Structuring an Eating Program: Proper Balance

Structuring an eating program requires determining the appropriate energy intake level and then balancing the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) at that particular quantity of intake. The following outline can be followed to balance your eating program once you've determined your appropriate caloric intake level.

1) Create a food journal with a table comprised of 12 columns labeled: "Food," "Serving Size," "Calories per Serving," "Protein per Serving," "Carbohydrates per Serving," "Fat per Serving," "Amount," "Servings," "Calories," "Protein," "Carbohydrates" and "Fat."

2) Write down all of the foods you eat throughout the day in the "Food" column.

3) Determine the serving size for the food (expressed in grams) and the amount of calories, protein, carbohydrate and fat in one serving. Due to recent legislation regarding the information provided on labels, most products have these values posted on their packages. If the product has the values on the package, use those numbers because they are the most accurate. For items that do not have this information on the label (fruit, for example), visit to access their database. Either way, insert these values in the columns labeled "Calories per Serving," "Protein per Serving," "Carbohydrates per Serving" and "Fat per Serving." 

4) Measure the amount of each food that you are eating (in grams) and enter those values in the "Amount" column.

5) Divide the number in the "Amount" column by the number in the "Serving Size" column and write that quotient in the "Servings" column.

6) Multiply the number in the "Servings" column by the number in the "Calories per Serving" column and write that product in the "Calories" column. Repeat for protein, carbohydrates and fat.

7) Sum the contents of the "Calories," "Protein," "Carbohydrates" and "Fat" columns after entering the values for all of the foods you have eaten throughout the day.

8) On average, a gram of protein or carbohydrate provides four calories of energy and a gram of fat provides nine. To convert grams to calories, you must therefore multiply the totals of the protein, carbohydrate and fat columns by four, four and nine, respectively.

9) Add up the three products from step nine (the sum should be approximately equal to the sum of the "Calories" column) and note the total.

10) Divide the total calories provided by protein, carbohydrates and fat (the values obtained in step 8) by the total from step 9 and multiple this quotient by 100 to arrive at the percentage of the total amount of energy that is being supplied by each macronutrient.

11) Calculate how much of the total of the protein column is from complete sources (i.e., those that contain all of the nine essential amino acids; e.g., meat, fish, poultry and dairy). Designate these in the protein column with an asterisk and calculate the total grams of complete protein ingested for the day.

There are differing opinions as to what macronutrient proportion percentages should be. Fat storage, usage and maintenance depends on energy balance exclusively, not on macronutrient proportions, so the goal in this regard should be to provide the macronutrients at levels that are most conducive to health. According to guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a ratio of 10-35% protein, 45-65% carbohydrate and 20-35% fat will accomplish this objective. However, simply relying on macronutrient percentages can be misleading especially for people at extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to caloric intake level. For example, if the appropriate energy intake level is low, protein requirements may not be met with an intake of 10% of overall energy consumption. On the other hand, extremely high intake levels may allow for adequate protein intake with considerably less than 35%, thereby sparing calories and allowing greater carbohydrate ingestion, which is better for health and exercise performance. As a result, absolute quantity per bodyweight should also be determined and these calculations follow.

1) Establish a goal bodyweight in pounds; then convert that amount to kilograms by dividing by 2.2.

2) Divide total protein by goal weight in kilograms. The long-standing belief is that we require 0.8 grams for every kilogram we weigh. However, the current line of thought is that we need more; for example, as much as two grams per kilogram for those who perform vigorous endurance exercise. Another rough guideline is one gram of complete protein per pound of bodyweight, which should provide more than enough protein for any athlete.

3) Divide total carbohydrates by goal weight in kilograms. Guidelines dictate appropriate levels are 8-10 grams/kg. for endurance athletes, although average people probably don't use enough energy per day to be able to take in more than 4-6. As a bodybuilder with a faster metabolism, I always tried to keep this value at or above six, although when my caloric intake was lower (e.g., in the weeks before a contest), I sometimes had to drop into the mid-fives. I never went below this amount even when getting my body fat down to the bare minimum that was necessary to compete.

Finally, if you are increasing or decreasing intake in relation to a consistent eating program you have been on, calculate caloric alteration (the difference between the previous caloric intake level and the current) and divide that difference by the previous intake level to determine the percentage alteration. When reducing intake, as would be the case when preparing for a contest, you probably shouldn't reduce more than 10% at a time because drastic reductions can result in a slowing of the metabolic rate.




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