Hi everyone! Sorry I've been MIA for awhile; I've been super busy. A lot of you may not know because I've been pretty quiet about it on Facebook (Instagram, however, is another story lol) but I've been prepping for my first bodybuilding competition in the bikini division coming up on March 18th. It has taken up a LOT of my time and I haven't had much time for blogging. I do want to start posting more about the experience though because I've been having SUCH an awesome time with my prep. However, tonight I wanted to post a little bit about nutrition. Since I've been leaning out, I've had a LOT of people reach out to me inquiring about my diet, or asking if I would share my meal plan with them. I try to give them some helpful hints, but I do not share my meal plan simply because nutrition is so different for everyone. The amount of calories your body needs will depend on your goals, your age, your gender, your height, weight, activity level, etc.
I've referenced tracking macros a lot in past blogs, but I've never really explained how to figure out your macros or how to build a nutrition plan around those macros. I thought I would do that tonight since so many people have recently asked me about it. Please note, this post is going to be LONG and some of this might seem elementary, but I'm writing this assuming the reader is starting at ground zero and has no previous knowledge of any of this. So here we go!
Your macros, or macronutrients, are made up of your carbohydrates, proteins and fats. (I will also talk about fiber, although it’s not technically one of the macronutrients; it’s still important and women should aim to get 18-25 grams per day). Carbohydrates and protein give your body 4 calories per gram, while fats are 9 calories per gram (that’s why typically you don’t eat as many grams of fat as you would protein or carbs).
• Why do we need protein? - Protein is an essential nutrient your body uses to build new muscle tissue and to maintain the muscle tissue it already has. Protein sources – chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, scallops, shrimp, egg whites & protein powders (some of my favorite protein powders: ISO dymatize 100 Gourmet Chocolate, Fudge Brownie, and Cinnamon Bun; Protizyme Butter Pecan Cookie and Peanut Butter Cookie; and Mutant Iso Surge Mint Chocolate Chip... can you tell I have a huge sweet tooth?!)
• Why do we need fats? - Essential fatty acids (omega 3&6) must be consumed in our diet because our body cannot make them on its own. Fat provides energy and helps keep our skin and joints healthy. Fat Sources- Nuts (peanuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts), oils (coconut or extra virgin olive oil), avocados, fish oil (can be taken in pill form), flax seeds and chia seeds.
• Why do we need carbs? - See my more detailed blog post on carbs here. Our body needs carbs as a source of energy. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex:
1) simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides aka simple sugar) - fruits and veggies
2) complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) - oatmeal, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice, regular potatoes, etc.
Simple sugar is already broken down so your blood sugar will spike rapidly when ingested, causing a big insulin reaction. The insulin has to gather up all the sugar to lower the blood sugar levels and bring it into your cells where we can use it as fuel for energy. However, once we have enough fuel in our cells, our body can no longer process it so it begins storing the rest as fat. On the flip side, complex carbohydrates are not already broken down, so your body has to recruit energy to break the sugars down. Complex carbohydrates keep your blood sugar more steady. A steady blood sugar will continue utilizing stored fuel as energy instead of storing it as fat. The insulin is released in smaller amounts, and it takes only a little bit of sugar back to the cells for energy, leaving less room to store excess as fat.
Carb Sources- Cream of rice (MY FAVORITE - mixed with protein powder or cinnamon), oatmeal, Ezekiel bread, rice cakes, rice (I prefer jasmine - either with sugar reduced ketchup for savory or cinnamon for sweet!), grits, sweet potatoes, quinoa, pasta, tortillas, and of course fruits and vegetables. The World Health Organization recommends you keep your sugar intake between 25-50g per day so watch that when choosing your fruits.
• Why do we need fiber? - Fiber keeps you feeling fuller and satiates you, and it helps keep your digestive system flowing. Fiber sources- Nuts, brown rice, sweet potato skin, oats, vegetables, chia seeds, or fiber supplements (gummies or powders, like Metamucil)
So first, in order to determine your macros, you need to determine what your goals are: fat loss or muscle gain. Fat loss is a good option if you have weight to lose or feel like you have some fluff covering your muscles and you want to lean out. When it comes to losing fat, your workout regime in combination with your food intake should create a caloric deficit (aka you are burning more calories than you are taking in). If your goal is muscle gain (good for someone who is lean and wants to put on more muscle mass) you need to make sure your workout regime in combination with your food intake is putting you in a caloric surplus (aka you are eating more calories than you are burning). This is always a big fear for women, but it is necessary if you want to build muscle. You may gain a little bit of fat in this process, but if you are choosing nutrient dense foods during your muscle gain phase (instead of junk food, otherwise known as "dirty bulking") and keeping the intensity of your workouts up, you can minimize fat gain as much as possible.
So NOW... how to figure out your specific macros:
There are many online calculators that are available for use (IIFYM or Katy Hearn's calculator). I like using Katy Hearn's as I feel it is a bit more user friendly. You can find the calculator here. Step 1 is self explanatory: enter your gender, age, height and weight, exercise level, and for Formula choose "Athletes Formula". In Step 2 you will want to choose your goals and intensity. Whether you choose fat loss or weight gain, I would recommend sticking with "Moderate" or "Standard". In Step 3, choose custom for protein and enter 1.00 grams per lb. of body weight. In the fat category you can choose whatever you'd like. If you like a lot of fats in your diet (peanut butter, nuts, avocados, etc.) choose a higher amount of grams per lb. of body weight. If you choose a smaller amount, it will automatically calculate you to have more carbohydrates.
As an example, I calculated the macros for a 31 year old woman who is 5'2" and 130 pounds and works out 5x a week. Here's what I came up with: Total calories: 1510; carbohydrates 145g; protein 130g, fat 45.5g. (This is with a goal of fat loss)
If this were a real person who was beginning to start counting macros, I would advise her to take those numbers and work her way towards them, making small tweaks to her current macros (or current food intake if she is not tracking macros already). By slowly working your way towards those calculated numbers, you can see what works best for your body. If you introduce a big drop or increase in calories it could shock your system. With a big decrease in calories, your energy levels and strength will most likely drop. With a big increase, you could slow your digestion or put on an unnecessary amount of fat. So again, you want to make small changes to keep your metabolism functioning properly and your strength/energy levels up.
You still might be confused thinking "what do these numbers even mean?" and another big question women typically have is "Isn't that too many carbs?!" or a confusion about when to utilize carbs to best meet their goals. Again, nutrition is different for everyone, but here's some advice I would give: nutrient timing plays a huge role in weight loss (or gain). One thing I neglected for the first couple years when I started lifting was having good pre and post workout nutrition. This hindered my progress for a really long time, and in hindsight I wish I had known more about it. About 1 to 2 hours before lifting you should eat a meal consisting of a good carbohydrate and protein source – this meal is going to help fuel your workout. One of my favorite go to’s is jasmine rice with ground turkey. If I don’t have a full 1-2 hours before lifting to eat, a lot of times I will eat a serving of cream of rice with chocolate protein powder mixed in. Seriously this is delicious. Cream of rice is a faster digesting carb, so I eat this about 30 minutes before a workout. (This is great for morning workouts because you don’t have to wake up super early before working out to eat and it’s also a breakfast food so it feels “right” lol). The insulin will hit your blood stream and give you a boost of energy for your workout. Same thing with your post workout nutrition – within an hour of finishing your workout you want to have another meal consisting of a protein + carb source. Again, chicken and a sweet potato, jasmine rice and ground turkey, shrimp and rice.. all of those are good options. The post workout meal is to help rebuild your muscles that you’ve just torn down in the gym.
So start out by figuring out the macros for an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner you would have in a normal day. Then, make sure to add in another 2 meals for your pre and post workout meals. See what your macros add up to; if you have extra macros left over, this is the fun part! See where you can plug in some additional snacks: maybe a handful of almonds in the afternoon, or a couple rice cakes with peanut butter in the morning when you need a mid day snack, or maybe a serving of low fat cottage cheese in addition to your lunch. In the beginning it can be a bit of a numbers game and takes a little bit of work to get it right. It does not have to be perfect! Try hitting your macros within +/- 5 grams. I promise, once you get the hang of it, it becomes like second nature. You will also get to a point where you know the macronutrient breakdown of certain foods well enough to plan your day without really sitting down and looking everything up.
ANOTHER THING: I HIGHLY recommend purchasing a food scale in the beginning and measuring out all your food. It can be very eye opening to see what 4 oz of chicken actually looks like, and if you're consistently underestimating how much chicken you're eating, those calories will add up over time and hinder your progress. Again, this isn't necessary forever because eventually you will get good at eyeballing it - but it VERY helpful initially.
LAST THING: Most food packaging lists in the nutrient facts what a serving size is and how many grams of fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and sugar are in them. However, if you need to look something up on the go, myfitnesspal.com is a great resource. Just look up any food you have eaten or are about to it and log eat with ease from your app. They also have a really nice sliding scale that easily manipulates serving sizes. In addition, if you have a food package in your hand, 99% of the time you can scan the barcode and the information will pop up, making it super easy to log.
PHEW - that was a lot of info and I hope it all makes sense. Please feel free to leave comments with any additional questions you have!