How to Calculate your Leangains Macros

Andy MorganDiet & Nutrition1749 Comments

How to calculate your leangains macros

Important Update (March 5th, 2014)

Welcome. Having being read over 750,000 times now this guide by far the most popular post on the site and continues to be, despite it being nearly three years since the original publication.

Though I’ve updated the guide here over the years, I’ve progressed massively as a coach since, and using those client experiences as well as the feedback and questions I’ve received (on this post, over 1000 comments) I’ve put together a much more complete version for you, the series of articles The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss and Muscle Growth. It requires more reading, but it’s far better, and has pretty much everything you need to be successful. Go make yourself a cup of tea, get a pen and notepad, and take your time over it.


Calculating your Leangains Macros

This is just my interpretation of how a person may go about calculating their macros according to the principles written for us by Martin on Leangains.com. The only person that knows how Martin calculates things for his clients is Martin himself. Real-world experience, study, passion for what he does and really hard work are what make the results he gets for clients so seemingly magical.

While the method for calculating the macros and fine tuning them can be a little complex, the implementation of the diet once have your macros is very simple. Don’t be put off by the maths below.

Firstly, the calculations I have outlined below will work best if you follow the simplified macro-counting rules that I used to achieve this 7 week transformation. It’s a short article, please read them.

Secondly, the guide below will set you going in the right direction, however it will be up to you to monitor your progress objectively, and then fiddle with your macro ratios and overall macro intake to get your physique to the level you want.

Thirdly,  I cannot possibly write everything down in one article, there are too many variants to consider, physical, hormonal and otherwise. There can never be a “one formula fit’s all” (which is why I’m not a fan of online spreadsheet macro calculators).

If you do not want to, or don’t feel you can do it then I offer you two options:

  1. Try the Basic Set-Up of the diet. If you’re new to leangains it will work, you will get leaner but probably not to the point of abs lean. At that point you will be much more in tune with your body and more motivated to give this a go yourself, so come back then. It can be fun and rewarding to try.
  2. Hire me, or better still hire Martin (if you can get your hands on him) for a consultation.

The Steps

Step 1. Calculate your BMR.

Step 2. Adjust for Activity

Step 3. Choose to ‘Cut’, ‘Slow-Bulk’ or gradual ‘Body-Recomposition’

Step 4. Calculate a Training-Day and Rest-Day Calorie Figure

Step 5. Calculate your Macro Targets for Training-Days and Rest-Days

Step 6. Make your Menu from these Macros.


Step 1. Calculate your BMR

I like to call BMR your ‘coma calories’. – The energy intake you need, should you fall into a coma, to maintain your body weight. There are a variety of formulas, all of which produce a guess at best, however we need a figure to work with. Please choose a different formula if you wish.

Metric BMR Formula* (*Harris-Benedict)

Women: BMR = 655+ ( 9.6 x weight in kilos )+( 1.8 x height in cm ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men: BMR = 66+ ( 13.7 x weight in kilos ) + ( 5 x height in cm ) – ( 6.8 x age in years )

If you’re obese then the above formula will overestimate your BMR, and if you are very lean then the above formula will underestimate your BMR. If you have an idea of your body fat percentage then you’re best using the Katch-McArdle BMR Formula.

Katch-McArdle BMR Formula:

BMR (men and women) = 370 + (21.6 X lean mass in kg)


Step 2. Adjust for Activity

You need to add an ‘activity multiplier’ (x1.2~x1.9) to your BMR depending on your lifestyle/training.

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise): BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (easy exercise/sports 1-3 days/week): BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week): BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week): BMR x 1.725
  • Extremely active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job): BMR x 1.9

It’s essential to realise that any calculation will just be a best guess, which is why I used the words “likely range” to describe the calculations above. This is because spontaneous physical activity (a.k.a. NEAT, written about here) – fidgeting, moving around, propensity to take stairs vs elevator etc. – will vary greatly between people.

This means that two 6ft, 200lb males, with the same 15% body fat and training regimes may find their maintenance calorie needs vastly different. One guy may need 2500kCal a day to maintain his weight, the other 3250kCal.

No calculation can take into account these individual NEAT differences. However, we need a starting point, so we make a calculation regardless.


Step 3. Choose to ‘Cut’, ‘Slow-Bulk’ or gradual ‘Body-Recomposition’

The calories and thus macros you choose will depend on your goals.

If you have training experience unless you have striking abs already, I highly advise you to go for a cut first, as starting a ‘slow-bulk’ when ‘abs lean’ gives you significant hormonal advantages for gaining muscle with minimal fat. It also means you can eat a lot more when slow-bulking and yet still keep your abs, which is fun. This means that many people reading this should go for a ‘cut’.

The exception to this is very light framed and/or weak people, whom I would recommend choose ‘body-recomposition‘ calories, then increase accordingly. With the implementation of this diet and a barbell training program your first year will give you the most dramatic changes to your physique in your life. You should be excited. You will need calories for this. (If this is you, I have a special message & offer in the first comment box for you below.)

If you are adverse to losing size, for sport reasons, or ego reasons, then go for a ‘body-recomposition’. Just remember the results will be slower.

I’ve recently written in much greater depth about this topic in the article,  “12 Weeks on Leangains: Identifying Where You Are Now, Setting Realistic Goals, and Your Best Course Of Action.


Step 4. Calculate a Training-Day and Rest-Day Calorie Figure

These calorie figures are just a guide to help you calculate your macros. We’ve already recognized that these calorie numbers may be a little low to be taken literally because of the simplified rules.

‘Body-Recomposition’: Martin himself refers to a +20%kCal and -20%kCal rule for T-Days and R-Days respectively.

So if you came out with 2000kCal from your calculation, then make a T-Day 2400kCal and R-Day 1600kCal.

‘Cutting’: You need to be lower than this so as to create a weekly energy deficit. Even so, you must eat a surplus of calories on a training day in most situations*.

Your numbers might look something like 2200kCal and 1300kCal. (+10%/-30~35%kCal)

(*Obese/Very fat people are at less risk of losing muscle when on a calorie deficit if protein is kept high, so they can get away with a deficit on both days.)

‘Slow-Bulking’: So you are already very lean and looking to do a bulk? (Skip to Step 5 if it’s irrelevant to you, because I go into a little more detail here.)

If you are new to leangains I would highly recommend that you do ‘body-recomposition’ macros (or slightly less) for the month first while you adjust to the system. This way you will keep your abs and have a base-line for increasing your macros after. Once you’ve done that, try the advice below.

If you have already used leangains to get lean then you’re in a perfect situation to try this.

The key to keeping abs with slow bulking is quite simple, make sure you have enough of deficit on your rest-day so that you burn the stored fat* from the training day.

Your numbers might look something like 2800kCal and 1800kCal. (+40%/-10%kCal)

This is a way of putting on quality muscle without the fat, and as such is a slower process than the usual ‘eat everything!” approach some people take to bulking.

(*The complicating factor here is that fat stored on a training-day is not just is that the fat you consume, but also any spillover of carbohydrates that your body does not shuttle into your glycogen depleted liver & muscles after training, or use for recovery, as any excess glucose can be converted to fatty acids and stored as fat tissue. If you can get your carb balance right, you can decrease the deficit on your rest-day. – Track your progress weekly, in detail so that you can make adjustments objectively.)


Step 5. Calculate your Macro Targets for Training-Days and Rest-Days

There is not one perfect macro-ratio. (i.e. 40% Carbs, 40% protein, 20% Fat) It varies from individual to individual, and depends highly on a persons conditioning. It can still take a few weeks of close monitoring to get a good ratio for a client, and even then, this ratio changes as a person progresses. This is why I monitor the progress of clients, I don’t just give them 3 numbers and send them on their way. You need to do this too.

Protein
Your protein needs to be kept high on both days, for satiety and muscle preservation. Research suggests that with maintenance calories there is little benefit to >2g/kg lean body-mass (LBM). On a cut, to preserve muscle mass this may need to be higher, i.e. 2.5g/kg LBM. There is no need to go higher than this. However, for personal preferences you can choose to go higher, & protein will give you the feeling of being fuller for longer so I sometimes go with 3g per kg of LBM*.

If you are 95kg with a lean-mass of 75kg, and love eating meat, then you might put this number around 225g on both days. This can get a bit expensive so there is no harm in going with 2.5g/kg LBM, so go with 190g of protein.

Otherwise you would choose 2-2.5g/kg LBM on workout-days and 2.5-3g/kg LBM on rest-days. It is fine to keep protein consumption the same on both days for simplicity for now. I do.

(*Please just guess lean body-mass. Don’t get all worked up over it.)

Fat

Consumption of dietary fat is important for hormonal regulation, especially testosterone production. It should never be eliminated from a diet.

Training Day Intake: When eating above maintenance calories, the fat we consume is easier to be stored, so it is best to keep fat intake lower on this day. For a cut, the ‘average’ male client will typically have an intake somewhere in the ~40-65g range.

Rest Day Intake: You’ll have a calorie deficit on this day so all dietary fat consumed will be burned off. Increase your fat intake on this day to balance out the lower fat intake on the training days. For a cut, the ‘average’ male client will typically have an intake somewhere in the ~60-95g range.

Notes:

  • Those carrying more body fat will do better with a higher fat intake on training days than leaner individuals. This is to do with insulin sensitivity, which increases when you get leaner.
  • If you eliminate fat from your diet, the most obvious change you will notice is a decrease in sex drive. If this happens, consider increasing your fat intake, or decreasing your overall calorie deficit, or taking a diet break.

Carbs

For your initial calculation think of carbs as just balancing the equation as per your T-Day and R-Day ‘calorie’ targets. Let’s not go into more detail than that.

1g of: P = 4kCal*, C = 4kCal, F = 9kCal

(*Latest research suggests this to be more like 3.2kCal because of the energy required for digestion, however I suggest you keep it simple and call 1g of protein 4kCal.)

Let’s consider a man called Tom, 95kg, 20% body-fat (~75kg LBM), choosing body-recomposition (+20%/-20%) whose BMR calc+multiplier gave him 2000kCal. (Remember what I said earlier, I know the number is a little low.)

So the Training Day Macros are:

P = 190g, F = 60g, C = 275g

Calories from Carbs = [T-Day Target calories] – [Protein calories] – [Fat calories]

= 2400 – (190 x 4) – (60 x 9) = 2400 – 760 – 540

= 1100 (kCal)

Carbs in grams = 1100 / 4 = 275

Rest Day Macros

P = 190g, F = 80g, C = 30g

Calories from Carbs = [R-Day Target calories] – [Protein calories] – [Fat calories]

= 1600 – (190 x 4) – (80 x 9) = 1600 – 760 – 720

= 120 (kCal)

Carbs in grams = 120 / 4 = 30


Step 6. Make your Menu from these Macros

Really this is up to you. If a food fits your macros for the day then go for it. I’m not classifying any food as good or bad. This ‘If it fits your macros’ (IIFYM) policy is gaining popularity in fitness circles. (IIFYM google search)

Tom’s Training-Day macros are: P190/F60/C275

If a food fits your macros for the day then you can eat it. No exceptions.

Which according to my simplified rules means eating means consuming:

950g of leanish meat/fish, 385g of rice and lots of green vegetables.

Tom’s Rest-Day macros are: P190/F80/C30

Which is something like:

475g of fattier meat/fish, 475g of lean meat/fish, 40g of rice, lots of green vegetables.

Simple! You’re done!


FAQ

Do these macros look right?

They could be right, it depends.

Assuming you are not on the extreme ends of daily activity (triathlete/coal miner or in a coma) you can use a fairly standard energy multiplier (1.1-1.3) to BMR to get a rough idea of your daily energy needs, from there calculate a deficit or surplus (based on goal), and then put together your macros (which anyone can do if they take a little time reading the guides).

HOWEVER, everyone’s actual energy expenditure will vary somewhere between plus or minus ~20% of that due to the current state of metabolic adaptations and NEAT variance.

A better question is, “How are these macros working for you?” If you’re not tracking, you don’t know, so get started and make sure you don’t miss any points. -> How To Track Your Progress When Dieting

Specific questions are welcomed, but I cannot answer comments regarding the specifics of your personal macro set up – such questions will from now on be deleted.  - 15th Feb. 2014

Think you might be interested in a personalised coaching?
See
Personal Consultations: Nutrition and Training for more info.


The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss and Muscle Growth

Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance Pyramid

Consider this a much more detailed guide to the above.

There is a very clear order of priority when setting up your diet. If you don’t understand it, at best you’ll just be wasting money, at worst your time and effort as well.

Unfortunately there is a large amount of confusion and misconceptions over what is important. I see this a lot with the one-on-one nutritional coaching also, and I’m sure you see it around the internet too.

This article is the first of a six-part series teaching you the principles here you’ll feel freer and more in control of your nutrition, regardless of style of diet you follow (paleo, IIFYM, Keto, etc.). We will also cut through any mystery and myth surrounding Intermittent Fasting, explaining where it may fit into your diet success, should you choose to use it.

Read more…


How and When To Manipulate Your Macros

How to manipulate your macros

Your diet progress has slowed or come to a stop for 2-3 weeks, diet adherence has been good, you’re sleeping well and there is no additional stress at home or work. So what do you do to get things started again?

This is where manipulating your macros may come in.

Full guide on how to keep your diet progressing: Learn what the optimal fat loss rate is for your level of body fat, and a the order in which you should make changes to your diet when things don’t reach that target.

Read more…

1,749 Comments on “How to Calculate your Leangains Macros”

  1. Anthony

    Andy, I swear I saw it somewhere on this site but I can’t seem to find it…..
    What app do you recommend for tracking macros?

    Your site is the best on the net, hands down.

  2. Roman

    Hi Andy,
    One thing that has always been a nagging voice in the back of my head is the seeming disconnect between your advise regarding no more than 3 days of training versus the activity multiplier giving an option for 3-5 days of activity under moderate for example.
    In theory, does this not mean then, that the maximum allowable number of workout days would be 5 under this choice. Again, being that this option has 3-5 days of activity as a benchmark, wouldn’t that then mean that the energy expenditure is already accounted for up to but not to exceed 5 days? Again, this had always been a tiny nagging voice in the back of my head, but it wasn’t until now, that I was finally able to formulate that thought into a question. Also, if I am oversimplifying my reasoning, then please feel free to call me out on it; I would much rather have your professional explanation remove all question, then be spinning my wheels needlessly.
    Thanks!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Roman, good question.
      Intermediate and advanced trainees will likely (but not always) need to increase the number of days they train in order to get in the necessary volume when bulking.

      To be honest though I had that there originally not for reasons of the above, just as a copy paste from the standard wiki on TDEE calculations, fully expecting people to ignore my advice to go for three days of training principally, and hammer me with, “Oh but I train more days…” questions. :)
      Still, didn’t work as there have already been 1743 comments on this post already.

      1. Roman

        Thanks, and I understand your points, but for the sake of conversation, does it not make sense then that a person could, in theory ,choose the activity level of 3-5 days and actually work on that level and still yield favorable results or rather, the results that you propose? And if not, why not then state for the record and place ALL clients on the 1-3 activity level and remove some confusion from some people’s minds? I am probably over thinking this a bit much, but blame that on my over analytical mind! Thanks!

  3. Drew

    Hey Andy, love your calculator! Very easy to use and gives a great layout of information. One question though; when calculating TDEE for females is it based on lean mass? Have you explored any of the findings from Alex Navarro? Or listen to the recent podcast on Body.io with Keifer. Really trying to utilize this information and find the best way to plan nutrition and training for women. Have had results all over the board with women and fat loss. The trial and error just takes such a long time and no person reacts the same way.

    -Drew

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Drew. The Katch-McArdle equation above is for both men and women. You’re likely getting confused between the commonly used Harris-Benefict equation that doesn’t. The former will be more accurate if you have an idea of your body fat, otherwise go with the latter.
      Really though this misses the point: Set your macros, track, and then adjust calorie intake accordingly so that you get the targeted rate of change. See the guides on tracking and making adjustments in the diet menu.

      Last piece of advice – the thing that screws beginners out of making progress more than anything is trying to mix and match advice from different sources. Stick with one you trust and keep to it.

  4. John

    Andy,

    Long time no speak (Still need to email you about Japan), hope you’re well!

    I’ve had an ongoing injury for two years now that’s finally being fixed up – steroid injections and physio, so won’t be training for at least a couple of weeks if not longer.

    Should I continue with my current macros (which are still helping me shave roughly 2lb a week) which involves carb cycling. Or shall I spread the macros more evenly during the days rather than cycling? I’m easy either way but want to do my best to retain strength and mass while I’m out of training.

    John

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi John. Good to hear from you.
      There is no need to cycle your macros when you’re not training. Just keep protein intake high and make sure that the calorie deficit isn’t too low (refer to the rates of fat loss guidelines here), but if you enjoy what you’re doing and are comfortable with it then there is no harm.

  5. Burak

    Hi Andy;
    Can i apply body-recomp with if?Because according to this calculations, i have to take 420g carb in 8 hours and it is a little bit hard to take it.Should i do this with if or should i spread this thing in a day not just in 8 hours?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Burak. Yes you can, though it’s not necessary to force it.
      See the FAQ, “Too Full”
      Refer to the fourth article in the nutritional hierarchy of importance series on the importance of IF for physique change.
      Note also the points in the article, “Which Routine Is For Me?

  6. mfmaxpower

    Hi Andy, I’m in the final month of my cut and I’ve had a few ups and downs due to what I now believe to be not eating enough fat. Do you have a way that you use to determine a minimum fat amount to eat on workout/rest days?

  7. Stephen Watts

    Hey Andy, great site and thanks for sharing the info. I’ve been following this way of eating for a few weeks and making good steady progress. I’m just wondering what your views are on adjusting for activities such as yoga which I tend to do on my ‘rest’ days. I know it’s training in the sense I’m exercising somewhat and do work up a light sweat, but it’s not heavy lifting and doesn’t justify a big post workout meal or significantly higher carbs for glycogen replacement. How do you recommend I tweak my macros/calorie intake for days like this? (I lift heavy 3x week, yoga 2x week). Cheers

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Stephen. There is no real need to adjust for yoga as the energy expenditure won’t be anything significant above basal RMR (sweating isn’t to be confused with calorie burn, but it always is, which goes a long way to explaining the hot yoga craze), nor will there be any significant impacts on muscle glycogen. It’s just stretching at the end of the day.

  8. Nathan

    Hey Andy, thanks for the great article. I’m pretty new to this and kind of blown away by the numbers I’m getting. Playing with the formulas I get 4-500 g of carbs on training days. How’s that even possible? That would be 10 cups of rice or med/lg potatos. I don’t think I could even eat that in a day, especially as I typically train in the evenings. I could up my protein, but that’s still a huge volume of food. Any advice appreciated!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Nathan, thanks for the comment. That can very easily be possible, it just depends on the circumstances. I’m not here to tell you whether you have calculated correctly, but here’s the way to think about it:
      1. Is that significantly more, less or around the same as you are currently eating?
      2. Are you currently gaining, losing or maintaining weight?
      3. How does your goal match up with the above two things?

      Bear in mind that if you’re switching from a higher fat diet to this, you will have a higher volume of food intake.

      If in doubt, try a quantity that is comfortable, track progress, adjust accordingly. – See also the “too full” section in the FAQ.

  9. Rob

    Hey Andy great site and info! I do have a question I am 32 and weight 169lbs. About 3 months ago I started a diet and working out, when I started i was about 185. I have been doing the strong lifts 5×5 program, and have never done any “real” weight training in my life before this. I see myself as still skinny fat…overall skinny with a little belly fat…I have been reading your site and now think that I should have been doing recomp this whole time instead of “cutting”. Would you suggest that I move to a recomp type diet? I don’t feel that I am getting stronger any longer and I am at the point where I am starting to fail and de-load on most of my lifts. I know I cannot gain strength while cutting but also want to make sure that I can get rid of this belly fat :) Any suggestions would be awesome!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Rob. For those with lifting experience there is a point where a recomp that won’t work. 3 months seems quite early to be stalling though so you might just need to adjust your training program. My guide for this is here. I’ll have a new article (or series, depending on how long it goes – original article here) explaining more about your common ‘predicament’ coming out soon. So add your mail address to the blog mailing list and you’ll see when that comes out.

Got a question? Fire away...