In order to obtain a fitness goal, two primary aspects are considered: exercise and diet. While exercise appears to be the more strenuous or laborious part, it is generally regarded that diet contributes just as much or even more to the accomplishment of a fitness goal. As nutrition and sports science progress, more studies narrow down as to what the right combination or ratio of macronutrients (macros) are needed to bulk – the stage of increased muscle formation.
The ratios for the macronutrients needed for bulking are different between men and women, just as they can differ from person to person. The macronutrient profiles for bulking would rather depend more on the person’s body type and time of day than their sex; Though not as pronounced, sex does make a difference. This is primarily due to the hormonal difference between men and women and how their bodies use energy.
What are Macronutrients?
There are six basic groups of nutrients: Carbohydrates, lipids (including fatty acids and cholesterol), proteins (including amino acids), vitamins, minerals, and water.
Carbohydrates, lipids, and protein are macronutrients as they are required by the body in large (macro) amounts. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are also referred to as energy-yielding as they provide the body with energy in the form of calories.
Vitamins and minerals are considered micro-nutrients as they are required in smaller (micro) amounts. Vitamins and minerals are not energy-yielding nutrients, however they are involved in processes that play a role in energy production; Deficiencies in certain vitamins can lead to fatigue.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates or “carbs” are biomolecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. They are sugars that can be in the form of starches and fibers. They can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Carbohydrates function as a fuel for the body. For example, multiple processes in the body require glucose – one of the smallest and simplest carbohydrates. The body requires glucose for Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production. ATP is the primary energy currency of the body for processes such as different chemical syntheses, nerve impulse travel, and muscle contraction.
What are Proteins?
Protein serves as a the building blocks for musculature in the body and as a macronutrient, the body breaks down protein found in meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and legumes into amino acids.
Amino acids are single molecular units that chain together to form proteins. While the body can produce most of the 20 different amino acids, there are several essential amino acids that are not produced in the body that have to be obtained through diet.
Even though there are only 20 amino acids, they can form chains of different combinations to make up the hundreds and thousands of proteins the body needs to function.
What are Fats?
Fats or “lipids” primarily serve as an energy store for the body. This macronutrient is stored as a long-chained biomolecule. In times of need, fats can be broken down to smaller fatty acids that can be used in the production of ATP.
In a dietary context, fats can be divided into four groups: saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. These categories are based on their chemical structures: saturated fats do not have double bonds between their carbon molecules, monounsaturated fats have one, polyunsaturated fats have more than one, and trans fats are hydrogenated fats.
From a health perspective, there are kinds that are healthier than others. For example, unsaturated fats (either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated) are more recommended as these are healthier forms of dietary fats. These can be obtained from vegetable oils, fish oils, nuts, and seeds.
On the other hand, saturated and trans fats should be avoided. They are often found in fast food, butter, and tropical oils and can increase the risk of heart disease.
In combination, carbs, fats, and protein make up the macronutrients needed by the body. However, in order to achieve a goal such as bulking, these macronutrients must be consumed at the right ratio.
The Right Ratio for Bulking
The right ratio or a macronutrient profile for bulking dictates the appropriate proportion of carbs, fats, and proteins in one’s diet. In general, the macros for bulking look like this:
- 40-60% Carbs
- 25-35% Protein
- 15-25% Fat
However, science has shown that this is not a standardized ratio as there are multiple factors to consider.
One factor is body type. This refers to the general structure of the body. There are three general body types: the ectomorph, the mesomorph, and the endomorph.
The ectomorph is slender and quite often characterized by a faster metabolism. On the other end of the spectrum, the endomorph has a stocky build and has a slower metabolism. The mesomorph is in-between with a dense bone structure and well-defined muscles.
Due to the differences in body types, the macronutrient profile must be appropriately adjusted. For example, the more metabolically active ectomorph must maintain the high end of their carbohydrate intake to counterbalance the speed by which their bodies consume energy. While endomorphs might want to stick to the lower end of their carbohydrate intake; Endomorphs have a markedly slower metabolism.
A factor that does come into play in bulking is sex. While most rules can be held the same between men and women, the biological difference in bulking is primarily hormonal. This hormonal difference affects how energy is used between men and women.
It is reported that women are more efficient in their usage of energy from fat stores than men. This means that the female diet for bulking can generally lean towards lower carbohydrate-intake than a male diet would.
While a diet following a macronutrient profile can help speed up towards a fitness goal such as bulking, another important factor must be considered: caloric surplus.
Every person has a certain number of calories they burn on a daily basis. These calories are typically burned through basal metabolism, digestion, and physical activity.
A caloric surplus is simply the intake of more calories than being burned. Since bulking aims to develop muscle growth, a caloric surplus provides the body with the necessary materials for development and growth. This is the inverse of weight loss or “cutting” (reducing body fat while attempting to maintain muscle mass) where a caloric deficit (calorie intake is less than calories being burned) is required.
The calories needed for maintaining a person’s current weight or total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) can be roughly estimated based on age, sex, height, weight, and activity level.
Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR can be calculated for males and females using the Harris-Benedict Equation:
- Women BMR = 655 + (9.6 X weight in kg) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in yrs)
- Men BMR = 66 + (13.7 X weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in yrs)
A 27 year old Male who is 6’2″ tall and weighs 200lbs =
BMR = 66 + (13.7 * 90.9kg) + (5 * 187.96cm) – (6.8 * 27) = 2067.53
Meaning our Male example above would need to consume 2068 calories for basic functions at rest (BMR).
However, TDEE also factors in activity level. The multipliers below are known as the “Katch-McArdle” multipliers:
- Sedentary (no exercise/desk job) = 1.2
- Light Active (light exercise 1-3 days/week = 1.375
- Moderately Active (moderate exercise 3-5 days/week) = 1.55
- Very Active (heavy exercise 6-7 days/week) = 1.725
- Extremely Active (very heavy exercise/training 2x/day) = 1.9
Assuming our Male example had “light activity,” TDEE can be calculated as follows:
TDEE = 1.375 * 2068 = 2843.5
Meaning our Male example would need to consume 2844 calories per day to maintain his current weight.
Bulking solely implies eating a caloric surplus over your calculated TDEE. To attempt to limit fat gain and you need to eat 200-300 calories over your TDEE over an extended period of time. This is because the body can only synthetize a finite amount of muscle tissue at any given time; This approach is often referred to as lean bulking – which has nothing to do with the foods being consumed.
Ratios of Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats
In general the following break-downs are used to determine the number of protein, carbohydrates, and fats to consume:
- Protein: 1 gram per pound of bodyweight
- Fats: 0.3 – 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight
- Carbohydrates: Calculated based on the number of remaining calories after protein and fat requirements are met.
To use our Male example and his metrics:
- Protein: 1g * 200lbs = 200g
- Calories in Protein = 200g * 4 calories/g of protein = 800
- Fat: 0.3g * 200lb = 60g
- Calories in Fat: 60g * 9 calories/g of fat = 540
Carbohydrates are determined by calculating the remainder. From our example, we know the Male wants to bulk and his TDEE is 2844; Meaning he needs to consume 3144 calories (300 calories over TDEE).
- Carbohydrate Calories: 3144 – (800 + 540) = 1804
- Carbohydrate: 1804 / 4g of carbs = 451g
If we were to look at these numbers based on the ratios presented at the start of the article, it’s fairly accurate.
- Protein: 800/3144 = 25.44%
- Fat: 540/3144 = 17.18%
- Carbohydrate: 1804/3144 = 57.38%
Then assuming body-type and sex, these values can be adjusted on an individual level.
The macronutrient profile for bulking between men and women slightly differ, mainly due to how the hormones in the body direct energy use. For bulking, a caloric surplus is required and the macronutrient profile for that would be primarily carbs, then protein, then fats. For women, energy from fat is more efficient than in men, therefore they can achieve bulking with less carbohydrates.