“Macros” Part 3: How to Create Your Personal Macro Profile..and Use It!
This is the last of a three-part post. I’m ending with it because, for…I’d bet 50+% of people, “tracking” their food is too much work. Tracking would include looking up foods, weighing and measuring sometimes (I mean, a cup is pretty easy to eyeball), thinking through cooking processes like putting a Tbsp of Oil in the skillet to cook two servings of something means you are likely getting a 1/2 Tbsp in one entree). However, as I said in Part 1, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
In a past post I listed the example below. I wondered where I was with my protein intake. And I do a use a tracker (I vary between two different ones: Cronometer and MyFitnessPal). I wondered, due to my schedule being off, the fact that I’d had two “shakes” early on versus real food, where I was with protein. I had breakfast “out”, I wasn’t working out so I wanted to keep my carbs lower. I’d only really eaten fruit so far for my carbs and knowing they were higher carb than veggies, I wondered… I quickly plugged my data into Cronometer.. and boom, I was spot on with protein, carbs were at what I’d consider my upper limit for a sedentary day, and fat was lower.
During times I’m in a MyFitnessPal mood (good app that links up with a lot of other personal fitness apps and devices), and same scenario – hit close to my targets.
Back to the micronutrient thing….in the top example you can see I was low on B1, B2, and Riboflavin, so I knew I needed a little red meat mixed in with some organ meat – ugh. So a little filet smeared on top with some liverwurst would fit the bill, fill me up, and almost completely fill the holes my micros (B1, B2, and Folate).
Yes, over the years, it’s taken some time and a good relationship with Dr. Google, MyFitnessPal and Cronometer to just “know” some of this stuff, but once you learn it, like the Clean and Jerk- it’s more about refining it than laboring over it.
Determining your “macros” takes some individualized work. You can’t necessarily follow someone else’s formula and expect it to work as well for you as it did for them. Your age, sex, hormone profile, sleep, stress management, how you tolerate carbohydrates (based on either years of abuse or a generally clean/healthy upbringing)…all play a part in what will work for you…not to mention if you are dealing with a chronic disease or other health issues.
We can start this process with a base formula, but you need to be willing to invest the time to track and evaluate this in order for it to benefit you. Otherwise, you might as well just throw a dart at it.
Just a reminder, with some added guidance:
- There are 4 calories per gram of protein.
- Protein should always be weighed (measured) raw. Cooked weight can be different.
- Protein from animals will be the most bioavailable (your body prefers to process protein from animals and mammals versus plants for the purposes your body uses protein). It’s essential to life and a strong, healthy body.
- Your body needs as low as 0.5 grams per pound of lean body mass (per day) (and that’s LOW!) and as high as 1.5-2 grams per pound of lean body mass OR total body weight.
- There are also 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate.
- Carbohydrates come from plants. Fruits, veggies, roots, tubers and some grains (white rice, oats & quinoa). Alcohol is a carbohydrate, but comes at a higher calorie per gram ratio (see below).
- Your body can metabolize and use between 0.5 and 3 grams per pound of lean body mass without storing excess as fat, depending on your activity level and your general metabolic health. Less than 50 is dangerously low if you train intensely…even less than 100 is not smart if you train intensely. However, with certain metabolic disorders (diabetes, insulin resistance, gut disorders, PCOS), keeping starchy carbs and sugars low can be healing. Again, this is an individual “formula” that should be “tweaked” to each individual’s health and goals and conversations with physicians and dieticians.
- Carbohydrates should be dictated by your activity level, weight, bodyfat percentage and goals. There are many experts in the industry that believe “carbs when you deserve them”. In other words, you increase your carbs from sources other than vegetables WHEN your body composition is in an idea range. We (you and me, we) have an issue here because you can cause some problems training at high loads and high intensities as frequently as we do on a low carb diet. But that will take some research and experimentation on your part to customize and try things out for you personally. Training on a low carb diet (CrossFit) initially will always work. You’ll see benefit. But then around a month to two into it, the wheels will fall off the wagon – so it does take some studying and experimentation.
- While carbohydrate is not essential to life, life without it might be boring! Plus, we obtain many of our micronutrients from plants.
- These numbers are good starting places. Individualization takes experimentation.
- There are 9 calories per gram of fat.
- Your body can use somewhere between 15% and 55% of your total calories or between 0.35 and 1.2 grams per pound of lean body mass in dietary fat. I like Eat To Perform’s recommendation of women 50-75 grams per day and men 100-125 grams per day. Good starting point.
- Fats come from animals and some plants. It’s essential to life and a healthy body.
- Again, these numbers are good starting places, not set in stone. You’ll determine your numbers when we solve for either carbs or fat in our formulas.
- 7 calories per gram. Still usable in your macros
*While some would say that booze, no different than Krispy Kreme Donuts, is just more calories and/or carbs/fat, so “if it fits my macros, it’s a go”. Once again I’d caution you that we’re talking about health and longevity here. If you’re not convinced (because you’re in your 20’s or early 30’s), find a friend or family member in their 40’s or 50’s (+) who has diabetes, heart disease, is on cholesterol, blood pressure or other “lifestyle disease” meds, and ask them about their diet in their 20’s and 30’s. Therein lies the catalyst to sickness in your later years. You roll the dice, it’s your life.
DETERMINE YOUR DAILY NEEDS
Probably the easiest place to start is with an online calculator to help you do the math from Part 2.
The Eat to Perform Calculator is great because it gives you the results of many of the formulas mentioned earlier. You can choose to solve for fat or carbs.
The TDEE Calculator from IIFYM.com is OK – the site is junked up with a ton of ads and it’s just not very concise. You should chose the Katch McCardle formula.
The MacroFit Calculator offers a free introductory establishment of your numbers, and for a fee offers more help.
Or, you can just run your numbers through the Katch McCardle BMR Equation:
BMR = 370 + (9.79759519 x LBM* in pounds), or
BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM* in kilograms)
*Remember: LBM is lean body mass. It’s your current body weight minus your pounds of body fat determined by a good body composition test.
For example, if you weigh 200 lbs. with 15% body fat, that means you have 170 lbs. of LBM (77.27 kilograms). Your BMR would equal 370 + (9.79759519 x 170) = 2,036 calories/day.
Once you have determined your BMR, you must multiply it by the appropriate activity factor to determine your daily caloric needs or TDEE:
- x 1.2 = sedentary; little or no exercise; low intensity leisure activity like slow walking, yoga or thai chi
- x 1.375 = light activity; light exercise/sports (like golf or yoga)/leisure walking 1-3 days/week
- x 1.55 = moderate activity; moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week; around 60-70% of your max heart rate, 30-60 min sessions
- x 1.725 = active/very active; moderate to hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week; higher intensity of 70-85% of your max heart rate, 45-60 min sessions
- x 1.9 = extremely active; very hard exercise/sports or a physical job like manual labor or heavy lifting; endurance athletes; competitive team sports 6-7 days / week for 90+ minutes sessions
Our example dude above has an activity level of between 1.55 and 1.725, so let’s estimate him at 1.6.
2036 BMR calories x 1.6 activity factor is 3,256 calories per day.
Our dude likes where he’s at with body comp and performance. He wants to maintain his weight and just get better at his sport. Check!
It starts with calories.
What you get from these formulas is a total daily calorie number. The number that results from the formulas is the number of calories ESTIMATED to maintain your current weight at your current activity level. To gain mass, you need to increase your calories. To lose mass, you need to reduce your calories. For losing mass (weight), it’s recommended that you reduce your TDEE by 10%. 20% is aggressive but possible. You just need to consider your training, and every 10 days or so do a “refeed” that ups your calories and carbs to prevent your thyroid from getting sluggish from the low calorie (it happens!) and your metabolic rate to slow from the reduction in calories.
Mind you, you can put two similar people (similar weight, body composition, same gender, and activity level) on the same calorie diets but put one on a high carb and one on a high-fat diet (protein stays the same) and we can cause weight gain in the high carb person and weight loss in the high-fat person. We are not machines or factories. We’re complex human beings that expend different levels of energy on different processes like digestion. So pay attention below, because our macronutrients, in addition to the quality being key, can be strategically laid out to produce a lean body composition and help grow muscle mass. But it can also work in reverse if you don’t put some thought into why your numbers are where they are.
We need an example to work through, so let’s use the dude in blue above.
200 lbs. 15% body fat.
LBM is 170 lbs.
BMR calories are 2,036.
Activity level is 1.6.
TDEE is 3,256. Following so far?
Next we to determine protein in calories, then grams.
1 x body weight in protein is a great place to start unless your body composition is on the high side. Then it’s good to use 1x lean body mass to start. Those who train with heavy loads and high intensity are going to need more protein than those who don’t. You determine your protein target in grams, multiply that by 4 calories per gram for protein, and you’ll get your protein calories. Subtract that from your total estimated calories for the day (TDEE) and you’ll have calories left for fat and carbs. Keep reading.
Our example dude weighs 200 lbs. He’s not worried about body comp so we’re going to set his protein goal at 200 grams per day. We know that there are 4 calories per gram in protein, so he will be consuming 800 calories per day in protein. Got it?
800 calories from protein. 200 grams of protein. If our goal is 3,256 calories, we have 2,458 calories left to obtain from carbs and fat. Moving on…
Now, we determine carbs and fat.
This isn’t that tough. We can either set our carbs and back into fat, or vice versa. I like the ETP rule of thumb of 100-125 grams of fat for a guy and 50-75 for a girl. Easy to remember.
Choose your number for fat grams and multiply by 9 calories per gram for fat. That’s your fat calories.
Subtract that number (fat calories) from your left over calories above (TDEE minus protein calories is our carbs/fat calories. Subtract fat calories and you’re left with carb calories) to achieve calories left for carbs. Divide calories left for carbs by 4 calories per gram and you will yield your grams of carbs for the day.
So let’s set our fat at 100 grams for our example dude. 100 grams of fat x 9 calories per gram = 900 calories from fat. We had 2,458 calories left to work with, so that, minus 900 calories from fat = 1,557 calorie left from carbs, right?
Rolling right in that, we know there are 4 calories per gram in carbohydrate, so 1,557 calories divided by 4 calories per gram is 389 grams of carbohydrate per day. I’ll show you below how to “get there” with these numbers but let me show you how to tweak this if almost 400 grams of carbs freaks you out.
Say it does…freak you out. Ok, well, we’re not lowering or raising or protein numbers. They stay set. But we can jack up our fat to 125 grams, or 1,125 calories (versus 900 calories). If we set fat at 125 grams, that’s 1,125 calories. If there were 2,458 total calories left after protein is set, minus 1,125 calories = 1,333 calories left from carbs, divided by 4 calories per gram = 333 grams).
So, I have calories, protein, carbs and fat. Now what?
Now you have:
TDEE (calories) for the day
Protein calories and grams
Fat calories and grams
Carb calories and grams
Frankly, after you get your grams for protein, carbs and fat, you don’t need to worry too much about calories any more – just fill in with grams of each macro. Some prefer to look at calories, which is OK, but grams teaches you more!
But still, now what?
Here’s where laying out your day, to me, gets really easy. Follow along, and we’ll use our example dude because we have real numbers.
TDEE: 3,256 calories
Protein: 200 grams (800 calories)
Carbs: 333 grams (1,333 calories)
Fat: 125 grams (1,125 calories)
First, I know this dude works out. So his post workout refuel will include around 30-40 gram of protein (estimate: 160 calories), probably from whey protein powder) and around 50-75 grams of carbohydrate (estimate: 300 calories, probably from a sports supplement like waxy maize or dextrose, because our dude is a busy dude!).
So, now we have our protein grams reduced from 200 grams for the day to 160 grams left, and carbohydrate grams reduced from 333 to 258 grams left. The numbers above now look like this:
Left for the day:
TDEE: 2,796 calories
Protein: 160 grams
Carbs: 258 grams
Fat: 125 grams (no change)
All I have to do is break up my dude’s day into the three meals he’ll consume and maybe add a snack. I’ll do the snack first because it’s what’ll give him energy for his WOD. He trains at night.
20 grams fat/est. 200 calories: 1/2 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened)
28 grams of protein/est 152 calories because there was 4 grams of fat in the packet too: 1 -2.5 oz pack Paleo Jerky from Steve’s Club
Left for the day:
TDEE: 2,444 calories
Protein: 132 grams
Carbs: 258 (no change)
Fat: 105 grams
Now, I’ll break down three meals, pretty evenly. The more even you can keep your meals, the easier it will be, initially, to learn what you need.
Here’s how we do it:
Protein: 132 grams divided by 3 meals is about 44 grams per meal, or using the rule of thumb of 7 grams of protein per ounce of meat, 6-ish ounces of protein per meal. Completely manageable!
Carbs: 258 grams divided by 3 meals is about 86 per meal.
Fat: 105 grams, divided by 3 meals is about 35 per meal.
18 grams of protein (plus equal grams of fat): 3 eggs
21 grams of protein: 3 oz left over filet from dinner last night
10 grams of fat from 1 Tbsp coconut oil to cook plantains and eggs
61 grams of carbs: 1 whole ripe fried plantain
11 grams of carbs: 1 cup watermelon
42 grams of protein: 6 oz of shrimp on a skewer
15 gram of carbs: large salad of greens
10 gram of fat: oil and vinegar dressing
15 grams of fat: 1/2 avocado sliced over a salad (that avocado also has 9 grams of fibrous carbs! yum!)
9 grams of carbs: from avocado
44 grams of carbs: 1 cup white rice
56 grams of protein: 7-ounce filet mignon
10 gram of fat: 1/2 Tbsp oil plus fat from filet
36 grams of carbs: 1 large sweet potato (about 5″)
10 grams of fat: 1 Tbsp butter on potato
14 grams of carbs: 2 cups of broccoli
3 grams of carbs: 1 cup baby Bella mushrooms (with broccoli)
1 tsp of truffle flavored EVOO drizzled on broccoli and mushrooms
10 grams of carbs: 1 tangerine
4 grams of fat: tangerine was drizzled with 1 tsp EVOO
n/a: finished with cracked pepper
IT’S REALLY NOT THAT HARD
But like with anything worth anything, you have to invest the time to learn some new things. I’m so sad that this is no longer taught in high school or elementary school. In the 70’s and 80’s, we were at least taught protein, carbs and fat. But not anymore. And we didn’t have vending machines, and our school lunches were definitely not like they are today. We’re in a sad state of nutrition in our country right now. But what we know and what we learn today can be passed down to our kids and future generation, hopefully building a more educated and wise generation of eaters.
If there’s one take-home from this post that the female population out there should get, it’s this: Don’t under eat. You NEED these calories to fuel your life – everything about your life. When you bump down into that low calorie and very low calorie basement and stay there for an extended period of time, you are not only doing some damage, but slowing your metabolism down AND restricting all the nutrients needed for your body to function properly. If you’ve been there are or are there now, dig yourself out. It’s a lousy place to be and you’ll never been successful in the long run. You definitely can’t CrossFit (successfully) on a diet like that.
Chris Kresser’s Blog just posted a great article on that: Are You Undereating: 8 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough.
USE YOUR MACROS TO BUST YOUR CRAVING POINTS
Many of us have that afternoon lull – 3pm and I NEED a snack, right? We know that these snack cravings are either mental (it’s a habit) or chemical (you’ve been too low fat all day and your body needs that brain food). Play around with the timing of your fat and carbs – if you eat an apple at 3pm does that work, or just make you ravenous a few minutes later. Try an avocado (1/2) with pepper or a half avocado and a tangerine. Trust me, there will be a satisfying combo, but use whole foods, high-quality ones, and document it so you can tell what works and what doesn’t.
EAT THE RAINBOW
I do have to end with this, though. If I plug into a calculator (Cronometer, My Fitness Pal) 15 oz of chicken breast, 5 cups of broccoli, 3-5 Tbsp of fat (coconut oil, avocado), and 5 cups of white rice….I can hit calorie and macronutrient goals for an average person. Ironically, I can also hit the RDA’s goals (90% of them!) for micronutrients. But what I know is that there are super powered nutrients like phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc. that come from the rainbow of colors we can eat. While you can get close to what the government says we need with our white and green example above, we know that by adding more colorful foods we’re reaping the benefits of the nutrients in those foods.
However, like anything, be ready for the flip side:
And on that note, we’ll call it quits. You have to be an educated advocate for your own health, your own physical development, body fat loss, etc. Do not believe what you’re told unless you implicitly trust the source and have a positive history of results from them. Credentials are just that. I’ve met some really single-minded PhD’s! Be smart. Read, learn, practice, try, retry….this isn’t that hard!