How to Set Up Your Calories & Macros

How do you know how many calories you should be eating per day?

The Short Answer (The Long Answer is below)

*I am not a health professional. Use common sense. If you have a health condition, please consult your doctor.

Estimate how many calories you need in order to remain the same weight.

In order to lose weight you will need to eat fewer calories than you burn. You can start at a 20% deficit. Take the amount of calories you need to remain the same weight and multiply it by .8 to get how many you should eat in a deficit. Monitor your weight loss and overall health, and adjust as necessary until you hit your goal.

In order to build muscle you will need to eat more calories than you burn and you will need to do resistance training. Take the calories you need to remain the same weight and multiply that by 1.2. This puts you in a 20% surplus. Monitor your weight and overall health, and adjust as necessary until you reach your goal.

The Long Answer

First, we need an estimate of your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This is how many calories you need to eat per day to remain the same weight. The best way to do this is to accurately track your calories and weight. There are a bunch of TDEE calculators available online. Of course, none of them will be as accurate as you tracking your intake. If you don’t know for now, don’t sweat it. Most of us aren’t.

A good way to figure it out is the Katch-McArdle Equation. This estimates your Basal Metabolic Rate based on how much lean tissue you have. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body would burn if you did absolutely nothing all day long but lay on your couch. Lean Body Mass (LBM) is weight minus body fat. We take this number and apply a multiplier to account for how active you are to determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM in kg)


LBM = weight in kg x (1 – (body fat percentage as a decimal))

Body fat percentage as a decimal may sound complicated but it isn’t. For instance, for someone who is 20% body fat, that would be expressed as .20. For someone 15%, it would be .15. There’s no way to exactly determine body fat on a living creature, so you’ll have to estimate. Don’t worry, it’s really okay. You can do this by comparing yourself to pictures. (Google is our friend!) It will be an estimate but it should be fairly accurate. There are also calculators to convert lbs. to kg, but if you want to do it yourself, just multiply your weight in lbs. by .45.

Your BMR represents about 55-75% of your TDEE. If you’re less active, it will be on the higher end. If you’re more active, it will be on the lower side.

The activity multiplier will account for this.

If you’re not very active, use 1.3. If you are very active (if your job is physically demanding, such as construction), use 1.7. If you’re in between, use 1.5.

BMR x activity multiplier = TDEE

Keep in mind that TDEE is an estimate. Tracking your weight, measuring your waist, noting how your clothes fit and how you appear in the mirror will let you know how well things are going. Track your progress and adherence and make adjustments over time. Adjusting in small increments (100 calories) will help you hone in on the right numbers for you with greater precision.

Now that we know this, I have a very important question for you:

What is your goal?

Are you trying to lose fat? Build muscle?

Losing Fat

If you’re trying to lose fat, you will need to be in a caloric deficit. That means you’ll need to eat fewer calories than you burn. Determining the size of the deficit will depend on you, how much weight you want to lose, the time frame, and your tolerance. Your deficit should never take you below your BMR. Eating below your BMR can lead to adverse health consequences. If you wanted to lose an average of a lb. per week, you would aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day. In this instance your daily calories would equal TDEE minus 500. (There are approximately 3500 calories/lb. divided by 7 days per week)

Generally speaking, the more overweight a person is, the greater the deficit he or she can tolerate. He or she may opt to drop fat faster than a rate of 1 lb./week. Remember, your deficit should never take you below your BMR.


Some good news about being in a deficit is that for the most part, meal frequency doesn’t matter. You can eat 2 meals a day or 12, as long as you’re hitting your calorie targets, you’re good.

Frame your deficit to be as enjoyable as you can. There is no need to starve yourself. The deficit should be just enough to keep the scale moving in the right direction at a moderate pace. If you prefer eating several times a day, do that. If 3 larger meals suits you better, do that.

Without going too far into macronutrient portions, a good guideline is to eat around .8-1g of protein per lb. of body weight. Protein will help you maintain muscle despite being in a calorie deficit. A 200 lb. person would aim for 160-200 g of protein per day. Protein yields 4 calories per gram, so that would be between 640 and 800 calories per day. This is just a guideline, so adjust as necessary to suit you.

The remainder of the daily calories should come from a combination of carbohydrates and fats that is most enjoyable and sustainable. Despite the bad press, both carbs and fats are healthy and important, so I don’t recommend going below .3 g per lb of lean mass.

You want this to be as painless as possible for adherence and sustainability.

Building Muscle


To gain muscle, you will need to be in a caloric surplus. You’ll eat more calories than you burn. You will gain muscle as well as fat. We all wish there was a way to just gain muscle. You want to manage the surplus so that you minimize the fat gain.

Start at about 10-20% above your TDEE and adjust from there. That means TDEE x 1.1 or TDEE x 1.2. Muscle building is a fairly slow process. A person just beginning training can gain about 2 lbs. of muscle per month. Unfortunately those more advanced in their training will gain at a slower rate. If the scale goes up by 10 lbs in a month, please understand it’s not all muscle.

Again, you will want to make sure you eat enough protein. Protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle. Even though you’re in a surplus that doesn’t mean more protein equates to more muscle. Your target should be around .8-1g of protein per lb. of LBM per day.

A 150 lb. person would eat 120-150 g of protein daily (which correlates to 480-600 calories). The remainder of the calories should come from a healthy combination of carbs and fats. I recommend a higher percentage of carbs as it tends to help with resistance training.

Track your progress and adjust as you go along. I can’t say this enough. It really is the key to attaining your goals.

So there you have it.


Invest in Yourself

The best thing you can ever do is invest in yourself. 

Obviously this can take virtually countless forms. You can read more, eat better, work out, meditate, learn a new skill, practice one you already know.

No matter who you are, where you are, you can get better. That’s all invest in yourself means: do something today (right now!) to make yourself better.

This isn’t something you don’t know already. But how many of us forget it or let the mundane tasks of daily life get in the way? I know I definitely do.

It’s a struggle to keep this in mind, and more importantly, to act on it.

Football coach Jim Harbaugh likes to tell his players to focus on getting just 1% better each day. (Yes, I’m a Niners fan. And right now I’m investing in myself by working on my ability to be optimistic and keep the faith) One percent isn’t a lot. It’s the constant striving for improvement that’s so important.

In fact, if you’re a beginner at something, a 1% improvement per day is pretty slow. The point is simple and effective though. Progress doesn’t have to be made in big strides. It usually isn’t.

Imagine a baby learning to walk. He or she doesn’t just magically go from not being able to do it to becoming able to walk miles as perfectly as an adult. He or she makes nearly imperceptible improvements over the course of months to get to that point. Like I said, it’s easy to forget the same is true with other skills.

I use the word “invest” intentionally. What is an investment? It’s planting a seed. A person could eat the seed now or plant it and care for it. Over time, the planted seed will bear fruit. You have to believe that your future self is worth the investment today.

If you want to get in shape, you can’t do it in one day. You have to set a goal. A goal is just a vision of your future self. Imagine it as if it were real. Believe that is the real you. Write it down, create a vision board, do whatever you have to in order to believe it’s true.

With that as your guide you’re equipped to face obstacles and setbacks. You’ll have to work.

It will take time to achieve. You probably won’t even see any evidence that what you’re doing is working for a while.

Keep going.

You want to lose 5, 10, or 50 lbs.? You can. All it takes is time and effort. Invest in yourself. When you’re tempted with a giant dessert you’ll understand the true cost and understand it’s not worth it. Postpone present pleasure for future pleasure. You can eat that 500 calorie slice of chocolate cake in minutes. It’ll take you running about 5 miles to burn it off. And that just gets you back to where you were before the cake. It’s not even progress, it’s staying in place.

There will be days when it’s cold, or rainy, or you just don’t feel like going to the gym. Each time you give in, all you’re doing is eating away at your investment in yourself. Every time you eat right and work out you add to your investment in yourself.

Understanding and applying this is a habit. The bad news is it takes a little while to create a new habit. The good news is once it’s a habit, you won’t have to think much about it. The cumulative result of you continually investing in yourself will be a better you.

So keep going, keep investing in yourself.

What is impossible?

What is impossible?

What is truly impossible? Often what we think of as limits are just our lack of imagination. It’s hard to picture something that’s never been done before. But once we see for ourselves that it is possible, all of a sudden the barriers lower, or disappear.

An easy example of this is the airplane. Before the invention, no one thought it would ever be possible for humans to fly through the skies. Now many of us take it for granted (and instead of marveling at the ability to cross continents in mere hours, we complain about the speed of the wifi).

Another well-known case is Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. Until he did it, most people accepted it is a limit of human design. He, and some of his knowledgeable contemporaries knew this wasn’t the case.

It took about a month and a half for someone to break Bannister’s record.

Just because something hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

If you’re having difficulty achieving your goal, seek out someone who’s accomplished it already. With the internet (or books, if you’re old like me), we don’t even have to personally know these people.

This isn’t to say it will be easy.

You may want a goal, you probably think it’s attainable. But do you actually know you can do it? Of course not. You can’t know for sure until you do it. But you can have a deep-seated faith and belief you can accomplish it.

Knowing that someone else did it, studying their methods and ideas, and applying them can help.

I remember years ago when I was incredibly skinny. I was just starting to lift and just an empty barbell felt heavy. I didn’t know what I was doing. Fortunately, progress early on is almost inevitable. I got to a point where I was able to bench press 135 lbs. (which was equal to my body weight back then). I thought it was a big deal. I mean, it was 45 lbs. on each side of the bar! Haha.

I couldn’t imagine ever getting to 225 lbs. (2 45’s on each side). But I saw other kids who were only a year or two older than me getting it. I couldn’t tell myself it was impossible after seeing people I knew who could do it. It took more time than it should have (I was inconsistent at working out and wasn’t the most attentive listener to people trying to help me), but I got it.

Simply knowing a thing can be done can change your perspective. If there’s something you’re after, especially in the fitness realm, someone has done it before. Many, many, many people, likely.

Want to lose 30 lbs. of fat?

Gain 30 lbs. of muscle?

Run a sub 4-minute mile?

All possible. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t done it yet or even if you have no idea how. Find out how. Ask people. Ask Google. (Now, not every answer you’ll get will be a good answer, so keep your BS detector activated).

Learn. Apply. Improve. Repeat. That’s how you’ll accomplish what seems impossible.

How Many Meals Per Day?

How many meals should you eat per day? Most people eat 3-5, I think; breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus a snack or two.

If you’re trying to lose fat or build muscle, you’ve no doubt heard various and conflicting opinions on the “right” number of meals.

There’s a lot of chatter about how you should eat every couple of hours to keep your metabolism going. Perhaps you’ve read that the “key” is to do intermittent fasting and only eat within a short time frame each day.

The truth is you can accomplish your goals eating 10 times a day or once. Meal frequency isn’t nearly as important as the total amount of food. Whether you eat 10 meals of 200 calories or 1 meal of 2000 calories, your body will treat it the same.

So what’s the answer?

You should eat in a way that’s most enjoyable for you and is going to put you closer to your goals.

Some people like eating several times a day. Others prefer to eat larger meals but less frequently. Figure out which way fits your life best. If it’s not a good fit, you won’t stick with it.

I’ve found intermittent fasting works best for me. Intermittent fasting is a method in which you don’t eat for several hours and squeeze your meals within a few hours. (Technically, we all do intermittent fasting, I know.) Generally the fast is 16 hours, including while you sleep, and the eating window is 8 hours.

I’ve never really been into breakfast. I know, I’m weird. I don’t like cereal or most other breakfast foods. I train in the mornings on an empty stomach. I’ve done it for years. At first it was a little weird. There’s an adjustment period of a few days where you might not feel as strong as normal. After that, it’s been all good for me. I’m usually not even hungry until about noon.

My eating window is from around 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., so it’s 15:9 not 16:8. I’m not super strict with it, either. If I’m particularly hungry, I’ll eat a little before 11 or if I have a late dinner, I don’t sweat it. Generally that’s my eating window though.

I’m not proselytizing, this is just what works for me. There are several reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Eating every 2-3 hours won’t stoke your metabolism any better than eating larger meals less frequently. Nor will your gains evaporate.

Figure out the meal frequency that best suits your taste and your schedule and do that. The most important thing is to consistently hit your calorie and macronutrient targets.

What if you’re sore from training?

 I loved having a week off from the gym. I was ready to get back to it, too. I was not, however, looking forward to the return of soreness.

Most of us know that soreness is just something that happens for a couple days after a workout. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the pain and/or stiffness that follows new or particularly strenuous exercise. It’s a result of the microtrauma (tiny tears) in the the muscles worked. Normally it lasts 1-3 days.

When you work out consistently you’ll find that you’ll tend to not get sore afterwards. Soreness is not necessarily a good indicator that your workout was productive. You can have a great session and not be sore.

It goes without saying that DOMS isn’t a lot of fun. It’s just part of the process.

I hoped I wouldn’t experience it after just a week off, but oh well, it wasn’t to be.

In a prior post I wrote that I didn’t expect to lose any strength and I didn’t. My working weights and total repetitions didn’t decrease at all. I didn’t notice any drop off in my aerobic conditioning either.

I don’t do much aerobic training in the Winter. I prefer to run sprints 2 or 3 times a week outside, when the weather is warmer. During the winter I do 10 minutes of walking lunges after lifting weights on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Basically, I was sore last week from Tuesday on. It wasn’t the “every movement makes me want to scream in agony” level. More like a lingering stiffness. If you experience DOMS, alternating ice and heat for 10-15 minutes a few times a day can help. Stretching works for other people too.

What to do if you’re sore from training?

I’ve found what works best for me is just active recovery, like going for a walk. You can break a sweat (running or on a bike) but don’t tax yourself.

I’m also not as good about stretching as I ought to be. I stretch for a few minutes after my workouts. I’ll take a little longer on a specific area if it’s bothering me.

If you’re feeling it before a scheduled workout session you should know, it’s no reason you shouldn’t go through with it as planned. (As always, use your judgment. If you are really beat up, it might make sense to take a little more time to recover.)

When you get to the gym, just take a little more time than usual to warm up. Your warm up should raise your heart rate, your temperature and your muscles. A complete warm up will have you breaking a slight sweat. You may need a couple more acclimation sets before you hit your working weights.

 I don’t expect much, if any, soreness from this upcoming week’s training. And I hope you don’t experience any either!

Now, get after it.



I’ve posted before about the benefits of time off from training (deloading). This past week I took an entire week off from training. Why? I spent the time on a trip to the Dominican Republic for a vacation with some friends. We surfed a couple hours each morning, which was awesome.

I wasn’t training but I was definitely active. I’m still very much a novice on a surfboard but it’s still really fun. We spent the rest of the time just hanging out, eating great food, having some drinks and meeting new people.

Though I love training it’s important to take a break. I didn’t touch a weight and I didn’t miss it at all. Getting tossed around by the waves was great. I’ve been learning to surf for about 6 years. Obviously one week of daily surfing and about 51 weeks off isn’t ideal for mastery. I am getting better, albeit very slowly. It’s a great workout in its own right and a fun way to use my muscles in a way I don’t often. My joints got a break from the usual stress. Plus, warm sun and water, how do you beat that?

My elbow was kind of cranky beforehand, so time off definitely helped.
I’ll be back at the gym on Monday and I’m looking forward to it!


Keep it Simple


I only do 4 lifts per training session. There are a few reasons why. Mainly, I don’t want to be in the gym all day long. I want to get in, put in the work and get on with my day. I keep the sessions to about an hour.

You can always add complexity. Starting with a few things allows you to make progress faster because you’re more focused. If you based your program on a leg exercise, an upper body push movement and an upper body pull movement, you’ll be set up nicely.

You will quickly find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Not everyone is going to respond the same way to every stimulus. You may find seated dumbbell shoulder pressing yields you better results than standing barbell shoulder pressing. Or it may just feel more comfortable.

Do the things that work, scrap what doesn’t.

It sounds obvious.

Most people don’t need to do three different types of calf raises in order to see improvement. The marginal benefits are usually outweighed by the opportunity cost of the time spent. Concentrate on the most important lifts.

Every minute you spend doing one thing means you can’t spend it doing anything else. Choose carefully how you spend your time. Get the most out of your training time.

Training hard in 4 exercises over 45 minutes to an hour is going to be more productive for you than training 8 over the same time span. (In this instance “core” means central and important, not necessarily the body part we think of as the “core”).

When you get to a point where you stop making gains with a certain lift, it doesn’t mean you have to necessarily add more exercises. Yes, adding more sets and/or more exercises can help you make more gains. But it will also make your sessions longer.

Instead, when you find yourself stalled on a particular exercise, try replacing it with a variation. For instance, you can swap barbell bench pressing with the dumbbell version. You will give your muscles a different stimulus to progress and your sessions won’t be any longer.