How to Make a Meal Plan Based on Macros
Nutrition can be a daunting area to approach for the first time, and often, Google and the internet, in general, is full of contradiction and misinformation. It’s important to choose where you receive your research and information wisely and from credible sources (not just someone with a lot of Instagram followers!).
Before determining your macro split, it’s best to work out what calories best suit your individual needs and any goals that you are currently working towards, and then work backwards to calculate your macros.
A calorie is a unit of energy and is mostly used to describe the amount of energy you could receive from a particular food or drink.
The definition of a calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1°C, which otherwise works out to 4.18400 joules – joules being another form of energy.
Calculating calorie requirements can be tricky, and despite there being a recommended daily intake for men and women, there is no one set amount that everyone should be consuming. Daily intake is hugely dependent on factors such as height, weight, age and activity level.
This is why taller or younger people tend to have a higher recommended calorie requirement than those who are shorter or older, as they require more energy throughout the day the keep their body functioning efficiently.
To make things more confusing, there are several different formulae that can calculate your recommended intake. All formulas initially calculate your basal metabolic rate, also known as BMR. All BMR equations use an individual’s weight, height and age, but these measurements are used differently between equations.
At Fresh Fitness Food, we use the Mifflin St Jeor formula, as this particular formula has been proven to provide the most accurate estimations when compared against indirect calorimetry – which is the method by which measurements of respiratory gas exchange used to estimate calorie expenditure.
The Mifflin St Jeor Formula is as follows:
BMR (kcal / day) = 10 * weight (kg) + 6.25 * height (cm) – 5 * age (y) + s (kcal / day),
Where ‘s’ is +5 for males and -161 for females.
This will calculate BMR, but does not account for any activity an individual partakes in – this must be calculated on top. This can be done by multiplying the outcome of the Mifflin St Jeor equation by one of the following numbers, depending on your activity levels:
- Sedentary = 1.2
- Lightly active = 1.375
- Moderately active = 1.550
- Very active = 1.725
- Extremely active = 1.9
There are many, many factors that can affect metabolism and energy expenditure, but these basics are a good place to start. Further factors to consider include the thermic effect of food (i.e. how much energy your body uses simply from digesting what is consumed), fat-free mass (i.e. muscle), menstrual cycle, age, sex, genetics, body temperature and many more.
Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that these calculations are always estimations. Truly accurate energy expenditure can be measured in a lab environment, but this is not practical for most people!
If you would like a rough estimate of your calorie requirement (but would prefer to go without the maths involved), you can download our app here, and have it calculated for you. Just fill out the questions and you will have an estimation within seconds!
Your overall calorie intake is broken down into what are known as macronutrients. There are three main macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat, all of which are used by the body in different ways and provide varying amounts of energy per gram.
Protein and carbohydrates both provide 4 kcal/g, whereas fat is slightly more energy-dense, providing 9 kcal/g.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, as well as cell generation and maintenance, so it is important to ensure your protein intake is adequate.
For those that partake in regular exercise, particularly if overloading their muscles (i.e. strength training), 1.2-2g protein/kg body weight is recommended to ensure muscle recovery on top of the other biochemical processes that occur regardless of exercise.
Carbohydrates can often be feared, but they’re the body’s preferred source of energy. When you consume carbohydrates, your body converts the glucose found in the carbohydrates into glycogen – glucose’s storage form.
Glycogen is found mostly in muscle tissue, but can also be found in the liver. When you do not have sufficient adenosine triphosphate (ATP), such as when enduring intense exercise, glycogen stores are broken down to glucose to provide immediate energy and to maintain blood glucose levels during fasting.
As with protein, it is important to replenish your glycogen stores after exercise, particularly if endurance-based. For most people, 5-7g carbohydrates per kg of body weight is sufficient after a workout, but if doing a particularly long session, or intense training for a marathon, for example, you will require more to adequately refuel.
We have a whole blog post dedicated to carbohydrates here if you’re interested!
There are three main types of fat – mono- and polyunsaturated fats (i.e. “healthy” fats), and saturated fats (i.e. “unhealthy” fats).
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats help the body to absorb vitamins A, D and E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, which means they can only be absorbed with aid from fats before they can be used by the body.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, work to increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which FFF also have a post on here. Saturated fats are found in foods such as red meat, dairy, cakes and baked goods – generally more “processed” foods, but also coconut and its products (e.g. coconut oil)
Ideally, everyone should limit saturated fat intake where possible, and try and to include mono- and polyunsaturated fats as alternatives to promote vitamin absorption and reduce cholesterol synthesis.
So how do you know what the best nutrition for you is?
This is likely not the answer that you’re looking for, but you don’t know.
Determining the best nutrition and food combinations for your body is certainly not an overnight discovery – it can take a huge amount of trial and error and patience before you know or realise what works best for you.
If you have set goals you’d like to reach, it can be helpful to track your calories and macros for a couple of weeks to help you gain a better understanding of how the foods you eat add up and to get a rough idea of the macronutrient breakdown of ingredients.
Over time and as you learn more and more about the nutritional information of different foods, it will be easier to eat in line with your goals without tracking.
Tracking can also help you to understand if there’s a macro split that works best for you.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the split that helps you reach your goals the fastest, but one that allows you to work towards your goals without sacrificing other aspects of your life, such as socialising, productivity, and actually wanting to exercise.
For example, a low carb split tends to be paired with feeling low in energy, which can result in low motivation and productivity, and even negatively impact your sleep – far from ideal if you have goals you’re working towards!
However, some people do find that a lower-carb diet works best for them, which is where the difficulty with nutrition occurs, as it is never a one-size-fits-all kind of approach.
You may have heard the quote “If we all ate the same and exercised the same we would still all have different bodies” and this is solely due to everyone responding to food, exercise and every other factor that affects your body, differently.
Individuality always needs to be accounted for, because everyone is individual.
Fresh Fitness Food provides personalised meal plans delivered straight to your door, ensuring not only that you have the nutrients you need to manage your stress levels, but also that you have the time usually spent shopping, cooking and washing up, to engage in your favourite stress-reducing activity. To discuss which nutrition plan is right for you, book a call with our in-house nutrition team here.
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