Macro Variables – How Much of What and Why?

Text Only LogoGeez, these posts are getting “mathy.” Hang in there, though. There’s one more mildly mathy post after this and then we’ll be getting past some of the technical stuff for a bit and back into writing/fitness lifestyle applications.

Now that we’ve got a firmer grip on the three macronutrients and how the body primarily uses them in turn, we can link their intake to your overall caloric needs. Remember how to calculate that, as detailed in this post? The question is, will your fitness be affected if you ignore macros and just base your diet on the “calories in, calories out” process?

The problem with that is…recall how each macro plays a different main role? The amount you eat of a particular macro is going to affect your body in different ways, especially when you take particular workout routines or fitness goals into account. For instance, if you’re trying to build muscle but aren’t getting enough protein, that’s going to hamper your efforts. If you’re trying to lose weight with more cardio/endurance training and go too low with carbs, your energy is going to suffer. And fat is an essential part of your body’s performance in many areas, so cutting that out entirely isn’t a good idea.

The reality is, if you pay even broad attention to your macro needs, you’re going to give yourself a big advantage in achieving your health and fitness goals. Some folks approach it as a basic ratio breakdown, such as:

30% protein, 15-20% fat, 50-55% carbohydrates

Or you can adjust for basic eating and exercise protocols:

  • Bodybuilding: 25-35% protein, 15-25% fat, and 40-60% carbohydrates
  • Maintenance: 25-35% protein, 25-35% fat, and 30-50% carbohydrates
  • Fat Loss: 40-50% protein, 30-40% fat, and 10-20% carbohydrates

Those are general starting points and can be fine-tuned a bit further. Rather than going with percentages, you can look at your current body mass and fitness goals and use that to determine proportions for each macro in turn.

Protein: General recommendations for daily protein intake vary based on the type of activity you’re doing. Since your body will be in recovery and repair mode after exercise, that’s prime time to take in a goodly amount of protein.

  • Strength Training: 1.4 – 2g per kg (bodyweight)
  • Endurance Training: .8 – 1.8g per kg (bodyweight)

Note: These numbers assume you are getting enough carbohydrates and overall calories. If you’re cutting carbs drastically or really amping up your exercise routine, you may need to increase your protein intake as well. If you’re not exercising regularly, these numbers can be lowered.

Fat: Fat is not the enemy of fitness, no matter how much you’ve been lead to believe that. Yes, you can go low-fat for a while, but you’re then going to start impairing your body’s ability to perform. Here are daily intake suggestions based on your current mass and fat levels:

  • Average/Low Bodyfat: 1 – 2g fat per kg bodyweight
  • High Bodyfat: 1-2g fat per kg of lean bodyweight (calculate lean mass through these methods)

Carbs: While being a primary energy source for your body, there’s no specific baseline for your daily carb intake. Carbs are the easiest way to get glucose, the quickest way to give yourself energy and replenish your glycogen stores. Carbs can help you get through intense workouts, keep the brain active, and so on. The more physically active you are, the more you may want or need a carb “buffer.” So find where your needs lie with protein and fats, and then round out your daily caloric need with carbs so you aren’t lacking in your overall performance. For those who are more active and might prioritize carbs a bit more, here are suggested intake volumes:

  • Moderate Activity: 4.5 – 6.5 g per kg bodyweight (about 2 – 3g/ pound)
  • High Activity: 6.5 – 8.5 g per kg bodyweight (about 3 – 4g/ pound)
  • Intense Activity: + 8.5g per kg bodyweight (more than 4g/ pound)

To break it down according to the numbers we now have:

Carb calories = Total caloric need – ([protein grams above x 4] + [fat grams above x 9])

Make sense? Does any number or another seem too high or too low for you? Does this shift how you look at your daily diet and eating habits?