- Posted by phytomaniac
- On November 27, 2017
You’ve probably heard the word “macro” more than once — especially if you’ve done any research around implementing a healthy diet and fitness plan. But what are vegan macros, exactly, and why are they so important?
Before we talk about what macros are, we need to understand vegan flexible dieting. Flexible Dieting, also known as “if it fits your macros”, is simply the counting of macronutrients to achieve your preferred bodyweight goals. It’s thought that this a simplistic and realistic way to count calories and hit nutrition targets.
Ok, so what are macros? Below is quick overview; we’ll talk about them in greater detail later.
Macros (macronutrients) are the three main nutrients of food and consist of:
They are important because they energize our bodies and enable us to function at our optimal level.
This might sound complicated, but in actuality, it’s pretty simple. The harder part is probably calculating your macronutrient goals and sticking to them.
Let’s get started.
Calculating Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
Now that we understand the importance of macros, it’s time to do some arithmetic. The first step for calculating vegan macros is to calculate Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Being aware of how many macros you are consuming in proportion to the energy that you are burning is crucial to your success with any fitness goal. Maintaining your weight usually requires an equal ratio between macros burned and macros consumed, while a deficit is needed for weight loss. Vegan macros are no exception, even though more of them may be required to balance the proportion between consumption and expenditure. (Yes, even kale must be tracked inline with your macros.) A necessary term to be familiar with is TDEE, which is simply a caloric expression of how much energy you burn, on average, per day.
Simple TDEE Formula
Step 1 – Calculate Resting Energy Expenditure (REE)
The first step is to calculate the total energy (calories) your body requires in order to function without any physical movement. This is commonly referred to as your REE (Resting Energy Expenditure).
A popular method used to calculate REE is the Mifflin, M.D., St. Jeor formula:.
REE = 10 x weight(kg) + 6.25 x height(cm) – 5 x age(years) + 5
REE = 10 x weight(kg) + 6.25 x height(cm) – 5 x age(years) – 161
(Don’t forget to use the Order of Operations above)
Step 2 – Calculate Total Daily Energy Expenditure
The next and final step involves calculating your overall daily movement expenditure (TDEE) by using the REE calculation you determined above and multiplying by your average physical activity level (which can be found from the descriptions below).
|Sedentary||Ordinary, everyday activity (e.g. walking, conversing, opening a can of jelly, etc.).||REE*1.2|
|Light Activity||Any physical activity that burns an extra 200-400 calories (females) or 250-500 (males) more than your sedentary average amount.||REE*1.375|
|Moderate Activity||Any physical activity that burns an extra 400-650 calories (females) or 500-800 (males) more than your sedentary average.||REE*1.55|
|Very Active||Any physical activity that burns more than roughly 650 calories (females) or 800 (males) above your sedentary average amount.||REE*1.725|
TDEE Calculation Example
Here’s an example of how this formula would be used to calculate the TDEE of a 35-year-old, 180 cm tall, 70 kg, moderately active female (let’s call her Stacey):
Step 1 – Calculate Resting Energy Expenditure (REE)
REE = 10 x 70kg + 6.25 x 180cm – 5 x 35 years – 161 = 1,489
Step 2 – Calculate Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
TDEE = 1,489 x 1.55 = 2,307.95 (~ 2,308)
Stacey’s TDEE is 2,308 calories.
TDEE Go-Forward Caloric Options
- Eat more than this = weight gain.
- Eat less than this = weight loss.
- Eat this amount = weight maintenance.
Stacey burns, on average, 2,308 calories per day. If she consumes more than this amount, she will gain weight (typically); if she eats less than this amount, she will lose weight; and if she eats the equivalent of this amount, then she will most likely maintain her current weight.
Weight Loss TDEE
1846 Calories = 2,308 * .8
Weight Gain TDEE
2,770 Calories = 2,308 * 1.2
If you want to lose weight, it is generally recommended that you reduce your total calorie intake from your TDEE value by no more than 20%. For example, Stacey would decrease her caloric intake from her TDEE amount (2,308) to ~1846 calories per day by multiplying 2,308 by 80%, or 0.80. Likewise, if she wanted to gain weight, then she would increase her TDEE by 20%.
It is also important to note that there are exceptions to the TDEE formula described above. For those who are either very lean or very obese, extra measures may need to be taken to achieve the most accurate and helpful results as possible.
For this example, let’s assume Stacey wants to lose weight. Thus her Goal TDEE will be 1,846.
Now for the exciting part…
Calculating Vegan Macros!
What are Vegan Macros and How Are They Different from “Normal” Macros?
Vegan Macros are essentially the same thing as Macros, but obviously, they are derived solely from plant foods. Vegans, just like anyone else, needs to eat the same macronutrients to survive. The main difference between normal macros and vegan macros, is the ratios themselves. Typically vegan macros are lower in protein and fat (because most* plants are naturally lower in these macronutrients than their animal counterparts). However, there are foods which are exceptions (such as nuts and avocados, which are very high in fat), and vegans have many foods to choose from that provide varying levels of these three fundamental nutrients.
For example, quinoa, beans, lentils, and tempeh are just a few hearty (and tasty!) plant-based foods high in vegan proteins. Rice, veggies, and whole wheat bread are fantastic sources of carbs. If you’re allergic to tempeh or don’t like zucchinis, no worries – there are many other options that will keep you well-stocked on all your vital vegan macros.
Vegan Flexible Dieting (another word for macronutrient dieting) is beneficial because it encourages you to explore other foods, making your diet more balanced and helping to eliminate the possibility of nutritional deficiencies. Vegan Flexible Dieting also allows you to have that “junk” food every once in a while — if it fits your macros (Vegan IIFYM in this case, which we will discuss later). But remember, you are what you eat. If you eat poorly, you will notice it when you look in the mirror.
How To Calculate Vegan Macros
This calculation is used to determine the ratio of macronutrients that will compose your daily calorie consumption (in other words, those tasty – and hopefully nourishing — meals and snacks we literally can’t live without). A Vegan Macro Calculator can be helpful to customize your calculation.
However, you can also calculate your vegan macros manually. I will walk you through a step-by-step process that will leave you calculating vegan macros as easy as 1-2-3.
Before we dive in, here’s a key for the calorie values in each macro:
- 1 gram of Protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of Carbs = 4 calories
- 1 gram of Fat = 9 calories
The above values are based on the Atwater system as required by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA).
The first step in our vegan macro calculation is protein, which is crucial for the proper functioning of every living organism. It’s an important building-block of our muscles, hair, nails, and skin, to name a few. Below is a source detailing the 10 vegetables highest in protein, in case you were curious.
To compute the amount of protein your body needs each day, multiply 0.825 by your weight in pounds. The factor of 0.825 is the average ratio of necessary protein per pound of body weight for most people looking to gain muscle (of course this number is subject to debate and is very hard to come to a hard conclusion on, currently).
I sometimes recommend higher or lower, based upon an individual’s goals, but for this example, we’ll keep it simple and leave it at 0.825.
Stacey, who weighs 154 pounds, would multiply her bodyweight by 0.825 to get her daily protein intake.
154 pounds x .825= 127.05 grams
127.05 grams of protein x 4 grams = ~508 calories of daily protein
Of course, this can vary with the intensity of muscle exertion you engage in, increasing the factor to as high as 1g/lb for those who do extremely heavy weight-training.
The next component of our vegan macro calculation is fat. This macronutrient has been given a bad rap because, well, the name is more than just a little suggestive. But don’t let the name scare you off, we definitely need fat, and it can be quite good for you, in moderation of course.
Fat contains things like DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid associated with cognitive ability. However, eating more fat probably won’t help as both vegans and non-vegans alike were found to have low baseline levels of DHA. You should instead supplement with 250mg daily of omega-3 vegan oils.
Plant-based sources of fat are far better than if obtained from animal sources, but if you have too high a ratio of fats in your diet, you will still struggle to find those abs, thus it’s important to keep this macronutrient in check.
Calculating your necessary fat intake per day is daunting, to say the least since there are so many different theories on the subject. However, 20% of your total TDEE amount is a reasonable place to start. This source recommends 20-30%, and Planteousveg.com recommends approximately 20%.
Remember, Stacey wants to lose weight so her TDEE is 1,846 calories. We would compute her necessary fat (in grams) like this:
1. 1,846 calories x 0.20 = ~369 calories.
2. 369 calories divided by 9 (9 calories/g of fat) = ~41 grams of Fat (rounded)
Ah yes, last but not least, is the dreaded macronutrient: carbs. No need to worry, however. Us vegans love carbs because they are our primary source of energy. Once your body is used to burning carbs instead of excess protein, you will understand too. Don’t take it from me, some vegan bodybuilders eat as much as 95% of their diet in carbohydrates. We utilize carbs when our cells convert carbs into glucose, which is essential for energy and optimal mental and physical health. Just like a car needs gas to run, we need carbs to function.
While a vegan diet generally has more “margin of error”, quality still matters. If you start reaching for processed carbs high in sugar, you’ll be left wondering why you aren’t seeing any results. Contrary to common belief, carbs don’t have to look like a grocery cart full of white pasta, bleached bread, and doughnuts. Carbs are just as present in fruits and veggies as they are in wheat and other grains.
This calculation is simple since we occupy the remaining calorie values with carbs.
To summarize what we have already computed from the example above, Stacey, who wants to lose weight, should use the following ratio:
Protein: 127 grams (508 calories)
Fat: 41 grams (369 calories)
She has already used up 877 calories (508 + 369) for protein and fat, so she needs 969 of carbs (her TDEE, which is 1,846 calories, minus 877 calories). These calories (969) would be her daily amount of carbohydrates that compose the last third of her vegan macro ratio. This amount in grams would be ~242 grams (969 divided by 4 [4 calories in 1 gram of Carbs]).
Whew! And finally, here’s a simpler summary of her daily macro amounts:
Protein: 127 grams (508 calories) OR 27.5% of TDEE
Fat: 41 grams (369 calories) OR 20% of TDEE
Carbs: 242 grams (969) OR 52.5% of TDEE
If you’re having trouble sticking to your macro goals err on the side of caution, meaning increase your low-density calorie veggies. Too much protein and/or fat will just get stored as fat. Never go over your fat target unless you are very familiar with how your body interacts with fat.
If that’s too confusing, no worries. Healthyeater.com provides a flexible dieting calculator, and a Vegan Macronutrient Calculator can be very helpful as well.
Now that you know your TDEE and your vegan macro ratios, the next step is to track your vegan macros to ensure that your ratio is being achieved. But if you’re like me, who would forget to take my supplements 360 days out of the year without multiple reminders, this is not so easily done.
Practical Ways to Track Vegan Macros
Fortunately, in this technological day-and-age, we have plenty of options. Mobile apps provide quick and convenient ways to track your diet throughout the day. My Fitness Pal is a popular app that can be used for this purpose in addition to helping you track your daily physical activity.
Another helpful tool is a reliable food scale, which can be used to calculate calories more efficiently than simply looking at the package (which can be a headache, to say the least).
Vegan Macro Meal Plans + Other Vegan IIFYM Resources
Need more tips and guidance before you get started?
Check out this journal article from Running On Real Food, which summarizes the tips and tricks that one person learned from following a Vegan Flexible Dieting plan for two weeks. This article also includes practical strategies for effectively planning and achieving your vegan macro goals.
If you’re looking to build muscle, be sure to browse our site for more recipe ideas. Here is a great macro-efficient recipe to get started with: Vegan Israeli Couscous, Eggplant, And Tomato Sauce Recipe
And since we’re on the subject of fitness, here is an article from One Green Planet that provides Sample Meal Plans for the Female Vegan Athlete.
Lastly, don’t forget to watch this helpful video that provides more information on calculating and tracking vegan macros.
Most importantly, enjoy the process. Spice up your food. Decorate your plate and incorporate as many colors as you can. Find recipes that you can rely on for a quick and satisfying meal that provides all your vital vegan macros in a pinch (check out these 16 Delicious Vegan Dinner Recipes!).
And at the end of the day, don’t be afraid to treat yourself to a little slab of dark chocolate for an extra vegan macro carbo boost.
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