So you’ve learned how to determine your daily calorie intake in order to meet your fitness goals, but now the question is this: How should I divvy up my macros to meet my fitness goal? What percentage of fats, carbs, and proteins do I need? Well we’re here to help you out with that! Determining your goal specific macros is a pretty simple thing to do, since it’s all based on percentages. Figuring out the calories you need was the easier part, but deciding how many of each one you need isn’t much more difficult.
Determining Your Macros for Mass Gaining
We kind of already covered this on the previous page when we gave the example of Chad trying to gain weight, but since we want to cover all 3 major fitness goals here, we’ll go over it again.
The first rule is simple: if you want to gain muscle mass, you should be getting at minimum 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. So if you currently weight 125 lbs., you should be getting at minimum 125 grams of protein per day. You can increase your protein intake beyond 1 gram per pound if you want to, but more protein than that doesn’t necessarily equate to more muscle. However, going below 1 gram per pound is definitely a no no. As you’ll read below, going for about 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight is used more when you’re trying to cut and maintain, because you’ll be decreasing your fat intake. But more on that later!
Not All Protein is Equal
So where should you be getting your 1 gram of protein per pound? The correct answer: several different places.
Not all protein is equal. Putting it simply, when your body digests protein, it breaks it down into what’s called Amino Acids. Protein is the building block of muscles, but amino acids are the building blocks of protein. If you’re ever in a supplement store or on bodybuilding websites, you’ll notice one of the majorly advertised products are BCAA Supplements, which stands for Branched Chain Amino Acids. There are 9 essential amino acids the body uses, but the three major ones used for muscle growth are valine, leucine, and isoleucine.
While getting these three amino acids are crucial to building muscle, as long as you’re getting an adequate amount of protein from different sources, buying supplements for BCAA’s is a waste of money. Save your money and focus on getting protein from a diverse diet.
So what are some different sources to get your protein from?
- Whey Protein Powder
- Casein Protein Powder
- Cottage Cheese
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Greek Yogurt
Keep in mind that your body can only absorb so much protein in one sitting (estimated at around 25 to 35 grams per meal), so it’s best to separate your daily protein intake over the course of the day. According to this article by Men’s Health, instead of trying to get 60 grams of protein over 3 meals a day, focus more on getting 25 to 35 grams 4 or more times a day (or however your required daily protein intake can be split 4 or 5 ways — just using 180 grams per day as an example).
The Macros Ratio
As we said, you want to be taking in at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. But what if that number doesn’t equate to the macro percentage? Simple, increase it.
For a ratio of macros to build mass, we suggest going with a 30/50/20 ratio: 30% protein, 50% carbohydrates, and 20% fats.
If your 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight doesn’t equal to, or closely get to the 30%, you can replace some carbs and fats with protein. Going up in protein is alright, just remember you want to have at minimum the 1 to 1 ratio of protein grams to body weight.
The Timing of Your Protein Intake
It’s important to know that not only are the sources of your protein important, but also the timing. That’s where the Whey Protein vs. Casein Protein conversation comes into play. As mentioned above, it’s good to separate your daily protein intake over the course of the day. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. Rather, I want to talk about your protein intake while you’re sleeping. Like we said, not all protein is created equal. Some protein gets broken down fast (whey), and other protein gets broken down much slower (casein).
When you sleep, your body goes into a bit of a deprivation mode. When you wake up, after your body not having any nutrients for so many hours, it can have a negative effect on your muscle growth. If you’re looking for maximum gains, we suggest taking a Casein protein shake before bed. Casein protein breaks down in your body much slower than whey, so your body continues to get the muscle building nutrients it needs even while you’re asleep.
Exercise Sets and Reps for Gaining Mass
If you want to put on size, heavy weights is the way to go. But before you walk into the gym and try to start lifting the heaviest thing you can, focus on FORM FIRST! Proper form is paramount for success. We are our own worst critics, and there’s nothing more self-degrading than lifting lighter weights, knowing you WANT to lift heavier weights, and seeing other people lifting heavier than you and looking better than you (in your eyes) — but without proper form, all you’re going to do is A) hurt yourself, and B) develop bad habits. You do not want that, and neither do I.
If you’ve been going to the gym for a while, hopefully you’ve gotten your form down. But if you’re new to the gym scene, that’s alright. Bodybuilders across the world will argue all day on how much protein to eat, what supplements to take and not to take, and what workouts and exercises are better… but the one thing they will all agree on is that proper form is the most important thing you can get into the habit of doing.
YouTube is a fantastic source for learning proper lifting form for every exercise you can think of, along with sites like Bodybuilding.com and Men’s Health. Do yourself a favor and research before you go, then continue to refresh your mind by watching videos and reading explanations from your phone while you’re in the gym.
As this article is being written, Apex Tough doesn’t yet have exercises and proper movements up. But rest assured, we’re working on those for you so that you can get all your info from one place, so be sure to keep checking back as we continue to add content!
Now that we’ve got form out of the way, and you’ve got your form all figured out, it’s time to lift heavy!
Heavy Weight, Low Reps! That's the key to gaining mass.
It sounds awful, but the goal when it comes to increasing muscle size is to literally tear your muscle fibers apart. In doing so, your body determines that it needs to make itself stronger in order to handle the new amount of stress being put on it. So, when your body begins to repair the muscle fibers, it makes them increase in size and strength during the repair process.
The harder you are forced to work, the more the muscle fibers tear. That’s where the heavy weight comes in. That being said, it tends to be a bit difficult to put up a lot of weight for a lot of reps. That’s where the low reps come into play.
The weight you are lifting should allow you to get in roughly 4 to 6 reps per set, where the last rep or 2 should be the biggest struggle to the point of failure. If you can go another 1 or 2 reps, you need to increase your weight. Failure on your last rep per set is what you’re aiming for.
Determining Your Macros for Weight Loss
Weight loss is basically the same process as weight gain, just in the opposite direction. Who would have thought? Just like gaining weight requires you to increase your daily calorie intake, losing weight requires you to decrease your daily calorie intake. But you knew that already since you read our previous page on how to determine your required daily calorie intake.
If you struggle to lose weight, you probably have a low metabolism, and despite the world convincing you that fat is the enemy, that’s not entirely accurate. Remember, you NEED fats for a healthy body, you just need the good fats, not the bad ones. The fats you want to watch out for are saturated fats and trans fats, those are the bad guys. Just remember the word “saturated,” which by definition means holding the most that can possibly be absorbed. Saturated fats not only have fat molecules, but they’re stuffed with hydrogen molecules as well. This is not healthy for our bodies.
Healthier fats, such as unsaturated fats (keyword “unsaturated,” so not overly stuffed) are much better for our bodies, and have been proven to increase lipid profiles, lower cholesterol, and decrease body fat.
Don’t be frightened when looking at a food label though and seeing things like “polyunsaturated fats” or “monounsaturated fats,” as these are just different types of fats that fall under unsaturated. Notice that despite their prefixes, they still contain the “un” which is a good thing for us!
Changing Your Macros for Fat Loss
Now that you’ve learned a bit about the dangers, and lack thereof, of fats (depending on which kind you’re ingesting), how much should be in your diet?
When your goal is to lose weight, try changing your diet to a 30/25/40 macro ratio: 30% protein, 25% carbs, and 45% fats. Crazy right? Trying to lose fat and fat seems to be the highest percentage of macros. Again, just make sure these are healthy unsaturated fats and not unhealthy saturated and trans fats. The secret to fat loss is actually a lower carb diet.
Exercise is Just as Important as Macros
They say that abs are made in the kitchen, and there’s definitely some merit to that. But exercise is also extremely important when it comes to shredding your extra pounds. And we don’t mean just doing cardio (which, in our opinion, is archaic in it’s own right, but we’ll get to that when we discuss HIIT ).
Weight lifting is not just for those trying to gain mass, it is also extremely beneficial for those trying to lose weight. All you need to do is switch up the weight to reps ratio. When it comes to gaining size, it’s heavy weight and low reps. When it comes to losing weight, its the exact opposite: lighter weight with higher reps.
As mentioned above when it comes to gaining mass, form is also important when it comes to losing weight, more so because regardless of how much weight you’re doing, A) you don’t want to hurt yourself, and B) you want to make sure you’re actually targeting the proper muscles when performing the exercise.
When it comes to the rep goals for weight loss, you want to be aiming for 10 to 12 reps per set, where you should be failing on the 11th or 12th rep. If you can continue for a 13th or 14th rep, your weight is too light. The goal of weight lifting while trying to lose fat is not actually to lose fat, but to maintain the muscle you already have while burning calories. If you lift too light, your body won’t be convinced that it still needs the muscle.
How to Actually Get Rid of the Fat
For years, people have been doing cardio. Soooo much cardio, in the hopes that it would burn off their fat. Don’t get me wrong, cardio is definitely beneficial to our bodies. Cardio does help with fat loss, increases heart and lung function, reduces stress, and can reduce the risk of heart disease. But it’s no longer considered the best method for fat loss. The new and improved fat loss technique is known as High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short.
What is HIIT Training?
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, is exactly what it says: intense bursts of exercise for short durations, separated by short periods of rest. You do these back and forth for 20 to 30 minutes, and that’s it! You’re done! Don’t get me wrong, it sounds easier than it actually is. But studies have shown that 20 minutes worth of HIIT activities can actually produce equal or even better results than your average cardio workouts. Not only that, but HIIT forces your body to go into fat burning mode for up to 48 hours continuously after the workout!
The Benefits of HIIT
- HIIT burns more calories in a shorter amount of time compared to common cardio and weight training exercises.
- As mentioned above, it burns fat for days after the actual workout. HIIT gives your body the ability to maintain an increased metabolic rate, burning fat while you rest.
- It convinces your body to use fat instead of carbs for energy, again, burning more fat.
- Doing HIIT is a huge time saver!! Instead of having to do your traditional hour weight lifting workout, or 30 to 45 minutes of cardio, doing just 10 to 30 minutes of HIIT gives you the same (if not better) fat loss results in less time.
- It can help your lungs. When forced to perform intense exercise for short durations, you’re simultaneously forced to breath more intensely.
How to Start HIIT
Like we mentioned, high intensity interval training is simply giving it your all for short durations, so you can take whatever cardio you’re already doing and simply change it up a bit. There are countless ways to begin HIIT. For example, if you like to run on the treadmill, start incorporating sprints. Start at a nice even pace, then after about 2 minutes go into a 30 second sprint, where you run as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Return to your even pace for another 2 minutes, then do another 30 seconds of intense sprinting. Continue this pattern, and you’re performing HIIT.
The same method can be used for any types of cardio: biking, jumping rope, swimming, etc.
HIIT doesn’t have to be with cardiovascular exercises though. You can do the same process with weight training, or calisthenics. For example, a great calisthenics HIIT workout from Dailyburn.com is below, with their instructions: “Perform each exercise at 100 percent effort, with 30 seconds of rest in between. Repeat every other day with the goal of completing it faster each time.”
- 50 sit-ups
- 40 jump squats
- 30 push-ups
- 20 split-jumps
- 10 tricep dips
- 30 second burpees
Be on the lookout for our future full guide on High Intensity Interval Training from Apex Tough!
Determining Your Macros for Cutting and Maintaining
Last, but definitely not least is cutting and maintaining. You’ll find that most people like to bulk during the fall and winter, and will cut/maintain during the spring and summer.
When it comes to cutting, you want to increase your protein intake. While gaining mass calls for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, cutting calls for about 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This increase is to replace the otherwise high carb intake, while evening out your fat intake. When it comes to cutting, you want your percentage of fats and proteins to be roughly the same, leaving the rest for your carbs. We suggest a ratio of 30/40/30: 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fats.
Keep in mind that these can be altered to make sure your protein intake is meeting the 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. If you do need to alter this ratio to meet that threshold, we suggest going down in fats and carbs relatively equally.
An example of this ratio if you currently weighed 150 lbs. (going with a 5′ 10″ 25 year old male who’s moderately active, according to the Harris-Benedict equation) would be:
- 225 grams of Protein = 900 calories = 33.7%
- 241 grams of Carbs = 965 calories = 36%%
- 88 grams of Fat = 799 calories = 29.9%
Exercise Sets and Reps for Cutting
When it comes to cutting, it’s mostly about cardio and your diet. Unlike with gaining or losing weight, your goal is no longer to be increasing or decreasing your required daily calorie intake, but to be getting the amount of calories you need to maintain your current weight. When cutting, the point is to just shift that weight from fat to muscle. Now don’t be confused, fat does NOT turn into muscle. Rather, while cutting, you’re simultaneously losing fat while increasing and/or maintaining the muscle mass you already have.
When it comes to the amount of weight and the number of reps you should be aiming for, like we mentioned in the fat loss section, you want to be lifting heavy enough that your muscles are having to actually still work. If you lift too light of weight, your muscles won’t react to it because of too low resistance.
That being said, you want to be aiming for 6 to 10 reps, where you should be failing on the 9th or 10th rep. If you can continue to an 11th or 12th rep, then your weight is too light. In addition to this goal of reps, you also want to be incorporating cardio into your workout routine. The cardio will aid in fat loss, while the weight lifting at a 6 to 10 reps per set will allow your muscles to maintain their size and strength.
Goal Specific Macros Conclusion
We hope this guide has helped give you a good idea of what you should be pursuing when it comes to macros, as well as exercise weights and reps for your specific goal. Please keep in mind there is no single perfect combination of macros or exercise ratios. Every person’s body reacts differently to different ratios. The examples given above are simply the most commonly used numbers as a basis to figure out what works specifically for your own body.
If this has helped you, please be sure to share it on social media so that we can help others with their pursuit of a healthier and more fit lifestyle.
This concludes the Apex Tough Beginner’s Guide to the Basics of Fitness.
We are continuing to grow rapidly and look forward to providing you with more health and fitness related content to include HIIT guides, full workout routines, macro specific food lists, instructional videos, and more!
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