Many people have trouble gaining, losing & maintaining their weight. Whether one wants to put on quality, lean muscle mass, reduce body fat or even maintain their weight, one has to be cognizant of their energy balance. Energy balance is the equation of calories in vs calories out. Depending on which side more emphasis is placed, dictates which direction the scale is going to move.
Now, here’s the thing, knowing what our energy balance is isn’t enough. If we want to be relatively fit, we have to configure our macros in such a way that it maps to our fitness goals. What i’m talking about here is “body composition.” Body composition is basically the arrangement of fat and muscle mass in the body. Body composition is dictated by genetics, resistance training & macros.
Before, I continue into the breadth of this article, I’m going to give a brief outline or layout of what I’m going to be talking about:
- What are macros?
- Why do we track macros?
- Who tracks macros?
- What is TDEE?
- Macros relative to our TDEE.
- How do we know how many calories are in each meal?
- Macro tracking tools & how to track macros
- Tracking for fat loss
- Tracking for muscle gain
What are macros?
Macros is short for “Macronutrients.” These are basically the building blocks of our calories. There are three types of macros: Protein, Fats & Carbs, with fiber being a type of carb which is essential for proper digestion but we will get into more of that later on. Each macro carries a specific amount of calories per gram. Protein has 4 calories per gram, Carbs has 4 calories per gram & Fat has 9 calories per gram. Although each macro carries specific amounts of calories per gram, essentially carrying energy, not all macros are created equally & each has a different function & are metabolized differently. For example, protein is structural & is used to build compounds such as hormones & muscle tissue. Plus, 10% of the total amount of protein is used for energy. Fats are stored by the body & are essentially for proper hormone regulation. Carbs are mainly used for energy & are stored as glycogen in the muscles & liver which gets broken down into glucose when ready for use by the body. There are basically two types of carbs we are concerned with in this article: complex carbs & simple sugars. There are many different forms of carbs but since this is not a nutrition lesson I will not be going into all the other forms. Complex carbs are long chains of simple sugars that are strung together. In other words, complex carbs are made up of simple sugars.
Why do we track macros?
If you ever wanted to get to a destination & you have no idea how to get there, you get a map. Setting up macros is similar to getting a map. You know your destination, you read your map & you follow that path. That’s it. The concept is as simple as that. The path is not that simple though. We may get a flat tired, our car may break down, there might be a few detours, etc. Tracking macros helps us keep a true north so that we keep moving in the direction of our destination. This is why we track our macros.
Now, I know there are a bunch of people out there who have been doing this fitness thing for a long time & can basically eye ball their food portions & fall within their macros. I am one of these people. People like us can only do this if we don’t have a show we are preparing for or we have a different set of goals that doesn’t require us to track our macros. This article is not for people like me but for beginners we need a compass, a map, a car, everything they can use in order to map to their fitness goals. This leads me into our next topic.
Who tracks macros?
It is important to understand the context within which we are tracking our macros. If you are a bodybuilder during prep for a show, your macro set up is going to be quite different from a powerlifter preparing for a meet. If you are a body builder who is bulking up, your macro set up is going to be quite different from a competitive sprinter. If you obese, your macro set up is going to be different from an ectomorph who wants to gain weight. It is important to understand the context in order to map to your goals. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, runners, bikers & athletes of any kind track their macros from time to time. This is a tool of awareness that when used correctly can work wonders for achieving goals.
What is TDEE?
Your maintenance or your “TDEE,” which stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure, is the amount of calories needed to maintain your current bodyweight. This number is figured by taking one’s height, weight & general physical activity(using activity multipliers.) When we have this number, this is where the magic begins. Before I go into the magic, I’ll briefly talk about what this number is made up of.
TDEE = BMR + Physical Activity + Thermic Effect of Food
BMR: Your BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate is your resting metabolism. It is the amount of energy your body uses to maintain itself at rest & is responsible for 70% of your TDEE! This is why if you are underweight, you are referred to as having a fast metabolism. Having a fast metabolism means that your BMR is high & being that BMR accounts for 70% of your TDEE, it has the most impact on weight loss or weight gain. BMR fluctuates from person to person depending on genetics, age, diet, etc. This is why “diet periodization” is important when the focus is fat loss.
Physical Activity: Physical Activity is simply…how active one is. Whether one is very active, or not very active, this plays a role in TDEE but only 20% of it. Here’s the thing with physical activity that many people who are trying to lose weight or even people we are trying to gain muscle mass get tripped up on. They think that physical activity plays a bigger role in TDEE than it really does. Some people think that they can out exercise a bad diet, which basically means over eating. It really does not matter how intensely one exercises after overeating because chances are they aren’t going to “burn off” what they just ate. It just doesn’t work that way.
Thermic Effect of Food: This is how much calories the body uses to digest and process the food we eat & is only 10% of our TDEE.
How do we calculate our TDEE? Go to this website: TDEEcalculator.net I’ve been using this website for quite some time & it has helped me curate awareness around tracking my macros.
Your macros relative to your TDEE
So they reason we are so interested in calculating TDEE is because we want to know how much we should be eating. Meaning, how we should manipulate our energy balance in the first place. If we want to gain weight, we will eat above our TDEE. If we want to lose weight, we will eat below out TDEE. But it is not just about weight loss and weight gain, it is about FAT LOSS & MUSCLE GAIN.
The majority of us want to have a relatively lean muscular physique. We want to look & be “fit.” This is where macro composition comes into play.
How do we know how many calories are in each meal?
This is the most crucial part of the whole process of tracking macros. We need a way of knowing how many calories are in each meal. It’s pretty straight forward these days because have a label on the back of each can, box or container of food called “Nutrition facts.” Below we have an example of 1.5 cups of grapes:
This label gives us all of the information we need in order to bring awareness to how much we are eating. From now on, you should not be eating anything without taking a look at this label. What if we eat whole foods like sweet potato, banana, yams, etc? We will get to that part in a bit. This label tells us that a serving size of 1.5 cups of grapes has 90 calories in it. Of those 90 calories: There’s 1g of Fat, 24g of carbs, 23 of which are simple sugars & 1g is fiber & 1g of protein. This label also tells you how much cholesterol & sodium there is in milligrams. Below the bolded line, there is a section that tells you how many micronutrients you’re getting based on daily value(%) Let’s, do another one.
This label tells us that in one serving size, 4 cookies, there is 150 calories of which there is: 6 grams of fat, 3 of which are saturated fat, 23 grams of carbs, 12 of which are sugars & 2 grams of protein.
What’s so great about these boxes is that you can scan the barcode straight into the myfitnesspal.com app on your phone & the information will automatically pop up in your device.
Now, what if you are eating something like sweet potato, or watermelon or chicken breast? Google is your friend. My friends, there is so much information out there these days that is really hard not to know what you’re eating and how much of it you’re eating. If you’re eating chicken breast, simply google the nutrition facts of a certain quantity of chicken breast. Or you can weigh your chicken breast using a food scale then google the nutrition facts of that quantity. After you have all of that information, just type it into the myfitnesspall app.
How to set up & Track macros
- Tracking for fat loss & weight gain: Now that we know what role TDEE plays in our weight, we can calculate our TDEE, then set up our macros accordingly. Now, I’m going to keep this as simple as possible. I will not go into the formulas & all that jazz because we just want to be fit, not mathematicians. It is 2018 at the time I am writing this article & we have many tools available. What we want to do is:
- Measure our height & weight. YOU HAVE TO KNOW YOUR HEIGHT AND WEIGHT or else this is useless. It’s important that you have a bodyweight scale to track your weight everyday. If you don’t have one & are not willing to get one, then thats on you. Give up now.
- Once you have your height & weight, go to TDEEcalculator.net & put in the information they ask for. They ask for your age, height, weight, physical activity level(just guess) and your body mass index(BMI) if you know your BMI then input it, if you don’t then don’t it’s not necessary.
- Once you’ve put all that information in it’s going to take you to another page with your stats on it. It will give you your TDEE aka your maintenance calories for the day & for the week. Then when you scroll down, it’s going to give you a macro outline based on: maintenance, cutting & bulking. They give you 3 tabs to choose from. If you want to track your macros for FAT LOSS click the “cutting” tab. They break down your macros into 3 different options based on carb amounts: Moderate carbs, High carbs & Low carbs.
- For people who want to gain muscle mass: click the “BULKING” tab. They break it down into three different options based on carb amounts as well: Moderate, High & Low.
- Select one of these options whether you are “CUTTING” or “BULKING” & write down your calories & macros and follow these macros EVERYDAY to the best of your ability and engage in physical activity such as weight lifting, cardio, etc. Whatever your goals are, train in a specific way that maps to those goals. So if you want to put on muscle mass, go to the gym and lift weights. If you want to lose fat and be leaner, do the samething but add some cardio. The key is to just get started and follow your macros DAILY.
- Rate of weight gain/ weight loss: Here’s the part that’s crucial, well, all of these are crucial so pay close attention. You can set a rate of weight gain or weight loss. As a beginner, aim to lose/gain 1lb/0.45kg to 2lb/0.9kg per week! It is important that you follow your macro plan EVERYDAY. Your weight will fluctuate on a day to day basis. For the first TWO WEEKS, give yourself a solid two weeks, track your macros AND weigh yourself everyday. Each week you are going to take the average of all 7 days. So if you weighed: 196lbs, 197lbs, 195lbs, 198lbs, 197lbs, 194lbs, 193lbs, respectively from monday – sunday, take the average of that week which is: 195lbs.
- The second week do the same thing take the average of your weight for another 7 days. Once you have consistently been tracking your macros & training for TWO WEEKS, start to aim to lose/gain 1lb/0.45kg to 2lb/0.9kg per week. The reason I say wait two weeks is for two reasons:
- If you are new to tracking, you want to get the practice
- Letting your body get adjusted to the weight loss/weight gain process.
Once, you have all the pieces & practice using them in conjunction with one another, the gains/losses start rolling in. Remember, you have to be consistent! If you are not consistent then you will fail. But you can always get back up and try again. You now have the tools to map to your goals. These are just the basics to getting to where you want to go in regards to your fitness/strength training or whatever journey you’re on.