So, you are new to this weight-lifting, weight-loss or muscle-gain program and I get how confusing it can be when it comes to HOW MUCH and WHAT to eat. You can’t just eat whatever you want and train because you are not going to get the results you so badly want. DIET AND NUTRITION are 100% key to obtaining your BEST, healthy body. The key word is you need to eat ENOUGH to sustain you, fuel you through your workouts without gaining fat – the trick is to know how to count your macros and then follow through with at least roughly tracking them.
For many years I ate too little carbohydrates and I would get severe brain fog at the end of the day and even migraines in the morning after my workouts. I was working out for at least 60-75 minutes (HARD workouts) and not eating nearly enough carbs and boy did I suffer. I thought I was doing my body right by eating maybe 120-130 carbs per day. Little did I know that my body needed 200+ grams of carbs in order to sustain the hard work I was putting it through, as well as to have plenty of fuel to BUILD MUSCLE while reducing fat. We cannot build muscle if we don’t eat properly and let me tell you now that the “toned” bodies you see of fitness women in magazines comes from HARD WORK and a diet filled with CARBOHYDRATES and PROTEIN. Lots of both!!! Keep reading to learn more…
MACRONUTRIENTS are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Everything we eat falls into one of these categories and it is important to eat the proper ratio of macros because that is how you change your body composition. Yes, calories in-calories out will help you lose WEIGHT – but to change your BODY COMPOSITION you need to dial in on the macronutrients you consume too. Confused? Don’t be- think of it this way. A body that eats 1,500 calories of doughnuts every day will produce a vastly different body than one that eats 1,500 calories of chicken, beef, oatmeal, rice, vegetables, and nuts. Or to put in smaller terms – a lunch of 500 calories of chicken, rice, avocado and vegetables will certainly produce and fuel a healthier looking body than 500 calories of ice cream!
Proteins have 4 calories per gram: 30 grams of protein from chicken breast would give you 30×4 = 120 calories (plus the extra calories from the small amount of fat)
Carbs have 4 calories per gram: A banana is 27 carbs, so 27×4 = 108 calories
Fats have 9 calories per gram: 1/2 avocado is around 12 grams of fat, so 12×9= 108 calories.
Does this help so far? Make sense????? Now you can start tracking your own food to figure out first what you have been eating, so that you can see it’s not working for you and make some changes!!!
So: next question!!!! How much of each should we shoot for?!?!?
Typically a good starting point is get as close to your bodyweight in protein grams as you can! Yes this can be challenging, but, a good place to start would be at least 80% of your BW. More if you are lifting a lot of weights every week and you have a goal of muscle gain. REMEMBER the wonderful thing about protein is it’s very unlikely to ever be stored as fat. YES – that is right. That’s because our body will use up all carbohydrate stores and fat stores before it taps into protein to use as energy. So you can eat even your bodyweight in protein each day and not worry about “getting fat” from doing so. Protein will help you stay full in between meals, it helps fuel your muscle growth and repair after workouts, and keeps blood sugar steady. I recommend tracking your protein throughout the day to ensure you’re not just eating it all at once. It is better to eat 20-30 grams 4x a day (give or take). So think: protein powders, eggs or egg whites, cottage cheese, greek yogurt, chicken, lean beef, ground turkey, sardines, tuna, salmon, cod, etc.!
You need a minimum of 30 grams of fats per day for brain function. So this is always the minimum fat grams for EVERYONE! Anything less is dangerous. So I suggest starting here but likely building closer to 40-60 grams of fats per day OR MORE! Each individual is unique in their fat/carb requirements as activity levels, age and weight and goals play a role here as well. The more active you are the higher your macros will be because you are burning more and more calories so you need more fuel. If you have a goal of really building muscle I would prioritize eating MORE carbs over fats, but still you will likely need 60-80 fats per day.
Carbs: minimum per day should be 120-130. YES I said it – you can consume this many carbs with no problem hoping you are choosing healthy carbs such as oatmeal, fruit, sweet potatoes, rice, etc. Now, you can tweak this number too if you are used to eating high fats and lower carbs. I am not saying those people who LOVE keto need to come off their diet (although in my opinion keto is not sustainable nor enjoyable). This is just a guide and a starting point for the average person.
So let’s review quickly the calories in someone’s day following this guide:
For 130 lb woman who is 38 years old, wanting to tighten up and build muscle while reducing fat she would consume:
around 120-130 (or more) grams of protein. 130 x 4 = 520
let’s give her 50 grams of fat. 50 x 9 = 450 calories
And let’s do around 160 carbs. 160 x 4 = 640 calories.
Her total calories for the day is: 1,610 calories! (This is not exact I am just giving an example and she may actually need to eat a little bit more calories if she is really trying to build).
So what would a daily meal look like? It’s a lot more food than you think when you eat CLEAN – you are able to eat more, seemingly, as clean food is nutrient-dense with fewer calories than crappy food. (this is purely an example off the top of my head):
- She could have 1/2 cup oatmeal in the morning with 1 scoop protein powder, chia seeds, flaxseeds, berries to give her around 40 carbs, 35 proteins and 12 fats.
- For a snack she could do 1 scoop protein powder + apple for 25 more protein grams and 20-25 carbs.
- For lunch she could do 4 oz chicken breast, steamed veggies, a serving of rice for 30-35 carbs, 40 proteins, 5 fats.
- Another snack could be a Lundberg rice cake with almond butter, 1/2 banana slices, 1/2 protein bar (I love No Cow bars).
- Dinner could be salmon and sweet potatoes and a salad or roasted vegetable (25-30 grams protein, 25-30 grams carbs, 10-15 fats).
Those all add up to be around her required macros. So now she has a thoughtful meal plan with plenty of protein to help fuel muscle growth while reducing fat, plenty of healthy carbs to power her through her day and her workouts (to push hard in a workout you NEED carbs. that is your body’s preference, so, it’s ideal to eat them and keep fats more moderate rather than the other way around. Fats also, as already stated, have more calories per gram so it’s easier to overeat these compared to carbohydrates).
Now, if you want someone else to do the calculating for you (since I basically did the above example just in my head off my own knowledge): I recommend going to bodybuilding website and entering your own numbers and let them tally them up for you! This website is so convenient and you enter your age, height, weight and activity levels and gender and it will give you a suggested ratio of protein, carbs and fats as well as total calorie count. I don’t typically follow their results precisely though as they often suggest INSANELY HIGH levels of protein that can be very challenging to reach. So I always say the rule of thumb is to shoot for your bodyweight in protein.
So what you would do is enter your numbers, then adjust the protein grams down a touch closer to your bodyweight (it’s ok if it’s a little over your BW it just does not have to be too much higher as it can be challenging to eat that much protein in a day), then adjust the fats and carbs to equate to the number of calories they suggested you eat for your goal. I will do mine as an example below:
I am 34 years old, I weigh 117 lbs, I am 5’6, I’m female, and since I am a trainer (physical job, lots of dog walks throughout the day – 15000+ steps and not sedentary at all + hard workouts) I am going to put the “extra active” option which is the highest activity level and I will adjust my preference from there. It says I need:
178 proteins, 237 carbs, 79 fats = 2370 calories.
From this result, I would say I shoot for and typically get 130-140 protein grams, 70-80 fats, and 200- 240 carbs. So actually I get very close to what the bodybuilding calculator says I should get in order to maintain my weight! And I feel fabulous and great eating this many calories and do not gain weight doing so as I have found the balance. Also, since my goals include building my legs and glutes I am a tad flexible with carbs and will allow close to 250 some days! If I wanted to do a cut, I would reduce fats first before reducing carbs as carbs help you perform hard when you workout.
So, you should enter your numbers and if you aren’t sure how active you are, take a look at your step count and how many workouts you do each week AND if you sit a lot for work, and always choose the lower-activity option – if you are contemplating between two. You could even run a calculation for the lower option and run one for the higher option to see how many more calories they allow for comparison! This will at least tell you a range of calories to consume depending on how active you are during the week. I do this often to see if I am on the right track with my eating.
I sincerely hope this blog has been helpful for you all and if you have questions please reach out I would love to hear from you and help you with calculating macros! email@example.com
Also keep in mind I do MEAL PLAN GUIDES tailored to your preferences and allergies! I want to help clients find a way of eating that is delicious, nutritious and sustainable! Anything that feels too much like a diet will not allow you to enjoy your life and at the end of the day we all love food and want to go to bed happy and not hungry and sad.