Diet & Nutrition

Tailoring Calories & Macros: The Ultimate Guide

Counting your calories has been a part of the fitness industry since the 60s when individuals began paying more attention to their weight. Counting your macronutrients, also a part of the fitness industry for some time, has seen an explosion in popularity resulting in such bro-approved programs as IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). Although both are discussed with some regularity, not many people understand the relationship between achieving specific fitness goals and caloric and macronutrient counting. Whether you’re getting ready to step on the swole stage or you just want to lose those last 10 pounds, I’m going to teach you how to calculate your personal caloric range.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Think about what you want to achieve in terms of your body composition. Are you training for a sport? Do you want to get shredded for a bodybuilding show? These goals are going to be achieved through nutrition. If you want to calculate your personal caloric needs, there are several terms that you need to become familiar with. Caloric ranges are based on your lifestyle, fitness goals, body type and current composition measurements. This is why there cannot be a “one size fits all” mentality when it comes to nutrition.

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories that your body needs in a 24 hour period for all processes. This does not take into consideration extreme activity levels such as you’ll see with bodybuilders (who require a very high amount of calories).

2. Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)

Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the number of calories that you burn throughout the entire day. The way to calculate this (as you’ll see below) is to use your BMR and your average activity level.

3. Activity Levels

On average, there are five activity levels that are used as a means to calculate your TDEE.

  • Little or no exercise
  • Light exercise (1 to 3 days per week)
  • Moderate exercise (3 to 5 days per week)
  • Heavy exercise (6 to 7 days per week)
  • Extreme exercise (daily)

4. Caloric Needs

Burning calories via exercise isn’t the only way to control your caloric range. You are able to create a caloric deficit, maintenance, or surplus by controlling the amount of food that you eat in relation to your physical activity level.

Depending on what you want to accomplish, you may need one of three caloric plans:

  • Deficit: Eating fewer calories and/or burning more calories via exercise than you are consuming
  • Surplus: Eating more calories and/or burning less calories via exercise than you are consuming
  • Maintenance: Eating the same amount of calories that you are burning via exercise

5. Data You’ll Need

This will be the easiest part of the process. Take note of the following before beginning the formula:

  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Age
  • Activity Level (as shown above)

FORMULAS TO CALCULATE YOUR CALORIC INTAKE

Harris–Benedict Equation (BMR & TDEE):

Step One: Basal Metabolic Rate Formula

The following is the layout of the formula to calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Again, your BMR is the amount of calories you should be consuming daily in order to have enough energy for all basic processes. Simply plug in the appropriate information (as mentioned above).

Female = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)

Male = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)

Example:

Steven is 27 years old. He is 5’ 10” (178 cm) and weighs 68 kg.

66 + (13.7 x 68) + (5 x 178) – (6.8 x 27)

66 + (931.6) + (890) – (183.6)

= 1,704 calories

Steven should be consuming at least 1,704 calories each day.

You can also use an online BMR calculator here.

Step Two: Total Daily Energy Expenditure Formula

Okay, now that you have your BMR figured out, let’s take a look at figuring out how many calories you burn in a day. Doing so will help you to figure out your true caloric needs. This is especially important if you are very active. Remember that your BMR is the baseline of your caloric needs. The more active you are, the more calories you need to support basic processes AND recovery, growth, etc. The final number of TDEE calories is to maintain current body weight.

Your total daily energy expenditure can be found by taking your BMR and multiplying it by your activity level. Remember the levels I mentioned above? How active are you? Find your activity level below and simply plug in the appropriate information.

Activity Level 1:

Little or no exercise

TDEE = 1.2 x BMR

Activity Level 2:

Light exercise (1 to 3 days per week)

TDEE = 1.375 x BMR

Activity Level 3:

Moderate exercise (3 to 5 days per week)

TDEE = 1.55 x BMR

Activity Level 4:

Heavy exercise (6 to 7 days per week)

TDEE = 1.725 x BMR

Activity Level 5:

Extreme exercise (daily)

TDEE = 1.9 x BMR

Example:

Steven is 27 years old. He is 5’ 10” (178 cm) and weighs 68 kg. His BMR is 1,704 calories. He exercises 4 days per week.

TDEE = BMR x Activity Level

TDEE = 1,704 x 1.55

= 2,641 calories

With the amount that he exercises, Steven should be consuming 2,641 calories per day (to maintain current weight).

You can also use an online TDEE calculator here.

Step Three: Deficit, Surplus, or Maintenance?

Think about whether you want to burn fat, bulk up or stay at the same weight. If you want to stay at the same weight then you don’t have to do anything more with your caloric calculation. If you want to burn fat, you will reduce your TDEE caloric intake by 15% to 20%. If you want to bulk up, you will increase your caloric intake by the same percentage.

Example:

Steven wants to bulk up. His TDEE is 2,641 calories per day. He will have to choose a surplus in order to gain weight. He will increase his caloric intake by 15%.

2,641 x 0.15 = 396

2,641 + 396 = 3,037

Steven’s total caloric intake will be 3,037 calories per day. Based on his activity level, this caloric range will help him gain weight. He can expect to gain 250 to 500 grams per week.

MACRONUTRIENTS & YOUR BODY TYPE

Depending on your body type, you will need a specific ratio of macronutrients. The following ratios are ideal for supporting your body type. These are not specific to any fitness goal. This is for your maintenance.

Endomorphs

  • Shorter, thicker build
  • May gain fat easily
  • Slower metabolism
  • May be able to gain muscle easily as well but it will lack definition

Ideal Maintenance Macronutrient Intake:

  • 30% Protein
  • 25% Carbohydrate
  • 45% Fat

Mesomorph

  • Athletic build
  • Able to gain muscle and lose fat easily
  • High metabolic rate

Ideal Maintenance Macronutrient Intake:

  • 30% Protein
  • 35% Carbohydrate
  • 35% Fat

Ectomorph

  • Small, thin build (classic skinny)
  • May be very difficult to gain muscle or fat
  • Extremely fast metabolism

Ideal Maintenance Macronutrient Intake:

  • 25% Protein
  • 45% Carbohydrates
  • 30% Fat

MACRONUTRIENTS & CALORIES

Everyone has specific fitness goals and based on these goals you will manipulate your caloric and macronutrient intake.

Macronutrient Calories

  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

FITNESS GOALS AND GRAMS OF PROTEIN

Muscle Growth

  • 2.5 to 3.0 grams of per kilogram of bodyweight

Fat Loss

  • 1.5 to 2.0 grams of per kilogram of bodyweight

Maintenance

  • 1.2 to 1.5 grams of per kilogram of bodyweight

Athletic (Performance)

  • 1.8 to 2.0 grams of per kilogram of bodyweight

Example: 

Steven wants to gain weight. Steven weighs 68 kg.

68 x 2.8 (grams of protein for muscle growth)

= 190 grams of protein each day

190 x 4 = 760 calories

Steven will be ingesting 760 calories each day from protein (25% of total daily calorie intake)

CARBOHYDRATES AND FATS

To figure out the grams and total amount of calories that you will be ingesting from carbohydrates and fats, take the percentages from above based on your personal body type and use it in accordance with your fitness goal.

Example:

Steven is an ectomorph (body type). He will be eating 3,037 calories per day. He knows that he will have to eat 190 grams of protein per day, which will make up 760 calories. Carbohydrates will provide him with 45% (342 grams = 1,368 calories) of the remaining calories and Fats will make up the other 30% (101 grams = 909 calories)

WORDS OF ADVICE

If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)

Depending on your body type and fitness goals, it will be very important to make the right selection of macronutrients and their corresponding percentages. The approach of IIFYM, while effective for some, isn’t for everyone. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t work because the focus is on the numbers and not the quality of the food.

Yes, it’s important to strive for specific ratios but you have to remember to eat clean! Eating junk food and successfully hitting your numbers is far less effective than eating clean and not quite reaching your daily metrics.

Be Realistic

No matter what your deficit or surplus ratios come out to, depending on your goals, you should take care not to make drastic changes. Too much too soon could set you back as your body adjusts to the extreme changes. On average, you should be adjusting your caloric intake by no more than 15% to 20% (deficit or surplus). Once you gain or lose 3 to 4 kg then take the time to re-calculate your ratios as it relates to your new weight. You will notice that your numbers will change accordingly.

Get Back On the Horse

Remember that everyone is going to fall off the horse. What separates people is the willingness and determination to climb back up. Nothing is fool proof and no single formula or plan will prove to be completely accurate. With that said, the approaches detailed above are going to allow you to reach that 99% accuracy mark. Another way to ensure accuracy is to utilise technology. My Fitness Pal is a very useful app for the smartphone. It allows you to accurately track your macros and calories. No matter what you choose to help you, the important thing to do to see change is to be consistent.

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Nikos Saklabanakis

Nikos Saklabanakis

Being passionate about health and fitness enables me to achieve my all time goal of guiding and supporting people through achieving their personal fitness dreams and being a significant part of dramatically changing their lives for the better.

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