Master Your Macros
What ratios of Protein/Carbs/Fats do you need?
This excerpt is taken from The Superstar Body, available now at superstarbodybook.com or via amazon, Barnes& Noble and all good booksellers.
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In art and dream may you proceed with abandon. In Life may you proceed with balance and stealth. - Patti Smith
The term ‘Macros’ has really come into fashion in the fitness realm in recent years, despite the fact that it has always been an established key to achieving your body goals. Macros is just an abbreviation of Macronutrients, referring to Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat. Typically, when people are talking about their macros, they are referring to the ratio of protein to carbs to fats and the amounts of each they need based on their size and their current goals.
Here are the typical ratios. Keep in mind that these are not exact ratios that need to be followed religiously, as everybody is different and there are a number of other factors that affect your results. It's also important to remember that some women will need to gain mass before they achieve their desired body shape; you can't sculpt something that isn't there. But in most cases, for men or women, with good quality training, these are your typical ratios:
Mass Gain: Higher Carb – 40-60% Carbohydrate, 25-35% Protein and 15-25% Fat.
Maintenance: Medium Carb – 30-50% Carb, 25-35% Protein and 25-35% Fat.
Fat Loss: Lower Carb – 10-30% Carb, 40-50% Protein and 30-40% Fat.
You’ll see that the key factor that changes the most is the number of carbs. Fats never go below 15% of your daily calorie intake.
Obviously, this ratio is a basic breakdown of what has proven to be effective for athletes over years of trial and error. But it’s still a very simplified version of the right advice. This is under the assumption that you’re going to divide those amounts of macros up over good quality sources.
How do we calculate our calorie needs?
Stick with me, it gets a little mathematical for a second, but this method is a good base to work with and you'll only have to do this equation every now and then. Your optimum caloric intake depends on a number of things but generally it comes down to your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and activity level.
Your BMR is essentially how much energy your body uses to stay alive. So this dictates a minimum amount of calories you need to survive. Then we look at our activity level and decide what the ideal amount of calories is for our personal goals. Still with me? Ok because then we divide that number into ratios of macros. Simple(ish).
The Harris Benedict Equation: BMR x Daily Activity = Daily Amount of Calories (DAC)
BMR (Women) 655 + (4.35 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age) = BMR
Your Daily Activity number is one of the following:
Little to no exercise, sedentary lifestyle = 1.2
Some exercise, 1-3 days per week = 1.375
Moderate exercise 3-5 days per week = 1.55
Heavy exercise 6+ days per week = 1.725
Mickie's current DAC calculation:
4.35 x 130 (lbs) = 565.5
4.7 x 62 (inches) = 291.4
4.7 x 36 (years) = 169.2
655 + 565.5 + 291.4 - 169.2 = 1342.7.
Mickie’s BMR = 1342.7
1342.7 x 1.55 = 2081 calories (rounded down)
We have used 1.55 to represent her activity level because although she trains hard almost every day, we are often traveling or working on projects at home which is fairly sedentary so we lean on the smaller side for her DAC.
So, if her goal is fat loss, we aim for 40-50% of those calories to come from protein. So roughly 200 - 250 grams which is high for a woman, but keep in mind that a protein supplement can make up a good portion of that number while not adding many unwanted extra calories. About 20% of her DAC will come from carbs, so just over 100g carbs in this case, mostly from slow sources like oats. The remaining calories come from good fats, so around 70g. This is the best way to lose fat, stay healthy and provide your baby with what they need if you're still breastfeeding, in Mickie's case she is not breastfeeding any more but when she was she had an even higher amount of good fats and reduced the protein and carbs accordingly. Her energy and mood were great and our son was as healthy as a horse!
Although there are differing schools of thought on the subject, a common consensus among athletes is that the best way to make use of the protein you consume is to divide over 5-6 meals daily. This is to allow the body to assimilate the protein effectively without too much being wasted. I should point out that there have been some very credible studies that suggest that the assimilation was not significantly affected by splitting it up over five or six meals or taking it all in one go. One such study is described in Tim Ferris’ excellent book The 4-Hour Body. But from my experience and from the testimony of the superstar bodies that I know, smaller amounts per sitting seems to work best (it also avoids overeating, which can cause the stomach to stretch and affects the shape of your waist.)
Here we will break down the most popular sources of protein from real food (protein supplements will be covered in the supplements section.)
Eggs: Excellent source of protein; high biological value, low carb, good source of essential fats (whole eggs). Five large whole eggs will provide you with just over 30g protein on average. If you’re trying to eat less fat and doing just egg whites, approximately eight egg whites will give you the same amount of protein. I always preferred whole eggs for the good fats and vitamins and minerals you get from the yolks. If I’m trying to lean up for a shoot or a special event I will switch to egg whites for a short time.
Chicken: Chicken has always been a popular choice in the physique realm and for good reason; 4 ounces of grilled, skinless chicken breast will provide your 30g protein, zero carbs and 5g fat. Eating roasted chicken, particularly with the skin on or the dark meat will provide higher fat content. Chicken is also a great source of potassium.
Tuna: A staple of my diet when I was a starving wrestler, tuna is good quality protein and very affordable. It has been one of the most popular choices among bodybuilders and physique fanatics for a long time. There are different types of tuna, but a 5-ounce serving of skipjack tuna (in water) will provide around 30g protein, zero carbs and almost no fat at all. My personal favorite is albacore (white) tuna, it has a slightly métier texture and is not so harsh and fishy tasting. Tuna is also a good source of selenium, an antioxidant mineral that prevents cellular damage and is beneficial to your immune system.
Beef: There’s nothing like a good hunk of red meat, and beef is the king of the reds. But there is a greater amount of discrepancy when it comes to eating beef as the nutritional content varies a lot depending on the cut. A lot of people tend to limit their red meat intake or avoid it altogether. That’s their pergative, more power to them. I personally eat quality red meat and always felt like I benefited from it. There are so many cuts to choose from when it comes to beef; my advice is to stick to leaner cuts but honestly, I’ll chow down on a good rib eye quite frequently, I just make sure that if I’m eating a fattier cut, it’s during a low-carb day. The saturated fat and cholesterol found in a good quality- preferably grass-fed piece of beef is beneficial to hormone production especially testosterone in men. Beef also provides a great amount of iron and is a real food source of creatine (approximately 4 to 5 grams per kg) which improves the work capacity and size of your muscles (covered in detail in supplements) a 4 ounce serving of lean ground beef (lean mince) will provide just over 30g protein and 8-10 g of fat.
Pork: The pigs seem to get left behind when it comes to the fitness world; pork is usually passed up for beef chicken or fish. But occasionally pork can have its moments. There are lean cuts available like pork steaks. On average, a six ounce serving of pork steak will provide your 30g protein and around 18g fat. Pork tenderloin can be very lean, in fact ounce for ounce it contains less fat than chicken. Choose wisely and pork can be very beneficial in your quest for lean muscle. Oh and did I mention that pork is delicious? Obviously be careful with bacon and ham, as the sodium and nitrates are not on the healthy side. But in limited amounts they are fine especially during low carb periods.
Turkey: When it comes to low fat, turkey may be the undisputed champion of the lean meats. Obviously very similar to chicken, a 4 ounce serving of grilled skinless breast will give you your 30g protein and virtually no carbs or fats. If you insist on being calorie-conscious, this serving will give you just 120 calories.
Vegetarian Options: 6 ounces of Tempeh, a soy product, will give you around 30g protein, 20g fat and a good amount of magnesium, iron and vitamin B6. ¾ block of Extra Firm Tofu (also made from soybeans) will provide around the same protein and fat and is a complete protein (contains full range of essential amino acids) Peas provide about 8g protein per cup, making them a good accompaniment to a primary protein source. Quinoa provides about the same amount of protein as peas except in contains all nine essential amino acids. Nuts and nut butters are a good source of protein and good fats but go for natural options like natural peanut butter which gives you 8-10g protein per 2 tbsp serving. Beans are a great option; two cups of kidney beans will provide around 25g protein, and most beans (white, black, pinto etc) will do around the same. Chickpeas (used in Hummus) have a high protein content (about 15g per cup) and again provide a good accompaniment.
The Key to achieving a positive nitrogen balance on a vegetarian diet is to match up your proteins and consume them together so that you give yourself the best combination of amino acids so that the maximum amount of protein can be utilized by the body.
Controver-SOY: Tofu and other soy products have long been the go-to for vegetarians and have even been touted as a health food to carnivores. But the ugly truth about soy is that the majority of soy products consumed in the United States and Western Europe are not healthy, in fact they can be downright scary. In the US, 90 percent of soybeans grown are genetically modified, which in animal studies, showed an increase in allergies, sterility and birth defects. Most soybean crops are also covered in chemical herbicides. But that’s not the worst of it.
Soy has been known to affect hormone levels in women due to potent ‘antinutrients’; according to Dr Joseph Mercola who wrote for Huffington Post: “just two glasses of soy milk daily provides enough of these compounds to alter a woman’s menstrual cycle.”
So what are antinutrients? Well to be brief, they are a lot of hard-to-pronounce compounds like soyatoxins, phytoestrogens and saponins that wreak havoc on your body in a number of ways including reducing absorption of vital minerals, interfering with digestion, disrupting your endocrine system, blood clotting, toxicity, blocking of thyroid hormone synthesis and more which can lead to fun stuff like infertility, thyroid cancer, stunted growth in children, hormone imbalance and more. Sounds almost unbelievable right? Something marketed as so healthy to be so damaging? The problem is that most of the soy products produced in the Western world are unfermented which leads to these problems, as the fermentation removes many of these harmful properties. Fermented soy from organic soybeans is not only a good protein source but has high levels of Vitamin K2. Tempeh, listed above, is an example of a fermented soy product, along with Miso and Natto. Tofu is NOT fermented, neither is soy milk or soy protein powder. In my opinion, it’s not worth the risk.
I don’t want you to think that just because I explained the importance of the relationship between carbohydrates and insulin, and what that means for your body, that I am anti-carbs. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I do feel that a lot of people approach carbs in the wrong way. For example, I don’t believe In the traditional meal structuring of one protein, one carb and one veggie for every single meal. For one or maybe two meals that’s acceptable, but most people don’t need that many carbs throughout the course of a day and I believe that most people are just eating a few too many carbs overall.
For athletes and people looking for their superstar body, carbs are an important part of the diet; they are the body’s preferred energy source and are going to help you perform at your highest level while you strive to gain lean mass, strength and shape.
We’ve already covered the amounts of macros, including carbohydrates, that generally tend to work for most. But I strongly reiterate that everybody is different, so play around with amounts and see what works for you. I never used to vary my amount of carbs that much, and when I finally did, I realized just how effective it can be, particularly for losing body fat. But simply thinking about the amount of carbs is not enough. You have to understand the difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates, and when is a good time to consume each. You will also have a better handle on your diet and your body if you understand the basics of the Glycemic Index.
Simple Carbohydrates are carbs that are absorbed quickly and easily. Your body can use these almost immediately in many cases. Simple carbs spike blood sugar quickly, which means the energy from them is not sustainable and whatever doesn’t get used is stored as fat. To conclude, the optimum time to consume simple carbs is either a small amount during your workout or immediately following your workout.
Complex Carbohydrates take longer to digest and don’t spike blood sugar as drastically, so can often provide a better form of sustained energy. In many cases, complex carbs also contain a higher amount of fiber than simple carbs, which is important for maintaining digestion, nutrient absorption and fat loss.
But in recent years, we have also developed an understanding of a characteristic of carbs that goes beyond the notion of just simple and complex. This is known as the Glycemic Index, or GI. The GI has helped determine the rates at which carbs are released into the bloodstream. When this system was introduced it showed that certain carbs which were thought to be complex actually absorbed more quickly than some that were considered simple.
Rather than deciphering carbs which are simple, complex, low GI or high Gi, I’ve combined the information and tried to simplify it and given you a list of slow carbs and a list of fast carbs:
Slow carbs: Oats, Sweet Potato, Nuts, Legumes, Brown Rice, Quinoa, Pasta, Dairy products, Nuts, Fructose from apples, pears, plums, peaches, grapes, oranges and grapefruit. Vegetables (except root veggies).
Fast carbs: Sugars, Honey, Potatoes, Bread (especially white), White Rice, Flaked or Puffed Cereals, Instant Oatmeal or Grits, Carrots, Corn, Peas.
To summarize: Adjust your amount of total carbs based on your macro needs determined by your goals, then aim to consume mostly slow carbs, saving your fast carbs for after your workout to replace glycogen quickly, aid transport of amino acids and nutrients to your muscles and aid recovery (and lean mass). If you stick to this general principle and adjust as you go forward, you will be in control of your energy levels, muscle growth and body fat levels.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are so important for healthy heart function, vitamin and mineral absorption requires fats and so does your cellular energy. However, because when it comes to Nutrition labeling we are still fairly basic and simply state the amount of ‘Fat’ in a food, the bad fats have besmirched the good name of the heroic fats out there. When I professed the evil of processed food one of the things I touched on was the presence of hydrogenated vegetable oil, easily one of the worst things you can eat on a regular basis. This is an example of a Trans Fat.
Trans fats have two types: Naturally occurring trans fats that are produced by some animals, and subsequently are found in small amounts in some animal products like meat and dairy. The real villains are the artificial trans fats, created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils hence the term ‘hydrogenated’. The main source of trans fats in processed food is ‘partially hydrogenated oils’. To give you an idea of how much you should be avoiding these, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a preliminary determination in November 2013 that these fats are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Trans fats are used because they’re cheap, and the companies that use them don’t care about you or your body. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke and oh yeah, they make you look and feel like crap. Check labels, particularly on packaged food products for hydrogenated oils as they can be lurking in foods marketed as healthy. Generally, Trans fats are most prevalent in the following foods:
- Processed foods
- Fast Food
- Deep Fried food in commercial locations, as the oil used can be used over and over again…nice.
- Cookies, crackers, cakes etc.
- Margarine and other non-butter spreads.
Saturated Fats in moderate amounts can be beneficial to your physique goals and to your health. Contrary to popular belief from decades of misinformation, saturated fats are not the enemy. Dr Jospeh Mercola, New York Times Bestselling author wrote:
“A misguided fallacy that persists to this day is the belief that saturated fat will increase your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. This is simply another myth that has been harming your health for the last 30 or 40 years.
The truth is, saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet, and they provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances.” – Taken from 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat on www.Mercola.com
A healthy dose of saturated fat will keep your brain functioning correctly, as well as your lungs and liver. The important factors when it comes to using saturated fats to building your superstar body are improved nerve signaling; where saturated fats essentially act as messengers for your metabolism and aid insulin response. The best examples of good saturated fats are:
- Organic Grass-Fed Beef and dairy products (full-fat) from Grass-fed cows.
- Coconut Oil, MCT Oil, Palm Kernel Oil (All examples of Medium Chain Triglycerides*)
- Brazil Nuts
*Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to help excess calorie burning, are the most readily available fat for energy and promote fat oxidation. When consumed in place of carbohydrates, they can be especially effective in improving your body composition.
Unsaturated Fats are generally considered the healthiest fats to consume. The two types are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Both kinds have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. Look for unsaturated fats rich in Essential Fatty Acids, particularly Omega-3. While you can get EFAs from plant sources, the body most easily converts the EFAs found in Fish.
- Fish sources: Salmon, Trout, Herring, Tuna, Mackerel, Sardines
- Plant Sources: Avocado, Flaxseed, Olive Oil, Nuts.
The Good, the Bad and the Great – I’ve devised this system when it comes to fats because let’s face it, not all of you have the time or the patience to be researching which foods are good sources of saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and essential fats. So instead I’ve broke it down into three groups:
Bad. Avoid as much as possible: Vegetable Oil, Fast Food, Hydrogenated Oils, Processed Food, Deep-fried Food.
Good. Eat in moderation: Grass-fed beef, Butter and Dairy from Grass fed cows, Organic Ghee, Natural Nut Butters.
Great. Eat frequently, particularly during low carb periods: Coconut Oil, Cacao Butter, Avocado, Salmon and other fatty fish, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Flaxseed, Chia seeds, Almonds