For The Majority – Calories And Macros Are All You Need
When it comes to losing fat, building muscle and developing more strength, many of us spend countless hours with our heads in the books and online, searching for that one ‘perfect nutrition system’. A nutrition system with the perfectly calculated macro ratios, calorie requirements, food group additions, as well as meal frequency planning and timing.
Essentially, we look for that perfect system which will give us that ultimate, unstoppable, uninterrupted progress in terms of fat loss and size and strength development. That journey usually entails trying out lots of different diet plans and playing around with macros, calories, food groups and food trends until we are blue in the face! Ok, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of experimentation and trial and error here and there. You never know, you might even come across a few hidden tips and tricks that actually work in your favour! But, when it comes to making long-term progress, aiming for consistency will be your key. If you are always trying to search for that ‘perfect, one and only nutrition system’, you will simply end up playing a never-ending game of ping-pong. In other words, you will continuously be going backwards and forwards only to never make any consistent progress in terms of size and strength development and fat loss.
Calories – Get The Relationship Right!
When it comes to fat loss and building size and strength, calorie manipulation is key. For now, forget macro manipulation, forget meal timing, forget meal frequency, forget food trends, forget whether something is organic or not, forget special diet programs, pay attention to your daily calorie requirements.
•Three basic rules in making progress through only calorie manipulation•
⇒Calorie maintenance: First, calculate your daily calorie maintenance (simply the number of calories you need each day to maintain your current bodyweight – there are lots of online calculators you can use!). Your maintenance will be calculated using factors such as your height, gender, activity level, weight, age, resting metabolic rate etc. Once you know this calculated number, it all falls into place! The rest is easy!
⇒Bulking: Once you have calculated your daily maintenance, you will then need to add between 200-500 calories on top of this number every day in order to develop more size and strength over time. Adding 200 calories each day rather than say 500 calories is more optimal, why? Although size and strength development will be slower (you will have to exercise a bit of patience!), a smaller increase in daily calories over maintenance (as opposed to a larger one) will ensure most of the weight gained is muscle and not fat. In exchange for your patience, this slower approach of adding calories will undoubtably give you a better looking body later on!
⇒Cutting: Once you have calculated your daily maintenance, you will then need to subtract 200-500 calories from this number every day in order to ensure you loose bodyweight over time. Removing 200 calories each day rather than say 500 calories is more optimal, why? Although weight loss will be slower, a smaller deficit will ensure less muscle mass is lost in the process. More muscle retained = a maintained higher daily calorie maintenance. Muscle (not fat) = more calories burnt. In exchange for your patience, this slower approach of reducing calories will leave you looking better and not skinny fat! So, don’t loose that muscle!
From my experience, a lot of beginners forget these three basic principles of calorie manipulation when they want to lose fat and build size and strength. Many fall into the trap of following special diet plans, and new nutrition systems without actually having any idea what their daily calorie maintenance is, or how they should adjust accordingly their daily calories in order to successfully meet their bulk/cut goals. Although in the fitness world nutrition gurus will tout calorie manipulation as boring and not cool, it’s the most important thing you will ever need for long-term success. It does not matter what diet plan you follow, or the amount of science that backs a specific nutrition system that someone proposes, if you are not tracking and manipulating your calories in line with your goals, you will simply not make progress. Calorie manipulation will always come number one when it comes to successfully loosing fat and building size and strength over the long-term.
Macros – What To Do With Them?
When talking about your macros, we are talking about your carbohydrates, fats and proteins in your nutrition plan. In simple terms: carbs for energy, fats for production, regulation and maintenance of hormones (like testosterone – important for muscle growth) and proteins for maintenance and repair of muscle tissue. This is an over simplification of course and some of the nutrition experts out there can go into this in A lot more detail. But for 99% of you this is what you will ever only need to know when it comes to achieving your goals (unless you compete in something like a bodybuilding competition were fine tuning and manipulation of macro ratios might play a larger importance).
When it comes to macros, a lot of people have the idea that their is some single golden macro ratio. But really, there isn’t. However, everyone is different! Some people might function better with a higher carbohydrate intake, some might function better with a lower intake (some people are sensitive to higher intakes of carbohydrates), some might need slightly more protein to aid recovery and others less protein. Some people in a deep cut looking to achieve a very low body fat % (hard without comprising too much muscle!) might need to bump up their protein intake slightly more and reduce their carbohydrate intake to keep total calories in line with their daily calorie target. Others might have specific medical needs that dictate the need for a particular macro ratio (this will be specified by a qualified dietician). The bottom line is, macro ratios are about optimising the daily calories you have to work with in order to meet your goals.
⇒Let me repeat that: Macro ratios are about optimising the daily calories you have to work with in order to allow you to successfully meet your goals.
•Let’s look at a possible scenario•
Say your daily maintenance is 3500 calories (this number is needed to maintain your current bodyweight) and you now have the goal of loosing more body fat. So, you have decided to go for a moderate slow reduction in weight over time by reducing your calories by 300 each day below your current maintenance of 3500 calories. Therefore, in order to achieve this goal, you will need to aim to take in around 3200 calories each day (3500 – 300). If you stick with it and assuming you have a well planned training program to go with this calorie reduction, then with time and patience you will start to see your body fat melt away while limiting too much muscle loss in the process. But, where do your macros come into this?
Well, this is up to you! Let’s say for instance, say you utilise a daily macro ratio of 50% carbohydrates, 30% proteins, 20% fats. With a goal calorie intake of 3200 calories, that would mean that 1600 calories (0.5 x 3200) would come from carbohydrates, 960 calories (0.3 x 3200) would come from protein and, 640 calories (0.2 x 3200) would come from fats. If you felt like you needed more energy on this 3200 calorie diet, then you could always bump up the calories from carbohydrates and lower the cals from protein. Or, if you feel too tired, lethargic or don’t need that may carbs or feel recovery is lacking, then you could always bump up your calories from protein and fats and reduce them from carbohydrates.
⇒The point is, whatever you do to this macro ratio, you must ensure that the total calories you derive from it stay in line with your daily calorie requirement target of 3200 needed for fat loss.
•If you look at this scenario there are a few things to consider•
Whatever your macro ratio is, the total calories that you derive from your carbohydrates, fats and proteins must equal the 3200 daily calorie intake target needed for fat loss to occur. It really does not matter if you have a macro ratio of 80% carbohydrates, 20% protein, 0% fats or, 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, 20% fats for instance. If the calories derived total to 3200, then you will meet your intake target and you will lose fat. Although you would definitely lose fat from a diet with a macro ratio of 80% carbs and 20% proteins, it would not be wise, healthy or optimal due to the fact that you derive none of your 3200 calories from fats. Not great for the maintenance of healthy hormones!
Fat loss itself comes down to meeting your daily calorie intake target. If your daily target is 3200, then you need to meet this or come under it in order to loose weight over time (regardless of what your macro ratio is!). If you want fat loss to be healthy, sustainable and optimal (with minimal muscle mass loss and plenty of energy to fuel your workouts), then the macro ratio you choose will be important. healthy vs. unhealthy fat loss at a daily calorie intake of 3200 will be dictated by the macro ratio you follow.
⇒Me personally, I would rather lose fat at 3200 calories with moderate/high carbohydrates then at 3200 calories with nothing but protein and fat. But that’s just me! I need carbohydrates to function properly and fuel my workouts!
Getting The Balance Right
When it comes to weight loss, and size and strength development calorie manipulation will be your key to long-term success. Without successful calorie manipulation it will become almost impossible to achieve your fat loss and size and strength goals (regardless of what type of diet you follow, the number of scientific studies you read or, the macro ratios you implement). It’s simply that, calories in vs. Calories out.
If you get that right, you are 99% of the way there! Once you know your daily calorie intake needed to successfully bulk or cut, then it’s time to look at your macro ratios. If you ask me, I am not a fan of any diet that implements crazy ratios such as keno diets (e.g. 70% fats, 25% proteins, 5% carbohydrates). I mean yes, in the short-term you might lose a truck load of weight, but this is simply water weight from lack of carbohydrates. But the question is, is a lack of carbohydrates really a long-term sustainable fat loss solution? Some people might get away with it, but for most of us, a lack of carbohydrates is in the long-term likely to reduce the success rate at our ability to stick with the fat loss program (regardless of what some scientific studies have suggested).
⇒The truth is that as long as you meet your daily calorie intake target, the macro ratio you implement, should make optimal use of this calorie target through providing you with a sustainable supply of energy, enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass and enough fats to maintain optimal hormone regulation (to keep the fat burning and muscle synthesis processes ticking!). Combining both calorie manipulation and optimal macro ratio planning will put you in the best position to reach your fat loss and size and strength goals over the long-term.
Any questions, please ask away and lets get a debate going!