Calculate Your Macros Pt. 2: Gain Muscle or Burn Fat:

In “Calculate Your Macros, Part 1,” we went over how to figure out your macronutrients in order to maintain your weight. In Part 2, we will discuss how you should adjust this number if your goal is to either gain muscle or to lose fat, and how you should adjust if you ever plateau. As a preliminary point, it is counterproductive and nearly impossible to try to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously unless you are a complete beginner. Gaining muscle requires a caloric surplus. Losing fat requires a caloric deficit. Both of these contradict each other.

Gaining Muscle (Bulking)

The term “bulking” is the most commonly used term for a dieting phase aimed at gaining muscle. However, although the term bulking is not incorrect, it seems to carry the implication that a bunch of fat gain will accompany your muscle gain. While gaining some fat is going to be inevitable, there is no need to actually put on a significant amount of fat to gain muscle. For that reason, I prefer to call it a “lean mass phase” or a “lean gaining phase.” Remember, gaining weight faster does not mean you are gaining more muscle. It usually means you’re gaining a bunch of unnecessary fat that you’ll need to lose later on.

For that reason, I recommend trying to gain roughly 2 pounds per month which is half a pound per week. To do that, you need to eat in a caloric surplus of roughly 300 calories per day. So, add 300 calories to the maintenance amount of calories that you have figured out from carbs, fat, or a combination of both, and continue tracking your weight. If you see that you are gaining at a pace faster than 2 pounds per month, reduce calories a bit. If you see you are gaining at a slower pace, you can increase them a bit.

Losing Fat (Cutting)

Typically, you can lose fat much faster than you can gain muscle. I recommend trying to lose between 1 and 2 pounds per week. To do that, you need to be in a caloric deficit of between 500 and 1,000 calories per day. So, subtract 500 calories of carbs and/or fat from the maintenance amount of calories that you figured out and continue to track your weight. You could also use cardio as a tool to burn some of these calories instead of subtracting all of the calories from your diet. If you are losing weight at a pace faster than 1-2 pounds per week, you can eat a bit more. If you are losing weight at a slower pace, then you can eat a bit less and/or increase the cardio.

The Dreaded Plateau

You have to remember that your maintenance calories will be changing as you gain or lose weight. For that reason, you will eventually hit a point where your weight starts maintaining. This is your new maintenance calories. When this happens, you need to either add a bit more calories until your weight continues increasing if you’re trying to gain weight or decrease calories until your weight starts dropping if you’re trying to lose weight. Once you master the process of tracking and adjusting your macronutrients for your goals, you will see progress you’ve never seen before.