In the past, the clean eating paradigm was usually the most dominant way of dieting. Clean eating holds that certain foods are universally good or desirable while others are undesirable, and achieving your fitness goals is usually a matter of what food types you’re eating. Likewise, most mainstream diets fall into this category, including vegetarianism, veganism, paleo, and so on. Yet it should be clear from the way that everyone defines clean eating differently that there’s no real common ground - if one person gets healthy eating nothing but meat and another from eating nothing but plants, then it might be hard to understand how we can reconcile this belief.
More recently, IIFYM (if it fits your macros) or flexible style dieting has become more popular. These diets tend to take more of a holistic approach to your diet, focusing instead on overall calorie and macronutrient counts, which seem to be responsible for most of the effects of these diets on our health. This paradigm is far more useful for understanding diet, because research has confirmed over and over that the macronutrients are aptly named - they make up the majority of the impact our diet has on our bodies, and by extension, calories do as well.
The primary macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. They can often be found in varying amounts in our foods, and each contains a different calorie content: protein and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, while more dense fat contains 9 calories per gram. The body is capable of deriving calories from other nutrients (alcohol is one notable source) but usually in trace amounts: the macronutrients are usually responsible for supplying the vast majority of your calories.
Manipulating macronutrients is useful depending on your activity goals, and different goals dictate different macronutrient setups. Usually, a balanced diet is one that contains roughly equal calorie contributions from all three major macronutrients, a third each. However, the proportions should be modified based on what you need from your diet.
General Health and Wellness
When it comes to general health and wellness, there’s no major performance needs on your body in terms of your diet. Thus, macronutrient makeup is relatively simple: you can eat pretty much whatever you want, provided that you’re eating only an adequate amount of calories for your energy needs. Overshoot those and you’ll gain weight. Undershoot them and you’ll lose it.
However, it’s also usually best to ensure that you’re consuming adequate protein. The average diet is high in processed foods which contain a lot of sugar and fats, but not much protein or fibrous foods. Thus, eating more protein or fibrous foods (fruits and veggies) is usually helpful.
When it comes to protein intake, 0.82g/lb of bodyweight per day is necessary to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Even if you’re not a serious exerciser, this is helpful since it helps maximize the benefits of your workouts and build and maintain as much muscle as possible. More muscle is virtually always a good thing, all other variables being equal. (In truth, all other variables are rarely equal, but that’s neither here nor there - the point is, there are very few situations in which having more muscle is a bad thing.)
This amount is high for the average person - it amounts to usually a bit more than a third of your daily caloric intake from protein, if you’re sedentary, so it’s probably pretty tough to meet that amount. In fact, since there’s no need for you to maximize muscle built/maintained, there’s no strict need to hit that target either - which means that I just recommend aiming for it as a general guideline. If you can hit it, awesome! If not, no big deal. I recommend at least 0.4 to 0.5g/lb of bodyweight per day, but of course 0.82 (I usually round down to 0.8 for convenience’s sake) is ideal.
Aside from that, it’s not so important what you do with the rest of your calories. You can split them up however you want, so long as you’re hitting a rough estimate of your calorie targets. However, for simplicity’s sake, and again because it just tends to be ideal, I usually aim for half and half.
Thus, here’s a good breakdown for your numbers.
Take your bodyweight and multiply it by 10. This is your base metabolic rate, or the number of calories your body burns each day just sitting around. This of course increases if you exercise, and is only a ballpark estimate to begin with - if you’re seeing unexpected weight loss or gain while following these numbers, you may need to adjust your numbers up or down to fit. You can also use online calculators for more precision.
(BW x 10 = Rough BMR)
Now multiply your bodyweight by 0.82. This is your grams of protein per day. Multiply this number by 4 - this is your calories of protein per day.
(BW x .82 = g of protein per day)
(g of protein per day x4 = calories of protein per day)
Subtract the calories of protein from your total calories - this is your remaining calories from fats and carbs.
(BMR - calories from protein = remaining calories)
Split that number in half by dividing by two - this is your daily contribution from either fats or carbs.
(remaining calories x .5 = fat or carb calories)
These numbers won’t be perfect, and chances are that you can’t hit them perfectly either. But they’re a good place to start, and you can modify them a bit if you need to. If you’re not huge into macro tracking, they may not be very helpful for you, in which case it’s best to focus on tracking and food journalling and get those down to a skill first. As a general health and wellness exerciser, you don’t have any huge dietary demands, so it’s better not to stress yourself out too much about it. But many people are highly analytical types, and that means that they enjoy having these sorts of numbers in front of them. Hell, I’m a nerd who plays clicker heroes religiously just because I like optimizing numbers. To each their own, I guess.