Our first response to most of these nutrition questions will be: it depends on your goal.
The rather drawn-out answer below won’t seem simple at first, but trust us, read it a couple times and get to grips with the concepts and it will help you no end.
The protein question is answered in the first of our FAQs – How much protein should I eat per day? which is probably the bigger question for a lot of people because of protein’s connection with muscle building and, now, fat burning.
When it comes to what you actually want out of your diet, however, the other two macronutrients: fat and carbohydrate are just as important.
We won’t go too much into healthy food choices in this piece, because the question isn’t about that, but healthy nutrition is so integrated with body transformation that it’s hard to avoid talking about it in every article we write.
What’s Your Current Body Transformation Goal?
There are 3 basic goals that people want to achieve:
- Weight Gain – Bulking Cycle – Mass Building
- Weight Loss – Cutting Cycle – Fat Mass Reduction
- Weight Maintenance – Maintenance Cycle (possibly strength cycle for bodybuilders)
A bodybuilder, for example, might go through all 3 of these in a given year. There are also different variations of these that require subtle changes depending on how advanced you are, and how in-tune you are, with your body.
Generally speaking, those are the 3 basic states. Once you know which one you want, you can plan your diet accordingly.
Calorie Surplus, Deficit and Equilibrium
Those 3 goals above can be defined in terms of caloric intake.
Mass Gain = Calorie Surplus i.e. you must consume more calories than you burn
Weight Loss = Calorie Deficit i.e. you must consume less calories than you burn
Weight Maintenance = Calorie Equilibrium i.e. you must consume and burn as close to the same number of calories as possible
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)
There are many calculators online which can help you to calculate both of these numbers, but for what it’s worth they are very close.
Both mean pretty much the same thing: the energy required to fuel the processes that keep you alive. The difference is BMR adds the little bit of extra energy that you use to brush your teeth or shout at the TV. The difference is about 100 calories.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
This is the number you want to get to. It’s the combination of your BMR plus energy spent during exercise and your occupation.
Again, you won’t have a hard time figuring this out with a 45 second internet excursion (*cough* bodybuilding.com *cough*) and once you have a decent idea of your TDEE, the world is your oyster.
Well…it’s your place to bulk up, cut fat, or maintain!
Back To the Macros
Hopefully you get an idea of how the protein question and answer come into play here.
Once you’ve got your protein number and your TDEE number, the remainder is going to be carbs and fat, and again, that question of what you want to do with your body.
Say your TDEE is 2500 calories because you work out intensely a few times a week, and your job is moderately active.
Also, let’s say you’re looking to burn fat/cut, but keep your muscle mass in tact, and you’ve decided 1g/lb (2.2g/kg) bodyweight protein is good enough for rock’n’roll.
If you’re 200 lbs then that’s 200 grams of protein you should consume every day.
What form you get it in is up to you, but the leaner it is, the less fat will be present and the more closely you can control your fat intake.
Some VERY Basic Calculations
NOTE: Protein is 4 calories per gram. Carbohydrate is 4 calories per gram. Fat is 9 calories per gram.
That means a fillet steak weighing 271 grams, containing 25g protein and 19g fat constitutes the whole weight.
As 25 x 4 = 100 calories of protein
And 19 x 5 – 171 calories of fat
And that’s from a fillet steak. So, yeah, the leaner the better.
A Quick Word on Fat and Carbs to Finish
Neither of these macronutrients are evil. There is a vast difference between the different types of fat and carbs.
Fast sugary junk in bright coloured packaging are full of carbs and trans fats. ergo, bad!!
And then, for example, there are sweet potatoes – great carbs, and avocados – great fats.
You can do anything with your body – lose, gain, or maintain – and you can do them all clean or dirty. Yes, you can lose weight and eat crap – you just can’t eat as much and your health will decline as a result.
Omega 3 fats and Omega 6…both are better than any other fats. A general ratio of 3:1 (omega 3 to omega 6) is good to keep in mind.
For carbs, avoid fast sugar which is high on the glycemic index (GI). This will keep your blood sugar nice and regular and prevent unnecessary insulin damage and fat storage.
Use your head and it becomes simpler, quicker than you think. Soon you start seeing your protein in portions you understand just by looking at them rather than turning the packaging over and doing math. Same with fat and carbs.