The Ultimate Guide To Setting Your Macros (For Any Goal)

The Ultimate Guide To Setting Your Macros (For Any Goal)

"How do I set my macros for fat loss?"

"I want to build muscle without getting fat. What should my macros be?"

^Need help with either of these?

Good new - you'll never have to wonder about anything “setting macros-related” again. I'm writing this with the goal of never again writing an article on setting macros.

So yeah, consider this your ultimate guide to macro-stuff.

Why Track Your Macros?

If you’re reading this, you want to - in some way - use your nutrition to manipulate your body composition. Maybe you want to build muscle, or maybe lose fat.

If your body composition isn't currently what you want it to be, you need to make an adjustment. Thing is, to adjust appropriately for your goal, you first need to have something to adjust from.

Example:

Let's say you started online coaching, with the goal of fat loss.

If my only advice to you was...

"Oh yeah, uhh you should try eating less."

...would that really help? You KNOW you need to eat less to lose fat. You've probably BEEN trying that, and it ain't working. That's why you're here.

We need concrete metrics to make adjustments from.

Now let's say I told you: "You should try eating 2,200kcal per day instead of 2,500."

We're getting somewhere now. If you have a baseline to make adjustments relative to, your odds of success are much higher.

If you're just adjusting relative to feelings (e.g. you feel like you're eating less), you're gonna have a bad time. Feelings are super inaccurate when it comes to estimating calorie intake. In fact, a 2002 study showed the even Registered Dietitians underestimate their calorie intake by 223 calories per day.

So yeah, we're not great at estimating accurately, and as a general rule for life, it's probably better to avoid feelings as a whole.

You get it. You need to consistently measure your intake so we have something to adjust your intake relative to, instead of just taking shots in the dark.

Energy Balance

Calories are energy.

When you burn more energy (calories) than you take in, you lose weight. This is called a negative energy balance, or calorie deficit.

When you take in more energy (calories) than you burn, you gain weight. This is positive energy balance, or a calorie surplus.

When you’re taking in the same amount of energy as you're burning daily, you maintain your weight. You’re eating at your maintenance calories.

To lose or gain weight, you simply manipulate energy balance by:

Increasing/decreasing the calories you eat

Increasing/decreasing the calories you burn

So, you don't HAVE TO follow ANY specific diet. As long as you create a negative energy balance, you'll lose weight.

How To Manipulate Calories Out

This article is primarily about manipulating the calories in side of the equation. But, to ensure you feel you have 100% control of your body composition, let's touch quickly on the factors that increase/decrease calories out:

1. Exercise - Lifting weights, cardio, etc. Contrary to popular belief, doesn't burn that many calories.

You could burn 500 calories with an hour on the stairmill, and then drink 500 calories by way of margarita in two minutes. (You should probably slow it down by the way.)

This is why trying to "burn it off" doesn't go well for most.

2. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.) - All the calories you burn in your everyday life outside the gym.

N.E.A.T. is the most manipulatable variable of calories out. Adding in a bit of daily movement adds up to thousands of extra calories burned over a month.

This is why ALL my online clients with fat loss goals also have a step goal

3. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) - Calories burned during digestion. It takes energy to turn the food you consume into energy. This is TEF.

4. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns just to stay alive. Generally, the heavier you are, the higher your BMR.

These are the four components of metabolism - the processes that can increase calories out.

How To Manipulate Calories In

Here, your only option is manipulating your calorie intake, which we’ll cover in great detail shortly.

Got all that?

Basically:

Calories In > Calories Out = Weight gain

Calories In = Calories Out = Weight maintenance

Calories In < Calories Out = Weight loss

Now, of course it gets more complicated than this. But you must understand - at the most foundational level, the most important factor to changing your weight is energy balance.

To illustrate this point, a KSU professor performed a self-study. Throwing his body on the line in the name of science, Mark Haub ate primarily Twinkies and the like for 10 weeks.

Dude lost 27 lbs, while eating mostly highly-processed, sugar-laden foods.

A past version of you (~3-minutes ago) would have been shocked by these findings. But that's not who you are anymore. You understand energy balance, and realize Prof. Mark must've just maintained a calorie deficit, despite eating "unhealthy" foods.

New you is so smart.

So calories are all that matter, right?? Let's wrap this biotch up. I'm gonna smash some TWINKIES.

Not so fast eager beaver. You could just fit whatever into your calorie goal and lose weight.

The problem is, to put it scientifically - you'd feel like balls.

Your health would be awful. You need the various nutrients from whole foods to function properly and feel good.

It's a good idea to eat primarily whole foods (80-90% of your diet), adding in less nutritious foods you enjoy is perfectly fine.

The Macros

All the foods you eat are made up of some combination of the following macronutrients (macros):


Protein: 1 gram of protein contains ~4 kcal
Carbohydrates: 1 gram of carbohydrate contains ~4 kcal
Fat: 1 gram of fat contains ~9 kcal

When you're tracking your macros, these are what you'll be tracking.

Oh yeah... there's a fourth macro to take into consideration. This one is near and dear to most of us. I'm talking...

  • Alcohol: 1 gram of alcohol contains ~7kcal

Each macro has some unique benefits worth weighing when determining your macros...

Protein

Keeping protein high is crucial to building a great body, because:

Adequate protein is a MUST for building muscle. Protein is the building block of your muscle.

Through a process called muscle protein synthesis, your body turns the protein you eat into muscle protein (your muscles are essentially made of protein). When your protein intake is inadequate, you can't fully recover and grow from you training.

On a similar note, adequate protein is necessary to maintaining muscle mass as you diet.

Protein also has the highest thermic effect (TEF) of all the macros.

It takes energy to turn the food you consume into energy.

  • Protein: 20-30% of calories consumed are burned via TEF

  • Carbs: 5-10% of calories consumed are burned via TEF

  • Fat: 0-3% of calories consumed are burned via TEF

When you eat more protein, you're actually increasing the calories out side of the energy balance equation, since you're burning more calories via TEF.

Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients (it keeps ya full longer). The hardest thing about diets? You’re hungry. More protein helps.

Outside of controlling energy balance, increasing protein intake to .8-1 grams/lb of body weight daily is likely the most impactful thing you can do nutritionally to improve body composition.

Carbs & Fat

It's been shown - when calorie deficit and protein intake are equated - high carb/low fat and low carb/high fat diets both create very similar fat loss.

^For you, this means your free to set fat and carbs to your preference. As long as your protein and calories are on point, it won't make a huge difference in your results.

That said, there are a few things you should take into consideration for each macro:

Fat plays an important role in hormone production, so adequate fat intake is necessary.

The lowest you want to set fat intake is 15% of calories. Much lower than this, and you start running the risk of EPA (Omega-3 fats) deficiencies.

Protein and fat are "essential" (you'll feel awful/potentially die if you go too long without eating them), carbs are "non-essential". You'll survive just fine without 'em, so there's not a "floor" for how low you can take carbs. Buuuut...

Your body’s preferred energy source is glucose. Glucose comes primarily from carbohydrates.

When you stop eating carbs, your body depletes its glycogen (the stored form of glucose) stores fairly quickly. When we don’t have enough carbs coming in to fuel our body with glucose, the body eventually starts breaking down fats for energy instead. These fatty acids are converted to ketones by the liver. Ketones replace glucose as the body and brain’s primary fuel source.

With ketones as the primary fuel source, some things change. A big one - your ability to exercise intensely decreases. This makes muscle building much harder.

Eating carbs also prompts insulin release. Insulin (unfairly demonized) is a key hormone to muscle growth. Increased insulin release plus the ability to exercise more intensely means it make more sense for those with goals of building muscle to eat higher carb (generally).

Alcohol

Your body essentially views alcohol as a poison. Priority #1 for your body is getting alcohol out of your system ASAP.

To be more efficient at this, the body shuts down other processes to clear the system faster. Stuff like: Oxidation of fat, hormone production, muscle tissue repair, etc.

Basically, when you drink, your results (losing body fat, building muscle) stop until your body clears the alcohol.

That said, fat loss still comes down to creating a calorie deficit.

Drinking only causes you to gain body fat if it's kicking you out of a calorie deficit (unless you're taking it to the extreme/alcoholism levels).

So yes, you can absolutely enjoy some drinks while improving your body composition.

Could you improve results a bit by quitting drinking entirely? Probably. Are either of us going to quit drinking? Nope.

Guidelines For Drinking

Nights that end in a calorie overload of drunk food are usually brought on by drinking with an empty stomach. If you’re starving and drinking, you’re more likely to drunk eat.

You’re also gonna get way more drunk on an empty stomach. Leading to less willpower, and eventually, quesadillas.

Plan ahead.The day of, you need to save up some calories for the night. For big events, saving up calories the few days previous will give you some extra wiggle room.⠀

Fast + eat mostly protein during the day.You know you're likely to consume a lot of calories when you go out. Offset this a bit by fasting until 1pm-ish.⠀You also know adequate protein is super important to your body composition goals. So hit your protein goal before you go out.

Eat a meal of protein + high fiber carbs right before you go out. The enemy here isn't alcohol itself. It’s drunk you who wants to eat an absurd amount of Taco Bell at 2am. The best strategy to prevent this (outside of not getting drunk) is to drink on a full stomach. Protein is the macro that keeps you full, longest. Pair that with some soluble fiber-dense carbs (try: sweet potatoes, apples, oats, beans) to slow digestion, and you'll be feeling full for quite some time. The carbs will also "soak up the alcohol", making your hangover less terrible.

Low-calorie drinks. You can easily drink thousands of calories without realizing it.⠀The easiest thing to do- get a liquor with diet soda. Crown and diet is my personal favorite. By switching to diet soda, you're saving yourself ~100 calories per drink.⠀If you're a big beer drinker, it's a bit harder. You have to drink a lot more beer (and calories) to get the same effect as liquor. Sadly, margaritas are super-high calorie. Avoid those guys.

Will Eating Fat Make Me Fat? Will Protein Destroy My Kidneys? Will Carbs Give Me ZIKA Virus?

We have to address this, because you'll inevitably hear claims like:

"Too much protein gives you cancer!"

"You HAVE TO cut carbs to lose weight!"

"Fat is literally just fat! Obviously eating it will make you fat!"

Soooo by this logic, it seems our only option to avoid becoming simultaneously fat and cancer-riddled, is adopting a diet of pure, sweet alcohol.

Now, while I would love to re-live spring break 2013 & 2014 at Panama City Beach....

...I promised my mom I wouldn’t go back after she saw this Fox News Report.

Those guys are such party poopers.

Fine. Let’s get to the bottom of this:

Protein WON'T ruin your kidneys. This 2016 study showed no harmful effects on blood lipids, as well as liver and kidney function in resistance trained men - despite eating well over the 1g/lb mark.

Neither carbs nor fat, make you fat. This 12-month clinical trial of 609 overweight adults had the goal of determining the effect of a healthy low-fat diet vs. a healthy low-carb diet. The results:

  • Mean 12 months weight change:-5.3 kg low-fat vs. -6.0 kg low-carb
  • No difference between groups body fat % or waist circumference
  • Both diets improved lipid profiles and lowered blood pressure, insulin and glucose levels
  • LDL cholesterol decreased more in the low-fat group. HDL cholesterol increased in the low-carb group.

Basically, both diets worked well. No significant difference between the two groups results.

So, what did you learn today?

No specific macro makes you fat. Over consuming any food makes you fat. (But if we split hairs, protein is the hardest macro for your body to store as fat.)

Eating in a calorie surplus composed of any macro combination can make you gain weight.

Eating in a calorie deficit of any macro combination will make you lose weight.

DON’T DEMONIZE OR WORSHIP CARBS, FATS, OR PROTEIN.

There are no magic diets or supplements.

The beauty of this is - it means you don’t HAVE TO follow any one diet. As long as your energy balance matches your goals, and you don't eat like a dumb ass... you'll be in good shape.

How To Set Your Macros

Finally, amiright? THIS is what you came here for.

First things first, you need to know your goal. A goal needs be S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Mea... haha ok ok. I won't do that to ya.

All I'm asking is - do you want to lose fat, maintain you current body composition, or build muscle?

Got that figured out? Dope.

STEP ONE: Setting Your Calorie Goals

For those of you that skipped straight to this point, welcome to the article.

Finding Maintenance Calorie Intake

Regardless of your goal, you need to know your maintenance calorie intake. (The intake you maintain your current body composition at.)

You have a few options here:

a.) Use this calculator.

b.) Multiply your bodyweight by 13-17. 13 would be a sedentary office worker, 17 would be an extremely active construction worker.

c.) Start tracking everything you eat in MyFitnessPal. Take your weight first thing every morning. Adjust your calorie intake up or down as necessary until your weight stays stable for 5-7 days. (Yeah most people don't opt for this one.)

Regardless of which method you used, you should now have a number that is roughly you maintenance calorie intake.

Now you need to establish your starting calorie goal, depending on your body composition goal.

If you're the rare person who wants to stay exactly the same, just chill here at your maintenance.

Setting Calories For Fat Loss

Multiply maintenance intake X .85 for less aggressive fat loss.

Slower progress, but less hunger, more social life, generally feeling better.

-OR-

Multiply maintenance intake X .8 for more aggressive fat loss.

Quicker progress, but more hunger, less social life, generally feeling like balls.

Example:

Gerald, a 200 lb man, has a maintenance intake of 2,800 kcal per day.

  To determine starting cutting calories, he simply multiplies his maintenance intake by .85

2,800 X .85 = 2,380

Gerald's fat loss intake is 2,380 kcal per day.


Generally, creating a calorie deficit of ~3,500 calories will lead to ~1lb fat loss.

So, eating 500 calories below your maintenance calorie intake every day for 7 days, should lead to about a pound of fat loss. (500 x 7 = 3,500)

Keep in mind, this is just a baseline. You will likely have to adjust this in the near future. Your fat loss WON'T happen linearly on this intake.

Setting Calories For Muscle Gain

Multiply maintenance intake X 1.1-1.15 to build muscle while staying lean.

Example:

Gerald, a 200 lb man, has a maintenance intake of 2,800 kcal per day.

To determine starting bulking calories, he simply multiplies his maintenance intake by 1.1

2,800 X 1.1 = 3,080

Gerald's bulking intake is 3,080 kcal per day.

Eating in a calorie surplus is more is optimal for muscle growth than a calorie deficit, as your body now has excess calories to shuttle towards building more muscle. This is the concept of "bulking". Intentionally eating more, in order to build muscle quicker.

That said, the biggest bulking mistake is thinking...

 

More food = more gainz.

This isn't how it works, unfortunately. You hit a point of diminishing returns rather quickly when it comes to increasing calorie intake for muscle building purposes.

When you surpass ~15% body fat for men, or ~25% for women (very generalized numbers) - nutrient partitioning get much worse.

Basically, as you get fatter, a much greater portion of the calories you take in are stored as fat, and fewer are shuttled to muscle-building.

That said, determining the ideal surplus for building muscle without getting fat is tricky, and depends A LOT on you.

Remember N.E.A.T? The calories you burn doing random stuff outside of the gym - pacing, fidgeting, etc.?

When eating in a surplus, some people naturally increase movement to match. Without thinking about it, they start moving more throughout their day when fed more calories. (This is why some people "just can't gain weight".)

Now, how overfeeding affects you varies a ton by the individual, but the point is - some people need to eat a lot more when attempting to bulk to actually create a surplus. (More on how to know when to adjust later.)

STEP TWO: Setting Protein Intake

Setting Protein For Fat Loss

Aim for 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight, daily.

Example:

200 lb Gerald needs 200 grams of protein.

200 X 1 = 200.

800 of Gerald's 2,380 kcal/day will come from protein. (Remember, protein contains 4 kcal per gram.)

200 X 4 = 800 kcal

Adequate protein intake is a must when you're cutting. It increases the odds that you'll build (or at least maintain muscle), it keeps you full, and has the highest TEF of all the macros.

Setting Protein For Muscle Gain

Aim for .8 grams of protein per lb of body weight, daily.

Example:

200 lb Gerald needs 160 grams of protein.

200 X .8 = 160.

640 of Gerald's 3,080 kcal/day will come from protein. (Remember, protein contains 4 kcal per gram.)

160 X 4 = 640 kcal

When you’re bulking, you don’t need quite as much protein as when cutting. You're taking in an excess of energy, so your body won't turn to muscle protein as a fuel source.

STEP THREE: Setting Fat Intake

Setting Fat For Fat Loss

Multiply maintenance intake X .2-.35 to to determine fat intake while cutting.

Example:

Back to Gerald, with a goal intake of 2,380 kcal.

2,380 x .25 = 595

Gerald will be eating 595 kcal of fat per day.

To determine how many grams of fat this is, simply divide by 9. (Remember, fat contains 9 kcals per gram.)

595/9 = 66 (Well, 66.11.)

Gerald will be eating 66 grams of fat per day.

That said, for optimal hormonal function and health, at least ~20% of your daily calories should come from fat. Dipping below this point can causes hormonal issues, and potential fatty acid deficiencies.

As a broad generalization, most men feel ok on the lower end of the .2-.35 range. Most women do better on the higher end.

Setting Fat For Muscle Gain

Multiply maintenance intake X .2-.35 to determine fat intake while bulking.

Example:

'Ol Gerald, with a goal intake of 3,080 kcal.

3,080 x .25 = 770

Gerald will be eating 770 kcal of fat per day.

To determine how many grams of fat this is, simply divide by 9. (Remember, fat contains 9 kcals per gram.)

770/9 = 86 (Well, 85.56.)

Gerald will be eating 86 grams of fat per day.

Yeah, nothing really changes here. You're free to go higher than this on fats (in exchange for lower carbs) if you'd like.

That said, if your goal is muscle gain, most will do better with a higher percentage of carbs.

STEP FOUR: Setting Carb Intake

 Setting Carbs For Fat Loss

Fill the remaining calories with carbs.

Example:

Gerald has a goal intake of 2,380 kcal per day.

Subtract the 800 kcal coming from protein.

2,380 - 800 = 1,580 kcal

Subtract the 595 kcal coming from fat.

1,580 - 595 = 985 kcal

Gerald has 985 kcal remaining to fill with carbs.

To determine how many grams of carbs to eat, simply divide by 4. (Remember, carbs contain 4 kcal per gram.)

985/4 = 246.25

Gerald will be eating 246 grams of carbs per day.

Now that you have protein and fat set, you simply fill the remaining calories with carbs. (Protein and fat are essential nutrients: you HAVE TO have them to live, which is why we set them first.)

Gerald's Final Fat Loss Macros:

Total Calories: 2,378

Protein: 200 g | 800 kcal

Fat: 66 g | 595 kcal

Carbs: 246 g | 984 kcal

Setting Carbs For Muscle Gain

Fill the remaining calories with carbs.

Example: 

Gerald has a goal intake of 3,080 kcal per day.

640 kcal will be coming from protein.

3,080 - 640 = 2,440 kcal

770 kcal will be coming from fat.

2,440 - 770 = 1,670 kcal

Gerald has 1,670 kcal remaining to fill with carbs.


To determine how many grams of carbs to eat, simply divide by 4. (Remember, carbs contain 4 kcal per gram.)

1,670/4 = 418 (Well, 417.5)

Gerald will be eating 418 grams of carbs per day 

Remember, higher carbs here will likely be more conducive to muscle growth... but again, eat to preference.

Gerald's Final Muscle Gaining Macros:

Total Calories: 3,086

Protein: 160 g | 640 kcal

Fat: 86 g | 774 kcal

Carbs: 418 g | 1,672 kcal

And that's how you set your macros for any goal. Now that you have these established, let's break down what to do with them, and how to tweak them as your body changes.

How To Track Your Food Accurately (And Why It Matters)

Your nutrition plays a huge role in creating changes in body composition.

But, to make the necessary adjustments to your nutrition to create said changes, we first have to have a baseline to be making adjustments from.

You need to be consistently measuring your intake, so we have something to adjust your intake relative to, instead of just taking shots in the dark.

This is why it’s crucial to be at or near your macro goal daily. I typically tell clients to aim to be within 10g of their protein and carb goal, and 5g of their fat goal daily.

If you are consistently several hundred calories off the target, we don’t have a real baseline to adjust from. We're just throwing shit at the wall and hoping it sticks.

This applies to under-eating calories, as well as overeating. Either way, it’s harder to make the proper adjustments

Image Credit: Andy Morgan

No diet adjustment will make up for a lack of compliance.

On the same note, measuring your food accurately is extremely important.

Yes, you need a food scale.

Your Myfitnesspal diary might look like:

  • 1 steak: 460 kcal
  • 1 bowl of rice: 204 kcal

Total calories: 664

When it should look like:

  • 8 oz ribeye (raw): 658 kcal
  • 2 cups rice (cooked): 340 kcal

Total calories: 998

That’s a difference of 334 calories, for just one meal.

If you’re aiming to eat 500 calories below maintenance levels, that essentially makes your fat loss efforts a wash.

Underestimating and forgetting to track food is the single biggest pitfall that keeps people from making the progress they want.

 

When a clients progress stalls, the very first thing we do is ensure they're tracking accurately. This alone often results in weight loss resuming.

So, tracking accurately requires measuring most of your foods. I know it’s a pain in the ass... but not as much as kinda tracking for years and never getting results, right?

Tools to help track accurately:

A food scale.

A set of measuring cups

A set teaspoons and tablespoons

The Most Common "Tracking Mistakes":

Cooking oils - Even if you don’t apply it directly to your food, but rather line the pan with it, it still gets absorbed. This can add up to hundreds of un-tracked calories

Dressings, toppings, and condiments - The two biggest culprits here are salad dressings and condiments like BBQ sauce. Both are sneaky high in calories, and all too easy to forget to track.

Estimating instead of measuring - As you've learned, we're typically pretty terrible at estimating our food intake accurately.

Guidelines:

Don’t track using metrics like: small/medium/large. One medium banana. One large avocado. ½ bowl of rice. 1 steak. This leaves a lot of room for error.

Weight measurements (in grams) are by far the most accurate. Weigh as much as possible with a food scale. Measure the rest with cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons.

Weigh your meats raw (but thawed) and track them as such.



How Many Meals Should I Eat? 

You’ve probably heard you need to eat every few hours to speed up your metabolism. This is a myth. By far the most important factor is your overall calorie and macronutrient intake.

Anectdotally, my online clients seem to find 3-5 meals/day is where they feel the best, and is what works the best with busy schedules.

A few things to consider when determining the best number of meal for you:

Decision fatigue - Dividing your intake into 6 seperate meals means you have to decide 6 times every day to eat healthy. The more choices you have to make, the more your willpower will be drained. Reducing this to 3-4 meals decreases the decision fatigue you’ll experience.

Time-restricted eating - Choosing "feeding" and "fasting" windows. This typically amount to skipping breakfast, and eating your first meal at noon, before cutting off eating at 8-9pm. Nothing magical about this approach, but it does work well for some fat-loss focused clients who prefer to just eat several larger meals.

Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) - MPS is the process of your body turning protein into muscle protein (bigger muscles). Protein intake stimulates muscle protein synthesis. If muscle gain is your focus, eating 4-5 meals evenly spread throughout the day IS more optimal, with ~20-40g protein at each meal.

Choose the easiest number of meals for your schedule. 3-5 meals per day typically works best for most. 

How To Measure Progress And Make Adjustments

To be sure you're progressing, you need to measure how your body is changing. This gives you grounds to make adjustments.

Too many people get stuck in "diet purgatory" - they always feel like they're dieting (not a good feeling), but aren't tracking progress and making needed adjustments.

What To Measure For Fat Loss:

Body Weight

Although not the end-all-be-all of fat loss, the reality is, most people should lose weight in a fat loss phase.

For most, the ideal speed of weight loss when trying to get leaner is .5-1% of body weight per week.

Go much slower than this - You won't see see much progress on a weekly basis. Your fat loss phase will drag on. You'll get sick of dieting.

Go much faster than this - You'll feel constant fatigue, mental performance will suffer, and you'll create a bit higher risk of muscle loss.

The fatigue of extremely low calories also means you'll want to move less. If you're not careful, this can significantly decrease energy expenditure (calories out), and be counterproductive for fat loss.

All that said, scale weight can fluctuate pretty wildly, due to things like water retention from higher sodium intake, stress, and digestive issues. Don't get caught up in weekly weight changes. Look at the trend over multiple weeks/the month.

You're still aiming to lose .5-1% of bodyweight weekly, but don't worry if this doesn't show up on the scale every week.

Most SHOULD see a monthly trend of 2-4% of total bodyweight lost.

Body Measurements

Many times, an online client's body will be shrinking, but the number on the scale won't budge.

In this case, body measurements often give a more accurate picture of how your body is changing than your weight.

Progress Pictures

The day-to-day changes in your body are so miniscule, you WON'T notice them. This is why progress pictures are so important - they allow you to look at the bigger picture of your fat loss over the course of months - instead of just yesterday vs. today.

Tracking Body Stats:

Weigh yourself at least three times per week. First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking, and after using the bathroom.

Take the following measurement once per week, at the same time you weigh in. For accuracy, measure in centimeters with a soft tape measure.

Chest - Take a circumference measurement, with the tape at the level of the nipples.

Navel -Take a circumference measurement of your torso with the tape 2 cm above the navel.

Hips - Take a circumference measurement around the broadest part of the hips.

Thigh - Take a circumference measurement around the broadest part of the right thigh.

Take progress pictures front/side/back in a lighting and time of day you can replicate easily. Retake with similar lighting/time of day monthly. 

When To Adjust For Fat Loss

Before making any dietary adjustments, you first need to determine if your progress has actually stalled.

Has Fat Loss Actually Stalled?

Are you still losing weight? Again, not the end-all-be-all, but typically the first thing you'll notice. Be sure to look at weekly/monthly averages, NOT day-to-day fluctuations.

Are your body measurements changing?

If you can answer NO to both of the above, some things to consider before adjusting:

Are you measuring EVERYTHING you consume accurately?

Are you hitting your daily movement goal?

Are you sleeping enough?

Have weight and body measurements been stalled for 2+ weeks?

If you can answer YES to these, it's likely time to adjust. 

How To Adjust For Fat Loss

Ok, so no changes in body weight or measurements in 2+ weeks, and you're sure everything else is on point?

It's time to make an adjustment. Stalled weight loss means we need to do something to get you back into a larger calorie deficit.

As you know, you can create a larger deficit by manipulating calories in, calories out, OR both. Often with online clients, the easiest to adhere to is slightly increasing movement and decreasing calories. That said, this article is about calories in.

Decreasing Calories In

When weight loss inevitably stalls, the first step is usually to decrease calories by 5-10%.

Decreasing intake by 5-10% is typically enough to get online clients back to losing .5-1% of bodyweight per week (again, look at monthly weight loss, not weekly).

We already talked about why dropping calories too low can be less than optimal, both psychologically and physically - so when reducing calories, we (typically) take the approach of doing as much as necessary, not as much as possible.

Which macros should I reduce?

Again, the most important factors for your body composition are:

Overall calorie intake

Protein intake

So obviously, those are your priorities when making adjustments. Calories need to drop, and protein needs to stay around the 1g/lb bodyweight mark.

That leaves you fats and carbs to pull calories from.

When reducing fat calories - there will likely be a hard "floor". You'll notice after dropping below a certain intake, you feel much worse. Anectdotally, this floor is higher for women than men. Be mindful of keeping fats above 20% of daily calories.

When reducing carb calories - Cutting carbs too low will make diet adherence harder for most. We all love carbs. It'll also likely leave you feeling more lethargic in the gym. That said - carbs are nonessential. You can maintain good health without carbs - so often by necessity - carbs take the biggest hit when reducing calories.

Basically, always keep your protein higher. Carbs and/or fats are going to have to be decreased to reduce calories in.

Again, speaking from anecdote - most online clients prefer to pull from carbs and fats evenly as much as possible.

Example: 

Let’s check in with hypothetical client, Gerald. After losing 10 lbs, Gerald's progress has stalled.

Gerald’s stats:


Weight: 190 lbs

Calories: 2378

200 grams protein | 800 kcal

66 grams fat | 595 kcal

246 grams carbs | 984 kcal

 

Gerald has plateaued, and wants to drop calories by 10%.

2378 X .1 = 237 kcal

For now, we'll keep Gerald's protein as is (200g).

Gerald prefers carbs. That said, we don't want to take his carbs too much lower.

So, we’ll pull the 237 calories relatively evenly from carbs and fats.

-13 grams fat or 117 kcal (13 x 9)

-30 grams carbs or 120 kcal (30 x 4)

For a total deduction of 237 calories.

 

Gerald’s new intake:

Calories: 2,141

200 grams protein | 800 kcal

53 grams fat | 477 kcal

216 grams carbs | 864 kcal 

Typically, clients will diet for 8-12 weeks, making adjustments as needed. From there, you'll take a 10-day to 4-week maintenance phase, before repeating the process as needed.

What To Measure For Muscle Gain

Body Weight

Just like fat loss, you weight is an important metric here. The reality is, if you're building muscle, you should be adding weight.

Typically, when in a muscle-gain phase:

Men should aim to gain .5-1lb (or less) per week.

Women should aim to gain .25-.5lb (or less) per week.

 

I say or less, becuse there are  circumstances where you could potentially be building muscle and losing fat simultaneously, which would lead to the scale staying the same, or even decreasing.

This is why it's super important to be tracking other metrics outside of just body weight.

Body Measurements

Often, new online clients with muscle gain goals will actually see the scale decrease their first few months of training. Fortunately, they're also taking body measurements - which will show decreases around the waist, and increases around the chest, arms and legs.

Basically, new clients typically experience a recomposition effect. Due to following an indiviualized training program and getting their nutrition and lifestyle factors dialed in for the first time, they're simultaneously losing body fat, while also building muscle and strength.

Now, the more on point you've been in the recent past with training and nutrition, the harder a body recomposition is to pull off. That said, it's quite common for newcomers to Online Coaching

Training Performance

Is strength increasing? (Can you do more reps, more weight, etc. than last week?) If so, you're still improving. If the number on the scale isn't changing, you're likely also dropping fat (which will also show in your measurements).

This is exactly why all my online clients keep a training log of every weight they lift - strength increases are one of the most surefire ways for us to know you're making progress.

When To Adjust For Muscle Gain

If you're gaining weight too quickly (>1lb/week for men, >.5lb/week for women), for consecutive weeks (again, focus on weekly averages here) - adjust calories downward, as you're likely gaining excess fat.

If you're not gaining weight, measurements aren't changing, and strength in the gym has stagnated, increase calories upward.

How To Adjust For Muscle Gain

Now that you know it's time to make an adjustment:

If you've been gaining too quickly, decrease calories by 5%. Repeat as needed until weight gain falls in the recommended range.

Example:

 Gerald has been getting a little bit too big, and realizes he need to dial his intake back.

Total Calories: 3,086

Protein: 160 g | 640 kcal

Fat: 86 g | 774 kcal

Carbs: 418 g | 1,672 kcal

First, determine decreased intake.

3,086 x.05 = 154

Gerald will be decreasing his intake by ~150 calories.

Since fats are the least necessary in this situation, he'll pull the 150 calories from there.

150/9 = 17 (Well, 16.67)

Gerald will be pulling 17 grams of fat from his daily total.

If you haven't been seeing increases, increase calories by 5%. Repeat as needed until weight gain, measurements, or strength in the gym show progress. Increases in carbs will have the most carryover to training performance.

Example:

Gerald, on a quest to get huge, has hit a plateau.

Total Calories: 3,086

Protein: 160 g | 640 kcal

Fat: 86 g | 774 kcal

Carbs: 418 g | 1,672 kcal

First, determine increased intake.

3,086 x.05 = 154

Gerald will be increasing his intake by ~150 calories.

Since carbs are most conducive to growth here, that's what he'll add.

150/4 = 38 (Well, 37.5)

Gerald will be adding 38 grams of carbs to his daily total.

And that's how to set up and adjust your macros, no matter your goal.

Something to remember here:

We only addressed the Calories In side of the energy balance equation. The Calories out side of the energy balance equation is where there is the most variability from person to person, so don't be suprised if you don't see the exact same changes as Gerald.

That said, you now have the tools to make the proper adjustments and build a lean, strong body.


Ready To Build The Leanest, Strongest Version Of You?

Get a FREE call with me to strategize how you best body ever could be built, with  individualized training and nutrition protocols - designed specifically for your goals and lifestyle.


Jeremiah Bair is the biggest Taylor Swift Fan in Lincoln, NE. He's also a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the Online Coaching Business Bairfit. His Instagram is noticeably missing any calf pictures.