At iN3, we live by three simple words: “EDUCATION DRIVES COMPLIANCE”
As nutrition coaches, obviously we want our clients to be compliant to the prescriptions that we create for them, and over the course of 15 years in the industry I have found that an educated client is a compliant client.
Unfortunately, several of you reading this blog right now have reached out to a coach, received a “macro prescription,” and blindly followed it. Even worse, you didn’t reach out to a coach and instead you went to an online macro calculator, got your macros, and blindly followed those. This may have worked for a brief period of time, but ultimately the results you truly desired are still eluding you…
Let’s fix that.
Let’s get back to basics, and understand HOW a proper prescription should be built – cool?
First and foremost let’s get massively clear on something – CALORIES ARE KING.
Energy balance will always win – period!
This has been proven with some pretty extreme examples like the twinkie diet (nothing but twinkies were consumed in a calorie deficit) and the McDonalds Diet (nothing but McDonalds was consumed in a calorie deficit) – both of which yielded success in terms of WEIGHT LOSS (note – I did not say fat loss…important for later).
With that in mind, the first thing we should look to establish and understand is caloric maintenance.
There are two ways we can do this:
1 – We can calculate BMR and multiply it with an intensity factor.
2 – We can use a prolonged dietary recall and observe trends in body weight change.
Most people do not have a prolonged dietary recall, and will alter their feeding habits when asked to perform a dietary recall moving forward, so for the purposes of this article I am going to speak only about the formulaic method. (Note – I am not saying this method is superior, but for the context of a written blog it is the most prudent to discuss)
Calculating the BMR can accomplished through several different formulas, but the most popular seem to be Harris-Benedict Equation and the Katch McArdle Formula. No matter which formula you select, this number should yield the number of calories you are burning at rest. Obviously as humans, we do not simply “rest” all day, so we must account for activity during the day.
Because it is impossible to precisely quantify the caloric output from our Exercise Activity and Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, we use an estimated “intensity multiplier.”
This number will range from 1.2 – 1.9, with 1.2 being someone that is very sedentary, and 1.9 being someone that trains frequently and is very active.
The product of your BMR and your intensity multiplier will yield MAINTENANCE CALORIES.
From here, manipulation is very simple…
Want to lose weight…create a deficit (decrease caloric intake or increase expenditure).
Want to gain weight….create a surplus (increase caloric intake or decrease expenditure).
Want to maintain….keep eating at this maintenance calorie number.
Earlier I noted that the extreme diet examples (twinkie diet and McDonalds diet) yielded weight loss, but not necessarily fat loss. While it was not directly noted (to my knowledge), I have a strong suspicion that if we looked deeper into the results, we would see that subjects lost valuable LEAN TISSUE along with some bodyfat, leaving body composition approximately the same if not WORSE.
This is largely because the COMPOSITION OF THE CALORIES (macronutrients) was not favorable to fat loss and muscle retention.
Now that we know that calories are king, but composition of calories is important, let’s look at how we can set up a proper macronutrient prescription for your goals.
Most macronutrient prescriptions should begin with setting the protein requirement. (Note – ketogenic diets will follow a “percentage” based system, so this may not be true for keto dieters)
Several factors must be taken into account when prescribing protein intake, but we have found an ideal intake to fall somewhere in the 0.7g/lb. – 1.2g/lb. of bodyweight. This range will account for variables such as:
• Whether an individual resistance trains
• Their training age
• Their current body composition
• Their body type
• Any information regarding insulin sensitivity
• Time of year relative to periodization
• Dietary goals
While it is nearly impossible to make generalizations, here are a few things to hopefully help you narrow down where your protein intake should fall:
Performance athletes – your protein intake will be slightly lower pre and in-season, and will be slightly higher post and off-season.
Those seeking aesthetic goals – your protein intake should be moderate in the beginning of your diet, and will likely increase throughout the duration of your diet due to thermic effect of food and needing to offset caloric intake as carbs and fats come down.
Individuals with longevity based goals – your protein will likely be on the low end due to a lack of high volume resistance training, and a heavier emphasis on fat intake.
Important – Research indicates that when caloric intake and protein intake are both properly accounted for, body composition goals absolutely WILL BE achieved.
At this point you should understand how to properly structure your caloric intake as well as your protein intake inside of that calorie number, so let’s fill in the remaining calories with fats and carbs.
The second macro that we prescribe is fats.
While traditional recommendations have seen fats at 20-35% of total caloric intake, I believe this is flawed and does not account for several of the issues that we see today in western culture. It also does not account for multiple sets of goals, or periodization.
Instead, the initial prescription will likely begin in a range of 20-70%.
This is a large range, so let’s examine where to start:
Performance athletes – if you are in season or pre-season, your fat intake will likely be on the lower end, but if you are post season or off season you could see your fat intake as high as 40-50% depending on goals and individuals needs for your sport.
Those seeking aesthetic goals – This will vary heavily from individual to individual. Some people will see extreme success on very low fat diets (20% and below), while others will need very low carbs with moderate fats or even a purely ketogenic diet.
Longevity is usually best accomplished with a ketogenic diet, or a higher fat moderate protein approach.
The final macro that we must include in a prescription is carbohydrate.
This is the easiest of all macros to implement, because at this point you have accounted for calories, and calories from protein and fat. Simply fill in the remaining calories with those coming from carbohydrate.
If you have done this correct, you will find the following:
Performance athletes will have more carbohydrate pre and in-season, and can potentially see less carbs in the post and off-season times.
Aesthetic athletes will vary, but could see higher carbs, or very low carbs depending on individual factors.
Those seeking longevity will have very low carb intake.
A FEW FINAL NOTES
There are a few important things I must make note of before wrapping this up.
First, this whole article should be preceded by the words “assuming all things normal.” This is to say that these are appropriate recommendations for someone who does not have an extensive dietary history or whose hormones/HPA Axis have not been affected by said dieting history. If that is the case, these recommendations may not apply.
Second, this article is designed to give you a STARTING POINT. Ultimately every dietary protocol will need manipulations as natural metabolic adaptations occur.
Finally, just because this information is accurate relative to physiology, does not mean that it will always suit every individual. Metabolism is very specific relative to each person, and must be accounted for as such.
Hopefully this gives you a place to start, but as always I am here to help when you need it 🙂