One of the most important aspects of your fitness journey is nutrition. And knowing how to calculate and adjust your calories and macros depending on your goals is the cornerstone of any good nutrition plan. Whether you diligently weigh your food and track your macros or you “eyeball” everything, you still need target calories and macros that you need to hit. In this post I will walk you through how I go about calculating my calories and macros and the tools I use for this purpose.
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and Maintenance calories
Your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR is the number of calories required to keep your body functioning while at complete rest. All other activity requires extra calories. If you add the calories needed by your body for all your daily activity, such as thermic effect of food (TEF), non exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and thermic effect of activity (TEA), to your BMR you will arrive at your TDEE. If all of this sounds like too much of work, fret not because we have made your life simple and made available a free TDEE calculator right here. I’ve taken some screenshots to explain how I use the calculator.
In the screenshot above you can see that I have entered my gender, age, height and weight (fairly straightforward). I sit in front of the computer all day at work so I choose my daily activity level to be light activity even though I work out 5 days/week. A lot of people tend to overestimate their daily activity level so be honest with yourself. When I submit these values my BMR and TDEE shown up as follows,
What this means is, with my current activity level and workout I need to eat around 2,250 calories to maintain my weight at the current level. This is also known as maintenance calories i.e. the number of calories I need to eat to maintain my weight. Note that while this and other calculators will give you an approximate value to start with, they can never be accurate. You will need to play around with these numbers a bit to find your TDEE.
Now that you know your TDEE, how do you use this information to maintain your current weight, lose fat or put on lean muscle? If you want to maintain your current weight you need to be at your TDEE or maintenance calories. In my case it would be around 2,250 calories.
If you want to lose fat at a healthy rate, deduct 200 calories from your TDEE (in my case 2,050 calories) and monitor you weight daily and take weekly averages. You should not aim to lose more that 0.5-1 kg/week, if you do then chances are you’re probably losing some muscle as well. If your weight doesn’t drop over 2 straight weeks then it’s time to reduce your calories a bit more. If you’re dropping weight too fast, you need to increase your calories. Always make small changes and monitor the effects rather than making large increases or decreases in calories. And remember that weight loss is not a linear process. Your weight will fluctuate on a daily basis depending on many factors, which is why you need to make decisions based on weekly averages.
If you want to gain lean mass, you will want to do the opposite of fat loss, which is add 200 calories to your TDEE. You want to aim for an increase in weight of around 0.5 kg/week. Similar rules as losing fat apply here as well. If you’re gaining weight faster then you need to reduce calories and vice versa is you’re not gaining fast enough.
“I’ve figured out my target calories, am I all set?” – not quite. Just as important is to figure out your target macros. Macros or macronutrients of which there are three, proteins, carbohydrates and fats, are what provide you with calories and distributing calories correctly among them is very important. I follow a simple split to partition calories between protein, carbs and fats. But before we get into that, you need to know that 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories. I’m not a big proponent of cutting out any of the macronutrients because they all have a role to play and are important in their own way, other than providing energy. Protein is by far the most important macro for building muscle, carbs are great for replenishing muscle and liver glycogen and providing you with energy during your workouts and fats are extremely important for regulating hormones in your body.
The way I partition calories into macros is as follows (if you don’t want to read up on all this and just want to calculate your macros, just head here),
Protein = around 2.2 grams/kg of body weight if a person is already lean and trying to cut fat else 30% of total calorie intake
Fats = 25% of total calorie intake
Carbs = the remaining
Taking myself as an example and assuming I want to maintain my weight, my target calories will be 2,250 calories. Since my body weight is 70 kgs, my target macros will look as follows,
Protein = 2.2 * 70 = 154 grams
Fats = (0.25 * 2,250)/9 = 62 grams
Carbs = 2250 – (154*4 – 62*9) = 2250 – 1174 = 1076 calories/4 (since 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories) = 269 grams
These would be my target macros to maintain my weight at my current activity level. To sum it up,
Protein = 154 grams * 4 = 616 calories
Fats = 62 grams * 9 = 558 calories
Carbs = 269 grams * 4 = 1076 calories
Total calories = 616 + 558 + 1076 = 2250 calories
That’s it! You’re now empowered. You can thank me later. While it may seem a little daunting at first, it isn’t as complicated as it seems once you understand some basic rules.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of doing all these calculations try the free macro calculator provided here.
Enter your calculated target calories per day and choose how you want to partition your macros. I recommend the “shredify.me” partition but you have the flexibility to partition them however you see fit, if you understand and know what you’re doing. In my case I get the following results, which is more or less the same as what I calculated manually.
In case you need help with something or something is unclear, comment down below and I’ll help you figure things out. As a next step, read this article on how to get started with tracking your calories and macros so you can be flexible with your diet.