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How to Determine Macronutrient Needs Based on Goals

How to Determine Macronutrient Needs Based on Goals | Tiffani Bachus | Expert Articles | 4/15/2016

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The term “macronutrients” (or macros, as some call them) and macronutrient profiling (the customization of ratios to fit an individual’s health or fitness goals or needs) are hot topics in the health and fitness industry these days. But what exactly do these terms mean for you and your clients? As it turns out, one’s choice of macronutrients can have a significant effect of the achievement of specific goals (endurance, strength, fat loss, weight gain, etc.).

“Macro” is a Greek word that means “large,” which, in the context of nutrition, relates to the size of the nutrient and its importance in energy balance. In basic terms, this balance can be defined as “energy in” (calories taken into the body through food and drink) versus “energy out” (calories being used in the body for daily energy requirements). Energy (or calories) is the core of nutrition and health, and the foundation for this energy comes from the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

A macro-based diet looks at the percentage combination or ratios of carbs, proteins and fats in a person’s diet rather than total calorie counts alone. These traditionally have been set as percentages for total calories, falling somewhere within the following USDA guidelines:

  • Carbohydrates: 45 to 65 percent
  • Protein: 10 to 35 percent
  • Fat: 20 to 35 percent

These guidelines provide a very broad range for each of the macros, however, so how do you determine which ratio or range is right for an individual’s particular needs and goals? Recent research and position stands have helped narrow these ranges quite a bit. Below is a review of some basic recommendations for macros, along with some strategies to help educate clients on their individual nutritional needs.

Carbohydrate

  • Provides fuel during high-intensity exercise and for the brain
  • Spares protein (to preserve muscle mass during exercise)
  • 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories

Active Individuals (General Fitness Program)

  • 45 to 55 percent total carbohydrates [3 to 5 grams per kg of body weight (g/kg) per day] 

Medium to High-intensity Training (1 to 2 hours per day, 4 to 6 days/week)

  • 55 to 65 percent total carbohydrates (5 to 8 g/kg per day)
  • 1 to 1.5 g/kg post-workout (3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein)

Weight Loss or Decrease Body Fat

  • 45 to 50 percent total carbohydrates (3 to 4 g/kg per day); choose lower-glycemic carbohydrate sources, particularly later in the day
  • 5 g/kg post-workout; choose lower-glycemic carbohydrates or low-fat carbohydrate/protein sources such as fruit or cottage cheese  

Protein

  • Used for building, repairing and maintaining body tissues
  • Involved in metabolic, transport and hormone systems
  • Component of enzymes that regulate metabolism
  • 1 gram of protein = 4 calories

Active Individuals (General Fitness Program)

  • 10 to 15 percent total protein (0.8 to 1.0 g/kg per day) 

Medium to High-intensity Training (1 to 2 hours per day, 4 to 6 days/week) 

  • 20 to 30 percent total protein (1.5 to 2 g/kg per day); this is equivalent to 5 to 10 servings of quality protein sources per day
  • 2 to 0.3 g/kg post-workout (3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein) (Kreider et al., 2010)

Weight Loss or Decrease Body fat

  • 25 to 30 percent total protein (1.5 to 2 g/kg per day); a protein intake of approximately 25 to 30 percent of calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80 to 100 calories per day, compared to lower-protein diets (Westerterp-Plantenga, 2008)

Fat

  • Energy reserve
  • Protects vital organs
  • Insulation
  • Transport of fat-soluble vitamins
  • 1 gram of fat = 9 calories

Active Individuals (General Fitness Program)

  • 25 to 35 percent total fat (0.5 to 1.0 g/kg per day)

Medium to High-intensity Training (1 to 2 hours per day, 4 to 6 days/week)

  • Approximately 30 percent total fat (0.5 to 1 g/kg per day)
  • Choose minimal to low-fat pre- and post-workout nutrition to allow for better digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and proteins (Kreider et al., 2010)

Weight Loss or Decrease Body fat

  • 20 to 25 percent total fat (0.3 to 0.5 g/kg per day)
  • Choose higher sources of unsaturated and essential fatty acids (such as fish oils, nuts/seeds, vegetable oils, etc.) to support immune system and metabolism (Kreider et al., 2010)

References

Kreider, R. et al. (2010). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: Research & recommendations.  Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7, 7.

Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S. (2008). Protein intake and energy balance. Regul Pept. 149, 1-3, 67-69.