Calorie and Macronutrient Values Made Easy

Calorie and Macronutrient Values Made Easy

The biggest challenge surrounding diets is breaking the diet up into how much you should be eating and the amount of macronutrients that make up your daily intake. Don’t fret! It’s actually really simple. Keep in mind, the right macronutrient profile differs for everyone, so it might take a little tweaking here and there to find the right macronutrient profile for you but with the right guidelines, you can get to your values quicker.

A quick primer

When starting a diet most people only focus on the number. By number, I mean how many calories you must eat/day. This isn’t by any means wrong but it can go much deeper than that. Some people are fine with just cleaning up their diet and eating whole foods at every meal 3x/day. This would be fantastic if everyone was like that, but it’s not usually the case.

To individualize a diet we can look at the macronutrient profile. But before we go further, I want to talk about the 3 macronutrients and the 3 different body types.

Protein:

This one should be a no-brainer. Proteins are the building blocks of our body and are the main component in every cell. Dietary proteins are used by the body for growth and development as well as to repair cells. Since proteins are also enzymes, blood transports molecules, and hormones, they are essential for maintaining cellular function as well as for health and reproduction.

In the context of this article, I will not dig too deep into the underlying physiology of how protein works. Just know that it is required for healthy cell function and turnover which is very important in regard to the physical activity that will be required when going through a weight loss journey. When we consistently break down our body, such as when we lift weights, we need to repair the damage we’ve done. By eating the necessary amounts of protein, we can put our body in a position to adequately recover from the increased demands that we place on it.

Carbohydrate:

This is everyone’s favorite macronutrient. Think cookies, bread, pasta, cereals…I could go on and on. The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide your body with an energy source.

As stated above, there are different classifications of carbohydrates but I don’t care to talk about them in this article. Just know that carbohydrates are what we need to power through things such as a workout.

Fat:

Until recently, fat has basically been the culprit of gaining weight. The reason for this is, fat contains 9 calories/gram while carbs and protein only contain 4 calories/gram. At more than double the calorie count gram for gram, you can see why it’s easy to blame fat for weight gain. Regardless of what you believe, fat is another energy source that your body can use—it’s just denser than carbohydrates which is why it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the quantity you consume/day. Additionally, fats aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins as well as carotenoids.

When stored (as body fat), it helps to insulate and protect your organs as well as regulate hormones and provide energy for when food is scarce—such as a diet.

Setting energy intake for weight loss

Now that you know the basics of macronutrients we can figure out how to customize it to your goals. Here is a table depicting the values we will use to arrive at your specific intake.

Calorie Estimator
Goal
Weight Loss Weight Maintenance Weight Gain
Sedentary 10-12 12-14 16-18
Moderately Active 12-14 14-16 18-20
Very Active 14-16 16-18 20-22

Calorie Estimator
Goal
Weight Loss
Sedentary 10-12
Moderately Active 12-14
Very Active 14-16


Calorie Estimator
Goal
Weight Maintenance
Sedentary 12-14
Moderately Active 14-16
Very Active 16-18


Calorie Estimator
Goal
Weight Gain
Sedentary 16-18
Moderately Active 18-20
Very Active 20-22

If your goal is to lose weight you would simply take your body weight in lbs. and multiply it by the number that corresponds to your goal. For example, a 150lb. male who wants to lose weight and works out 3-4x/week would multiply his weight by 12-14. He would be eating anywhere from 1800-2100 calories/day to lose weight. It’s that simple. By following this guide you should see the scale moving downward each week. Keep in mind, that because this is an estimate, everyone may experience faster or slower rates of weight loss which may need to be adjusted until you see the result you’re looking for.

Macronutrient Split

Once you have determined the number of calories you should be eating/day, set protein, carbs, and fat to 10-35%, 45-65%, and 20-35% of your daily calories. These numbers are from the USDA but can be tweaked to your liking–with reason!

Note: if you are involved in strength training it would be beneficial to set protein at the higher end of the range.

If our 150lb. male who decided he wanted to lose weight and was going to do that by eating 1800-2100 calories/day could start out by setting his macronutrient intake at 35% protein, 45% carb, and 20% fat. To determine how many grams the percentages equate to, you simply multiply the calorie value by the percentages and then divide by the calorie value of protein, carbohydrates, and fats which are 4, 4, and 9 respectively. Heres an example:

Protein:

35% of 1800-2100 is 630 and 735 calories respectively. Since there are 4 calories/gram of protein, then you would just divide 630 and 735 by 4. Leaving you to consume 158-184 grams of protein/day.

Carbohydrates:

45% of 1800-2100 is 810 and 945 calories respectively. Since there are 4 calories/gram of carbohydrates, then you would just divide 810 and 945 by 4. Leaving you to consume 203-236 grams of carbohydrates/day.

Fat:

20% of 1800-2100 is 360 and 420 calories respectively. Since there are 9 calories/gram of fat, then you would just divide 360 and 420 by 9. Leaving you to consume 40-47 grams of fat/day.

Wrapping up

If you focused on eating the macronutrients calculated, it would equal 1800-2100 calories/day. Easy right? Remember, these are just best estimates to get you on your way to reaching your goal. With luck, you might even be able to nail it the first time but chances are it won’t be perfect from the get-go which is why you’ll need to monitor your results to tweak and refine it until you get the results you’re after.


Institute of Medicine. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids.” Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005. 598-738.

Institute of Medicine. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids.” Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005. 265-324.

Institute of Medicine. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids.” Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005. 422-515.

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