Macros to a bodybuilder is like what quantum theory was to Albert Einstein.
If you don't fully understanding macros, you'll never be a great bodybuilder. Just like if Einstein hadn't understood quantum theory, he wouldn't have become a genius physician.
Macronutrient ratios are considered the key to maximizing gains outside of the gym. This is why bodybuilders can spend more time working out their macros, than girls take to do their makeup.
So…you could say macros are kind of a big deal?
Yes…and even more so when cutting.
No phase is more crucial for a bodybuilder to get right than cutting. Cutting requires precise calorie/macro calculations…assuming you want to look big by the end of your cut.
Fear not, young weight lifting padawan, this article will give you a step-by-step formula on how to calculate your macros that even Einstein would be proud of.
‘Cutting' is the dreaded phase that usually precedes summer. If you do a cut correctly, you'll get ripped to shreds and will be touted the next Jeff Seid on Instagram. Do it wrong and you'll end up looking like Napoleon Dynamite.
…you know, the skinny guy with abs you once teased.
Muscle loss is a big anxiety for bodybuilders when cutting, so much so that weight lifters can refrain from starting a cut despite being overweight (we've all been there). Hence how the ‘permabulker' was born.
So is it really THAT hard to burn fat and retain muscle on a cut, or are people not calculating their macros correctly?
I've performed many cuts over the last few years, losing roughly 40lbs each time. I can tell you confidently from my experience – it's very easy to lose fat and retain your hard-earned muscle…but only if you work smart.
This is where calories and your macros come in.
Calories are by far the most important factor when it comes to cutting. It doesn't matter if your macros are dialed in to a T, if your calories are too high/low you're not going to see the results you want. If you're eating too many calories you won't burn fat. If you're eating too few calories, you'll lose muscle tissue.
…and don't think eating more protein will save you from losing muscle if your calories are too low. Been there tried that.
Macro ratios are also considered to be important by experts, as you want to get the right balances of protein, carbohydrates and fats to burn fat/retain muscle as efficiently as possible.
1 gram of protein/carbohydrates contains 4 calories, whilst 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.
How Many Calories Do You Need When Cutting?
Multiply your body weight in pounds by 11, 12, 13 or 14.
Multiply by 11 – if you have a sedentary lifestyle.
For example, this would apply to those who don't have an active job and do very little (if any) exercise on a weekly basis. A typical sedentary worker would be those working behind a desk all day, who then come home and hop straight on the couch.
Multiply by 12 – if you're relatively active.
For example, if you have a fairly active job like a postman. Or if your occupation includes sitting on your heiny for most of the day, but still go to the gym a few times per week.
Multiply by 13 – if you're active.
For example, this would apply to those who have an active job AND go to the gym a few times per week.
Multiply by 14 – if you're extremely active.
E.G. if you have an active job and train intensely 5 times a week or more. This could also apply to a professional athlete who will typically train for several hours each day.
Note: These are simple calculations that people often fail to do correctly. Why? It's in our nature to exaggerate the truth to make ourselves feel better. If you only engage in light yoga twice per week and work at McDonalds, you don't fall into the active category. Be honest with yourself.
If you put yourself in the ‘extremely active' bracket when you're not, you're more likely to enter a large calorie deficit.
Large calorie deficit = guaranteed muscle loss
Okay so now you will have a number of calories that you should consume each day. If you hit this number you will lose weight pure and simple.
Aim for 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight when cutting to keep hold of your muscle.
So, if you're 200lbs you'd consume 200g of protein per day. This will keep your muscles in a positive nitrogen balance and protein synthesis levels elevated. If you're a bit of a paranoid wreck when it comes to losing muscle, you eat a good amount of protein (30g+) every 3 hours. This will keep a constant supply of amino acids to your muscles, reducing the chances of you entering a catabolic state.
Catabolic – muscle wasting.
Here's some of the best protein sources:
- Eggs (v)
- Whey protein
- Casein protein
- Beans (v)
- Cottage cheese (v)
- Nuts (v)
- Tofu (v)
- Soya (v)
Note: Slow-acting sources of protein are better utilized when going without food for a significant period of time. Aka when you're going to sleep. Casein is one of the best slow-acting protein sources, taking up to 5 hours for the body to fully digest. You can get casein in powder form or simply eat cottage cheese which is rich in casein.
You should consume 0.3-0.6 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.
I've made this flexible and given you a range as everyone prefers different foods.
If you're a big fan of bacon and eggs then you might want to aim for the top end of this scale. However, if you're not too bothered about fats and would prefer eating more carbs, 0.3 grams is enough to keep optimal hormone functioning. Fat administers testosterone production, so when you don't eat enough – your T will suffer.
I've personally got a sweet tooth and enjoy taking advantage of post-workout sugars (usually in the form of skittles), so I'd aim for 0.3 grams of fat. Eating more carbs when cutting is also likely to keep your muscles looking fuller when in a calorie deficit.
Also as a general rule, the more active you are the more carbohydrates you should consume as glucose is one of the body's main energy sources and thus replenishing sugars post-workout is more essential compared to a sedentary person.
You'll need an actual calculator for this one (unless you're rainman).
Once you've got one, multiply your daily protein intake by 4. This number will give you the calories you're eating solely from protein per day.
(You multiply it by 4, because there's 4 calories in 1 gram of protein).
Now multiply your fat intake by 9. So if you worked out that you need to eat 100g of fat, you'd multiply this by 9 to get 900.
You should now have 2 numbers, being your calories for protein and fat per day. Add these two numbers together. Then note it down.
Now enter the total amount of calories you need per day minus this number.
This will give you a number which will represent how many calories you have left for carbohydrates per day. Divide this number by 4 to get your daily quantity of carbs.
More Macros for Cutting Advice
Now you should have the perfect macro ratios for cutting, boom!
If by hitting these numbers you fail to lose fat, you'll need to drop your calories until you're happy with your rate of fat loss. Equally if you're losing too much weight (and sacrificing muscle in the process) you may want to up your calories, enabling you to eat more of your favourite foods.
Thus your macronutrients will fluctuate somewhat whilst cutting. Also the more weight you lose, the less calories you'll need so you'll have to continue modifying your macros. But don't get all anal and worry about recalculating your macros for every pound you lose. If you take it to extremes like this, the fun you experience from bodybuilding will be zapped.
Simply recalculate your macros for cutting when you feel necessary. For every 5-10 lbs you lose is generally a sensible rule. Equally if you're a few grams out on certain macronutrients, don't sweat it…this isn't going to make any noticeable difference to your body composition.
As you go deeper into your cut, your metabolism will start to slow down and your leptin levels will decline. During this time, if you're already lean and have hit a weight loss plateau, you can start to incorporate regular re-feeds/cheat days to kickstart your metabolism and enhance fat burning. During these days, don't worry about macros; just make sure you consume more calories than normal.
What Foods to Eat?
As you've landed on this article you've probably heard of the acronym IIFYM, standing for ‘if it fits your macros'. This implies that it doesn't matter WHAT you eat, as long as you hit your macros for cutting. So you COULD technically eat ice cream and burgers and still have the same gains as someone who eats chicken and rice religiously.
I've put this IIFYM theory to the test several times in the past and can confirm this is correct. This proves how important your calorie intake (and macros) are for gains, not which foods you eat. However, eating ice cream and burgers on a daily basis isn't going to be great for your health, so it'd be wise for most of your diet to contain healthy, unrefined foods.
The fact that you can incorporate some junk foods into your macros will only help you in the long run, as it'll keep you motivated and decrease the chances of you giving up.
So there you have it, you now know how to calculate your macros for cutting. I hope that what you've read in this article will help you melt some extra fat and spare as much of your heard-earned muscle as possible. I wish you good luck and feel free to leave a comment below if you have any further questions!
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