In my last post, I introduced the weight loss pyramid and explained the concept of calories, the most important aspect of weight and fat loss. The next level of the pyramid has to deal with macronutrients, or, as the hip fitness kids say, “macros.” Macros can be broken down into three categories: protein, fats and carbohydrates. Some people include fiber, which is also an important component to a well-balanced diet; but, for the sake of brevity, I’ll cover that with “Eat your veggies.”
Protein is the macro you should be most concerned with. Its main function is to help build and maintain muscle. Without a sufficient amount of protein in your diet, you’ll see lackluster progress no matter how hard you work out. This is a sticking point for many people, but it’s not necessarily your fault. The food pyramid (Hey, what’s with all the pyramids?) that we all learned about in school recommends 50 grams of protein per day. That’s bonkers for any healthy, active person, even more so for someone trying to gain muscle or lose fat.
Why More is More
If your goal is to lose fat, protein should play an even larger role in your diet and fitness plan. Protein does help to preserve muscle, but if you stick with only 50 grams per day, muscle will definitely be lost. This is catastrophic for anyone trying to be healthier and look better.
Here’s why: When dieting, you’re in a calorie deficit. (I discussed in the last post.) You will certainly lose weight, but some of that will be muscle. People see a lower number on the scale and get excited. You lost five pounds? That’s great, but without sufficient protein, a large portion of that could have been hard-earned muscle, and you could actually end up looking worse. So, how much protein do you need? Do you need to pound steaks and chicken breast all day?
How much is enough?
The recommended daily amount of protein is one of the hottest debates within the fitness community. People recommend anywhere from three grams per pound of bodyweight to only a half-pound. Your goals of gaining muscle or losing fat will also factor into that recommendation. As a rule of thumb, I always try to get at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Weighing 170 pounds, I try to get 170 grams of protein daily. When cutting, or losing, fat, I’ll up the protein a bit to around 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight. That’s 204 grams for a 170 pound person. Yay! More math!
How much is too much?
Now, I know what you are thinking: What if you eat 3 grams per pound of bodyweight? Will you gain more muscle? No, it doesn’t work that way. As you increase protein, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. The benefit of doing more decreases, and in the end, your efforts are essentially wasted. Also, if you just eat protein, there is no room in your diet for the other macros. This causes a host of other problems.
The next most important macro is fat. Fat has been demonized by the media in the past with phrases like “Eat fat, get fat.” That’s not very nice, now is it? True, fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient with 9 calories per gram. Compared to the other macros, your body will be less forgiving when it comes to overeating fats, but they can’t be completely avoided. We cannot survive without fat. Fat help to regulate your hormones and maintain brain functionality. If you feel terrible while dieting, a lack of fat may be the issue.
How much is enough?
The recommended daily amount of fat is a much less contested topic than the amount of protein. The general consensus is to consume around 0.4 to 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. However, I usually keep my fats a bit lower and get around 25 percent of my total calories from fat. That’s anywhere from 400 to 700 calories depending on my current fitness goals. This is what works for me: allocating a higher proportion to carbs than fat intake. I always advocate for finding a balance and discovering what works best for you individually.
Now for the fun part: carbs! All the best foods are packed with carbs. As I have led on earlier, I have quite the sweet tooth, and desserts are packed with carbs. Although I love carbs, they are not essential for life, so by default they get last place in the macro lineup. Carbs are our primary energy source but can be created in the body from fat. Enter low-carb diets.
Less (or none) is Not Always More
I’ll say it again: Balance is key. Eliminating carbs altogether is not the most optimal way to achieve your goals. Some people have great success with low carb diets; I tried it, and it was an epic failure. Carbs are also important for anabolism, or building muscle. You can still build muscle without a direct source of carbs, but, in the interest of enhancing our performance and building an enjoyable diet, let’s keep carbs around.
How much is enough?
At this point, we have the amount of protein and fats calculated; all that’s left is allocated to carbs. It’s that easy. The amount of carbs is completely up to you. You eat a lot of ribeye steaks? Add more fats, and decrease the carbs. Bread is your BFF? Take some fats away, and up the carbs. I usually keep carbs around 35 percent of my total daily calories. That is anywhere from 150 to 220 grams per day, since carbs are about 4 calories per gram.
FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
I might sound like a broken record when it comes to balance and flexibility, but that’s what makes getting fit easier. Anyone can tell you what to eat, but you won’t stick to a diet if you don’t enjoy it. The above recommendations are just ranges that you should stay near; play around with the ratios to find what works for you. I’ve tried everything from high-carb, low-fat diets to keto, (high fat) and neither worked for me. I feel best and am most successful with a diet of balanced macros and minimal restrictions.
Now you know how many calories to eat and the correct ranges of macros to stay near. Start tracking! In my last post, I recommended Myfitnesspal to count calories. The database also lists each specific macro, so you can count your macros. If you liked this post, have any questions or want to share your personal macros breakdown, let me know in the comments below! Next week I’ll discuss the third layer of the pyramid: micros.