Hi everyone. How was your weekend? The weather is finally warming up here in Chicago. I spent most of Saturday walking around Lincoln Square just to enjoy it. And then Sunday I decided to walk to the grocery store rather than drive. I’m super ready for winter to be over.
Anyway, this is part two of my IIFYM series. Last time I talked about how to figure out how many calories you should eat for your goals. If you haven’t had a chance to read that yet, check out IIFYM Basics: Calories first, then come back here.
Today I’m going to cover how to figure out your macronutrient breakdown. In other words, how many grams of protein, fat and carbs you should be eating. Just like your daily caloric intake, your macros are going to be customized for you. Everyone is different and it will take some tweaking before you find numbers that work for your body. You should never just copy the macro grams of someone you follow online/on instagram.
Why count macros instead of calories?
You might be wondering why it’s important to count macronutrients and not just count calories. For me, the short answer was balance. Your body needs all three (protein, fats and carbs) to survive. It’s very easy to forget one if you’re not paying attention. For example, before I started IIFYM I was always low on protein. Typically my only protein sources were an egg for breakfast and ground beef/turkey at dinner.
Now that I know how many grams I should eat, I actively incorporate protein in my meals throughout the day. Same thing with carbs. I’ve now added more gluten-free carbs like potatoes and white rice to make sure I’m eating enough.
So how do you figure out what is enough? Honestly, I just made an educated guess and tweaked it depending on how my body reacted.
The most common macro percentages I’ve seen are 40% of your calories come from carbs, 30% come from protein, and 30% come from fat. However depending on your personally feelings regarding carbs and fats, you might feel more comfortable with a different breakdown.
Some other common ones are:
- Low Fat – 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat
- Low Carb – 25% carbs, 40% protein, and 35% fat
- Ketogenic – 10% carbs, 45% protein, and 45% fat
*Just in case you’re curious, I do not recommend the low fat or ketogenic breakdowns. I’m just sharing them because I’ve seen them a lot online.
Currently my macros are 30% carbs, 30% protein and 40% fat.
I think IIFYM works best when all three macronutrients are balanced. I choose to eat more fat than carbs only because I feel my body runs better with more energy from fat. But I know a lot of people who cannot go under 40% carbs without feeling sluggish.
Going from percentages to grams
When we talk about macronutrients in food, we refer to them in grams rather than percentage of calories. For example, 4oz of chicken breast has about 32 grams of protein. So you’ll want to figure out how many total grams of each macro you will want to hit each day.
To do this, it’s important to know that carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram. Using myself as an example:
I want to eat 1200 calories at 30% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat.
1200 x .30 = 360 calories of carb /4 calories per gram = 90g carbs
1200 x .30 = 360 calories of protein / 4 calories per gram = 90g protein
1200 x .40 = 480 calories of fat / 9 calories per gram = 53g fat
So everyday I try to eat 90g of carbs, 90g of protein and 53g of fat.
One more way to calculate protein
There is one more way of figuring out how much protein you should be eating. A common formula that you will hear is that you should eat between .7g – 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. Meaning since I weight 130 lbs, I should eat between 91g (.7 x 130) to 130g of protein.
For me, I choose to stick with the lower end at 90g. Mostly because I have a hard enough time trying to hit that number. But as I continue weightlifting I may start to increase my protein. But I’ll probably always keep it under 1g per pound of bodyweight.
Playing with your macros
Now here is the fun / frustrating part. You may realize the macro breakdown you picked is going to need tweaking. This is going to involve playing with the percentages until you find the sweet spot.
The basic rule of thumb is if you lower your carbs, you’ll want to increase your fats. If you lower your fats, you’ll want to increase your carbs. For the most part, you’ll keep your protein percentage the same.
There really isn’t a straight-forward answer on how or when you should change your macros. That’s why so many people pay coaches to figure it out for them.
For me, I had to pay attention to how my body reacted when I ate meals that were heavier in carbs versus fats. A lot of people can eat a meal heavy in carbs, like pasta, and feel energized. I immediately fall asleep. The same thing happened when I tried to eat waffles for breakfast. All I could think about was closing my eyes.
I then tried breakfast that was lighter in carbs but also was lower in fats, like gluten-free oatmeal. I didn’t fall asleep, but I did burn right through my breakfast in under 30 minutes. But if I add two tablespoons of almond butter to it, or eat oatmeal with eggs (including the yolk), I feel a lot better.
It will definitely take some time to figure out what works best for you. Just keep paying attention to your body. You could even keep a small journal to note how you feel after each meal and how quickly you became hungry afterwards.