Anyone who has tried to put on muscle knows how challenging a process it is. It requires discipline and consistency with your nutrition and weight training.
To build muscle, it’s important to have a solid nutrition plan that focuses on consuming the right amount of macronutrients. Macronutrients (macros) are the essential components of your diet, including protein, carbohydrates, and fat, that provide energy and support muscle growth.
In this blog post, we will explore macros for muscle building by discussing the three types of macronutrients, different ratios of macros necessary to build muscle, how to calculate macros, and answer some frequently asked questions about macro-based dieting.
This guide provides a detailed, science-backed breakdown to help individuals who want to build muscle and need guidance in identifying the appropriate amounts of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for their diet.
There may be circumstances and situations where these dietary targets may not be suitable for everyone. Please talk to your healthcare provider before drastically changing your nutrition.
The Three Types of Macronutrients
There are three types of macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They are called “macro” because the body needs many of them. Each macro provides calories and has a specific role in building muscle.
Protein provides four calories per gram and is necessary for building and repairing muscle tissue. It is also involved in neurotransmitter development and immune system maintenance and cannot be stored for long periods of time in the body. (1)
Carbohydrates provide the body with four calories per gram and are essential for providing muscle energy. They can be stored within the muscle as glycogen to produce quick energy for exercise. Some sources contain dietary fibers, which help digestion, and others contain antioxidants that promote recovery. (2)
Fats provide nine calories per gram and are essential for providing fatty acids that help in hormone production. They are also necessary for energy and nutrient absorption, which supports the body’s muscle-building process. (3)
Each macronutrient makes up a percentage of our total daily calories. For example, the USDA general guidelines are that 15-35% of your calories should come from protein, 45-65% from carbohydrates, and 15-30% from fat. However, we are asking the question how to muscle-building. (5)
Different Ratios of Macros
Generally speaking, the macro ratios for building new muscle tissue will be 20%-35% of your calories from protein, 40-55% from carbohydrates, and 20-30% from fats. (6)
Compared to the general recommendation, the ideal macro ratios for building muscle differ because more of your calories will come from protein due to the increased demand for muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth). (7)
It is important to mention that because calories and macros are tailored to the individual’s age, gender, lifestyle, and other factors, everybody will have a slightly different macro ratio.
Once you have identified your macros to build muscle, you can use the flexible dieting principles to fulfill them.
How to calculate calories to build muscle
For a beginner to build muscle, the goal should be to consume either maintenance calories or slightly more calories than required to maintain your current weight – typically 5-20% more calories. This depends on your current body composition and current training abilities.
You can follow these three steps to find the necessary calories to build muscle. (7)
Step #1: Identify your Basal Metabolic Rate – Calories you use at rest.
Step#2: Identify how many calories you use to be active.
Step #3: Add 250-500 calories to your total calories.
This is the cliff note for finding the calories needed to gain muscle. If you don’t know the number of calories you need, stop here and read the article on how many calories to build muscle.
How to calculate macros for muscle gain
We will use specific equations, the latest research, and recommendations from institutes like the American College of Sports Medicine to calculate the grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
How much protein to build muscle
It is common knowledge that to grow new muscle, you must eat protein. The evidence suggests consuming between 1.6 – 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram, or about 0.73 to 1.0 grams per pound of body weight. (8) Some evidence supports an intake of 3.4 g/kg of protein, which may be appropriate for advanced weight lifters following a periodized weight training program. (8)
This protein target is based on three factors. First, you are eating at calorie maintenance or slightly above. Second, you are doing some sort of resistance training. And finally, you are intentionally trying to build new muscle tissue.
Based on these three factors, this protein goal is double, if not triple, the general guideline of 0.8 grams per kg. The following nutrition boards support this protein range.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand:
For building muscle mass and for maintaining muscle mass through a positive muscle protein balance, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 1.4-2.0 g protein/kg body weight/day (g/kg/d) is sufficient for most exercising individuals, a value that falls in line within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range published by the Institute of Medicine for protein. (9)
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine:
The current data suggest that physically active individuals should consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.5 to 0.9 grams per pound) regardless of whether the individual is a strength or endurance athlete. (10)
It may seem like a lot of protein, but it is recommended that someone weighing 150 lbs consume approximately 109-150 grams daily. The good news is that this protein intake can and should be spread throughout the day. Let’s talk about the timing of your protein next.
Regarding timing, regularly consuming protein throughout the day, after workouts, and even before sleep is important because your body can not store protein known as amino acids.
In addition to being unable to store these amino acids, it is hard to over-eat protein. For this reason, you need a series of servings of protein over a day. Let’s talk about what that looks like.
You should pay attention to three specific times: between meals, after your workout, and before bedtime.
The time between meals – also referred to as spacing between protein-containing meals. The goal is to eat a protein-containing meal every 3-5 hours.
After your workout – Adding a protein supplement with a high leucine content can be helpful. Particularly for individuals NOT getting enough protein in their daily diet.
If you already consume enough protein daily, there isn’t much evidence to suggest further benefits.
Before bedtime – Consuming 30-40 g of casein protein (isolated milk protein) 1-3 hours before bed has some evidence of maximizing muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth) and metabolic rate. (11)
Eating 1.4-2.2 grams of protein daily, consuming it every 3-5 hours, and drinking a post-workout protein shake and a casein protein shake before bed, setting up an ideal environment to build muscle. (11)
The foods high in protein and most beneficial to muscle development are fat-free dairy, white fish, oily fish, eggs, poultry, lean beef, tofu, edamame, tempeh, nuts, and lentils. These categories are further broken down in the Ultimate Macro Food List article.
How many carbs to build muscle
Carbohydrates provide energy to the muscles, brain, and other body areas through glucose. By providing this energy source, carbs prevent protein from being used to fuel the body.
Additionally, glucose is stored in muscles as glycogen can be used to push it through that last rep, resulting in more muscle growth.
There are several recommendations for carbohydrate intake in athletes, which ranges from 6-10 g/kg (~3-5 g per pound). The suggested intake for bodybuilding/hypertrophy (building muscle) athletes is 4 – 7 grams of carbs per kilogram. This is around 1.81 grams to 3.18 grams of carbs per body pound. (12)
Carbohydrate intake is more complex than protein due to the larger quantity we consume and the need to time it properly to use it as energy. Consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after a workout helps fuel activity and promotes muscle growth.
Meal times: 40-75 grams
3-4 hours before your workout: 300 grams
During your workout: 30–60 g carbohydrates per hour
Post workouts: Carbohydrate Requirements of Elite Athletes
After exercise, athletes should consume 1.0–1.5 g/kg of body weight during the first half hour and again every two h for 4–6 h to replace liver and muscle glycogen stores. (13)
Consuming 1/2 – 2/3 of your total daily carbohydrates around your workouts allows the body to use carbs when needed most. The remaining carbohydrates should be spread throughout the day, between meals or snacks.
The foods that are a good source of complex carbohydrates and most beneficial to muscle development are whole grains like quinoa, oats, and barley; beans such as black beans, chickpeas, and lentils; legumes like peanuts and almonds; starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squash; and fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas.
How many grams of fat to build muscle
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a 20-35% fat intake for athletes. There is some evidence to support that around 0.3 grams of dietary fat per kilogram of lean body tissue. (14)
Regardless of the amount, the recommendation is to limit saturated fat intake by focusing on unsaturated fats.
Adjust your fat intake based on your preferences and needs. Some people may find it hard to consume enough calories through carbohydrates and protein alone, making fat a useful energy source. (15)
Like with protein and carbohydrates, it’s best to consume your fat intake evenly throughout the day. It’s recommended to avoid consuming too much fat around the time of your workout as it’s digested more slowly.
The foods that are a good source of unsaturated fats and most beneficial to muscle development are olive oil, avocados, fatty fish like salmon, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. Almonds are also good sources of fat that provide lightweight snacks to carry on the go-between meals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are macros and why are they crucial for building muscle?
Macros, or macronutrients, are the proteins, carbohydrates and fats your body needs in large amounts to function optimally. When trying to build muscle it is crucial to have a balanced macro ratio of 10-35% protein, 45-65% carbohydrates and 20-35% fat for optimal results.
What is the best macro ratio for muscle gain?
The best macros ratios for building muscle is range from 20-35% protein, 40-60% carbohydrate, and 15-30% fat.
How do I figure out my macros for building muscle?
To figure out your macros for building muscle, start by identifying your total daily calorie needs, using the equations for protein (1.4-2.2 g/kg), carbs (4-7 g/kg), and fats (0.3 g/kg of LBM) identify how much you need of each.
What is the recommended protein intake for promoting muscle gain?
The recommended protein intake for promoting muscle gain is 1.4-2.2 g/kg or .63 – 1 gram per pound.
How should I adjust my carbohydrate intake to support muscle-building efforts?
To improve your carbohydrate intake, aim to consume 6-8 ounces of grains daily, with half of those being whole grain. Additionally, try to include 2-4 cups of fruit in your diet each day. It’s also important to incorporate a variety of different sources of carbohydrates into your meals.
Can I incorporate my favorite foods into my diet while focusing on macros for muscle growth?
Yes, you can incorporate your favorite foods into your diet while focusing on macros for muscle growth. However, it’s important to make sure that these foods fit within the recommended macros for building muscle.
the macros for building muscle should focus on eating enough overall calories, protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Because there are many variables from person to person, it’s important to determine the correct macro ratio for your body.
It’s important to figure out the right number of calories, the ratio of macros and consider any food sensitivities as well. Eating a variety of proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats throughout the day will help maximize energy and aid in muscle growth.
If you are looking to build muscle, tracking your macros can be a helpful way of ensuring you’re getting enough of each macro. Regularly reviewing your diet and adjusting as needed will help ensure you are on track to reach your goals! Once you have your nutrition dialed in where you know and are meeting your calorie and macronutrient targets It may be time to consider add in supplements.
By incorporating a well-balanced diet, weight training, and recovery, you can achieve your muscle-building goals.
Good luck and happy muscle-building!
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below with any questions or feedback.
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.