Aaah, the diet. I realize that for many of you, whenever I release an article regarding nutrition, you guys head to my blog in DROVES. In fact, when talking to a number of our Inner Circle members, nutrition is the hardest thing for them to figure out. So today’s part to our Setting Up Your Nutrition series will talk about, and take a look at exactly how to choose your macros and what the proper set up should be in relation to your goals. Now for the purposes of our site, I’m going to relate this article to a fantastic tool we have here in the Inner Circle by way of our Metabolic Rate, Calories, and Macros Calculator.
A Brief Breakdown of Your Macros
In our last article, we talked about the 3 macros (proteins, carbs, and fats) and their role in your overall diet. So now that you are familiar with them, let’s get a little bit more into the things you need to generally think about when it comes to choosing what’s right for you.
Proteins in general are the building blocks of the body. In relation to what we need to think about, protein functions to help aid in building muscle when our goal is hypertrophy, as well as maintaining it in the face of fat loss. The diet industry has placed a lot of emphasis on protein in the diet, and in some ways, placing TOO MUCH emphasis on it. Protein is no miracle substrate, and eating it in a huge abundance has shown to be of no greater benefit when actual scientific study has been done on the topic.
Your main focus when setting up your diet is to get enough in to support your goals. So that can mean a range depending on training intensity and volume, whether you are looking to maintain your weight, gain muscle, or lose fat. If perhaps hunger is an issue and you wish to blunt it a bit, protein works fantastically for that. In general, I tend to put together diets that range between .8 to 1.2 X BW in pounds for each gram of protein, when it comes to the intake for a client. We’ll get into the reasons behind this shortly.
If proteins are the building blocks of the body, we can call carbs your body’s energy powerhouse. Carbs actually play a very crucial role in the body, but it seems like everywhere you look they’re vilified. I actually find it to be quite comical. You know you’ve heard it all before too…
Don’t eat carbs at night, only eat carbs around your workouts, eating carbs will make you fat, spiking insulin (which eating carbs does) will make you fat – so don’t eat carbs, eat low carbs to lose weight, ok just eliminate carbs completely… I think you get my point. And I’m over here like, man, you guys have NO idea how human physiology and metabolism works, do you?
No… No, you don’t.
So let’s get something straight, carbs are NOT the enemy. Now, there are some people who are “sensitive” to carbs. And actually that’s an erroneous statement because you WANT to have a sensitivity to carbs – to a degree. Carbs should spike insulin, and if your body has a high level of insulin sensitivity (particularly when we are talking about how this relates to training, post workout, and nutrition), that sensitivity is responsible for setting in motion the cascade of physiological events leading to muscle protein synthesis (repair and rebuilding of muscle tissue, as well as the creation of new tissue post training).
Now, I understand that with some people, eating carbs may make them feel excessively tired afterwards, and again, that relates more to insulin sensitivity and the possible high/low crash that is common after eating too many carbs for YOUR body. Actually, this is one of the signs of insulin resistance, and can be seen as a symptom of prediabetes and a few other scary health issues. But realize, it’s not necessarily the carbs causing this it’s your body’s possible insulin resistance.
In the case of bloating, I often correct clients about that, and help them to realize that perhaps the TYPES of carbs they are choosing to eat are not agreeable for them. So seeing if there is a sensitivity somewhere to a specific food item helps tremendously as they eliminate things that cause them issues. All and all, carbohydrates are what gives the body energy to move and survive. It’s the first source of energy the body looks for.
Yes, fats are used for energy as well, and protein can be broken down (into glycogen – which is broken down carbohydrates) and used for energy in the case of missing carbs (glucose) in the blood. But if we can save protein’s role for rebuilding and repair, and simply provide the body with just enough carbohydrates to meet the physical demands you’re placing on it, and to align with your goals, IMO that’s a far more intelligent approach.
Fats are our other more often feared and highly misunderstood macro. Dietary fat plays an incredibly crucial role in the body. In fact, fats in the diet have a huge influence over much of the body’s hormonal function. Now, in addition to their importance to hormonal function, fats serve as a secondary energy source for the body – in place of low carbohydrates. If there is anything you need to keep in mind when designing your meal plan it’s this:
Fats and carbs work conversely in the diet. As one goes down the other must go up, and vice versa.
If you have a high amount of one of these, the body’s need for the other will slightly decrease. So keeping in mind to always have that balance between these two macros is the key to success for most people on any kind of a specified plan (fat loss, lean building, maintenance, or performance). When choosing your fats, I always say to add variety.
Your sources should come from meats and fish like beef and salmon, omega 3 fish oil, avocados, nuts and nut butters of all varieties, olive oil, coconut oil (fantastic benefits), red palm oil (also really awesome – do some research on this one), and dare I even say, Irish Butter is another favorite for its high vitamin D, CLA, and omega 3 content. So don’t be afraid of fats and don’t be afraid to add variety in your own planning.
Putting It All Together: A Detailed Look at Various Breakdowns
The following info is what will directly relate to our calculator, to make it easier for our Inner Circle Members to choose the appropriate diet set up. Given that, the same methods of math and rules can apply without the calculator, so simply do the calculations on your own to arrive at the numbers you need for your own plan.
The Detailed Breakdown
This method and option is my absolute favorite because it allows me to really, and specifically tweak a plan for a client’s needs and goals. The set up is simple, as it is with all of the methods the calculator uses, and focuses on the adjustment of the protein and fats in the diet – leaving the carbs to be accounted for by what’s left over. Protein on this breakdown has you pre set between .7 to .9 x BW in pounds to find out what your body needs per day.
Now, these numbers were chosen given what the RDA suggests that the average adult needs for healthy function on a day to day basis. However, given that all of our client base trains in the gym, and most quite seriously, I like to err on the side of bumping protein up quite a bit more. I tend to settle on a diet that has protein set between 1 to 1.2 x BW in pounds, totaling the amount of grams needed per day. The higher end of that scale I tend to reserve for fat loss, and for smaller framed clients looking to maintain or put on a little muscle.
Protein has an excellent quality in that it’s great for blunting hunger in the face of fat loss. So if you ever feel hunger really spike while dieting, add in a bit more protein to keep it under control. For larger framed clients, I’ll tend to go a bit more on the lower end of the scale when it comes to protein requirements. So if I have a woman who is, let’s say, 175 pounds and looking to lose fat, most of her body weight isn’t comprised of muscle, so there’s no need to overshoot the amount of protein she needs to maintain her lean tissue as she diets.
If we were to assume her body fat percentage was around 28%, then that leaves roughly 126 pounds of total lean mass (tissue and bone) on her frame. If we did something as common as the 1.5 x BW equation used in the fitness circles, her protein amounts for the day would be around 263g per day. So that’s just under DOUBLE the amount of lean mass she’s even carrying in the first place, and kind of a waste of calories in that she could put that excess into either more fats or carbs (or split between both) and have a far more balanced plan.
So for someone with a larger frame, I prefer to keep protein between .9 to 1 x BW in pounds. The more you weigh, the more I’m likely to err towards .9 x BW. So just use a little common sense with this one. Get in as much as you need, but don’t make the diet an “all protein” diet. Your calories need to be spread out between everything. Simply play it smart as you can always adjust down the line. With the fats for this breakdown, we have the defaults set at .30, .35, or .40 x BW to figure out what you need per day.
Now, if you want to have your diet set so that you have more carbs in it, then set the fat closer to .30. This will keep your fats at roughly around 30% of your current bodyweight which is great for overall metabolic function. I’ve also gone about and set fats as low as .25 X BW (using the custom entry box) for individuals who tend to have very high metabolisms and a high level of insulin sensitivity. They tend to do well with more carbs in the diet, and setting fats at .25 allows for more carbs to be present (remember these two macros work conversely).
If I am structuring a high carb day or refeed, I’ll set fats as low as .20 x BW, again to allow for more carbs on the diet. So play around and tweak it to work for you. Conversely, if having a more low carb approach is your aim, then you can focus on setting your fats to .40 to .45 x BW in pounds for your macro setup. This is going to push the fat grams way up, and the carbs way down. So, our 175 pound woman setting her fats at .45 X BW will see her eating around 79g of fat per day.
I’ve even had some people eating around 100g of fats per day, while carbs were set low, so seeing high numbers in grams of fat is normal – and honestly it freaks most people out. What you have to remember to keep in mind is that eating fat does not make you fat, and if you choose wisely from the sources listed above, your body will be just fine!
A Quick Note Before Continuing
The following breakdowns are all based off of percentages of your total calories per day. Now, professionally and personally, I do not like to rely on percentages when figuring out macros for clients. In my opinion, it’s too broad of a way to set things up, and when I am doing a custom plan, I prefer the detailed approach so I can really tweak for the person in front of me. When you use the percentages approach, it’s not really considering your stature or other things physiologically that can determine where macros can and should be appropriately set.
So let’s say you have 2 clients, one is a man that’s 6’1 and 220 pounds, and a woman that’s let’s say 5’6 and 162 pounds. Each are on a diet that’s about 2400 calories per day, only the guy wants to lose fat, and the girl is looking to gain muscle for a lean build. If you were to use the macro set up of 40/30/30 (40% Protein, 30% Fat and Carbs) that would give them each the same set up of 220g of protein, 73g of fat, and 165g of carbs per day at 2200 calories.
Remember what we talked about above in the detailed calculation section about taking a more intelligent approach to setting up your macros – well percentages somewhat eliminate that. Now, this is not to say to NOT use them. Only that if you can do the more advanced approach, then you have more power to tweak things. However, if it’s too complex, you may DEFINITELY take the percentage approach, but just be sure to adjust those percentages as you may need for YOUR body.
The 40/40/20 Set Up
In our calculator, the 40/40/20 setup is comprised of 40% protein, 40% carbs, and 20% fat. It’s a very common setup for a moderate/high protein/carb and low fat approach to dieting. It’s also a set up that has been commonly used as a go to in the bodybuilding circles. This set up is good for those who may have a higher metabolism, and tends to thrive well on a higher carbohydrate and low fat diet. It’s also a great setup for those who have more performance focused goals (specifically for those with long duration/running goals and hobbies – half marathons, marathons, 5K’s, triathlons, etc). The amount of carbohydrates in the diet will give you the fuel you need to be able to get through your training, and do so with umph and energy.
You can always tweak the amount of carbs vs protein vs fat to align with your overall compositional goals, however the higher carbs always make you feel amazing, and so this one is perfect for you. It should be noted that although this set up can work well for some, there are those for whom it’s not ideal – and that would be those of you who are a little more insulin resistant. You may want to focus on more that 40% Protein, 30% Carbs and Fat, or you may even be able to tweak this set up so that you flip the macros: 40% protein and fats, and 20% carbs. We actually have a “low carb” percentage calculation on the site, we’ll discuss that set up in a few.
The 40/30/30 Set Up
The next suggested set up in our calculator is the 40% Carbs, 30% Protein and Fats. It’s a little bit more of a “Zone Diet” type of approach, and keeps everything in a nice balance across all 3 Macros. I even like to flip things around sometimes and play with a ratio of 40% protein, and 30% fats and carbs instead. You can tweak things to see what works for you. Of course if the diet is 40% carbs, that macro will be a little higher than let’s say if the carbs were at 30%.
So tweaking to see what work for you and gets you to your compositional goals is the major focus. This is a great setup for MANY people, regardless of goals. The ratios are set to keep blood sugar pretty constant, and can act as a nice starting point for a balanced approach to nutrition. In fact, I really love this set up for those with maintenance goals in mind after you’ve achieved your aesthetic goals, and you’re looking for a way to create an easy to adhere to lifestyle. This is another setup that can be used for performance as well. If you put the carbs at the 40% as suggested in the setup, then you have a balanced plan that will allow you to go the distance you need in your sport, and adequately recover as well.
Low Fat Approach: 45/35/20
This set up is very similar to the 40/30/30 plan above, but what it does is tweak the ratio a bit for more carbs, more protein, and less fat. Traditionally, true “low fat” diets can err closer to 15-20% of the diet. In some cases, I sometimes feel that’s a little too low, and can dramatically have an impact on hormonal function. So, to tweak things in a way to make it safe for our members to use, I’ve kept the fat to be at 20% of the diet, which is still low fat in design.
Now, you can always tweak things a little more if you feel that having a low fat approach has worked best for you in the past. I would say to add any calories you take away from the fat percentage back into the carb percentage. So for example, if you decided to put your carbs at 15% (you can change this integer in the calculator), then you need to put that 5% in your carbs because remember, fats and carbs work conversely. You would then have your ratios at 50% carbs, 35% protein, and 15% fat. Low fat approaches to diet works well for those who have a high level of insulin sensitivity, who thrive on carbohydrates in general, and tend to have a smaller frame (more ectomorphic and mesomorphic bodies).
Low Carb Approach: 40/25/35
Our final setup is the Low Carb ratio of 40% protein, 25% carbs, 35% fat. Now, this diet puts a greater emphasis on keeping fats high, while carbs are low. It should be noted that a TRUE low carb or ketogenic diet approach has carbs set around 5% of the diet, with fats taking up the slack where the carbs were set lower. HOWEVER, my main focus with each of our members is safety first. So I’ve decided to skew our calculator in a way that keeps carbs in a still very sane ratio in the diet – but remember, you can always tweak things as YOU need to.
And always, always, always remember one thing – as carbs go down fats MUST go up. As long as you keep repeating that mantra, you’ll be ok when it comes to your diet. This approach is probably a very good starting point for those of you out there who have a slower metabolism, and a more endomorphic body type.
This is great for those of you who err more on the side of insulin resistance, and feel that processing carbs causes too many energy swings/crashes throughout you day. You’ll feel more stable and energized with this kind of approach as you work towards your body transformation goals. One thing I do recommend to those who choose a low carbohydrate approach is to consider following a more cyclical approach to dieting.
The only concern with following a constantly low carb approach is that you can further your body’s insulin resistance, or for those who don’t necessarily have insulin resistance to begin with, you MAY develop it by depriving the body of carbs. With the cyclical approach, you would spike carbohydrates anywhere between once every two weeks, to once a week, to even twice a week if you body needs it. So cyclical dieting can help to INCREASE insulin sensitivity, and if you add training to the equation, it becomes like a 1-2 punch. The more sensitive your body is to insulin, the better your fat loss and compositional goals will be.
So play the game smart, and remember to spike carbohydrates every once in a while. And this doesn’t have to be a huge spike. You can try a 40% carb, 30% protein, 30% fat set up for that higher carb day, or play around with 50% carbs, 30% protein, and 20% fat set up as well. The goal is to err on the side of more carbs – while keeping the fats low and protein moderate just for one day.
Wrapping Things Up… Well, that’s it! I really hope this article was helpful – albeit very long! But you’re now equipped with the tools you need to put together a sound plan in the way that I would approach it – and do approach it with not only my very own clients, but myself as well.
Got questions or comments? Post them in the comments box below!