Everyone’s talking about macros. But how can you use a macro-based approach to diet unless you know your numbers? With the help of sports nutritionist, Abi Roberts and experienced trainer, Nicola Joyce, we look at the best macro split for cutting, bulking and general wellbeing.
What is a macro split?
Macros are shorthand for macronutrients: the three components of all foods. Macronutrients are protein, dietary fats and carbohydrates. Some people argue that alcohol should be the fourth macronutrient, but let’s keep it simple here and just talk about the three.
Every food is made up of various macronutrient ratios. Nuts are high in fats. Oats are carbs, fat, and protein. Whey is mainly protein, with a small amount of carbs and fats. You get the idea. There are some foods which are purely one single macro, but they are rare examples. This is why it pays to understand your macro split fat loss or bulking macros.
Are macros calories?
Yes – the calorie count of food is made up of the combined calorie load of the macronutrients. Confused? Don’t be. All it means is that the number of calories in a food can be separated out into the macros. It goes like this.
Why use macro splits?
Gaining or losing weight comes down to energy balance. Consistently consume fewer calories than you expend, and you are in a calorie deficit. Do this for long enough and you lose weight. Consume more calories than you expend, and you’re in a calorie excess. Do this consistently and you gain weight.
Calories are vital, but if you want more than simply weight gain or weight loss then you need to know about macros. A balance of all macros is needed for a healthy lifestyle with vitality and energy.
Having a certain macro split allows you to tailor your diet to a certain goal. We’ll go into specifics below.
What is the best macro split?
Now you understand what macros are and how many calories they all contain. But your personalised macro split will be dictated by food preference, energy output, training frequency, physique and performance goals, and other things like your food environment and habits.
There is no single best macro split, but there are a few basic fundamentals to help you get started. You could kick off with a balanced 40/40/20 split of macros. To calculate this, start with your calorie intake.
Let’s use 2000 calories per day to make it easier. So 30% (200g) will come from protein, 45% (200g) from carbohydrates, 25% (45g) from fats.
This would mean 800 calories from protein, 800 calories from carbs 200 grams carbohydrates and 400 calories from dietary fats.
But there’s no need to turn your brain into a supercomputer. Just use an app like MyFitnessPal to help you crunch the numbers.
Macro splits for weight loss
Losing weight is all about calories in vs calories out, so your macro split does not directly affect weight loss. Calorie output should always be your main concern when it comes to monitoring weight loss.
However, it has been proven that a higher protein diet can help with weight loss. This is because protein has a higher satiety, and thus helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Think about how full you;d feel after eating a chicken breast vs half a doughnut. They are about the same amount of calories.
Alongside training hard in the gym, a high protein diet will help to retain as much muscle as possible. The common advice you may hear is to consume 2g protein per kilo of body weight (or 0.8-1g per lbs).
A good split then for weight loss while retaining muscle may look something like 30-35 protein, 35-40 carbs, 25-30 fat. For one solely focused on weight loss, and keeping space for your favourite foods, it may be 30 protein, 40 carbs, 30 fat. If you try and hit that 0.8-1g of protein per lbs of weight, then work the other two macros around your favourite stuff, then you are likely to succeed. You just have to keep within a calorie deficit.
If you’re a 200lbs person, that’s around 180g of protein and 720 calories. For a 200lbs person to lose weight, their overall intake may look something like 2,250 calories. 720 is just over 30% of 2,250. The remaining 70% can be split anyway you like.
Macro splits for muscle gain
The most important aspect of muscle gain is to be in a surplus while consuming a good amount of protein. The general rule is around 0.8g of protein per lbs of weight. So a 20 lbs person would eat around 160-180g to gain muscle.
180g of protein equals 720 calories. If that person is consuming 2,500 calories to gain muscle, this would equate to around 30% of their daily calorie intake. You can then split the other 70% by having 40-45% carbs and 25-30% fat.
Macro splits for bulking
The advice for bulking macro splits are similar to muscle gain. They are trying to achieve the same goal. The protein intake recommendation would be similar – 0.8-1g of protein per lbs of weight. However, some people like to consume a little more carbs during a bulk, upping their surplus but also fuelling their body for maximal output during training.
A macro split could be something like 25% protein, 50% carbs, 25% fat. This is contingent on there still being 0.8-1g of protein per lbs of weight. The percentage for protein has only decreased since the overall calories have increased, topped up with carbs.
For a full guide on how much protein your body can absorb, see our dedicated blog.
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