Bodybuilding By Numbers

Counting, counting, and more counting. It seems to never end. Tracking the number of grams in this, the number of calories in that is a meticulous, time consuming and most of all, mind boggling experience. Although, the nutritional labels help, many of us fail to realize exactly what it is saying and how important the information is!

To help those lost souls looking for the answer, in this article, I will talk about the things that have helped to make my life easier while dieting. I will hopefully provide information that helps you when determining what is good for your diet.

What inspired me to write this article is my wife is preparing for her very first bodybuilding competition. Many of the questions she continually asks are related to dieting and how to calculate correct portions based on the nutritional values of foods. It has made me really understand how much knowledge I have gained and how much I still need to learn. As I begin to write this, I reflect back to the time I was given a diet that stated that my overall proportion of carbohydrates, protein, and fat should be the following:

Protein = 50%
Carbohydrates = 20%
Fat = 30%
Man, was I confused. How could I figure out what my total caloric intake was? I mean, I had previously read that the easiest way to calculate your total caloric intake for losing, maintaining, and gaining weight was by multiplying your current weight by 12 to lose up to 2 pounds per week, by 15 to maintain your current weight, and by 20 to gain up to 2 pounds per week. At the time I weighed 195 pounds and needed to lose 20 lbs to compete as a Middleweight.
Question was, “How can I do that and what was the proportions above telling me”? What I discovered was how simple it really is. Given that you can bring all the pieces of the so-called pie together and understand what each piece means. So, in theory, if I wanted to lose up to 2 pounds per week, all I needed to do is multiply my current weight by 12. Doing so gave me a resulting total calories intake per day of 2340.

Now, the question was, “How do I determine the proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat based on the total caloric intake?” It seems easy right? Based on the numbers above, if 50 percent of total calories should come from protein, 20 percent from carbohydrates, and 30 percent from fat, that translates into 1170 calories from protein (50%), 468 calories from carbohydrates (20%), and 702 calories from fat (30%). Problem is that all nutritional labels usually provide the values of protein, carbohydrates, and fat based on grams! The answer to the madness is also on the label, however, it requires a little mathematical equation to figure it all out. At the bottom of the label, you will find information that is extremely beneficial when performing the needed calculations. It states the following:

4 calories per 1 gram Protein
4 calories per 1 gram Carbohydrate
9 calories per 1 gram Fat
As you see, this information is very important when determining the amounts in grams of each of the previous nutritional components. With this information, we can now conclude that, for a 2340 total calorie diet, the number of grams of protein is determined by the by performing a calculation like the following:
1170 calories/4 calories per gram = 292.5 protein grams

Similarly, for carbohydrates, I use the following:
468 calories/4 calories per gram = 117 carbohydrate grams

Finally, for fat, I will use:
702 calories/9 calories per gram = 78 grams

So based on the 50-20-30 ratio for a 2340 calorie diet, I was able to calculate the total grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat! Easy right? You’d be amazed how many enthusiast like yourself have not yet figured this out. Once you do, it is simple to determine any part of nutritional facts into something useful. The generic statement, “Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.”, becomes much more understandable and less intimidating. Many of us don’t have a need to understand the low level details and never do.

In addition to performing the preceding calculations to determine portions, I strongly urge and suggest that you also keep a units converter handy as well. Most times we are told to eat 8 ounces of this, 2 ounces of that, a 1 ounce of those. Unfortunately, when reading nutritional labels, they often indicate serving sizes in terms of, for example, 1 teaspoon or 5 grams. So, say you are suppose to take 1 ounce of something yet the serving size says a single serving equals 1 teaspoon or 5 grams. How do you translate this into what you are required to do? Simply find a unit converted and make your life easier. A unit converted will provide the necessary formula to convert ounces to grams (multiply ounces by 28.34957). The amount of precision is up to you and how much you want to punish the brain. A good unit converter provides many different formulas for converting capacities, weights etc… I have found it very useful indeed!

Things to remember during and after calculations are: 1) Be very careful! I’ve said this before and it is very important to remember that “Size Does Matter!”. I’m talking about serving size for all you whose minds just hit the gutter. Often we find out “after the fact” that a container held multiple servings, however, the nutritional label provided facts based on only a single serving! 2) Always know what your goal is. This is important information, for example, as I had mentioned previously, I needed to lose 20 pounds in order to compete as a middleweight. If I were to adjust my caloric intake to 2340 to lose 2 pounds per week, I would need to begin dieting 10 weeks from my competition to achieve my goal. 3) Always, always, remember that when focusing on fat values, “saturated fat is the bad guy!”. Just because something may have 17 grams of fat doesn’t always mean its bad. Peanut butter and Olive Oil usually have approximately 17 grams of fat per serving, although, most of the fat is in the form of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, “good guys”.

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