How much food should I eat? How do calculate my macros?
One of the questions we get asked a lot is that of tracking the amount of calories that should be eaten in any given day or week.
Before we can answer this question though, it’s important that we should all build healthy eating habits before getting bogged down in the detail.
When we’re trying to lose weight, it’s no use for example, to hit the right amount of calories, if all the calories are made up of fast food or processed food. We first need to find a better relationship with what we eat and how it makes us feel. Minimising or eliminating this processed food from our diets will help us to not crave sugar, carbs and fat. It will also have a knock on effect, in that we will start to feel healthier and more alive as the food is more abundant in nutrients.
Assuming that we have been able to start eating a well balanced diet, rich in vitamins and mineral, full of vegetables and fruit and single ingredient food, we can then start to think about portion size and regulating the amount of calories we eat.
What are Macros?
Grains, vegetables, fruits, potatoes, sugar and many more.
Carbs are stored in your liver and in your muscles. The body breaks down carbohydrates and converts them into glucose or fructose then sends these to the liver to be distributed around your body. Cells use whatever glucose they need for energy (by sending it to muscle and tissue), a small amount is stored as a reserve in the liver and the rest gets stored as fat.
Carbs have their place in your diet, however, many studies have found low (note, we didn’t say NO carbs) carbohydrate diets to be an effective way to lose weight, keep blood sugar levels stable and avoid energy crashes.
Aim to stay away from simple carbs (white flour, sugar etc…) and opt for complex carbs such as wholegrains, oats, sweet potatoes and quinoa.
Meat, fish, eggs, tofu, yoghurt and many more.
Protein is really important for building and maintaining muscle mass. A high protein diet helps aid weight-loss, keeps you satiated (feeling full) and helps preserve muscle mass. The body is not able to store protein like it can carbs and fat, so it’s usually utilised straight away. Aim for lean meats or fish (unless vegan or vegetarian) and ensure they are present in every meal.
Butter, oils, avocados, nuts & seeds and many more.
Fat is also an energy source and aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Fat also helps with hormone production, immune function and other aspects of basic metabolism, limiting your fat content too much can affect your health and fat-loss potential. Fat is stored in muscles and other areas of the body and is used for energy, once carbohydrates have been used first.
Eating too many saturated fats increases the amount of cholesterol in your blood. LDL (bad cholesterol found in saturated fats) can build up in your blood vessels, thus narrowing them (this can increase your risk of heart disease and strokes). Trans-fats in particular, are the big guns here and should be avoided (found in foods such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil that is used to make biscuits, cakes and some processed foods etc.) Instead, opt for unsaturated fats containing HDL (good cholesterol) found in avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds etc.
For a long time fat was considered the devil in terms of weight-loss, fortunately for you, more and more research has been conducted that suggests a diet that includes fat can actually aid you in your weight-loss goals.
A great place to start is with some sort of smartphone app. MyFitnessPal is at the top of the tree here and has been helping people count calories and monitor their food intake for years. You simply type into the app what you’ve been eating and it works out all the calorie breakdowns for you. You don’t even have to type most of it in as it allows you to scan the barcodes of the ingredients packaging and hey presto. It has a large database including some of the more common restaurants menu items too, so no excuses!
Now it’s your turn
Once we have got used to tracking our food intake and we’re eating healthier in general, it’s time to dive a little deeper and start to look at what is right for you!
This is where a little maths comes into play though. Please don’t be put off, it seems complicated at first glance, but I assure you it’s quite simple. We all have calculators on our phones, so it really is just a matter of inputting the data and waiting for the answers.
Having a specific body goal in mind will also influence the amount of calories you’ll need to achieve this. However, by counting out exactly what you eat, it will give you greater flexibility for special occasions or the odd slip up. For example, if you know that you have a birthday coming up, you can restrict your calories throughout the day, so you can be a little freer at the event. Perhaps you just went off the rails slightly, no problem, work out how much you over-ate and then factor this in over the next few days.
Another significant factor that will affect your calorie intake will be the volume of exercise that you do. The more the demand for energy, the greater the need for food to fuel your body. On the flip side of this though, if you work your calories out based on an exercise regime of 3-5 gym visits per week, but you only achieve 2 visits, then you will of course need to take this into account and reduce the food intake to suit.
Now for the maths
It’s worth mentioning that there are a number of BMR calculators available and any number they give should be used as an estimate or guide and you should listen and feel for your body’s response to this level of food. Then, if needed, you can adjust the numbers based on real life feedback.
Firstly you need to have some basic information to put into the formula. You’ll need your age in years, your height in cm and your weight in kg. You then just plug this into the following equations and you’ll get the total number of calories your body needs per day to simply survive. This is your BMR.
Here are two different versions of the BMR calculation, but please feel free to google your own.
Metric BMR Equation
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )
Women: BMR = 655 + ( 9.6 x weight in kilos ) + ( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Mifflin St. Jeor Equation
Men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5
Women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161
Your BMR is your Basal Metabolic Rate, or, the calories your body needs to maintain body weight assuming that you don’t get up and move around or eat anything. In other words, it’s simply the amount of energy it takes to keep your body alive at rest.
To work out the additional calories you’ll need to allow for moving around and enjoying life, you’ll need to multiply your BMR by your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). To identify your TDEE, see which of the following factors most accurately applies to you. Please note that your BMR x TDEE works out the total number of calories needed for maintenance.
TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)
Little or no Exercise/desk job
TDEE = 1.2 x BMR
Light exercise/ sports 1 – 3 days/week
TDEE = 1.375 x BMR
Moderate Exercise, sports 3 – 5 days/week
TDEE = 1.55 x BMR
Heavy Exercise/ sports 6 – 7 days/week
TDEE = 1.725 x BMR
Very heavy exercise/physical job/ training 2 x day TDEE = 1.9 x BMR
This will give you your total calorie need for the day. Next you will need to split this down into the macronutrient requirement. You will need to think about your body goal, as mentioned earlier, to identify what sort of split you will need. Each will have a different impact on your performance, weight, mood, energy levels etc. so it’s important to identify what split works best for you.
Some examples may look like this:
More carbohydrates – 45% Carbs / 30% Protein / 25% Fat
More Protein – 20% Carbs / 40% Protein / 40% Fat
Or a mix of the two – 35% Carbs / 30% Protein / 35% Fat
Finally, you will need to break these numbers down into the meals you have per day. Don’t worry, I’ll go through an example below. This is a guide though and not an exact science. Everybody is different and unique so make sure you don’t stress over the detail of this too much. Use it as a way of ensuring that you stay roughly within your calorie requirements for any given day depending on goal, that way you’ll haver a far greater chance of achieving the body you want.
So let’s put it into practice
Let’s use me as an example to show you how simple it all is.
Age – 40
Height – 179cm
Weight – 78kg
Let’s plug in the numbers.
Men: BMR = 66 + ( 13.7 x 78 ) + ( 5 x 179 ) – ( 6.8 x 40 ) = 1757.6
Men: BMR = (10 x 78) + (6.25 x 179) – (5 x 40) + 5 = 1703.8
My TDEE is 1.725
1757.6 x 1.725 = 3031.8 or 3030
1703.8 x 1.725 = 2939 or 2940
Here there is a difference of 90 calories so I can take an average by adding the two numbers together and dividing them by 2
This gives me a daily calorie need of 2985 Cals
Now for my macronutrient split. Assuming that I prefer the mixed split, as it gives me enough energy to work in a physical job and exercise too, my numbers would look like this…
35% Carbs = 2985 x 0.35 = 1044 Cals
30% Protein = 2985 x 0.30 = 895 Cals
35% Fat = 2985 x 0.35 = 1044 Cals
We know that these macronutrients have an energy breakdown like this:
Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories
Alcohol: 1 gram = 7 calories
So for my example,
1044/4 = 261g Carbs
895/4 = 224g Protein
1044/9 = 116g Fat
So that’s how I would start to build my meal plan and my diet. All based on 261g carbs, 224g protein and 116g fat per day. It’s these numbers that you can plug into MyFitness Pal app. Don’t worry if the numbers aren’t exact. The body doesn’t work in 100%’s all the time so as long as they are within 50-100 cals then you should be fine. Then you simply scan the barcodes or type in the food your eating and the app will do all the hard work for you. Just remember to weigh all of your food raw or all of your food cooked, that way you’ll be consistent and there’ll be less room for error.
Remember what we said earlier? That this was for maintenance. So if your goal is weight-loss, you should take around 5% off the total calories per day. This should help you to lose around 1-2lbs per week. If you don’t, simply reduce by a further 5% and so on until you start seeing results.
When your weight starts to drop, it’s important not to forget to recalculate your calorie requirements to fall in line with your reducing mass, we would suggest every 3-4 weeks as a starting point.
Remember, the most sustainable way to lose weight, is to eat as much as possible whilst still losing weight. So don’t restrict your diet too much or you will get hunger pangs and be more likely to reach into the kitchen cupboards for something naughty.
If you’re struggling to lose weight and need 3-7 days to kickstart your body, come and stay with us on one of our ZEST24 weight-loss bootcamp retreats? We will show you how to eat a healthy diet, with correct portion sizes and help you work out your own specific calorie needs.
On our weight-loss bootcamps, we specialise in educating you on what to eat and when, which exercises are the most effective for fat loss and finally, how to make both of these things fit into your everyday lives.
Our days are varied throughout the week and typically you’ll enjoy: morning spin, circuits, weights sessions, boxing, yoga, meditation, technique sessions, hiking, just to name a few. Take a look at a typical day, you can watch the video and get a good flavour of what you’d be doing.
With our own private chef, you’ll be cooked delicious, healthy food each day, ensuring you start to burn fat and start seeing results. We also include cookery demos, goal setting and meditation & mindfulness workshops and massage to ensure you experience a luxury, holistic approach to weight-loss. We also strive to ensure you keep up your progress at home with our complimentary aftercare & support alongside our recipe and workout ebook.
If you’re interested in attending or would like more information please give us a ring on 0845 467 9698 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org