Are you trying to gain muscle mass, but you feel like you’re hitting a wall? Are you lifting heavy and eating plenty of protein, but you’re just not seeing the progress you want? When it comes to muscle building, the weights are undoubtedly important, but there’s nothing more crucial than proper nutrition.
If you’re not structuring your diet correctly, your muscles won’t have the raw materials they need to build you the body of your dreams. So how do you go about setting up your bodybuilding macros to pack on quality muscle tissue without gaining too much fat? Let’s take a look.
- What Are Macros?
- Optimizing Your Macronutrient Ratios Depends on Several Factors
- How to Calculate an Optimal Macronutrient Ratio for Yourself
- What Are Macronutrient Calculators for Bodybuilding?
- Additional Tips for Using Macros for Bodybuilding
‘Macros’ is simply a shortened version of the term ‘macronutrients’, which are the protein, carbohydrates, and fats that comprise the foods you eat. Each macronutrient serves a number of specific purposes in your body, but they all work synergistically to help you pack on muscle. Here’s a quick overview of the roles of each one:
Protein forms the foundation of each muscle in your body. So, if you’re trying to gain muscle, you need to be diligent about your protein intake. Protein is comprised of 20 different building blocks called amino acids, which help your body to rebuild and reinforce the tiny muscular tears you create when you lift weights.
Without enough protein in your diet, your body must recycle the amino acids that are already in your system to repair those tiny tears. When you force your body to function this way, you won’t gain muscle as efficiently as you would by including adequate protein in your daily diet.
According to many experts, carbohydrates are a muscle-builder’s best friend. When you eat carbs, your body not only burns them for immediate fuel, but it also stores them away in your muscle tissue for later use. The stored form of carbohydrates, glycogen, is what your muscles burn for fuel during an intense training session.
Dietary fat is essential for lean muscle building because it plays a central role in your body’s production of critical hormones that stimulate muscle growth and fat burning. It also helps your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients and synthesize protein to form new muscle tissue.
To achieve the best muscle-building results for your unique physiology, eating the appropriate ratio of macronutrients at the appropriate time is key. Though you can certainly build muscle on a low-carb or low-fat diet, you may not see the rapid results you’re looking for.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all macronutrient ratio for building muscle. Your unique ratio depends on several factors, including your body type, gender, and fitness goals. Here’s what to consider when structuring your bodybuilding macro ratio:
Did you know there are three distinct body types? Optimizing your macros for bodybuilding depends largely on the type of body you have, so before you start planning your diet, determine whether you’re an ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph. Here’s how to make the call:
Ectomorph: Slender and almost lanky, ectomorphs have a difficult time packing on quality muscle tissue. Lifters with this body type are often labeled “hard gainers.”
This structural type is characterized by smaller joints and bones, narrow shoulders, a smaller chest, and naturally low body fat. An ectomorph loses fat easily, often without trying, because of his or her incredibly high metabolism.
Ectomorphs require a higher percentage of carbohydrates due to their high metabolisms and difficulty putting on mass. Moderate protein and lower fat typically work well for this body type.
Mesomorph: Mesomorphs are often referred to as the “genetically gifted” body type because they are naturally muscular with lower body fat. This structural type is characterized by broad shoulders, defined musculature, and a solid bone structure. Though mesomorphs are naturally on the leaner side, they accumulate fat more readily than ectomorphs.
Mesomorphs can tolerate a moderate amount of carbohydrates because they are able to store substantial muscle glycogen. Moderate protein and fat should round out the remainder of the diet.
Endomorph: Endomorphs are the softest of the three body types because they naturally store more fat, especially around the midsection and hips. This body type is characterized by shorter limbs, a stocky build, and an overall pear or round body shape.
Endomorphs have a slower metabolism and accumulate fat rapidly, so they’ll need to keep carbs on the lower end. Protein and fat may be set a bit higher to make up the remainder of daily calories.
Everyone knows men build muscle faster than women due to differences in anabolic hormone levels. What most people don’t know, however, is that the male and female bodies tend to use macronutrients differently. How?
Evidence suggests that the female body is typically more efficient at burning fat for fuel, while the male body is generally more efficient at using glycogen for energy. When tailoring your bodybuilding macro ratio, this is something to consider.
Now that’s not to say women will always function better on fewer carbohydrates, and men will require less fat. Rather, you need to take your body type and training intensity into consideration when structuring your daily diet.
For example, a woman who trains intensely four to five times per week will almost always require more carbs than a man who trains at a low intensity only a couple of times per week.
When structuring your bodybuilding macros, you need to keep your fitness goals in mind. If your goal is hypertrophy training or muscle building, then your protein and carbohydrate ratios will be higher than if your goal is to shed body fat.
When you’re trying to build muscle, your body functions optimally with surplus calories, which allows it to grow new tissue. But when you’re trying to shed fat, you’ll need to burn more calories than you ingest.
While evidence suggests that it’s possible to gain lean muscle in a caloric deficit, it isn’t easy. You’ll need to keep your protein on the high end of the spectrum if your goal is to gain muscle while losing fat.
When calculating your individual macronutrient ratio, you can start with a basic structure based on your weight and fitness goals. After you’ve determined your basic macros, you can adjust them according to your body type, fitness goals, and gender. Here’s how to get a basic bodybuilding macro ratio:
Calculate Your Calories
First, you’ll need to calculate your basic calorie requirements for lean mass gain. You can find this figure by multiplying your body weight in pounds by 15.
So, if we use a 190-pound male as our example, daily maintenance calories would hover around 2,850. Once you’ve calculated your maintenance calories, you’ll need to add surplus calories to build lean muscle.
While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, add about 400-500 extra calories per day for muscle gain. In this case, our 190-pound male would need about 3,300 calories to gain lean muscle. Keep in mind that as you monitor your progress, you can adjust this number up or down according to your body’s response.
Calculate Your Macros
First, you need to know how many calories are in each of the three macronutrients. These figures will allow you to calculate the number of grams of protein, carbs, and fat you’ll require each day:
- Protein: 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
- Fat: 9 calories per gram
Next, you’ll need to know the basic bodybuilding macros for lean muscle building. Experts typically recommend the following macro breakdown for gaining lean mass:
- Protein: 30 to 40%
- Carbohydrates: 40 to 50%
- Fat: 20 to 30%
Finally, you’ll need to calculate your bodybuilding macros based on the calorie calculation you arrived at earlier. Here’s how to do it based on our example male:
- Protein: 30% x 3,300 = 990 calories ÷ 4 calories per gram = 248 grams of protein per day.
- Carbohydrates: 40% x 3,300 = 1,320 calories ÷ 4 calories per gram = 330 grams of carbs per day.
- Fat: 30% x 3,300 = 990 calories ÷ 9 calories per gram = 110 grams of fat per day.
Keep in mind these calculations are not strict rules. You’ll need to adjust your figures periodically according to your body type and progress.
If you’re not a fan of math, the internet is full of macro calculator bodybuilding apps and websites. These convenient calculators allow you to plug in your current weight, height, fitness goal, and activity level to determine your macro needs without ever picking up an actual calculator.
Once you’ve entered your information, the calculator churns out your expected daily calories as well as the appropriate macronutrient ratio for your goals. As you progress, you can easily estimate fluctuating calorie needs by adjusting your weight and activity level up or down.
Muscle building is a complex process that requires close attention to a variety of factors. While tracking macros is an integral part of any lean gains strategy, it isn’t the only piece of the puzzle. After all, what are macros in the context of bodybuilding when you don’t have the other critical components nailed down?
Nutrient Timing is Key
Timing is everything when it comes to gaining muscle, so make sure you’re structuring your food intake accordingly. A couple of hours before you train, plan to eat a meal with plenty of protein and carbs to boost your performance in the gym.
After training, your muscles are primed to absorb carbs and protein to begin the repair and rebuilding process. Make sure to eat plenty of protein and a serving of carbs immediately after your workout to support your muscles’ repair process.
As the day progresses and your activity levels diminish, your body no longer needs as many carbs to fuel activity. As such, you should gradually decrease your carb intake toward the end of the day, replacing starchy carbs with fibrous vegetables.
Train According to Your Goals
To gain lean muscle, you need to structure your training according to your goals. To do this, you’ll need to practice progressive overload in your lifting routine. On a basic level, this means that each time you train a body part, either add a few pounds to the bar or add a few reps to your sets.
Rest and Recovery
When you’re trying to build muscle, rest and recovery are paramount. The gym is where you tear down your muscle fibers to stimulate growth. But while you rest, your body rebuilds, reinforces, and grows your muscle tissue.
Evidence suggests that lack of sleep can not only hinder muscle gains but may also trigger muscle tissue loss. Experts recommend getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, though many bodybuilders find they function best on 8 to 9 hours of uninterrupted shut-eye.
Count Macros, Make Progress
Provided you have your training, rest, and meal timing nailed down, counting your macros can give you the extra boost you need to achieve the lean muscle gains you’re after. Keep in mind that no single calculation will continue to produce optimal results as your body changes, so you may need to recalculate every few weeks. When you’re diligent about hitting your daily macro targets, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see your muscle-building progress skyrocket!