Rather than just blabbering on with the science, I wanted to try a different approach in order for the readers to relate and understand the topic better.
Meet Billy. He is trying to lose weight. On his last doctor’s visit, he was told that he is overweight and should go on a diet. He has made various attempts in the past to lose weight which he did see some success. However, he has always struggled to maintain and keep the weight off. Rather than just following one of the diets he’s tried before, this time he wants to actually keep the weight off and stay lean. Perhaps, he can even get the six-pack abs he’s always wanted.
So where should I begin?
After researching on where he should start, Billy learned the importance of energy balance (please refer to Nutrition Principles Pt.I). With the help of online resources, he was able to figure out his ideal caloric intake (let’s call it X calories) that will put him in a caloric deficit, which will most likely set him in the right direction to his weight loss.
So what’s next?
Billy wonders how he should be consuming the X amount of calories. Should he just eat whatever as long as the calories up to X? Should he eat only chicken, rice, and broccoli until X calories have been reached?
He goes back to searching the web to find his answers and comes across the term, MACRONUTRIENTS. He’s heard of the term, macros, and also the three categories: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. In the past, Billy’s been told that carb is bad and should avoid it. Actually, he’s heard the same thing about fat…and even protein! He is quite confused so does a little bit more digging. Well, no macronutrient is actually bad. They are all used as fuel for the body, in some degree, and shouldn’t necessarily eliminate any one of them. Now that he learned the need for all three macronutrients, he wonders how should he breakdown those down each day.
Billy learns that it’s ideal to figure out his protein breakdown first. Since proteins are the building blocks of his body including muscles and organs, he thinks it makes sense to do so. He finds the general consensus guideline of eating about a gram of protein per pound of his body weight. He weighs 180lbs so it’s simple enough, he will be aiming to eat 180g of protein each day.
So now that protein is taken care of, how much carb & fat should I eat?
(During his online search he learned each macronutrient’s caloric value: protein and carbohydrate have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. So, even without any more research, he realizes that he can figure out of how many calories 180g of protein has, and which then can be used to calculate the remaining calories for carbs and fats.)
Anyways, he continues digging to figure out the ideal intake values for each carbs and fats.
Billy learns that the values of each can vary a lot depending on a person’s goal, the individual difference & tolerance, and etc. With that said, he figures if he can conclude on one of the values, say fat, then he can just do some simple math to figure out the remainder, in this case, carbohydrates.
Which should I figure out first, carbs or fats?
Even though it’s not definitive, he read that figuring out the carb intake may be more beneficial for performance goals, such as muscle building and athletic performance. On the other hand, for health goals, such as weight loss, it may be beneficial to figure out the fat quantity first. Since his primary goal is losing weight he decides to calculate his fat first.
The recommended percentage of fat intake seems pretty broad, anywhere between 20-40%, so he decides to pick the middle, 30%. Now that he knows how much protein and fat to consume, simple enough, the remaining caloric value will be comprised of carbs.
That wasn’t so difficult. Since I know HOW MUCH to eat I guess I need to figure out WHAT to eat next.
To be continued.
Here is an example of the mathematical breakdown of the calories & macros:
- Let’s assume Billy’s goal calories (X) is 2,000 calories
- 180g protein x 4cal/gram = 720 calories from protein
- 2,000 calories x 30% = 600 calories from fats (600 / 9 = 67g of fat)
- 2,000 – (720+600) = 680 calories from carbs (680 / 4 = 170g of carb)