There is a plethora of websites offering macro calculators in which you can plug in your age,weight etc and to get calories and macros that you need to gain or lose or maintain weight. This page explains how to arrive at it such that there is room for adjustment according to your own preferences. These numbers are not set in stone. You have room to adjust such that the diet is sustainable and suitable for you.
Calculating your energy expenditure works best if you know what your calorie intake has been for the past few weeks. Formulas are at best general estimates based on just a few parameters like age, sex, weight, height/body fat% and activity. Our bodies are unique and a generic equation cannot accurately estimate everyone correctly. Knowing your calorie intake for the past 3 or 4 weeks and the change in your weight over this time can help you arrive at a better and personalized estimate of your energy expenditure.
However, you can use the generic equations to start the journey and adjust according to your progress. Easiest way is to install Fittr app and go to the Tools section to enter your details and get your numbers. If you have done so, please jump to Step 4.
Step 1: BMR Calculation
LBM (kg) = body_weight * (1 – percent_fat/100)
BMR (kcal) = 370 + (21.6 * LBM)
However, if you want to estimate using age and height instead, the equation is:
BMR (kcal) = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
BMR (kcal) = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161
Step 2: Activity Factor estimate
Activity factor can be estimated in various methods. A study says that women and overweight individuals tend to overestimate their level of activity. Here is a sample document detailing how activity factor is estimated:
In general these factors can be used considering an otherwise sedentary lifestyle,
1.2 – No exercise,
1.375 – 1-3 days per week,
1.55 – 3-5 days per week,
1.725 – 6-7 days per week
Step 3: Total Energy Expenditure
TEF (kcal) = BMR*10/100 (Thermic effect of food: estimated at 10% in general)
TEE (kcal) = BMR*Activity_factor + TEF
Step 4: Protein Requirement
Minimum Protein requirement (g) =
(1.8 * LBM(kg)) or (0.8 * body_weight(kg))
whichever is higher where, LBM (kg) = body_weight * (1 – percent_fat/100)
30% of your TEE can also be a ballpark number of kcal to target from protein. So it your TEE is 2000kcal, 30% = 600kcal => 600/4 = 150g of protein.
However, protein requirements depend on Lean body mass because that’s the part that needs protein to maintain/increase. Fat tissue does not use much protein.
Step 5: Daily Intake(Deficit/Surplus)
For your fitness goal you need to know what is a realistic rate to expect. Setting proper expectations is very important for sustainable progress and to avoid disappointments due to unrealistic target.
This article can help you decide if you are unsure. In general:
To lose weight, a deficit daily intake is estimated at 80-85% of TEE
To gain weight, a surplus daily intake is estimated at around TEE+200
Step 6: Fat requirement
Minimum Fat requirement (g) = 0.5 * body weight(kg) or 45g whichever is higher
Step 7: Carbohydrate requirement
Carbohydrate (g) = (Daily_intake(kcal) – protein(g)*4 – fat(g)*9)/4
Step 8: Meal Planning
Meal Timing and Frequency can be changed to suit your lifestyle and preferences. Some people like it small and equally spaced, some people like it timed outside a “fasting window”(Intermittent Fasting) and some people prefer big dinners and others prefer big breakfast. There are people who claim various effects with various strategies. However, preference and diet adherence is the most important factor in selecting this. Only if more than one strategy is acceptable to your lifestyle, you can consider the minor benefits of various options available to you.
Mixed meals(which consist of some part of all the macronutrients) are preferred because they increase nutrient uptake as well as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
Pre-workout and post-workout meals are also based on convenience first. Remember that the daily wage laborer sporting six-packs does not have the luxury of pre and post workout meals. Complete your macros and you are good to go. Rest is based on your preference.
Once you have hit your minimum protein and fat requirements, there will always be a lot of calories remaining that you can allocate as you want. What can you base your decision on?
- Preference and Traditional/Locally available foods: As you know locally available foods are generally cheaper and accessible than imported or fancy foods. These are probably foods that you are used to. Why give up this advantage? Make your diet as close to norm as possible while improving the protein and nutrient content.
- Insulin Resistance and Energy needs: There is research which shows that obese people tend to be insulin resistant and their insulin resistance decreases as they lose weight. So it makes sense to go low carb in such cases. There are also specific lifestyle diseases like PCOS and diabetes that indicate insulin resistance. Women are also found to feel more satiated and feel better on higher fat macros. However, this is not something you can apply to every single obese person or every single woman. These are just considerations you could have to try out a low carb diet and find out whether it suits you. You might be a woman with a highly active lifestyle that feels a lot better with high carbs than low carbs. Typically, having a high carb diet is very useful for high performance or a very active lifestyle. Feel free to tweak those numbers and find what works for you personally.
- IIFYM and Flexible Dieting: Some people keep their macro splits constant while changing the macronutrient sources to be flexible and varied. Some other keep only the minimum macro nutrients constant while eating whatever fits to get the remaining calories. Both approaches can work. They can provide variety and you might find it the best way to stick to diet for your lifetime. Only things you need to take care of are:
- Whether you are getting the micronutrients and fiber you need. (Simply put: a variety of whole foods including vegetables of different colors which keep you satiated and disease free)
- Whether you are seeing results with your chosen approach. Sometimes flexibility comes at the cost of error. Everything from food labels to measurements can go wrong. When you change what you eat a lot, it can be difficult to spot the error.
For most people, progress tracking starts and ends with the weighing scale. Yet in real life, what importance does the number on the weighing scale hold? Aren’t we more concerned about
- How our clothes fit
- How much useful strength and mobility we have
- How we can perform our favourite sports or play with our kids
- How we can enjoy our holidays as well as our leaves instead of calling in sick
- How independently we can take care of ourselves and loved ones
- How we can enjoy our food without constant fear
So what we should track should be aligned to the goals that matter to us. Not a number on a scale or even on a tape. So take your before pictures, write down what you find most disabling/irritating about your current health. Track your weight and measurements too by all means. But also track how much you can lift, how far you can go and how much you can eat. At some point down the line, there will be times when you feel your efforts lead you nowhere and then you can look back and see how far you have come. Put in efforts but track yourself too. There is no story more motivational than the one you are going to carve out of the future. Make sure you can read it.
Now you know exactly what(macros) you need to eat in what quantities to achieve your goal. But you just got some numbers. How do you convert those into actual food on your plate? We will be publishing soon an article to show you how to quantify your food and prepare your favorite dishes while still sticking to your macros.
Are you unsure whether the goals you have set are too ambitious or too cautious? Are you already wondering how much of a deviation is okay on a diet? When can you get a break or a cheat? How do you keep up your motivation? If so, read this article.