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How to set up your macros: A quick guide

Updated: Jun 24, 2021





If you haven’t read part one of this series, head over to the article HERE.


If you have any questions about this article please leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.


Once a calorie target has been subscribed the next step is macronutrient distribution. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Organising the appropriate amounts of each can have significant effects on your performance, recovery and body composition. Remember this is the second most important tool in our nutrition toolbox.


Selecting appropriate macronutrient amounts is also important for adherence to the nutrition plan. For example, most people tend to agree that protein is the most satiating out of all the macros, myself included – Also, some people prefer to have a greater quantity of one macro over another, using myself as an example, I prefer a greater proportion of carbs to fats, other people prefer the opposite


Top Tip – if you are unsure whether you are more inclined to eat carbs or fats, take a period of time to trial both. Take at least 8 weeks and trial a large % of carbs compared to fats (and vice versa). Record your appetite, general wellbeing recovery and performance/ energy levels in the gym and see which you prefer. I will offer ranges for these macros in this article, so you could trial the upper and lower ranges of each.



Protein


4 calories per gram


Protein supplies the building blocks of muscle tissue. It provides the materials required for muscle protein synthesis (MPS). When you eat protein it is digested into amino acids. These acids are absorbed and released into circulation. The amino acids are transported around the body. MPS is the process of building muscle protein – This happens in all organs not just the tissue you are specifically targeting in the gym in your resistance training program.


Think of your muscles as a large tower of LEGO – MPS is adding extra block to the tower, increasing its size.


However building muscle is NOT an easy process. MPS has an evil brother fighting for attention called muscle protein breakdown (MPB). This process removes the blocks from the tower. MPS needs to exceed MPB to build new tissue.



Protein Hierarchy



How many times have you overheard gym goers discuss what their favorite brand of protein powder is or when is the best time to consume protein after a gym session? I would imagine much more than conversations regarding total daily protein intake! Total daily protein intake is by far the single most important component for athletic performance and body composition. Making sure you consistently hit your target (usually between 1.6-2.2 grams per kg of bodyweight for resistance training individuals) over the days, weeks and months will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Next up is protein distribution - This is the frequency of protein feedings per day- I usually recommend between 3-6 protein feedings throughout the day based on preference. I like to keep protein amounts relatively similar for each feeding. EXAMPLE 1: Poor protein distribution Meal 1: 15 grams protein Meal 2: 20 grams protein Meal 3: 60 grams protein Meal 4: 60 grams protein EXAMPLE 2: Good protein distribution Meal 1: 35 grams protein Meal 2: 45 grams protein Meal 3: 40 grams protein Meal 4: 35 grams of protein No need to really overthink the ‘dose’ of protein in each meal. I just like to make sure the protein serving is within 20 grams (15 for lighter individuals) in each meal - This offers you a good balance between practicality and ‘optimal’ dosing. And lastly ‘protein timing in relation to training’. This offers a very small effect compared to total daily protein intake. The days of chugging down a protein shake in the 30 minute post training ‘anabolic window’ are over - The anabolic response of a meal containing adequate levels of protein can range between 3-6 hours, possibly even longer. To be on the safe side I recommend having a protein source within 3-5 hours after your pre workout protein source. EXAMPLE: - Protein source 90 minutes before training session - Training session duration of 90 minutes - Aim for a protein source within 120 minutes post workout TIP: Focus on making sure you are consistently meeting your daily protein target before implementing steps 2 and 3.


Trying to apply everything all at once can become overwhelming. When meeting your daily target consistently is a thing of habit then you can start implementing step 2. This step requires you to have similar protein ‘doses’ each meal and requires a little more planning.


Finally when boxes 1 and 2 are checked, start incorporating step 3. This might give you a small % advantage in terms of body composition. It really is the tip of the iceberg.



How much protein to consume in each meal


As discussed previously most resistance training individuals would be in good stead consuming between 1.6-2.2 grams per kg of bodyweight per day.


For a 100kg person this would be a MINIMUM of 160 grams of protein per day up to 220 grams of protein per day – Note I didn’t say maximum of 220 grams per day. There isn’t a big downside of exceeding this as long as you are a healthy individual, but for most people exceeding 2.2g per kg doesn’t offer many additional benefits. As you increase protein higher and higher beyond this range you need to reduce carbohydrate and fat amounts to meet your calorie budget, Which may (depending on how low you have set these macros) have detrimental effects on your performance.


For an athlete who is focused on gaining weight (muscle mass) hitting anywhere between 1.6-2.2g per kg is suitable.


For an athlete who is focused on losing weight (dropping body fat) I would aim for the upper end of this spectrum 1.9-2.2g per kg of bodyweight.



So for our hypothetical 100kg subject, this would be a between 40-55 grams per meal if you want to MAXIMISE body composition.


There is some cases where exceeding the 2.2g per kg may be beneficial. Individuals who are pushing for extreme leanness (physique athletes) may see benefit (albeit a very small one) all the way up to 3g per kg of bodyweight. There may be some extra anti catabolic (prevent muscle breakdown) effects at these high ranges. Additionally, very high intakes of protein help with feelings of fullness which could ‘make or break’ adherence to the nutritional plan when very lean.


Fats and carbohydrates


Once the protein target is set we can be quite flexible with setting up carb and fat amounts.


Fats


Fats are an essential nutrient, ‘essential’ just means that the body can’t produce enough to maintain health therefore we need to consume within our diet.

Whilst dietary fat is essential for regular hormonal function, it pales in comparison to carbohydrates as a ‘fuel’ For this reason it makes sense to have fats between 0.6-1grams per kg of bodyweight – For athletes that are cutting weight I tend to use the lower end of the range and for athletes in a ‘gaining phase’ I prefer to use the higher end.


Similar to protein there are no major downsides of slightly exceeding this range, however there are no advantages in terms of performance, either. The higher you set your fat the more you have to reduce your primary fuel source, carbohydrates, We NEVER take away from our protein, this is non-negotiable (unless your protein was needlessly high such as 2.8g per kg of BW or something).



Carbohydrates


Now that we have set up the building blocks (protein) of the nutrition plan and are meeting the minimum requirements of fat for optimal endocrine function, the rest of the allocated calories are allocated to carbs. They are the primary energy source for the majority of all sporting endeavours .


Carbs are stored within the body as glycogen. This is stored in the liver and muscle tissue. Adults store between 350-700 grams of glycogen in muscular tissue and approximately 100 grams in the liver. These stores are limited, therefore require adequate consumption of carbohydrates.


Carbohydrate dosages can vary considerably depending on exercise type, intensity and duration. Hell, even the recommendations for gym goers/lifters can vary widely – a position stand from the international society of sports nutrition recommend between 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight for general fitness and 5-8g per kg for moderate but intense volumes of training (most resistance training programs fit into this category).


These recommendations are for ‘optimal’ resistance training performance; however these ranges may not be possible for some individuals, especially those who are currently in a fat loss phase. There may not be enough available calories for fats and protein if carbohydrate intakes are within this range.


This is where an individual approach is key, macronutrient amounts are going to differ for an individual throughout the year.



ROUND UP:


FIRST STEP


PROTEIN:


Aim for 1.6-2.2 grams per kg of bodyweight per day. for the majority of gym goers who are wanting to improve muscle mass or reduce body fat whilst holding onto as much lean tissue as possible, meeting this range will give you the biggest bang for your buck. There may be some very small benefits of going even higher than this range, particularly in a ‘cutting’ phase. However, from my experience, most people would rather have some extra carbohydrates than extra protein. However, if exceeding this range suits your lifestyle and aligns with your goals (e.g. 2.2-3 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight then it is not harmful, if you are a ‘healthy’ individual.


SECOND STEP


FAT:


Between 0.6-1 grams per kg of bodyweight – For athletes that are cutting weight I tend to use the lower end of the range and for athletes in a ‘gaining phase’ I prefer to use the higher end.


THIRD STEP


CARBOHYDRATES:


Allocate the remaining calories to carbohydrates. There you go! You have set up your macros – you now have your calories and macros set, these are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of performance and body composition.


Questions? Leave them in the comment section below.


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