Macros for Building Muscle and Losing Fat

ATH Macros

If you’re like most physically active people, you want to know how to maximize muscle growth. Whether you’re a competitive athlete, or just someone who makes an effort to exercise regularly throughout the week, you likely desire to reap the benefits of increasing muscle mass as a result of exercise.

Having high amounts of lean muscle plays a number of important roles in the body, including increasing your metabolic rate, improving bone density, and helping to prevent injury. In addition, having more lean muscle mass generally means there is less fat in the body, which lowers the risk of disease and other health complications.

But how do you accomplish this? When it comes to building muscle and burning fat, there are multiple factors at play. In this article we are going to discuss one of the main, yet often overlooked, factors to consider when trying to build muscle: your macronutrient intake.   

WHAT ARE MACRONUTRIENTS?

We hear the term “macros” a lot, but not everyone may be familiar with what this term actually means or the specifics of what it refers to. Simply put, macronutrients are the main building block of all foods. There are 3 types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat, which provide all of the calories you consume daily. Each macronutrient plays a unique and important role in the body.

  • Carbohydrates (“carbs”) are the body’s preferred energy source for muscles and brain function. Complex carbs are the healthiest type since they are digested much more slowly that simple or “refined” carbs and are less likely to be stored as fat. Complex carbs also provide essential fiber, which is crucial for proper digestion & heart health.
    • Best sources of complex carbs include-whole grains, beans, lentils, fruits & vegetables
  • Protein helps to build & repairtissues like muscle, bone, & skin, amongst many other important functions.
    • Healthy sources of protein include-chicken breast, lean cuts of grass-fed beef, freshly carved ham, lean turkey, fish, cage-free & organic eggs, organic soy products, whey protein powder, nuts, seeds, and organic dairy products
  • Fat aids in vitamin absorption, promotes satiety, helps produce sex hormones, and protects vital organs in the body.
    • Healthy fat sources include-organic & cage-free eggs, olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, coconut and coconut products, nuts & nut butters, seeds, & olives.

HOW TO ESTIMATE YOUR MACRONUTRIENT NEEDS...

The first step is to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE, or the average number of calories you burn per day). This number will be made up of your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of calories you burn at rest multiplied by an activity factor.

There are many online calculators that can help you determine this number, such as the one here or here.

From there, you can estimate your macronutrient needs.

Protein has the largest impact on body composition and performance, and thus should be prioritized in a diet for muscle growth. Research shows that people who want to build muscle need about 1.3 – 1.8g of protein/kg of body weight.

Example:  175lb divided by 2.2 kg/lb=79.5kg x 1.3-1.8=103-143 grams of protein per day.

Carbohydrates have the second largest impact on body composition and performance, and are another extremely important means of preventing muscle loss and replenishing hard worked muscles that have been depleted of glucose (sugar, or the byproduct of carbs). The amount of carbs needed will vary based on training volume and daily activity levels, but an average of about 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight is a good start for strength and power athletes.

Example: 175lb x 1.5=262 grams of carbohydrates each day.

Fats have the smallest impact on body composition and performance, but are still an essential part of a balanced diet. The fat intake recommendation for strength and power athletes is 0.3 grams per pound of body weight.

Example: 175lb x 0.3=about 53 grams of fat per day.

WHAT IS THE BEST MACRONUTRIENT RATIO FOR BUILDING MUSCLE?

Having an adequate supply of all 3 macronutrients is essential for building lean muscle tissue, regardless of how much you work out.

In general, those looking to build muscle should aim for 40-60% of their total calories to come from carbohydrates, 25-35% from protein, and 15-25% from fat.

Carbs and protein provide 4 calories each per gram and fat provides 9 calories per gram. With that information, you can calculate your macronutrient ratio.

Example:

2500 calories at 50% carbs=1250 calories divided by 4 calories/gram=313 grams of carbs

2500 calories at 25% protein=625 calories divided by 4 calories/gram=156 grams of protein

2500 calories at 25% fat=625 calories divided by 9 calories/gram= 69 grams of fat

It is important to recognize that in order to gain muscle mass, your body has to be in a calorie surplus. This is because if the body is in a calorie deficit, it will be more likely to be breaking down muscle mass the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

When combined with an appropriate strength training program, consuming a slight caloric surplus of 200-500 calories coming from high quality macronutrients and consumed around the time of the physical activity will provide the essential nutrients needed to successfully build muscle.

But what if you’re also looking to lose fat? Fat loss requires a calorie deficit, which is contrary to the goals for gaining muscle. Individuals with a goal of losing fat mass while also maintaining muscle mass are best off by being in a slight calorie deficit, no more than 20%. Any additional deficit could result in counterproductive muscle wasting.

WHAT ABOUT KETO DIET FOR MUSCLE BUILDING?

The ketogenic, or “keto” diet has become extremely trendy over the past few years. It involves limiting carbohydrate intake to about 30 grams per day in order to put the body into a state of ketosis, which occurs when the body begins to use fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Studies have found that the short and long term side effects of the keto diet include loss of lean body mass. In addition to this, it is easy to acknowledge that following the keto diet is not sustainable in the long run (because who can limit their carbohydrate intake that much forever?)

So, while the keto diet may be a successful tool to aid weight loss or for other purposes, it is not a sustainable nor recommended eating pattern to follow to optimize muscle building.

WHAT ROLE DOES PROTEIN PLAY IN BUILDING MUSCLE?

The process of building muscle is called muscle protein synthesis. This consists of the breakdown phase, which happens when you are training, followed by the growth phase, which occurs when you eat. Protein provides essential amino acids which promotes muscle growth and limits muscle wasting.

It’s not only about the amount of protein you eat, though. The type of protein you consume and the timing of consuming it matters a lot as well. 

It is best to aim to consume 20-30 grams of protein post-exercise to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Studies have shown that immediate post-exercise consumption of protein stimulates protein synthesis, while waiting as little as 2 hours after the exercise significantly hinders this process. Therefore, aim to consume about 20-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of exercise.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are a group of essential amino acids, and are the most effective at both triggering muscle growth and suppressing muscle breakdown. BCAA’s can be found in foods like chicken, salmon, eggs, and whey protein powder, and can also be consumed in supplement form.

The remaining protein consumed should be spread out throughout the day to best maximize protein synthesis, rather than consumed in large quantities just once or twice during the day.

BOTTOM LINE

Macronutrient intake and timing of food plays a larger role in muscle growth and fat loss than most people realize. The better you understand your unique macronutrient needs, the better you will be able to meet your needs and reach your training and physique goals.

Because there is no “one-size-fits-all” macronutrient ratio for building muscle, working with a trained and educated professional to help determine your unique needs is always the best course of action. 

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