Whether it’s a fitness model, bodybuilder or professional athlete, every one of them has had to count calories at some point in their career. When it comes to nutrition and maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle, counting calories is a great way to find out how the different things you eat can affect your body composition. For those of you who would like to get serious and take your physique to the next level, it is completely essential that calories are counted. I am not saying you have to count every calorie or enter everything you eat for the rest of your life, but what I suggest is to enter everything you eat for one whole week just so you get a good idea of how much food and the portion size as well as what you should be eating.
I’ve had a few friends ask me lately about nutrition. They want to take their physique to the next level and get the most out of the hard work they put in in the gym. Eating healthy is one thing but really trying to optimize your body composition for a competitive sport or aesthetic purposes comes down to counting calories. So here is my crash course guide on counting calories and macro breakdown.
Before getting into the breakdown of macronutrients (macros), here are some useful facts you will need to know.
First, your BMR is your Base Metabolic Rate. This is the number of calories your body burns every day at a standstill. It is determined by your sex, weight, height and age. So for me at 6 0”, 205 lbs, if I laid in bed all day and didn’t move I would burn approximately 2114 Calories per day. So in theory I would have to eat a minimum of 2114 calories per day just to maintain my current weight of 205 lbs. This number is different for everyone. If someone is very active at work and exercise frequently, their number or calories burned per day will be higher. Finding your base number is calories you burn per day is difficult as everyone’s level of activity is different. So for me, I am lightly active even though I exercise frequently. My base number of calories I need per day to maintain my weight is about 2800 calories. So if I eat less than 2800 calories per day I lose weight, if I eat over 2800 calories I gain weight. So for anyone trying to lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit, if you want to gain muscle you need to be in a caloric surplus. I will not talk much about a caloric deficit in this post. For both dieting and gaining muscle I recommend tracking your calories for a week or two and hitting your calorie goal and watching the scale closely and trying to find your base number of calories to maintain your weight. For example, if I eat 2800 calories a day I shouldn’t lose or gain any weight. To put on muscle I need to be in a caloric surplus. To stay relatively lean while gaining muscle personally I have found being in an excess of 500 calories per day should be sufficient to put on lean muscle. So if my maintenance is 2800, I need 3300 calories per day for optimal muscle growth.
Second, Macronutrients (macros) are broken down into Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats. 1g of Protein is 4 calories, 1g of Carbohydrates is also 4 calories, and 1g of Fat is 9 calories. This is where fats get a bad rap as they are more calories than protein and carbs but they are completely essential for your body and optimal performance.
Third, a calorie is a calorie, scientifically a calorie is the energy stored in the food you eat. This is where popular diets such as “flexible dieting” or “IIFYM – If it fits your macros” are based on. So in theory I could eat my entire 2800 calories from candy or ice cream and as long as I’m under my base maintenance caloric goal, I will not gain any weight. When it comes to body composition, not all calories are the same. 100 calories from sweet potato is going to affect your body much differently than 100 calories from table sugar. Feeding your body what it needs is essential when trying to obtain a muscular, lean body composition.
Currently it is easier than ever to count calories with all the new technology out. I use the MyFitnessPal app. It is free and by far the best app I’ve ever used. It is as easy as searching for your food or scanning the barcode on the package. I haven’t found a food yet that I’ve scanned that wasn’t in MyFitnessPal database. So for those who would like to start counting calories follow the steps below for at least a week to see where you’re at.
- Get a food scale/measuring cups
- Download the myfitnesspal app
- Find out your nutritional goals and set your macros accordingly
- Measure out and enter all your food for one week and see where you are at.
It is very dependent on body type, age, how fast your metabolism is and activity level to determine your maintenance calorie level. This is the difficult part as everyone is very different. A good place to start is to go online and find a BMR calculator and start at that maintenance number of calories for one week. If you lose weight that week eating at your recommended maintenance calorie goal, up your calories by 100 each week until you did not lose any weight that week and that should be close to your maintenance. If you stay the same weight, depending if your goal is muscle growth you want to up your calories by 100 each week. As you keep gaining weight you want to watch the mirror and the scale to make sure you’re putting on the right kind of weight and minimal fat gain. If you eat at your maintenance for a week and you gain weight, eat 100 calories less each day that week and see if you can find your maintenance.
Macros and what should I be eating?
So for your calorie breakdown I will use my maintenance as an example. So I am currently 205 lbs. As previously mentioned my maintenance is about 2800 calories per day. I want to fill my calories with the right about of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to have optimal recovery and increased performance in the gym.
For bodybuilders and athletes, 0.6-0.8 gram per pound of bodyweight for protein is what you want to shoot for. For me that looks like 120-160g of protein per day. Most supplement companies are trying to sell their protein supplements so they suggest you have to consume outrageous amounts of protein like 2g per pound of bodyweight for muscle growth. This is false information if you do your research properly.
Next we have Carbohydrates, this will be different for most people. If you have an ectomorph bodytype you will want more carbs, if you are an endomorph you will want to have less carbs and a higher fat intake. You will have to play with the amount of carbs you need to find where your body performs optimally. So for me around 300g of carbs per day is a good number. I do not gain unnecessary bodyfat and I have enough energy throughout the day. I may eat more depending on how strenuous my workout was and I will eat more if my activity level was higher than normal. On rest days I will lower my carbs and up my fat intake as my body doesn’t need the energy source if I am not at the gym. I also organize eating most of my carbs for the day around my workout, when my body can use them the most. So I eat a decent amount of carbs for my pre workout meal then my biggest meal with the most carbs for a post workout meal. Below is an example of a rest day where I decrease carbs and increase my fat intake.
Last we have fats. I would take whatever calories are left and use them for fats spread evenly throughout the day. So if I eat 171g protein, 221g carbs, that totals 1568 calories. I would take the 1232 calories left and fill that with healthy fats such as nuts, avocado, eggs, olive oil and other fat sources. So that gives me about 151g of fat.
To sum it all up with a sample 2800 calorie maintenance level:
*Note: This is a sample diet for me, I switch between higher carb days and lower carb days depending on my current goal.
Protein – 120-170g
Carbs – 300g (dependant on activity level)
Fats – Whatever calories are left over use for fats. So about 100g fat.
As an example for me at 205 lbs and 2800 calories a day, a typical pre workout meal for me would be 2 whole eggs, 1 cup of egg whites, ¾ cup of oatmeal (measured dry before cooking) and 20g peanut butter. Macros for this meal would be 53g Protein, 53g Carbs, 22g fat and 637 calories.
For Post workout, I try to eat my biggest meal of the day, 1 banana, 1 cup of ground chicken, 1.5 cup of cooked white rice with 120g of chunky salsa.
This wraps up my guide on counting calories. If anyone has any questions feel free to leave a comment or send me an email and I will do my best to help you out. I will eventually be posting my meal plan and I will try to go into more depth on pre/post workout nutrition in a later post, so stay tuned and start counting your calories!