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From Here To Macros: 4 Steps To Better Nutrition

You've seen plenty of articles saying what your macronutrients mean. But what's involved in turning a plate of food into a usable set of data? The 'Skinny Guy Savior' Vince Del Monte breaks it down.

Ready to change how you eat? Sure, you could drop that cheeseburger like the hot mess it is and throw yourself into paleo, carb-cycling, or some other system that represents a 180-degree shift from your current eating, but I'm of the opinion that you'd set yourself up to fail. Before you do anything else, you need to learn and practice the skill of "aware" eating.

What is aware eating? It's knowing what your food is made of, and using that information to eat better. One of the best ways to do that is to start by tracking the macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats; as well as total calories—that make up what you already eat.

Let me be clear: This doesn't commit you to anything. It doesn't mean your life from here on out will be a never-ending diet, or that you'll have to buy separate food scales for the home, car, and office.

All it means is that whatever you choose to do next, you'll do it from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance. That is always a good thing.

Just try it for a couple of weeks. What do you have to lose?

Step 1 /// Measure

If I just convinced you to let macronutrients into your life, you probably asked in a sad voice, "OK, how much time will it take and what do I need to buy?" Fortunately, the answer to both questions is "not much."

When you are learning to track your nutrition, the three best tools you can have on the kitchen counter are a food scale, a calorie/gram counting book, and a set of measuring cups. I also recommend you keep around a calculator—unless you're a master at math in your head or on your fingers—and a resource of nutritional information.

If your food comes with a label, that's a good place to start. However, if you prefer whole foods that come without labels (which, by the way, you should), you have several options. Any calorie-counting guidebook, such as the Complete Book of Food Counts or a similar reference material, is fine.

There are also countless online resources; two of the most prominent are NutritionData.com and the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. A growing number of mobile apps also utilize either the USDA or restaurant nutritional info for easy calculations when you're not near a computer.

The project of memorizing your staple dishes is more approachable than you think, considering that most of us stick to eating 20-30 favorite foods. Before you know it, you will remember that a six-ounce chicken breast has about 140 calories, a little more than 26 grams of protein, and 3 g of fat. You will also learn to "eyeball" what six ounces of chicken breast looks like without having to put it on the food scale. It took me at least a year until I got confident at eyeballing, and that was after measuring six meals per day.

You're not there yet, so keep the scale and measuring cups close at hand. For foods generally weighed by the ounce, such as most meats, use the food scale. For foods where the calorie count is usually measured in cups or other volume-based units, use measuring cups. Determine your quantity, do the calculations, and voila! You know your macros.

Step 2 /// Record

You now know what your meal is "worth," at least in terms of macronutrients. For example, say you eat about a quarter-cup of almond butter and an apple when you get home from work every day. Here's how the macros would look:

1/4 cup Almond Butter
Calories: 384
Fats: 34 g
Protein: 13 g
Carbohydrates: 11 g

1 large Apple with skin
Calories: 116
Fats: 0 g
Protein: 1 g
Carbohydrates: 30 g

Nutritional databases can offer incredibly complex breakdowns of micronutrients, up to and including quantities of individual animo acids, but don't worry too much about those unless you have to. As you find your footing, it's OK if you stick to the big ones: calories, fats, carbs, protein.

You will quickly discover that macronutrient quantities are rarely whole numbers—no problem. Unless you want to spend more time doing math than eating, don't bother with calculating down to the hundredths of a gram. I just round down if it's .50 or below and round up if it's .51 or higher.

Once you calculate your macros—here's the key part—write them down in the notebook. Every successful businessperson knows that what gets measured gets improved. I'll also add, "What gets measured and reported improves exponentially."

This basically means that when you measure your meals and report them, your results will improve even faster because of the accountability a notebook represents.

However—and this may sound simple, but it's important—remember to jot down which food you eat each meal, not just the macros. That way, after a few weeks you can plan your weekly meals from your notes rather than having to look up every food you eat.

Step 3 /// Break it Down

Now you know how to measure macros! After you feel confident with it, next determine what your nutritional breakdown will look like going forward, and how the macronutrients in your individual meals will support it.

The first number you need to determine when planning your diet is the number of calories your body needs. This number is based on your age, gender, weight, rate of metabolism, activity level, goal, and the amount of time you have to achieve your goal. There are a number of calculators online that can help you get that number, so we're not going to dig too deep into it here. For simplicity's sake, let's say you figured out you need 2,000 calories per day and that you're working out, but not in a bulking or cutting phase.

Break your macros down so you know how many calories you should spend on each macronutrient. Let's say you start out on a simple 40/40/20 plan. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that means you need 800 calories worth of protein, 800 calories worth of carbs and 400 calories worth of fat each day. Convert those calories into grams so you know how many grams of each macro you need to get into your daily diet.

Tattoo this onto your forearm if it helps:
A gram of protein contains 4 calories.
A gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories
A gram of fat contains 9 calories.

Got it?

On a 2,000 calorie diet, your macros calculate in this way: 800 calories/4 calories per gram = 200 g of protein. You'll get the same number for 40 percent carbs, 200 g. For the 20 percent fat, the equation is 400 calories/9 calories per gram of fat = 44 g of fat (rounded down).

For a 2,000 calorie daily diet, in the 40/40/20 example, look for:
200 g of protein
200 g of carbs
44 g of fat

Step 4 /// Start Meal Planning

Now you have your number. But you can't eat a number, and you can't predict how it'll make you feel. So while there are classic ratios you can start with, like 40/40/20 or 40/50/10, they should be guidelines, not rules.

Try something like 40/40/20, and if you're hungry all the time, increase your protein. If you find your energy lagging, you may want to try increasing your fats. Nutrition for bodybuilding is part science and part art, and we're always trying to strike the right balance between the two.

Along the way, don't make yourself crazy with the calculations. Get as close as you can to your macros, and when you're not at home or are in a rush, eyeball your portions as best you can. If your protein is a little low one day and your carbs are a little high on another, don't freak out. The last thing you want is for the stress of calculating perfect macros to kill your motivation for eating well.

Also, don't get too hung up on minute differences in the ratios. Eating roughly 40/40/20 is better than not knowing what you're eating at all. If you can't track everything, every day, just do your best. It all seems like a lot of work at first, but you'll be able to do this on the fly before you know it.


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Naturally skinny guys need to play by a different set of rules and my mission is to empower and inform each client to reach their true potential.

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cdevocht

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cdevocht

Thanks Vince! Just started training a friend, think I'll refer him to this article, get him started on the world of macros. Wanted to ease into it

May 14, 2013 8:53pm | report
 
kellycookie

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kellycookie

I think writing your intake down in a notebook and doing calculations is kind of outdated and more time consuming then necessary. I have done it that way, but as briefly mentioned in this article, there are some really great tools that can be used on your computer and smartphone.

May 14, 2013 9:08pm | report
 
theguitarhero

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theguitarhero

Couldn't agree more. my personal favorite is Myfitnesspal. Great program that can be used on a smartphone or computer.

May 15, 2013 3:29am | report
sbrooke

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sbrooke

Agree with guitarhero above. Myfitnesspal is great, with the one challenge being you can't always trust the data when you search their since a lot of it is user generated. However I still use it because it makes tracking so easy.

Can't wait for Bodybuilding.com to add a good tracker to the site and phone App.

May 15, 2013 8:53am | report
ns3rchv8

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ns3rchv8

It's not so antiquated. I'm a vet at logging stuff and I have tried everything from apps to spreadsheets, but what do I always return to? That pen and paper. I feel that when you actually write things out you activate the brain a bit more and the information seems to stick.

Oct 24, 2013 11:25am | report
SoutheastBeast1

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SoutheastBeast1

It doesn't matter whether it's a notebook or an app. The point of it is to track it. Whatever method works best for you is fine. But tracking was clearly the point he was making.

Feb 16, 2014 9:03pm | report
Stayki

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Stayki

excellent article, especially for someone who is just starting bodybuilidng or just wants to get a proper nutrition in place. Great job as always Vince!

May 14, 2013 9:19pm | report
 
pinkkluna

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pinkkluna

Okay this article kind of convinced me to track macros. I already count calories, but was kind of nervous about macros. But this is a great, simplified article. Awesome :)

May 14, 2013 11:25pm | report
 
Veronikite

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Veronikite

200g protein?dont want colon cancer ty

May 15, 2013 12:30am | report
 
poppyq

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poppyq

200g of protein is for 2000 calories a day split 40/40/20, which means they're probably around 190lbs, 30 years old, and 5'10" (very similar to what I am and I'm 1900 calories). It's going to be different for everyone and different based on their goals.

May 15, 2013 9:14am | report
BDTrr

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BDTrr

Who said you need to eat 200g of protein? The article was simply using that as an example. You have to customize it for your own body size and goals.

May 15, 2013 1:18pm | report
Veronikite

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Veronikite

200g protein is a hyperproteic diet for everyone under 100kg BW

May 15, 2013 2:59pm | report
XxmetallicaxX

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XxmetallicaxX

Studies in the past have shown that protein synthesis stops after you consume about 3/4 of your bodyweight in protein, hence 200 grams of protein is probably way too much for the average person...

May 17, 2013 2:00am | report
mmatrain93

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mmatrain93

actually most studies show protein synthesis stops around 1.3 grams which is why most sources say you should consume 1g per lb of bodyweight

May 17, 2013 1:58pm | report
rsox709

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rsox709

Pleasantly surprised that this was not the usual article about "clean" eating and getting 6 meals per day. Finally starting to see a shift away from all that.

May 15, 2013 3:55am | report
 
braincake

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braincake

great article!

May 15, 2013 6:36pm | report
 
Stonecoldtexan

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Stonecoldtexan

great information!

May 16, 2013 10:05am | report
 
Sprint310

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Sprint310

If anyone has been eating bad just switching to clean foods will have a dramatic effect on ur body.u don't have to weigh or measure anything but if u want to compete then its a different story.Good article.

May 16, 2013 5:55pm | report
 
chiefgreybeard

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chiefgreybeard

My split is 20/60/20 when not on a cut diet. For me that's about 150 gr of protein,and 60 gr of fat. Only about half of that fat is animal fat. If I am on a cut diet, I stay with 150 gr of protein and 60 gr of fat and cut down on carbs. My cut diet ends up about 30/50/30. For me more protein than about 150 gr a day turns into expensive calories that my body just burns for energy or just expensive urine.

May 16, 2013 6:43pm | report
 
SandBeagle

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SandBeagle

I'm surprised to still be seeing daily intake recommendations that are based on fixed macronutrient ratios. It should be about getting the essential amount of protein and fat based on your weight/lbm and dumping the rest into carbs to meet your calorie requisites. Eg 0.75g/lb protein, 0.45g/lb (lbm) fat, rest into carbs.

This type of outdated information is what is causing so much misinformation about what you need to do to eat "healthy."

May 17, 2013 6:18am | report
 
chiefgreybeard

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chiefgreybeard

Much of our protein needs are in repair of damaged muscle, you build only a very small amount of new muscle daily. You protein needs are based on how often, how hard and how long you work out and what you do between workouts. Roofers need more protein than office workers. An issue not well covered in most bodybuilding articles is fiber. With high protein/fat diets, you consume very little fiber. I'd need reading material in the bathroom for some of these diets.

May 17, 2013 7:46am | report
richkowal

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richkowal

How do you find your requirements? I've seen and used some of the calculators of this site, but Im confused with conflicting information as regarding ratios. Im looking to loos fat and build leaner muscle at the same time. Using the calculators do i use my body/scale weight or my muscle weight?

May 19, 2013 7:21pm | report
SandBeagle

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SandBeagle

Well, the whole cutting/bulking need different requirements thing is pretty out-dated as well. For fat loss especially, it all comes down to calories in vs calories out. What you want to do is calculate your body fat percentage. If this is your first time, i'd suggest you get an experienced trainer to measure your BF for you, someone who does this on a daily basis.

Also, what you want to do for weight loss is be very smart about how you use your calories. Always remember that your metabolism is constantly adapting to everything you do. Dont add in cardio until you absolutely need to (ie when you are at your fat loss calorie goal and cant go any lower). Keep as many plateau busting/metabolism boosting tricks up your sleeve as possible.

You first need to calculate your maintenance calories, this requires your lean body mass (which is why you need to know your body fat percentage), and tells you how many calories you need to maintain your weight. There are lots of calculators that do this, but specifically i would use the Harris Benedict equation. This equation factors in your basal metabolic rate plus your activity level, and is sufficiently accurate for most people's needs.

Once you calculate your maintenance calories, you then need to determine how much fat you want to lose each week. I would stay between 0.5-2lbs per week (with 3600 calories = 1lb of fat), so subtract 1800-7000 calories from your weekly maintenance calories (Maintenance cals * 7) and then divide by 7. ie (7000 calories - 14000 calories)/7 = 1000, so you want to eat 1000 calories less than your maintenance each day.

So once you have your cutting diet calories, you'll want to figure out your macronutrient ratios. Generally you want around 0.75g protein per pound (use your LBM if you have a high body fat%, ie >20%), and around 0.4-0.55g fat per pound of LBM. Then you just want to fill the rest with carbs (this is how you should do it for bulking too).

So here is an example: I weigh around 195lbs, i have a ~16% body fat. 195*0.16 = 31.2lbs fat, 195-31 = 164lbs of lean mass. Using the general BMR equation 370 (21.6*[LBM in lb]/2.2046), i calculate my BMR to be about 1975 calories. Then calculating my maintenance calories, i take my BMR and multiply it by my activity factor (1.45), 1975*1.45 = 2864 calories. Then i take that and subtract it by 1.5lbs of fat loss per week, 2864 - (5400/7) = 2100 calories. So eating 2100 calories per day, i will lose 1.5lbs per week.

:)

May 20, 2013 3:25am | report
SandBeagle

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SandBeagle

So then its just 0.75*195 = 146g protein, 0.4*164 = 65g fat, and 65*9 146*4= 1175 cals - 2100 = 926 calories of carbs, =230g carbs. So 145g protein, 65g fat, 230g carbs. Then adjust from there after 1-2 weeks. You should also track your weight, LBM, and BF every day if possible, as it makes it easier to adjust your diet and find patterns in diet/weight loss habits.

Then i guess take those ratios and split them in to however many meals you want, such as 3-6 per day. It doesnt really matter how many meals you eat as long as you stay reasonable, and respect how much your body can process at a time (id stick to 4-6). It also doesnt really matter when you eat, be it day or evening. All that matters is calories in vs calories out.

May 20, 2013 3:31am | report
SandBeagle

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SandBeagle

Oh yeah, cardio isnt required for fat loss as long as you keep a strict diet. I personally do cardio because i was in pretty bad shape and my blood tests and pulmonary tests didnt show very good results. I also like cardio because it allows me to eat a diet much higher in carbs than would normally be possible, since it raises my activity factor.

So do it however you want, but it is generally a lot easier for beginners to lose fat with a cardio diet plan, rather than diet alone, again mainly because you have to have a virtually perfect diet all the time to keep it up.

May 20, 2013 3:37am | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 45 Comments

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