If you're new to strength training, you may not realize that resistance moves are only part of building muscle. Nutrition is also key, especially the macronutrients. A macro calculator for bodybuilding, or a set of guidelines, can help you determine how much of specific macronutrients you need.
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Why Macro Calculate for Bodybuilding?
Macronutrients are the components of your diet that your body needs in the largest quantities. That's why you'll find them measured in grams, rather than milligrams or micrograms, as you would with vitamins and minerals.
The "big three" macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats. These are key to survival, of course, but also play a big role in health goals such as building muscle mass. In the simplest terms, carbohydrates provide the main energy you need in order to work out, protein allows your muscle tissue to heal and grow after strength training, and fats give you extra energy and promote healthy organ function.
A macro calculator for bodybuilding can start with a basic calorie requirements calculator, which tells you how many calories you should be taking in for moderate to heavy strength training. Apps such as LIVESTRONG.com's calorie counters for the iPhone and iPad or for Android phones help you determine the calories you need to reach your bodybuilding goals, and also deliver macro calculator bodybuilding functions.
Alternatively, you might want to use guidelines based on the percentage of calorie allotments suggested for each of the macronutrients. The general rule of thumb for most diets is that about half of your calories should come from carbohydrates, while protein should make up a third and fat sources should be the remainder.
But as the American Council of Exercise (ACE) points out, these ratios can be tweaked depending on your health and fitness goals. That means that your personal calorie and protein calculator for bodybuilding, as well as your fat and carbohydrate calculator for bodybuilding, might look different than suggestions for someone just trying to maintain their health or to lose a few pounds.
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A Carbohydrate Calculator for Bodybuilding
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), bodybuilders and other high-intensity trainers should take in roughly 2.5 to 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight each day, for about 55 to 65 percent of their total calorie intake.
For a 140 pound person, the total carbohydrate range for the day, using those guidelines, would be about 350 to 630 grams. If you have an app that includes a carbohydrate calculator for bodybuilding, weight loss or other goals, it can be easier to shift your diet from day to day as needed.
ACSM advises that carbohydrate intake should be higher on strength training days. Additionally, about a half of a gram of carbs per pound of bodyweight should be consumed about 1 hour before resistance training, and the same amount consumed within a half-hour after you've finished resistance training. That's about 70 grams of carbs for a 140-pound person, both before and after working out. Taking in another 30 grams of carbs or so, during strength training, is also helpful for maintaining energy.
Good sources of carbohydrates are those that aren't too high in sugar, or that haven't been overly-processed. Look for whole-grain bread, cereals and pasta. Dried beans and other legumes, fruits and root vegetables all provide carbohydrates for energy, as well as fiber to promote digestion and heart health.
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Dietary proteins are an essential component of building muscle, because muscle tissue is composed of protein. Without a protein-rich diet, the "building blocks" of your muscles can't be grown, or even maintained.
The protein content in your muscles are in a constant state of both building up and breaking down. ACSM stresses that in order to build muscle mass, you want your rate of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) to exceed the rate of muscle protein breakdown (MPB). When MPS is higher than MPB, your muscles grow. When MPB is higher, however, the muscles shrink and weaken.
The most consistent way to increase the rate of MPS is through strength training while consuming enough protein to meet your goals. Eating too much for your specific needs can be as damaging as eating too little. Your body can only use up so much protein to build muscle and use for energy, notes the Mayo Clinic. Eating too much protein can ultimately lead to fat gain, rather than muscle gain. In addition, excessive amounts of this macronutrient may cause heart and kidney disease.
Whether you use an app or another tool, consulting a calorie and protein calculator for bodybuilding can be helpful. When you're in the strength-training stage, ACSM advises consuming about 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein for every pound you weigh. In other words, if you weigh 140 pounds, aim for 70 to 112 grams of protein each day. If you're in a higher-intensity phase of weight-training, you may want to increase your protein amount to at least 1 gram of protein per pound per day, or up to 20 percent of your total calorie intake, according to ACE.
That means you'll need to take in several protein servings each day, to help build muscle. Make sure that some of your protein is consumed after a strength-training session, to aid in muscle recovery.
Good options to meet your protein goals include a container of yogurt, with 11 grams of protein; soy or dairy milk, with 7 to 8 grams of protein; 1 cup of cooked beans, for 16 grams protein; lean red meat, with 21 grams protein; and several eggs, which have 6 grams of protein each. You may also want to include protein powders to your diet, to boost your overall protein intake.
ACE recommends that the third of the three macronutrients, fat, comprise up to 30 percent of your total calorie content when you're in a high-intensity phase such as bodybuilding. On average, fats contain almost twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates contain. Fats provide 9 calories per gram, while proteins and carbohydrates contain only 4 calories per gram.
If you are on a 2,000 calorie diet, for example, a 30 percent calorie allotment for fats would be 600 calories, or about 66 grams of fat.
Because carbs and proteins are arguably more important to your bodybuilding goals than fats are, another macro calculator bodybuilding option is to calculate how much of a fat allowance you should have after adjusting for your carbohydrates and protein. On strength training days, your carbohydrate and protein needs might be increased. So if you're left with only about 20 percent of your daily calories for fat, adjust your math accordingly. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that would be 400 calories, or about 44 grams of daily fat intake.
It's also important to remember that some of your fat grams might overlap with your protein or carbohydrate options, especially the former. Even lean meats and lower-fat dairy products contain some fat grams. If you have additional fat grams in your fat "budget," limit saturated and trans fat from animal products and processed foods, in favor of healthy-fat foods containing omega-3, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Foods such as trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, nuts and cheese all deliver both healthy omega-3 fats and proteins. For monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, turn to oils like olive, canola, peanut, safflower, sunflower and corn oil. Drizzle them on complex carbs like grains and sweet potatoes, as well as on salads and cooked vegetables. A single tablespoon serving of olive oil contains about 13.5 grams of total fat.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: "Macronutrients in Health and Disease"
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Determine the Best Macronutrient Ratio for Your Goals"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Basic Nutrition for Athletes"
- Mayo Clinic: "Carbohydrates - How Carbs Fit into a Healthy Diet"
- American College of Sports Medicine: “Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance”
- Mayo Clinic: "Are You Getting too Much Protein?"
- USDA Food and Nutriion Information Cener: "How Many Calories are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fats"
- USDA My Food Data: "Olive Oil"