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How To Count Macros For Building Muscle And Burning Fat?

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: July 21, 2022

Planning your food intake for muscle mass and losing fat is not an easy task. And many amateurs who don’t have the support of a team of dietitians and chefs can end up struggling with either gaining muscle or fat loss.

The main reason is that people don’t understand that you have conflicting requirements for your macro-intake depending on whether you want to lose fat or bulk up.

So, I got together with my dietitian to research the ideal approach that athletes should take to achieve their body composition.

Quick Summary

  • Aiming to lose weight and build muscle tissue requires careful planning with a macro profile that is different for each goal.
  • Lean muscle gains are not just about maximum protein intake, and weight loss has to involve more than just eating fewer calories.
  • Dietitians recommend adjusting your diet to your body composition goals, even if that means regularly changing what you eat.

How Do You Figure Out Your Macros For Building Muscle?

Different meal prep on table

You figure out your macros for building muscle mass by calculating total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

The good news is that you won’t have to be a math genius as there’s a simple calculator that you can use [1].

This number will be the total calories you need to sustain your current activity levels, and you have to make sure you account for all the muscle gain workouts you’re doing.

Once you have your daily calorie intake, I would suggest adding a buffer of about 10% to 20% before you look at the macronutrient ratio.

With that calorie surplus, you can now apply the general rule for building lean mass that my dietitian shared with me: 30/30/40 ratio for fat/protein/carbs.

Let’s say you need 3,000 calories a day to gain weight in the form of muscle.

Then you would need 900 calories from protein, and with 1 gram of protein providing four calories, you’d need 225 grams of protein [2].

Similarly, for fat, you’d need about 900 calories from healthy fats or 100 grams as it delivers nine calories per gram.

And for carbs, you’ll need 1,200 calories or 300 grams. 

Depending on how your body weight reacts and whether your muscle fibers are increasing significantly enough, you can fine-tune that ratio, but it’s a starting point I use for all my clients.

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How Do You Figure Out Your Macros For Burning Fat?

Top view of healthy vegetables with notepad

You figure out your macros for burning fat by working out your TDEE.

You can use the same calculator as for muscle growth above. But the difference is that you then eat fewer calories than your TDEE suggests.

When losing fat is your top priority, then you want to reduce the macros that the body most easily turns into fat reserves and increase the macros that help with fat loss.

What does that mean specifically?

What you need to do is switch to a low-carb and high-protein diet, as studies have shown a direct link between eating more protein and fat storage [3].

This doesn’t mean going to extreme lows for carbs like on the keto diet, but it can still minimize fat gain.

Using the same approach as above for working out the exact amounts, let’s say your daily calorie deficit is now 2,700 for weight loss and cutting, then your healthy fats should make up 810 calories, or about 90 grams.

Your protein is now 1,080 calories or 270 grams. And your carbs are 810 calories or about 200 grams.

“When it comes to figuring out what to eat for weight loss, the most important factor is eating less. When you consume less calories than you spend you will lose weight and the diet that helps you lose weight best will be the one that allows you to consume less calories without causing much distress or lethargy.”

- Kamal Patel, Co-founder, and editor at Examine.com.

Why Do Calories Come Into Play?

You’ve probably heard people talk about the fact that to burn fat, you have to eat less. Essentially, your calorie intake has to be lower than your expenditure to force your body to get energy from stored fat [4].

However, when it comes to a goal of muscle growth, you need to do the opposite and eat more protein, carbs, and fat for a calorie surplus [5].

What can happen, though, is that along with the muscle gain, you also notice a fat gain.

You have to keep a close eye on this, as the more fat you accumulate while gaining muscle, the longer your cutting phase might need to be.

But there are some tips to limit this.

More on that shortly.

Tips For Counting Your Macro Intake

Man using his laptop during workout

Now, before you think that you’re going to have to work all this out with pen and paper, let me tell you that there’s a much simpler solution.

Whether you’re in a calorie deficit or surplus phase, start journaling all your food intake with the Noom app or another similar application.

Even Noom's free version will help with tracking and calculating your macros intake. All you need to do is pick your food and ingredients and enter how many grams you eat.

At the end of the day, you’ll have a number for your calories along with the overall macros.

Counting macros couldn’t be easier, and it just takes a few minutes each day.

Measuring Your Progress

As you gain muscle and/or body fat, it becomes more important to keep an eye on your progress. The tricky thing is that you might not record a weight reduction on the scales while still losing fat reserves.

That’s because muscle tissue is denser than fat [6].

As you gain muscle, you can record quite substantial weight gain, but that’s not a negative.

To measure this accurately, I suggest that you either invest in a body fat caliper or go for a regular DEXA scan [7].

This will tell you the exact ratio of muscle, fat, and bone in your body, and it will tell you a lot about your progress from one scan to the next.

Can You Balance Muscle Building And Fat Loss

A group doing workout

Yes, you can balance building muscle mass and fat loss, but it’s a difficult task that depends on several factors.

Researchers have shown that how your body builds muscle and stores fat is not just dependent on your diet and metabolism but also on your hormone balances [8].

So you end up with multiple different things that could be competing for either growing muscle fibers or fat reserves, or both at the same time.

Rather than let that become a highly frustrating process, I generally recommend that people focus on lean bulk and muscle building and then go through cutting phases where they religiously count calories and reduce fat.

Taking Advantage Of Supplements

Consuming drink supplements

When you want to build muscle and lose flabby stuff over a certain time period, then there are two types of supplements you’ll need to rely on.

Whey Protein

You’ll need a lot of amino acids to build muscle consistently, as these are the building blocks of muscle fiber [9].

And one of the best ways to get the full range of protein your body needs is with a high-quality whey protein [10]. That should ideally be a whey isolate from grass-fed cows.

The great thing is that this supplement can also help you boost your protein intake for weight loss.

Fat Burners

Fat burners for men or women fat burners are not some form of magic pills that promise weight loss while you’re watching Love Island with a box of donuts.

But they are designed to trigger a process called thermogenesis that elevates your basal metabolic rate and subsequently leads to more efficient fat loss [11].

FAQs

Do You Need To Count Macros To Build Muscle?

Yes, you need to count macros to build muscle. It’s important to get the right balance of carbs, fat, and protein to provide the energy for training and ingredients for repairing and building muscle.

Should You Manually Calculate Your Macro Intake To Build Muscles And Lose Fat?

No, you shouldn’t manually calculate your macro intake to build muscles and lose fat. There are many different apps available that will allow you to enter your food consumption and then calculate the macros for you.

Take The Right Macro Approach For Your Muscles And Fat

While some people can achieve lean muscle gain and a reduction in fat, it’s a tricky approach and not always as effective as going through bulking and cutting phases.

Stick with a few weeks of healthy eating with more calories while you’re bulking, and then add a week of cutting. Keep counting macros all the time with an app, and you’ll have a lot more control.

And to shorten those cutting phases, I recommend investing in a stimulant-free fat burner. The slight metabolic boost can add up over the weeks ahead and get you to your ideal weight faster.


References:

  1. https://tdeecalculator.net/
  2. https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/fnic/how-many-calories-are-one-gram-fat-carbohydrate-or-protein
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7539343/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18025815/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6942464/
  6. https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a25607493/muscle-weighs-more-than-fat/
  7. https://health.ucdavis.edu/sports-medicine/resources/dxa-info
  8. https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20040423/fat-hormone-weight-loss
  9. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-amino-acids-build-bigger-muscles/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6245118/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/thermogenesis

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