Written by Sean Ireland
By far the biggest question about these types of diets is how to calculate your macros. First, you will want to find your caloric total based on your goals. There are several formulas out there you can use to calculate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). BMR is how many calories you burn per day due to the body performing basic metabolic functions, not inclusive of any sort of daily activity like walking and working out. TDEE is representative of your BMR + an estimated amount of calories you burn doing daily activity. TDEE will give you a good baseline to go off of when deciding where to start with your total calories.
One of the best calculators is on a website dedicated to this type of dieting: www.iifym.com. On here, you can find a calculator tool that can compute your estimated TDEE based on your personal situation. Please keep in mind this number is VERY GENERAL and everyone’s metabolism is different. We will talk about how to adjust these numbers based on results later on.
Once you have your TDEE number, you then need to adjust it based on goals. It is widely accepted that 3,500 calories is equal to one pound. Therefore:
“I want to gain muscle”: add 500 cals each day to your TDEE
“I want to lose fat”: reduce cals by 500 each day off of your TDEE
“I want to maintain my weight”: keep TDEE the same
Caveat Alert! – I want to reiterate again that the TDEE calculation is VERY GENERAL. What I recommend is that you track your food intake for an entire week to see how many calories you are currently consuming and your ratio of protein, fats, and carbs. Then, find the average for these seven days. Compare this number to the TDEE you got from the calculator and see how they match up. This will provide a much more accurate representation of the number you need to start from.
Ok, so now you have a good idea of your caloric start point. Now you need to figure out how to calculate your macro ratios. This one is a little easier. Full disclosure, this part is based mainly off of a strategy used by Renaissance Periodization and their RP Strength Diet. While certainly not the first to carb cycle, RP has recently popularized this strategy in the CrossFit/Weightlifting culture. It has proven extremely effective for them and their clients and I have seen the same in our athletes at 717. Let’s break it down by each individual macro:
Protein (4 cals per gram) is the most important macronutrient. You should be shooting for .75g-.8g per lb. of bodyweight per day for females and 1g-1.25g for men. Many experts agree this is the optimal range to both retain and gain muscle. Solid food is best except around workouts where you want a fast-absorbed protein source like a protein powder. More on this later.
Carbs (4 cals per gram) should be adjusted based on the type of training you did that day.
No training/Off Day/Active rest day: .5g per lb. of bodyweight
Light training day: 1g per lb. of bodyweight
Moderate training day: 1.5 g per lb. of bodyweight
Heavy training day: 2g per lb. of bodyweight
Fats (9 cals per gram) are to be adjusted based on how many calories you have left for that day. You want your fat calories to be at least 20-25% of your total daily intake, no less.
You will also want to adjust your calories higher on day where you perform intense training sessions. For many, the light workout threshold is where we will max out but for those who are training to be competitive at CrossFit/Weightlifting (i.e. strength sessions + WODs in the same day, 2-a-days, workouts that last longer than an hour), they will want to reference the “Moderate” template. Generally, an athlete can add 400 more calories to their “light” and “off” days to get a good “moderate” number”:
Here is an example of those calculations for a 170 lb. male. Keep in mind the 2,000 calorie number is completely arbitrary and not representative of any TDEE calculations. They are just to show you how the breakdowns work:
Light training day
Moderate training day
Caveat Alert! – Like with the TDEE, these numbers are general estimations and a good place to start. Some people are much more carb tolerant than others. Through testing these levels and monitoring the results, you can adjust them to fit your personal tolerances. We will also discuss this process later on.
In terms of when to consume your macros, there is still a lot of debate in the fitness and scientific community. Many strict IIFYM proponents will tell you that it doesn’t matter when you consume your macros, just that you hit your numbers. Others will say that you should try to consume your fats and carbs at targeted periods in your day to maximize results.
In my experience, I have seen maximal results from athletes who eat the majority of their daily carbs pre-workout, post-workout, and the next meal following the post workout meal. I believe this makes the most sense. Your body needs carbs to provide your muscles with the fuel they need to perform during workouts, especially those programmed by CrossFit. Eating carbs pre-workout loads up glycogen stores to prepare for training and post-workout carbs refuel that glycogen to help those broken down muscles repair themselves. Which leads me to my next topic…
Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
To optimize your energy consumption, you will want to consume a meal consisting of carbs and protein before and after your workout. Try to limit fats as much as possible. Why limit fats? Fats slow down absorption and limiting them allows the carbs to get into your system faster. Here is a sample pre-workout meal:
½ cup quick oats (5g protein, 28g carbs)
4 egg white (14 g protein, 0 carbs)
Of course, the easiest substitute for a good protein source is a high quality whey protein powder but any high-protein, low-fat food will do. Try to shoot for 20g of protein and between 20g-40g of carbs.
Post-workout you will want to eat a similar meal but this is the time you really want a sugary source for your carbs. RP Strength recommends Gatorade powder mixed with a whey protein shake and I have found this to be extremely easy and effective. Other choices I have seen are fat-free Fig Newtons, Sour Patch Kids, Pop Tarts, Frosted Flakes, etc. Anything with about 30g-50g of sugary carbs and low fat.
Ok, so I can hear the revolt brewing: “Sugar!?!?!? WTF man? Sugar is everything that is wrong with everything! I really don’t want to consume it in any way”.
True, in most instances you should probably try to avoid sugary foods but the post-workout window is the one time that the opposite is true. Here is a layman’s explanation on why: (Please keep in mind I am no scientist!)
Science(ish) Alert! – Your body uses certain sources for energy. Its first choice is carbs in the form of glucose. Once those stores are depleted it pulls from other areas like fat and muscles.
Your muscles are broken down post workout (soreness is most likely pain from small micro tears in your muscles from stressing them. I say most likely because it isn’t technically proven but it is the best hypothesis). They need nutrients to repair themselves and the most beneficial time to do this is within 30 min to an hour post-workout. The most ideal way to do this is to eat a meal high in sugary carbs and quick digested protein. Sugars cause your body to release insulin which is the body’s way of corralling sugar in the blood stream and reducing it to safe levels. It’s the same reason diabetics need to take supplementary insulin because they don’t produce it naturally. Insulin takes this sugar and deposits it where the body needs it most. Post-workout, this place is your broken-down muscles.
Along with the sugar, the insulin also transports whatever else is in your system. So an easily digested protein source would also be beneficial because your muscles need that protein and amino acids to repair the fibers. The sugar is the catalyst for the body to fuel damaged muscles with glucose for energy and protein for repair. It is the one time where eating sugar will do more good than harm and you don’t need to feel guilty or bad about it one bit! It will also help you recover faster and have more energy for future training sessions.
Aim for 20g-40g of quality protein and 30g-50g of sugary carbs within 30 min to 1 hour post-workout.
Digested all of this? In the next installment I will be reviewing strategies to succeed on a “macros” type diet. I will also talk about reverse dieting and how to handle those time when you have no idea about your intake like at restaurants and/or parties. It could possibly turn into a large FAQ so if you have questions, please feel free to post them in the comments and I will do a separate installment answering them the best I can.