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A totally free, complete guide on setting up your calories and macros to lose or gain weight. Includes sample calculations and workings.

How do you set your calories & macros to manage weight gain or loss?

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Creating a diet to gain or lose body weight is relatively easy, but when I talk to people, I find they are either very confused or have beliefs that are not entirely correct. A lot of the confusion is due to the internet and media. Fortunately, we have access to an unlimited supply of information, allowing us to learn almost anything we want. However, the downfall is that anyone can post anything without fact-checking. As such, I understand why so many people I talk to need help understanding the basics of dieting to manipulate their body weight.

This article is going to provide a step-by-step guide on how to calculate your calorie requirements to either gain or lose body weight, how to modify your calories depending on your body’s response and how to set your macro-nutrient targets (protein, carbohydrates and fats).  

Step 1 – Find your current calorie intake

Find your current average calorie intake via a calorie tracking method like an app (eg my fitness pal). Eat as normal and track your protein, carbs, fats (macros) + calories for two weeks, along with weighing yourself daily, first thing in the morning, fasted. Enter this data in a table like the example below

If your average weight remains stable between weeks, your average calorie intake will be approx. your maintenance calories (the number of calories required to maintain your body weight).

If your average weight is moving up, you’re eating more food than you’re expending = You’re in a surplus.

If your average weight is going down, you’re eating less food than you’re expending = You’re in a deficit.

How to determine how large of an energy surplus or deficit you’re in?

This is a rough approximation. It is not perfect, but it will give you a good baseline to work from.

1kg of body fat = 7000 calories. All the weight you gain and lose is not going to be fat and metabolic adaptations do occur. But the 7000-calorie rule is a good starting point whereby you can make future calorie adjustments from.

If you gain 0.5kg in a week, we can estimate you’re on average in a 500-calorie surplus per day 500cal x 7 = 3500 calorie weekly surplus.

If you’re losing 0.3kg in a week, we can estimate you’re on average in a 300-calorie deficit per day (300 cal x 7 = 2100 calorie weekly deficit.

How did I calculate the above values?

Multiply the weight gain/loss by 7000 calories.

Did you gain 0.4kg in a week?

0.4kg X 7000cal = 2800 cal = You’re approx. in a 2800 cal surplus per week. Divide this by 7 days = you’re in an approx. 400 cal surplus per day. 

Did you lose 0.7kg in a week?

-0.7kg x 7000cal = -4900 = You’re approx. in a 4900-cal deficit per week. Divide this by 7 days = you’re in an approx. 700 cal deficit per day. 

A simple calculation is the number of grams you gained/lost in a week = the calorie deficit/surplus per day

200g weight gain = 200 calorie surplus per day (on average)

325g weight loss = 325g calorie deficit per day (on average)

Again, this calculation is not perfect, but it’s a good starting point to work from.

 

At SPC Performance Lab you can get personal one-on-one coaching at our gym or you can choose to get online coaching sessions for Powerlifting, Strength Training or Body Building. 

Step 2 – What are your goals?

Do you want to maintain your body weight?

Do you want to gain?

Do you want to lose?

If you want to maintain your body weight = Stay on maintenance calories.

 

Weight gain rate recommendations

Conservative gain – Aim to gain 0.125% of your body weight per week (0.5% gain per month) – Ideal for experienced lifters who realistically are not going to gain large amounts of muscle mass in a year.

Moderate – Aim to gain 0.25% of your body weight per week (1% gain per month) – Ideal for intermediate lifters who are making slow but steady gains each month.

Aggressive – Aim to gain 0.375% of your body weight per week (1.5% gain per month) – Ideal for beginners who are making rapid gains.

The above are rough guidelines and should be adjusted according to your body and needs. Likewise, you can slow down or speed up the rate of gains as needed by adjusting your calories.

Weight loss rate recommendations

Conservative – 0.5% loss of your body weight per week

Moderate – 0.75% loss of your body weight per week

Aggressive – 1% loss of your body weight per week

Going beyond 1% loss per week may increase the risk of losing muscle mass and reducing training performance.

 

Step 3 – Setting your calorie intake

In step 2, you decided your goals and rate of loss/gain. Using your calculated maintenance calories from step 1, you can set your daily calorie target.

We will always go back to the 7000 cal rule to set calories.

Example – A 80kg male who wants to put on 0.25% of his body weight per week

0.25% X 80kg = Aiming to gain 200g per week.

Using the simple rule we wrote previously. If you want to gain 200g a week, just add 200 calories per day to your maintenance calories to begin with (this will likely need to be adjusted over time due to metabolic adaptations, etc). Alternatively, we can look at it as a weekly value. 200 daily surplus x 7 days = 1400 weekly surplus.  

If our hypothetical male’s maintenance calories are 3000cal, he can start his calories at 3200 cal per day and then adjust from there.

Example 2 – 68kg female who wants to lose 0.5% of her body weight per week

0.5% X 68kg = Aiming to lose 340g of her body weight per week

= 340 calorie deficit per day

If our hypothetical female’s maintenance calories are 2200cal, she can start her calories at 1860 per day and then adjust from there.

 

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Step 4 – Setting your macro intake

We have set our weight goal + know what calories to aim for. Now we can break these calories down into macros (proteins, carbs and fats)

1 gram of protein = 4 calories

1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories

1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Step 1 – Set your protein intake

This is set by grams per kilogram of body weight.

Protein is typically set between – 1.6g/kg to 2.6g/kg

You will be on the lower end of protein intake if –

In a surplus/gaining

Have a higher % body fat

Young

You will be on the higher end of protein intake if –

In a deficit/cutting

Have a lower % body fat

Older

Example 1 – 25-year-old 80kg lean male bulking consuming 3000 calories which have set his protein intake a 2g per kg of body weight.

2g x 80kg = 160g of protein per day

160g x 4 calories = 640 of his total calories will be coming from protein

Example 2 – 33-year-old 58kg lean female who wants to gain weight consuming 2300 calories which have set her protein intake at 2.1g.kg

2.1g x 58kg = 122g of protein per day

122g x 4 calories = 488 of her total calories will be coming from protein

Step 2 – Set your fat intake

15%-30% of total calories per day will come from fat

If you’re cutting, you’re probably better off being on the lower end of this % range so you can consume more carbohydrates to provide energy for day-to-day life and training. 

If you’re bulking, you can be on the higher end of this % range if you feel the need to consume denser calories if you’re always feeling full/bloated.

Example – 80kg male consuming 3000 calories who has set his fat at 20% of his total calories

3000 x 20% = 600 calories

600 / 9 calories = 67g of fat per day

Step 3 – Set your carbohydrate intake

Whatever calories are left over after setting your protein and fat intake will be spent on carbohydrates

Example – 65kg female consuming 2200 calories who has set her protein intake at 130g per day and fat at 45g per day

Calories from protein = 130g x 4 cal = 520cal

Calories from fat = 45g x 9 cal = 405cal

520 + 405 cal = 925cal

Protein and fats take up 925 calories out of her 2200 calories. She has 1275 calories left over which will be made up of carbohydrates

1275cal / 4 cal = 319g carbohydrates

Final macros

Protein = 130g

Fat = 45g

Carbs = 319g

Total calories = 2200

 

Step 5 – Making calorie adjustments

You will likely have to adjust your calories/macros throughout your diet. I will suggest waiting at least one week before making a diet adjustment so you can compare weekly averages.

For someone who is very rigid with hitting their calories and their weight fluctuations are small, weekly changes (as needed) should be fine.

For someone who is not as rigid with hitting their calories and their weight fluctuations are larger, fortnightly changes (as needed) are probably ideal.

In some cases, weight changes can be delayed. For example, your weight may not change, but then a weight drop or increase suddenly occurs out of nowhere. As such, being patient before making changes is generally ideal.

Always compare weekly weight averages. However, be mindful of outlier weigh-ins which may influence the weekly average value. E.g. if you go out for dinner one night and overeat, your weight might spike the following day, which may artificially inflate your weekly average value. So you must determine if your weekly weight average is an actual gain/loss or influenced by outlier weigh-ins.

How large of an adjustment should I make?

You can use the 7000-calorie rule previously mentioned to make changes. For example, if a 65kg female’s goal weight of loss is 0.5% per week (325g), but weight loss is now slowing down and is on average only 0.2% per week (130g), you can calculate the difference between the weight loss goal and the actual weight loss (325g – 130g) = 195g. As such, a 195 daily calorie deficit may be required to get back to the rate of loss goal.

A 195-calorie deficit can be achieved via the combination of reducing fats, carbohydrates and/or increasing daily energy expenditure like increasing step count / doing cardio.

 

What should my macro goals be for weight gain?

The macro breakdown when bulking generally does not have to be as rigid relative to losing weight. Due to the abundance of energy being in a surplus, it is less important on the ratio of carbohydrates and fats. What is more important is the amount of calories you’re consuming and ensuring you’re in some surplus. There is no data on the optimal surplus size, but it is known that too high of a surplus promotes a large amount of fat gain far exceeding muscle. As such, implementing a surplus where the gain rate is approximately 0.5 – 1.5% of weight gain per month is adequate.

General guidelines of macro goals –

Protein = 1.6 to 2.2g per kg of body weight
Fat = 20-30% of total calories
Carbohydrates = Whatever calories are left over

What is the best macro ratio for weight loss and muscle gain?

The total calorie intake is a priority for weight loss or muscle gain. For weight loss, being at a calorie target which allows for fat loss whilst maintaining muscle mass. The magnitude of the deficit will differ between people, and it’s difficult to give an exact deficit amount. Someone who has a lot of body fat to lose can do a more aggressive cut as they have less risk of losing muscle. Someone leaner and with less body fat to lose may do a more conservative cut to minimise the risk of losing muscle mass. However, this would differ if doing a short aggressive mini cut to get in and out of the deficit.

There is no data on what the optimal surplus size should be for muscle gain, but it is known that too high of a surplus promotes a large amount of fat gain far exceeding muscle. As such, implementing a surplus where the gain rate is approximately 0.5 – 1.5% of weight gain per month is adequate.

Macro ratios for cutting 

 

Protein = 2-2.6g of protein per kg of body weight 
Fat = 15-25% of total calories
Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs 

 

Macro ratios for gaining 

 

Protein = 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight
Fat = 20-30% of total calories 
Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs  

 

Is 40 30 30 macros good?

This is similar to;
What is the 80 20 rule for macros
Is 40 40 20 macro split good
What is the 40 30 30 macros for weight loss
What’s the best macro split

Essentially, do not use ratios. It doesn’t scale for very high or low calories. Use this –

Macro ratios for cutting

Protein = 2-2.6g of protein per kg of body weight
Fat = 15-25% of total calories
Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs

Macro ratios for gaining

Protein = 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight
Fat = 20-30% of total calories
Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs

How do I calculate my macros for maximum weight loss?

This video made by SPC Performance Lab head coach explains in detail how to do this

Summary

So there you have it, pretty detailed isn’t it? Although if you are still confused below is a quick summary and I am also available for either a free consult or to get coaching. 

Calculating calories

Use the 7000-calorie rule to estimate your maintenance calories. If you’re gaining 200g a week, you can estimate this as a 200-calorie daily surplus (initially). If you’re losing 400g a week, you can estimate this as a 400-calorie daily deficit. If your weight isn’t moving, your current calories are likely your maintenance calories. 

Setting macros

Protein

Fats

Carbohydrates

1.6g.kg – 2.6g.kg

15-30% of total calories

Any calories left over are carbs

Rate of gain/loss recommendations

 

Rate of gain

Rate of loss

Conservative

0.125% weight gain per week (0.5% per month)

0.5% weight loss per week

Moderate

0.25% weight gain per week (1% gain per month)

0.75% weight loss per week

Aggressive

0.375% weight gain per week (1.5% per month)

1% weight loss per week

 

Frequently asked questions

The macro breakdown when bulking generally does not have to be as rigid relative to losing weight. Due to the abundance of energy being in a surplus, it is less important on the ratio of carbohydrates and fats. What is more important is the amount of calories you consume and ensuring you’re in some surplus.

There is no data on the optimal surplus size, but it is known that too high of a surplus promotes greater fat gain with little extra benefit on muscle gain. As such, implementing a surplus where the gain rate is approximately 0.5 – 1.5% of total body weight of weight gain per month is adequate with a surplus size of approx 100-300 cal per day. Monitor your rate of gain to dictate if you should adjust the size of your surplus.

General guidelines of macro goals –

Protein = 1.6 to 2.2g per kg of body weight
Fat = 20-30% of total calories
Carbohydrates = Whatever calories are left over
Rate of gain = 0.5-1.5% of total body weight gain per month

The total calorie intake is a priority for weight loss or muscle gain. For weight loss, we want to aim at being at a calorie target which allows for fat loss whilst trying to maintain as much muscle mass as possible. A general guideline for an appropriate rate of weight loss to minimise the risk of losing muscle mass is 0.5 to 1% of total body weight loss per week.

Someone with a higher body fat can opt to lose faster as they generally have less risk of losing muscle due to more stored calories (body fat) to be drawn from to be converted into usable energy. Someone leaner with less body fat may need to lose weight more conservatively to minimise the risk of losing muscle mass.

For those looking to gain, there is no data on what the optimal surplus size should be, but it appears too high of a surplus results in higher rates of fat gain with little advantage to muscle gain. As such, implementing a surplus where the gain rate is approximately 0.5 – 1.5% of total body weight of weight gain per month is adequate with a surplus size of approx 100-300 cal per day. Monitor your rate of gain to dictate if you should adjust the size of your surplus.

Macro ratios for cutting 

Protein = 2-2.6g of protein per kg of body weight 

Fat = 15-25% of total calories

Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs 

Rate of loss = 0.5-0.1% of total body weight loss per week

Macro ratios for gaining 

Protein = 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight

Fat = 20-30% of total calories 

Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs  

Rate of gain = 0.5-1.5% of total body weight gain per month

Do not use ratios. It doesn’t scale for very high or low calories. Use these

Macro ratios for cutting 

Protein = 2-2.6g of protein per kg of body weight 

Fat = 15-25% of total calories

Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs 

Rate of loss = 0.5-0.1% of total body weight loss per week

Macro ratios for gaining 

 

Protein = 1.6-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight

Fat = 20-30% of total calories 

Carbs = Any calories left over go to carbs  

Rate of gain = 0.5-1.5% of total body weight gain per month

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

Free advice

SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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