Macronutrients: A guide to optimising results
Why is it important to know our daily intake of macronutrients?
Macronutrients: nutrients needed in large quantities to provide the energy needed to maintain vital body functions and to carry out daily activities.
Basically, in any food consumed there is a ratio of macronutrients, which we find in the nutritional values displayed on the packaging, or in a general database.
- Alcohol (although not a major macronutrient, we have included it in this list because it is in our diets)
Each of these will have a dedicated article in the future for a better understanding of their impact on the body. Don’t forget to sign up for the Newsletter using the window on the right to receive tips and updates to your own email address.
These macronutrients have their role in the proper functioning of the body, but what we are primarily interested in is the caloric value that each of them has:
- Protein = 4kcal per gram
- Carbohydrates = 4kcal per gram
- Fat = 9kcal per gram
The major problem we face in calculating and tracking our daily calorie needs is that we don’t know exactly what we eat, only how many calories we get each day. In order to have a more correct diet and optimise results, we need to focus on macronutrients.
Every person is different; some people respond well to a diet that includes a higher number of fats combined with a low number of carbohydrates, others respond better to a high number of carbohydrates combined with the minimum necessary fat.
Unfortunately, no one can predict which macronutrient ratio is optimal for each individual person, as this is observed over time through various trials. Instead, there are a few basic rules to guide you.
The purpose of this article is to simplify the process of determining daily macronutrient requirements, so that anyone can determine their daily requirements and adapt them according to their purpose.
Step-by-step guide for determining daily Macronutrient requirements
1. Determination of daily calorie requirements
This is the first step in determining daily macronutrient requirements. As you can see, each macronutrient is accompanied by a certain amount of energy that it supplies to the body.
The number of calories obtained daily is always more important than the amount of macronutrients. It’s no use having macronutrients calculated for weight loss and being in a constant caloric deficit, when your goal is to increase muscle mass and you need to be in a caloric surplus. Use the calculator below to determine your calorie needs.
More information about the importance of calculating daily calorie requirements can be found in this article.
Energy balance determines whether body weight decreases or increases, but macronutrients determine whether this change occurs in body fat or muscle mass. In short, the more macronutrients are optimised, the shorter and smoother the way to the desired result.(3)
The energy requirement calculations are theoretical calculations. It is very important that this is understood from the start. Both the calculator and the calculations we will make are theoretical, based on statistics from various studies carried out over the years. In practice they have to be adapted to the individual.
There are several methods of determining body fat percentage, some more accurate than others, but these will be covered in a future article.
At the moment, an approximation of this percentage is sufficient for our calculations, so we will use the US NAVY equation created by Drs. Hodgdon and Beckett at the US Navy Health Research Center. This method takes into account the different distribution of body fat according to gender, requires measurements that can be taken at home, and is completely free of charge.
Eating protein helps us recover from hard workouts, helps maintain muscle mass during a caloric deficit, helps achieve muscle growth during a caloric surplus, and has the greatest effect on satiety.
A high protein intake is beneficial, but more is not always better. Sufficient protein intake is required to achieve a positive nitrogen balance (more details in a future article).
The most important factor in determining your daily protein requirement is lean body mass (LBM).
LBM = total body mass (kg) – body fat (kg)
Body Fat (kg) = total body mass * body fat percentage
Let’s take Ion’s example (see previous article) as a model, he weighs 80 kg with a daily caloric requirement of 1975 kcal. Ion calculated his body fat percentage using the above calculator (body fat percentage calculator) and found that he has a body fat percentage of 20%.
Ion’s body fat (kg) = 80 * 20% = 16 kg
LBM Ion = 80 kg – 16 kg = 64 kg
If Ion didn’t have an ounce of body fat, he’d weigh 64 kg. This is impossible, as the body needs body fat to survive.
DAILY PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS ACCORDING TO PURPOSE:
- For definition (fat burning): 2.3 – 3.1 gr protein/kg LBM
- For muscle growth: 1.6 – 2.2 gr protein/kg LBM
Ion has chosen fat burning as his goal, so he should consume between 2.3 – 3.1 gr of protein/kg LBM:
64 * 2.3 = 147.2 gr minimum protein
64 * 3.1 = 198.4 gr protein maximum
Depending on several factors, such as: the muscle mass that Ion has, the percentage of body fat, training, genetics, etc., protein consumption is regulated. Modifying protein intake over time and according to evolution is like a “fine-tuning” adjustment, but it is not mandatory for a normal person, who does not want to perform, and just wants to be more “defined”. These changes will be covered in a separate article on protein.
As a rule, it is best to start with the minimum, making adjustments along the way.
Ion needs approx. 150 gr of protein per day (round)
1 gr of Protein has 4kcal , 150 gr = 600 kcal , so of Ion’s total daily calories, 600 kcal come from protein.
Warning: always calculate the protein requirement first, followed by the fat requirement, carbohydrates being calculated last. This is because protein and fats are the essential macronutrients used by the body, while carbohydrates should be seen as the primary source of energy. Removing protein or limiting fat excessively can lead to serious disturbances of essential body functions. When carbohydrates are removed, the body adapts by using the other macronutrients as an energy source, which is why, in our calculations, carbohydrates are not as important as protein and fat.
Eating dietary fat is important for good hormonal functioning of the body, especially for testosterone production. This consumption has received quite a negative reputation and is often correlated with weight gain and heart problems. The truth is that a drastic decrease in fat intake over a long period of time directly affects libido and can have a negative impact on the reproductive system. As we can see, fats are the most calorically dense of the macronutrients, with 9kcal/gram. Thus we must find our daily fat requirements in such a way that our hormonal functions are not affected, but also that we do not exceed our daily calorie requirements by consuming too much fat (believe me, it is very easy to create a calorie surplus of 200kcal just by adding an extra 2 tablespoons of olive oil during a normal eating day). More details on types of fats and how to choose your fat sources will be included in a future article on fats.
DAILY FAT REQUIREMENTS ACCORDING TO PURPOSE:
- For definition (fat burning): 0.9 – 1.3 g fat/kg LBM
- For muscle growth: 20 – 30% of total calories
Ion has chosen body fat burning as a goal, so he should consume somewhere between 0.9-1.3 g fat/kg LBM per day:
0.9 * 64 = 57.6 gr minimum
1.3 * 64 = 83.2 gr maximum
Personal observation: For men, a prolonged consumption of less than 45 grams of fat/day is not recommended, and for women, a prolonged consumption of less than 35 grams of fat/day is not recommended.
Considering that Ion is in a caloric deficit and has a restriction of 1975 kcal/day, a first step would be to start with an average value, 1.1 gr/kg LBM and modify it according to the evolution, but not to go below the minimum value.
1.1 * 64 = 70 grams of fat/day, which can decrease over time to 58 grams of fat per day, where the minimum is reached.
70 * 9 kcal = 630 kcal daily from fat.
Beware: some people feel better with a higher daily fat intake, while others are not affected even by the minimum values. Over time, the individual has to adjust their fat intake according to their calorie intake. If an additional calorie deficit is desired, decrease fat intake until the recommended minimum is reached. The important thing is to start with an average fat intake, and observe what happens over a period of time, how the person feels and only when an additional caloric deficit is needed to start decreasing towards the recommended minimum.
Carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that is not necessary for survival. They are the main source of energy, they have a positive impact on hormones, they help us to get through heavy strength training sessions successfully, they replace lost glycogen (the muscles’ preferred source of energy). Carbohydrate intake must be sufficient to provide the energy needed for strength training and to maintain as much muscle mass as possible during the period when we are in a caloric deficit. The majority of the population will experience a decrease in performance and strength when carbohydrates are decreased, which is also normal, as carbohydrate restriction leads to decreased training performance. The important thing is to find the minimum carbohydrate that can provide the energy needed for training and not to reach the depletion of glycogen resources. Carbohydrate consumption and its handling is probably the most “customizable” thing, 2 people who have the same daily caloric needs may react totally differently depending on the carbohydrates consumed. Taking the personal example, in the last “training” I managed to get the lowest body fat level ever, having a daily average of 200 grams of carbohydrates, while other people have no chance to lose weight having the same amount and having to limit their carbohydrates to a much lower value. More information on successful carbohydrate handling in a future article.
Whatever the purpose, we should think of carbohydrates as the last macronutrient that helps us in getting our daily caloric needs. If protein and fat are calculated, we “juggle” carbs to reach our daily calorie target.
DAILY CARBOHYDRATE REQUIREMENTS ACCORDING TO PURPOSE:
- For definition (fat burning): the result obtained after decreasing protein and fat grams
- For muscle growth: the result obtained after lowering protein and fat grams
Ion has a daily calorie requirement of 1975 kcal and aims to burn fat. According to the above calculations it needs :
Protein = 150 gr (150 * 4 kcal = 600 kcal from protein)
Fat = 70 gr ( 70 * 9 kcal = 630 kcal from fat)
Carbohydrates = X grams
To find out how many grams of carbohydrates Ion needs, subtract the kcal obtained from protein and fat from the daily calorie total:
1975 – ( 600 + 630 ) = 745 kcal must come from carbohydrates.
1 gr of carbohydrates = 4 kcal , so the 745 kcal is actually: 745 / 4 = approx 186 gr carbohydrates
Please note: this calculation gives an overview. Due to a number of factors, Ion may not get optimal results from consuming 186 grams of carbohydrates, but it is a starting point for him. Depending on his progress, he may decide to lower his daily caloric needs by decreasing carbohydrates, while continuing to observe the impact this has on his physical appearance.
From our examples, Ion determined his daily macronutrient requirements (approximate):
Protein : 150 gr
Carbohydrates: 186 gr
Fat: 70 gr
Total calories: 1975 kcal
In the first article we learned how to calculate our daily caloric needs, and in this article we learned how to determine our daily macronutrient needs. We are 2 steps closer to achieving the body transformation we dream of. In the following I will go into detail about each macronutrient, its role, its impact on the body and in particular I will describe the best ways to choose the foods you eat. In order not to miss future articles, don’t forget to subscribe to the NEWSLETTER (using the form on the right of the page or in the footer), to get tips and articles directly to your email address.
Sources and Studies: