*** First thing’s first: I am in no way educated or certified to give nutritional advice. The information below has been collected from the various sources that taught me about nutrition (books, podcasts, blogs, documentaries). I would like to share what I’ve learned through my own wellness journey to inspire others to reach their health and fitness goals. Second, if you struggle with and eating disorder and talk of calorie intake makes you uncomfortable, you may want to skip this post.***
Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates: The three primary macronutrients which provide bulk energy… but how much do I need?
Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more discussion about macro requirements. I’ve also done my fair share of research because achieving/maintaining my goal body weight and a fully nourished body are extremely important to me. I’ve wanted to write this post for a while because I believe many of us are ill-informed, especially when it comes to protein. We’ve been told to cut back on fruit, to drastically increase our protein intake, and I don’t know if anyone is thinking about healthy fat.
I think part of the concern comes from the fact that we’ve been mislead to believe we need much more protein than we actually do. We’ve been cultured by the meat, dairy and egg industries to believe that animal-based proteins are the only way to meet protein requirements, achieve lean muscle mass, and maintain a balanced diet. In reality, our nation is suffering diseases of excess. But on to the facts..
The first step to determining your macro requirements is to calculate your recommended calorie intake. If you aren’t eating enough calories to begin with, then no, you won’t get your required amount of protein. For example, the average woman needs 1500-2200 calories per day with the average being around 1800. To find your recommended intake, calculate your BMR then multiply by an activity factor using the formula below:
655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
2. Activity Level Factor
If you are sedentary : BMR x 20 percent
If you are lightly active: BMR x 30 percent
If you are moderately active (You exercise most days a week.): BMR x 40 percent
If you are very active (You exercise intensely on a daily basis or for prolonged periods.): BMR x 50 percent
If you are extra active (You do hard labor or are in athletic training.): BMR x 60 percent
3. Recommended Intake
BMR + (BMR x Activity Factor) = Recommended calorie intake to maintain current weight
Of course, to lose weight, the general rule is to subtract 500. Since 500 calories per day = 3500 per week and one pound is equal to about 3500 calories, this will provide a weight loss rate of one pound per week. If you are within 10-20 lbs of your goal, this may be harder for you. I lost my last ten at a rate of 1 pound per month because calorie restriction left me with little energy to exercise or do anything for that matter. Remember: slow weight loss is realistic and maintainable!
Now let’s talk about quality vs. quantity. Fat is the most calorie dense, followed by protein and carbohydrates.
- Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories
- Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories
- Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories
This is why foods like avocado and nuts have a high calorie content, but its also why trail mix gives you lasting energy. Though fat should make up a smaller contribution to your total calorie intake, it is essential for your body to function, unlike carbohydrates. Here’s the breakdown…
The minimum protein requirement to replace what your body uses is 5-6% of your calorie intake. The government recommends 9-10% to ensure most people get at least the minimum. However, Americans consume anywhere from 11-21% with an average of 15-16% (source).
Here are some plant-based protein sources that will help you easily reach your recommended intake:
- 1 cup brown rice/quinoa = 10 g
- 1 cup black beans = 17 g
- 1 cup lentils/chickpeas = 12 g
- 1 cup oats – 6 g
- 1 cup tofu = 40 g
- 1 cup green peas = 20 g
- 1 cup spinach/broccoli = 5 g
- 1 medium carrot = 1 g
- 1 cup almonds = 30 g
- 2 tbsp almond butter = 6 g
- 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, hulled = 11 g
- 3 tbsp hemp seeds = 10 g
- Larabar = 2-7 g
The average 1,800-calorie diet should contain 20-35% of your daily calories. However, it is important to know the difference between good and bad fat.
Bad fat, also know as saturated and trans fat can increase your cholesterol levels and raise your risk of heart disease. Saturated fat should comprise no more than 10 per cent of your total calories and trans fat should be banned from your diet!
Good fat is known as unsaturated fat (mono- or poly-) which is essential to your diet. Try to get it from oils, nuts, and seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are the omega-3 and omega-6 types but keep in mind that too much omega-6 can lead to inflammation. Healthy fats will help reduce your risk for heart disease and actually aid in weight loss by helping your body function properly.
Once you’ve met your protein and fat requirements, the remainder of your calories should come from carbohydrates. Carbs are not essential for the body to function, however, they are your main source of bulk energy! They should comprise 45-65% of the average 1,800-calorie diet. Of this, 25-35 g should be from fiber, not from simple carbs like sugar.
I mentioned in a previous post that many people consume carbs in excess but I wasn’t suggesting restricting fruit, veggies, and legumes (beans/lentils). Also, there is nothing wrong with eating whole grains in moderation but I don’t recommend 2 slices of bread at every meal 😉
The bottom line…
Focus your diet on real, whole foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc. If you are consuming a wide variety of plant-based foods you WILL meet your nutrient requirements. I used to stress about increasing my protein intake and cutting back on carbs, thinking this was the only way to reach my goals. Now that I have seen my own body change through a diet focused on whole foods I only wish I had found this “secret” earlier. I am the leanest and strongest I have ever been. These are plant-based biceps people. Pretty good for a girl, huh? 😉
Also, regardless of what I do for my body, you need to do what is right for you! Don’t deprive yourself of something because you’re worried about maxing out your carbs for the day. Balance and is key and no one is perfect.
In case you were wondering about my own macro consumption I did the math on a random day this week to see what I consumed. On an unbiased Tuesday, my intake looked like this:
- Calories = ~1800
- Protein = 15% (that’s 55 grams!)
- Fat = 20%
- Carbs = 65 %
Believe it or not, I did not have any protein powder or supplements on Tuesday. My protein intake was more than enough, and my carbohydrates were mostly from fiber. My meals for the day are listed below:
- Breakfast: Green smoothie
- Morning snack: Larabar and 1 medium orange
- Lunch: Large veggie salad (cucumber, red pepper, tomato, spinach, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, balsamic dressing)
- Afternoon snack: Carrots/broccoli with hummus/salsa mixed for dip
- Pre-workout: 1/3-1/2 cup trail mix
- Dinner: Mexican Lettuce Wraps
- Bedtime snack: Coconut yogurt with almond butter & blueberries
So there you have it. If you have any questions or requests please leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂 I love hearing from you guys and if I don’t know the answer I can certainly help you find it! I hope this posts helps even just one person move toward a healthier lifestyle ❤