Calculating my macros

Now that I’ve finished my transformation program (a.k.a. “Lean Lance-Making”), I have to move on to the next stage of my life. For me, personally, this is going to mean putting some muscle on my frame.

However, that’s far more easily said than done. Most people seem to think that muscle growth is about putting time in at the gym. While that’s a component of the truth, there are two pieces that are far more important: recovery and nutrition. Muscles grow at night, and only if they’ve been properly fed.

For me, the sleep is easy. For 4 months I have consistently gotten 8 hours of sleep, not varying my schedule almost at all, and I intend to stick with it. However, my nutrition needs to change, as I’ve been eating at a caloric deficit in order to lose fat. You cannot build muscle effectively at a caloric deficit; my goal was to avoid losing the muscle I had, as much as possible. So now it’s time to figure out how much more I need to eat. Eat too much, and I’ll simply throw that fat back on. Eat the wrong foods, and I might not have the right ingredients for muscle growth, or I may feel exhausted / overly hungry, etc. So how do I get this right?

As it turns out, it’s not all that complex. There are three types of macro nutrients (“macros”), and two of those have minimum required quantities within the body. Fats, which are unfairly much maligned, should be eaten in quantities of at least 0.9g per kg of body weight (for non-obese folks). That means I currently need at least 74g of fat each day (preferably saturated fats). Likewise for proteins, except the body’s need is higher: 1.54g per kg, or for me 126g in total (though more doesn’t hurt). Knowing that a gram of protein is 4 kcal and a gram of fat is 9 kcal, that means that 1170 calories (kcal, but I’m using the normal shorthand) of my diet must come from those sources. The rest can be split up however I like, though some carbs are a really good idea as the body can use them more directly for energy, and of those carbs, fibers should comprise at least 38 grams per day for a man (note: carbs are also 4 kcal per gram).

That’s all well and good… but how, then, do I calculate what “the rest” of my calories should be? Well, the link above goes into all that, but in short you need to calculate what your average Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is. That number is the number of calories that you need to maintain your current weight (so-called “maintenance”), and is basically the amount of energy your body burns when perfectly at rest for 24 hours plus whatever additional energy is required to perform whatever tasks you do. For reference, my basal metabolic rate (resting burn) is 2000 kcal at the moment (this is pretty much based on your musculature). I plan to run four times per week and burn 800 calories each time, while lifting three times per week burning about 300 kcal, so that’s already an additional 470 calories per day average. Then you need to add in things like after-burn following the lifts, walking around at work, even typing and talking which burn energy. Gets complex! But you can visit sites like freedieting.com and take advantage of their calculators to do the estimation for you. In any case, this will only be an estimate – I’ll have to validate the numbers by tracking my weight over time as I eat at that level. If my average weight over, say, 3 weeks or so doesn’t change, then I’ve calculated my maintenance level correctly.

I’ve done all that, and my maintenance level for my current size and activity level comes out to 3000 calories per day. I’ll combine that with the macro targets defined above, from which I already know how 1170 kcal need to be allocated. The remaining 1800 or so will be split up mostly amongst proteins and carbs with a bias towards the former, as that helps me stay full (and because some studies seem to indicate that the minimum protein levels I’ve described above may not yet be high enough for “ideal” mass building). Some of those calories will also likely be allocated towards fats. From the carbs, a large percentage will be fresh vegetables, as those will help me get adequate “micro” nutrients (e.g. vitamins and such) as well as fibers.

I’ll stay at that level for the month of May to validate it. Once I’m sure that it’s right, then I’ll increase my intake by another 200 calories in order to give my body the energy it needs to grow – muscle building takes additional energy.

So what does that all look like in practice? Well, given that I eat six times per day, my meals will probably look something like the below. Trust me when I say that the macros hit my target – it gets too complex to write out, but I’ve got some fancy tables to calculate it.

  • Meal 1: Oatmeal and protein powder (630 kcal)
  • Meal 2: Shake made of protein powder, almond milk and peanut butter (350 kcal)
  • Meal 3: Chicken, veggies, sweet potatoes and some kind of fat source (e.g. avocado) (700 kcal)
  • Meal 4: Another shake (350 kcal)
  • Meal 5: Turkey, veggies and rice (700 kcal)
  • Meal 6: Omelette with veggies (260 kcal)

That’s essentially what I’ve been eating now, with a slightly bigger breakfast and a far bigger meal 3 and 5. Of course, there will probably be days when I want to eat a bigger meal 3 or 5, in which case I’ll simply make the other meal smaller. I’m actually well above my macro minimums, so I can swap out entire meals for restaurant meals fairly safely at this point.

Still, I’ll keep an eye on the scale and the tape measure to ensure that I don’t subtly fall off track!

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