000/4 = 250g)
30% protein from 3,100 kcal (3,100 x 0.3 = 930 kcal. 930/4 = 233g)
30% fat from 2,916 kcal (2,916 x 0.3 = 874.8 kcal. 874.8/9 = 97g)
What type of foods should I eat?
Personally, I couldn’t live with a super clean diet without temporarily losing my consciousness and eating a 12 pack doughnuts, so this is where I find flexible dieting to be very useful. Now we all know we can’t live off ‘junk’ food without putting on that excess weight, but we can find room in our diets for the foods we enjoy.
If you’re following my tedious Instagram account, you may have seen me mention “if it fits your macros” next to various ‘poor’ food choices, and wondering how I’m still able to drop body fat. As we’ve established all food and drink contains macros, so if we accidentally eat two jam doughnuts, that would be giving 61g carbs, 7g protein and 20g fat (460kcal). Now these figures must be subtracted from your daily macros, and you will have to work with what you have left. Like I said, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, unless you’re a serious athlete or physique competitor, going over your calorie count now and again is not a big deal unless it becomes a regular occurrence. For example, if I am 300 kcal over calories limit for the day (which happens far too often), then I’m still in a -200 kcal deficit. My progress is slower, but slow progress is still moving forward.. and I got to enjoy two delicious doughnuts!
I realise that I have just glorified ‘junk’ food, so I must put out a disclaimer: flexible dieting does not mean you can eat whatever the hell you want. The foods that we enjoy can be very calorie dense, and like I just said, you have to work with what you have left, meaning you may have to go from 12pm until bed time with just 200 kcal remaining (I have also done this). Most of your diet should be fairly clean, protein based surrounded by nutritious veggies. Slow digesting carbs such oats, rice, bread (anything that’s not sugar), should take up a majority of your carb intake, with fast digesting carbs (fruits, cake) ingested generally around exercise to help with the start of the recovery process. Nuts, seeds and oily fish contain important omega oils and should take up a majority of your fat intake, these are also calorie dense so be careful with the amount that you consume. As for alcohol, that cheeky pint could possibly be squeezed in at the expense of other macros (a combination of carbs and fats, IMO). For example, if 1 pint of Fosters is 250 kcal. 125 kcal of carbs (31g) and 125g of fat (14g) would have to be replaced.
Be strict, not restrictive when it comes to your diet. Enjoying your food is part of a healthy balanced lifestyle, and important for adherence to any kind of fitness plan. Tips for IIFYM: Smaller portions, as ‘junk’ can be high in calories. Plan in advance, enter the food into MyFitnessPal and work around it. Have a good multivitamin and omega oil supplement in case you run out of calories. Drink plenty of water.
Will I see results?
In order to see your physique taking shape, you should generally be sticking to your macronutrient and calorie targets for a period of at least 4 weeks. If you don’t see/feel any changes then it could be that your calories are too high or too low. It is important to remember that these figures are a guide and are not entirely accurate. They also do not take into account your genetics or metabolic health. If this is the case, then please experiment and adjust your macros accordingly to find what works best for you. I strongly urge you to take before and after pictures when undergoing a body transformation. This will enable you to look back and see small changes, or give you that motivation when you’ve seen how far you have come.
If you are planning on using this information, we would love to hear from you and see your results. Likewise, if you have any further questions or feedback please head over to the following social media sites.
Facebook: Scientia Performance
Twitter: @ScientiaP or @JNewbury_
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If you would like help to calculate your own macros, see our services page for nutritional plans