Technical question on macros vs calories


Jan 25, 2010
Out West
So the first thing you hear when you ask anyone about their intake for lifting/gaining muscle, they tell you that during their bulking phase they eat some insane amount of calories per day and aim for .8-1.0 grams of protein per day or body weight.

Then they have a cutting phase where they lose that beer belly they got from eating 4k calories a day for the last 2 months.

This cycle has led me to something - whats really more important; the amount of protein you get to build muscle or the calories that apparently stick around and don't do much because you have to have an entire phase to get rid of them.

So to gain muscle, energy levels aside as far as carbs = energy, whats the difference in these 2 scenarios:

#1 - Guy eats 4k calories and gets 200g of protein a day as the goal as well as 300g of carbs and fat from the remaining non protein calories

#2 - Guy eats 2k calories and gets 200g of protein a day as he is eating an extremely high protein diet and stays around 50g carbs/fat

What do all the calories really do for the guy in #1; he ends up having to cut to get rid of the excess after a while. What am I missing on this?
Sep 16, 2017
Guy #1 is eating way to many calories overall unless he is one big mofo already or is a high level athlete in training. If he isn’t one of the two I listed then he is probably getting fat as well as building muscle unless he isnt training correctly and in that case he is only getting fat n

Guy #2 isn’t eating enough calories to gain weight unless Guy #2 is really Girl#2. If Guy #2 will add 3-400 calories a week until he gets to the point where he is seeing a slight increase in weight on the scale and then hold steady until he stalls again then he can find his sweet spot and not add too much to his midsection.

Hope I helped guys.


Staff Sergeant
Feb 13, 2018
I can help point you in the right direction, either post or pm me on what your goals are and I can help you with a meal plan or calculate you daily caloric intake/expenditure.


Jun 5, 2017
I can help you. I'm a primary care Dr. with a PhD in clinical nutrition, so I've got some experience here.

So it's not a static number. Like Shawd is referring to; it depends on your goals. I am going to assume your goal is in line with 90% of guys - that "I want to get shredded", Lose fat and build muscle right? I am assuming you probably have enough muscle mass having to carry your barret around, so my advice is tailored around what most folks need to do which is simply to lose fat/ cut calories.

Spoiler alert- it ain't possible for most folks.

It is easiest to look at this as a simple math problem (it is really not as scary as it seems):

Calories in vs. Out : You must burn more calories than you eat in order to lose weight.

People roll their eyes at this like yeah yeah, but not too many people are TRULY tracking calories. In order to get it right, you must count macros- that means getting a 1/4 cup measure out to measure and logging it in to an app or diary of some sort. All of the stuff we are accustomed to eating is severely over portioned. IE I dare you to measure an actual serving of cereal, you'll be depressed to find out we are usually going for a triple serving. Look at it like using Quickload for handloading but in the context of using apps/ diary to scientifically estimate where you need to be to achieve your goals. Sure you could reload ammunition with lee powder scoops and hope to get it close enough by estimating it, or you can do it the right way by utilizing a system to help track all variables that are going in to you having some extra weight as well as losing it. So in my mind, you have to track macros to lose weight. I recommend MFP (myfitnesspal) as a free app to track.

The issue with flexibility dieting /calories in vs. out is that that weight you lose is NONSPECIFIC, meaning you can expect to lose some muscle mass in addition to fat/ water/ glycogen during this caloric deficit. This is where protein comes in as it is the most important macronutrient involved in building and maintaining muscle mass. So by keeping your protein intake high enough, you will not lose much muscle mass. This is up until a certain point that the scientific community has determined that any excess is just pooped out.

So here is a basic strategy to set macros for the average male trying to lean down:

1 gram of protein= 4 calories
1 gram of carbs= 4 calories
1 gram of fat= 9 calories

1. Determine the amount of calories needed per day to lose weight
- Most apps/ trainers will figure your BMR (basal metabolic rate)
- alot of apps can help do this for you, it is based on a variety of different things (current body weight, current exercise habits, goals, etc.)

2. Set your protein at 1 gram/ lb of body weight.

3. Split the remaining calories between fats and carbohydrates according to your goals.
- This is where exercise comes in and the nuances her are related to your personal goals.

*You should exercise with moderate intensity weights at least 3-4 times per week. (given the goal of getting shredded) * But I would not factor this exercise in to the equation.

Then the key is consistency over time. You don't want to shed a bunch of weight all of a sudden. You want to do it nice and steady. So 2-3 pounds per week is fantastic. The best diet is the one you are able to sustain. I lost 60 lbs after med school eating ice cream every night, by just working it in to my daily caloric budget. This was one of the ways that made this game sustainable for me. I wouldn't deprive myself, but rather work it in sensibly.

So by being able to manipulate these variables strategically body builders will take advantage of some of the examples you are giving in the first post about caloric cycling. Once you have hit that threshold of protein requirement (where any excess is just wasted out), you have the remaining allotment of calories to attempt to help supply fuel for the muscles and the rest of the body (to be able to lift heavier in the gym). The body is then able to replenish with the available macros it has on hand. The muscle is built by adequate protein macronutrients on hand, but it can be awfully tough to have a decent workout without enough carbs on board. So the extra calories in example one is essentially just helping to maintain a calorie surplus to have available for muscle growth, because the thought process is to try to grow the muscles as large as possible before going back in to a caloric deficit to get lean. Most folks are not able to build muscle and burn fat at the exact same time, but many are able to get lean while maintaining muscle mass. So that is the key is maintaining what you built before you cut your calories. 4000 calories might seem extreme, but when you are in the gym for 2 hours per day you are burning off quite a bit of that to try and work the muscles down to the point where they 'soak up the macros' and build back stronger.

I would recommend for the mass majority of people reading this, to just cut the weight first, then once you get to a goal weight, you can focus on trying to 'lean bulk' and add clean muscle. Don't get caught up with guys with good physiques talking about how they eat 4000 cals per day- there is often a handful of "supplements" to assist that side of the equation that further muddy these waters.

I'll bet you your Barret ;) that if you plug in your numbers, and count macros every single day and use an app/ diary accurately, you will lose weight. Let me know what other questions you got.
Sep 16, 2017
What arm017 is saying is true and correct but there is a more simple way. I lost 50lbs and went from a 42" waist to a 31" waist without counting anything. Eat three meals a day and no more. No snacks ever. Stop eating before you feel any type of fullness. You will feel hunger between meals. This is normal and necessary. If you never do then you are eating to much overall. If you feel during or after any meal then you ate too much in that sitting. Take note and adjust as necessary. If you are starving between meals then you didn't quite eat enough. Actually pay attention to these feelings and really look at your portions. If you are honest you will lose weight. You would only be lying to yourself if you are not. Eat mostly meat and veggies. Thank me in a few months.
Jun 26, 2012
N. Carolina
There is a guy on the tube that has some good meal prep videos and he is all about the macros. hes kind of a tool but if you just focus on what he is saying it can help. i loosely follow what he does and ive lost 10lbs in the last 30 days (trying to get back to my fighting weight of 185). Look up Remington James. @arm017, i appreciate this information.


Furious George
Feb 18, 2017
Fayetteville, Arkansas
I took a very similar approach to what arm017 laid out. Lost about 30lbs and got down to 10% BF AND gained some muscle along the way. The key was consistency and following a basic formula for calories and macro ratios.

There is of course more to it than that but way too many people over think it and don’t start with those basic principles.
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Battery Operated Grunt
Jun 3, 2010
San Diego, Ca
Good thread with good info. I'd add...

In addition to what is posted, age and experience (assuming weight/strength training is being used) comes into play. For example, the norm for those lifting regularly is 1gr of protein per pound of body weight. This holds (relatively) true until you hit your late 30's/early forties. As you age, you will find the need to bump protein intake to a higher amount (1.2gr per lb of BW for example) to have the same results. This is simply because as we age, our digestion, as well as ability to synthesize protein, declines as we age. As mentioned, you're going to have to truly track your macros, and play with a it a bit to find out what is needed for your body/age/phenotype. The older population's response to diet and strength increases are all over the map, unlike the younger crowd where things tend to progress more predictably across that age group (largely due to a more uniformed ability to recover).

I did like arm17 is recommending, and lost 35-40lbs of weight (mostly body fat) going from a 36" waist down to a 32.5" waist (down from 205lbs to 165lbs @ 10-11% BF). From there, it was a matter of using a linearly progressive weight training program to gain back muscle mass while limiting fat gain. I'm now at 180-185lbs (largely depending on if I just ate a bunch of salty carbs the night before) and am sitting around 16% BF after about an eight month bulk. I just went back to maintenance calories, and my weight on the bar is still progressing up (slowly) as the BF is starting to drop again. It's all a balancing scale.

As to the excessive calories during a bulk, after the first 6 months of weight training it is a necessity (past the novice phase), since your body will not recomp effectively (gain muscle while losing BF). This is why you'll see the up and down of dieting by lifters (body building and power lifters alike). You have to slightly over shoot your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) to allow your body to build muscle. As to the insane amount of calories eaten by some, it really is dependent on your program, your BF and how recently you have come off a cut. If you just came off a cut and have very low BF (8-10%), your insulin sensitivity is likely through the roof (you get a pump, as when lifting weights, just by eating some carbs). This insulin sensitivity causes your body to release a crap load of IGF's (insulin growth factors), which is then used to rebuild damaged (from lifting heavy weight) muscle tissue. You will gain some small percentage of BF though, but, as the weight your lifting increases, your calories will need to go up to sustain growth (this is where the insane numbers come from). But because you will gain some BF, eventually you'll hit a point where your body isn't as insulin sensitive, and as such, your growth/recovery will begin to suffer. This is why many will eat an obscene amount of calories as they hit that sweet spot of insulin sensitivity and their ability to push heavy weight (and still recover enough to keep their linear progression moving up). Eventually though, most will have to taper calories down to "maintenance" level (i.e. right at their TDEE) at some point.

This is where the decision will have to be made. Are you lifting to get stronger? Or are you lifting to get "shredded". If the answer is the former, then it becomes a game of keeping your numbers form the bar moving up, and adding calories as needed to sustain that upward trend. If the answer is the latter, then a "cut" of around a 20% deficit is in order until your BF is either down to where you want it (while retaining enough muscle mass to give a pleasing physique) or you begin the process again to add more muscle mass, while limiting BF gain. Basically, 10% body fat is where you really start to see definition (if that's your thing), and around 20% is the top of the scale for insulin sensitivity. Hence, the yo-yo dieting to gain muscle and lose fat, through phases of bulking and cutting.

As Rerun7 mentions, there are also many other considerations, such as programming (novice, intermediate and advanced) that is determined more by age and genetic potential, how much (if any) cardio, and desired end goals. As the saying goes, if you don't know what you want, then effectively programming for it is near impossible. Sticking with that programming (diet & weight lifting regimen, whatever its intended goal) is where most folks fail. It takes self discipline and prioritization that most lack (either mentally, or due to conflicts with work, family and life in general).

Macros are nothing more than a way to program a diet that a more succinctly matches "calories in" to a desired after affect (whether that be getting bigger/stronger or getting shredded; i.e. building muscle or losing BF).
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Staff Sergeant
Feb 13, 2018
There are way too many out there now, depending on how in depth you want to keep track of everything. In my opinion get an app that you will actually use, meaning it’s easy to understand and convenient to use. Download a few in the App Store and try them out.

*My fitness pal is definitely a good one


Battery Operated Grunt
Jun 3, 2010
San Diego, Ca
I just use calorie king for the macros, and write them down in a small tablet. As stated, we're creatures of habit. after a while, you just know this thing is x and that thing is x.
Dec 29, 2017
Huntington WV
I’m sure someone has answered this question but I have my degree in biochemistry and biotechnology and I might have an answer for you. Going off you two scenarios you mentioned in terms of weight lifting, I would opt more toward the first scenario. While the guy in scenario one will gain some fat, you want excess in regards to muscle gain. Muscle gaining is a very calorie consuming activity, even hours after lifting the body is still burning up its main currency source of energy, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This is why a post workout meal is so important because the body is still starving for an energy source. While it’s been many years since i really hit the weights hard, i remember packing about 60g of simple carbs (jolly rancher chews) in my gym bag and I would eat them immediately after my post shake. This is because I wanted to make sure by body had enough carbs to keep building and repairing those muscles until I got home to eat a full meal. During an active lift the body is burning through carbs at such a rapid rate you would really be short changing yourself in terms of raw muscle building if you didn’t have enough carbs. This is why a lot of guys carb load before a lift. You can achieve higher reps with heavier weights. The very last thing you want is the body to run short on an energy source (carbs) when trying to build muscle. So, while 300g of carbs will probably get you a little belly fat, it’s all about an excess in energy for your body to build up on itself. More importantly, the carbs you intake on your main meals should be complex carbs, sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice. There are windows for simple carbs such as white starches which are typically the meal after the workout where you want to replenish the body of protein and carbs as fast as possible to build muscle. Protein is the same story, the body can only ingest so much protein at a time, but you want to load up on excess to ensure you are getting 100% protein uptake each time.

So let’s take scenario A for example: a guy eats 50g of protein in a meal and his body could have absorbed 75g at this time. This guy will gain muscle but maybe not as quickly over time if he would saturate his body with protein.

Scenario B: a guy eats 100g of protein in 1 meal but his body only absorbed 75g. This guy over did it and will probably take a massive, stinky and violent shit later but, he saturated his body with all the protein it could accept at one time.

So the jist is, if you want to focus solely on building pure strength and muscle, overload your body. If you wanna look cute and be that guy at the gym taking selfies of his 6 pack then maybe some restraint will be needed on the carbohydrates atleast.

Like many have said above, they’re apps for this kinda stuff now but everyones body is different. I never used these apps and just relied on good ol science to find out what worked best for me.
Hope this helped!
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Mar 6, 2017
The old bulk forever and then cut for 3 months is outdated and mostly went away after Arnold retired. Most people will never acheive that "cut" look and maintaining it sucks from a food intake perspective....if you like to eat. Every person has a different body type; You are either mesomorphic, endomorphic or ectomorphic; You got what the good Lord gave you!
The easiest way to learn foods and the calories that are contained in them is to run a log for 2 months. You will eat 90ish% of what you eat all the time during this time and running a daily log will allow you to look at a portion of food on a plate and figure whats in it. Most of the populous will not need anything more than the RDA when it comes to macro nutrients(proteins, carbohydrates, fats).
Guys want more muscle and less visible fat so you need to find what works for you and that 2 months of data will tell you the facts for YOUR life.
1gm of protein/Kg of lean body weight(2.2lbs) is a good standard and gives more than enough protein to build lean muscle tissue...1gm per 1lb is more than double the recommended daily allowance...most will not need it! What happens to unspent fuel in the body? It gets mostly converted to future energy storage(fat)! This is a generalization and meant to stay brief in statement...there are exceptions.
Simply, I use:
60% carbohydrates(simple or sugars, fibrous or veggies etc and complex or grains etc)
25% proteins( meat best but vegans can balance amino acids profiles)
15% fats(mono, poly unsatrurated and saturated). I keep this number low to build in a safety measure....30% is RDA
1500 calories daily gives you 500 calories per meal....simple

500 x .60 = 300 calories from carbs Divide by 4 = 75gms of carbohydrate
500 x .25 = 125 calories from proteins Divide by 4 = 31gms of protein
500 x .15 = 75 calories from fats Divide by 9 = 8gms of fat
Do this 3 times a day and you have a healthy start to proper nourishment and running the numbers will confirm what YOU need. I used this "guide" in the 70's when I was competing and counting food intake down to the grain....yes the grain! This was way back before food labeling and you had to weigh and compare to a food counts manual to log.
Lastly, for those that scoff at 1500 k/cals daily Ill will bet you I can put an equal amount of food on a table and you cannot finish it!



My Dixie Wrecked
Oct 8, 2013
in a nut shell, weight gain is base don calories in vs calories out. Macros is how your body stores/absorbs/handles the food you take. I'm not a believer of any of the broscience regarding the whole IIFYM BS. a 2000 calorie diet based off of fried chicken and fries is not going to do as well as a 2000 cal diet off of good quality protein and good carbs.

As far as the amount of calories. that is totally based on size of the person and their TDE.

For example, i am 6'3" and weigh 240lbs my TDE, or "maintenance calories" that i need to maintain my body weight is right about 3500 daily. so if i wanted to bulk then 4000 cal a day is no big thing.

i workout pretty intense and if i was really killing it in the gym 300g of carbs a day would provide me with very sufficient energy to allow me to get through my workouts and replenish my muscles with glycogen.

now if i was 5'10" and 200lbs then 300g of carbs and 4000 cal a day would make me gain way too much body fat or "dirty bulk"

For me personally, the best way i have found to get very lean or "shredded" is by incorporating a ketogenic diet. once i finally got on board and actually understood the keto diet it was fantastic for keeping lean muscle mass why shredding the fat,

it's all a matter of perspective.
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