Bikini Competition Diet Series: How to Calculate Your Macros

This is an expansion on a very, very simplified article I wrote back in 2010 on how to set up your Bikini Competition Diet Macros.  I’ve been hesitant to get too in depth with this since adjusting a diet is really an ongoing process, and you need to know when to leave things alone and when to adjust.  That’s not something you can really learn from an article like you can from a good bikini prep coach.

So I’m still not going to be able to 100% cover the span of an entire prep here, but I think I can do a better job than my over-simplified article from a few years back.  This is for someone who is about to start a diet…NOT for someone who is mid-prep.  If you’re mid-prep and are still looking for info on setting up your macros, you may be a little behind on things.

Its also not a carb cycle.  If you want to carb cycle, you need to establish your maintenance level first by following the steps below.  Otherwise you will be over-complicating things in terms of knowing how/when to adjust.

Bikini Competition Diet Macros Step 1:  You need to figure out your current maintenance

In other words, at what average caloric intake do you not lose, not gain…but maintain your bodyweight.  Most people who aren’t really going out of their way to pig out every chance they get, but aren’t dieting either, are already at more or less maintenance level.  And many who ARE dieting are still at maintenance since they’re only “kinda dieting”.  So the days they veer off course are enough to prevent weight loss (or maybe its metabolic damage, or magic).

You need to know where all of this puts you calorically, on average.  No calorie/macro calculator can do this for you…you’re going to have to weigh/measure and log your food for at least a few days.  I have my clients do this before we begin working together.  You can just use a myfitnesspal.com type site/app to log everything, but pay close attention to things like cooked vs raw measure, dry vs cooked, fluid ounces vs ounces as a weight measure, etc.  And don’t assume that different brands of the same food will have the same calories/macros…go with what the label says on anything you eat that has one.

Don’t do anything different in terms of how/what you eat, including your cheats.  This is actually tough to do since most people will modify their behavior when they are being observed (in this case by yourself), but do the best you can.  These few days of logging will save you time in the end since you won’t be guessing.

Bikini Competition Diet Macros Step 2: Compare this to where most calculators say your maintenance level SHOULD be

This one is a bit less “textbook” than step 2, but I think its important especially considering how many repressed metabolisms we see in this industry.  If your actual maintenance is significantly under where it SHOULD be, you may want to spend some time NOT dieting, and see if you can gradually bring it back up to baseline.  It is possible that your baseline is just lower than the norm, but I wouldn’t assume that.  Give yourself a few weeks eating at least somewhere in between your current maintenance and where it should be.

I assume if you plan to compete that you are active and are training a lot.  So anything much less than bodyweight x 15-17 should cause fat loss, e.g., this SHOULD be your maintenance level, or below.  If you’re maintaining on something more like bodyweight x 12-14, and/or you’ve been dieting at least sporadically, then I would suggest just bumping it up to closer to bodyweight x 15 or so…you likely will still maintain, or at worst, only gain a lb or two and then level off.

And if you find that you’re still maintaining after adding more and more food, and are passing the 15-17 mark (I see this often actually), I would keep going.  You can’t “supercharge” your metabolism without drugs, but you can definitely bring it back up to where it was meant to be.  Doing so will allow you to diet successfully on MUCH more food (at least initially), and in my opinion, this is part of why my competitors tend to have some of the fullest/tightest glutes of anyone at their shows, while still being lean overall.

Bikini Competition Diet Macros Step 3: Shave about 15%-20% off your daily calories

Competitors/coaches don’t talk much about calories anymore, but calories are still king.  Do you like your protein to go towards repairing muscle tissue rather than being oxidized?  Then your total calories matter…they dictate how your macronutrients are utilized, e.g., to what degree they are stored vs oxidized/burned.  So we set this up first.

You already have your actual maintenance intake if you’re on step 3, so start by taking 15%-20% off of that.  I should warn you that if you didn’t take my advice above to try and get yourself up to at least the bw x 15-17 mark before cutting, 15%-20% could mean not very much food…which could make for a pretty tough prep.

In this case, if you MUST go straight to dieting, I would suggest doing a refeed (high carb day) at least once a week.  Read my article Refeeds for Figure and Bikini Prep for more info on this.

Now on to Bikini Competition Diet Macros! Step 4: Set up your protein intake

Now that you have calories set, you can set your bikini competition diet macros.  Caloric intake is based on your maintenance, which is influenced by TOTAL bodyweight, since you’re carrying it around whether its all muscle, or a lot of fat (or both).  Protein intake however is based on lean body mass, e.g., the weight of everything but your bodyfat.

Its okay if you don’t know your exact lean body mass or bodyfat %…no need to run out and have it tested.  Just going by your target weight can get you close enough.  Even a bikini competitor won’t have a ton of bodyfat left once fully prepped, so you can just go with what you estimate your ideal stage weight to be.  That will be close enough.  Take in at least that number in grams of protein (so LBM or target weight x 1).

If you know that you do better with a little more protein, there is definitely room to go up.  If you have trouble with digestion/bloating/IBS, you might want to consider sticking to just 1g/lb for a while and maybe gradually increasing.  You will likely need more as calories get lower, or if you increase the volume/frequency of your training.  My clients average between 1-1 1/2 grams per pound protein intake while dieting.

Bikini Competition Diet Macros Step 5: Set up your fat intake

I use percentage of total calories for this one…for some reason the body seems to know when we drop below a certain percentage, and some negative responses can occur.  Fat intake MUST be kept up to a reasonable level while dieting, with the possible exception of the final couple weeks before a show.  Carbs are no doubt important…but your body will deal with lower carbs (as long as training isn’t excessive) much better than if your fat were too low, in most cases.  So we set this up first, before carbs.

I generally like to keep it to AT LEAST 20%, but usually set it to 25%-30% if I’m going with a relatively normal carb intake.  If you know FOR SURE that you do better with less carbs, you can bring fat up a bit more.  But I should tell you that out of all the people I’ve trained who “don’t handle carbs well”, probably 90% of them find that they at least eventually do…they just needed the right overall approach and to give things enough time to work.

So, fat is 9 calories per gram.  So once you have your fat calories calculated (calories x 20%-30%), divide that number by 9 and that’s your target fat grams for each day.

Bikini Competition Diet Macros Step 6: Set up your carb intake

The rest is carbs!  You have your calories, protein and fat set up, so all we need to do to determine carb intake is figure out how many calories you have left to fulfill and divide that number by 4 (since carbs are 4 calories per gram).  So, take your protein intake and multiply it by 4, and take your fat intake and multiply it by 9.  Then add those two numbers up and subtract them from your calorie target.  This will give you your remaining calories, which will all come from carbs.  Divide this number by 4 and you have your carb intake for each day.

If you went through the recommended process above of logging for a few days to get your actual maintenance, and took 15%-20% from that, then this new carb intake SHOULDN’T be a huge change from where you were maintaining…although it could be I suppose.  If its much more than a 50% cut from where you’ve been, you may consider playing with protein/fat a bit so that you can cut your carbs a little more gradually.

That’s getting into more tricky stuff that I definitely do often with clients, but wouldn’t be able to easily explain here.  But there is room to massage these numbers a bit, and in many cases I opt to stick somewhat close to where my clients already are, and just make small changes initially.

IIFYM and Other Considerations in Setting Bikini Competition Diet Macros.

I know many people are going to use this in conjunction with an IIFYM approach, so I feel the need to address that briefly here.  Its NOT all about macros…you do need micronutrients and fiber as well.  So, the targets above should come from primarily whole food sources, and you need to aim to get at least 25g fiber per day.

If you’re currently taking in more than 25g fiber and are tolerating it well (e.g., not bloating/suffering from constipation), I would keep it up around that area while dieting.  Fiber does have calories…about 1.5-2 calories per gram, so if you get it up to a certain level, those calories will need to be factored in as well.  At 25g/day, I wouldn’t worry about it, but if you get close to double that, start counting it or at least keep it steady so things are consistent.

And lastly…make sure you’re sticking with foods that you know you tolerate well.  I start clients off with very safe foods that they like and handle well, and stick with just a few items from each food group initially, to eliminate variables.  We then start adding more variety in once we’re sure we have things under control.  You don’t want to be dealing with bloating and/or constipation towards the end of your prep, so get a handle on that from the start.  If its a problem when calories are still relatively high (by dieting standards), it could get even worse if/when you have to cut further during those last few weeks or so.

Conclusion

This article covers initial setup of your calories and bikini competition diet macros.  There is no way I could possibly do justice the subject of how/when to adjust, but I can say that more often than not people over adjust or adjust pre-maturely.  Most people will retain at least some water during a drug free contest prep, and this water can and will mask fat loss (on the scale).  So people will see improvements in the mirror, in how their clothes are fitting, etc, but will still freak out and cut carbs/calories/add cardio when they really needed to just give things more time or possibly even ADD carbs to deal with water retention.

I’ve joked lately about all the “metabolic damage” stuff that its probably easier to convince the average competitor to cut to 800 calories a day (please don’t) than it is to get them to increase their carb intake when they think they’re not losing fat, and its probably true.  But you do need to consider water retention and even diet/training induced inflammation when assessing progress, and allow time for these factors to run their course before reacting/over-reacting with regard to carb/caloric adjustments.

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Chelsea - 3 years ago Reply

Really well written article that I believe a lot of people can learn from! Thank you so much for sharing and putting this into words so well.

Kate - 3 years ago Reply

Great article I have one question
Based on this info my maintenance calories are 2380 if I workout and burn 400 calories do I eat an extra 400 to total me at 2780? Or do I not surpass 2380? and how would that work with he macronutrients?

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Amy - 8 months ago Reply

Great article, thank you!

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