＊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 over two 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 got 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:
- 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.
- Hire me, or better still hire Martin (if you can get your hands on him) for a consultation.
Click to expand:
Step 1. Calculate your Base Metabolic Rate
I like to call BMR your ‘coma calories’. – The energy intake you need, should you fall into a coma, to maintain your body weight.Some people go by simply taking their bodyweight and multiplying by 10. Though I’m a fan of simplification, that’s a little too far for my linking so we’ll stick with the following two formulas:
Harris-Benedict BMR Formula (Revised by Roza and Shizgal in 1984)
|Men||BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) - (5.677 x age in years)|
|Women||BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) - (4.330 x age in years)|
|Men||BMR = 88.362 + (6.251 x weight in lbs) + (12.189 x height in inches) - (5.677 x age in years)|
|Women||BMR = 447.593 + (4.203 x weight in lbs) + (7.869 x height in inches) - (4.330 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
|Men & Women||BMR = 370 + (21.6 x lean mass in kg)|
|Men & Women||BMR = 370 + (9.8 x lean mass in lbs)|
Step 2. Adjust for Activity
The following table enables calculation of an individual's recommended daily kilocalorie intake to maintain current weight. Identify yourself from the table below.
|Little to no exercise||Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.2|
|Light exercise (1–3 days per week)||Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.375|
|Moderate exercise (4–5 days per week)||Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.55|
|Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week)||Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.725|
|Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts)||Daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.9|
A few notes to help:
- Activity multipliers often screw people into setting calories way too high. I see it everyday on forums. People often over estimate their category.
- Also, most people over-estimate the calories burned for exercise.
- By tracking progress and keeping the diet consistent, it is easy to make modifications after a month if things are not going in the right direction so don't stress the initial choice too much.
- Use of my simplified rules tend to underestimate things by 20~30%. So if you are then try taking x0.2-0.3 off. If you would like a reason of why I use the rules and why there are underestimations then the article is here.
Choose one. Evaluate progress over 4-6 weeks. Adjust as necessary.
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, you may wish 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 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 written in 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.
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. 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.
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) ~0.9g/lb. On a cut, to preserve muscle mass this may need to be higher, i.e. 2.5g/kg LBM (~1.15g/lb). There is no need to go higher than this. However, for personal preferences you can choose to go higher, and protein will give you the feeling of being fuller for longer so I sometimes go up to 3g per kg of LBM* (~1.35g/lb).
If you are 95kg (209lbs) with a lean-mass of 75kg (174lbs), 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 (0.9-1.15g/lb) on workout-days and 2.5-3g/kg LBM (1.15-1.35g/lb) 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.)
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.
- 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.
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, Training Day Macros: 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. more on this philosophy in the post, Is Clean Eating a Scam?
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!
A Final Note:
Click for the Original Article’s “Foreword for Leangains Friends”
There are endless training forums, Facebook ‘wall’ comments, and ‘Tweets’ all over the internet with people screaming out for help with their macros. I am sure you have seen them, or perhaps even posted one yourself once.
It is my sincere hope that this guide can inspire people to give it a try & help them on their way, and this is just my humble effort to do so. I’ve tried to keep what is a complex topic simple, concise and manageable for the novice, without short-changing those that are more well studied on the method.
I know there are a lot of you out there whose knowledge far exceeds what has been written here. Truth be told, if that’s you then you are probably one of the people that has inspired me on my never ending educational journey into nutrition, through your blog posts, Facebook comments, ‘tweets,’ or forum posts. Thank you.
At the end of the day, if this article encourages more people to try IF, leangains, or just generally helps to make some people happier and healthier, I am sure we can all agree this is a good thing. So if you think sharing this guide or the simplified macro-counting rules will get more people using the system or trying it, then please do so. Your help is appreciated.
I’ve included my own simplifications into this guide which I believe will benefit most people. Any mistakes are my own, and should not reflect negatively on Martin Berkhan or his system in any way. These are merely my ideas, using his system. I have no doubt there are other excellent guides out there and I encourage you to share links to these in the comments below so people can check them out for themselves.
While I have done my best to give you the information you need here, there are certain things that cannot be put into formulas that only come from experience of working with clients. – Sometimes I ‘just know’ what will work.
Good luck and thanks for reading. – Andy.
The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss and Muscle Growth
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.
How and When 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.
Do these macros look right?
This is the wrong question. 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.