I’ve withheld from writing this post for a long time even though it’s one of the most frequent questions I’m asked. People want to know how many fat, carb, and protein grams they should be eating to lose weight. Oh if it were only so simple.
The Best Ratio for Weight Loss
Are you ready for the answer? The best macro ratio for weight loss is the one that is going to best enable you to stick to your diet while consuming below maintenance calories. But wait – there are some general guidelines you should be following. For starters, you should be focusing on the essential macronutrients – fat and protein.
Before you get all carb defensive on me, let me explain the essentials first. Both essential fatty acids and essential amino acids (protein) cannot be manufactured by the body, and so need to be ingested through your diet. To get enough essential fatty acids, you need to make sure you aren’t going too low with your fat intake. By low, I mean below 20% of your calories. Dropping your fat below that amount can cause other negative side effects to your body too.
If you’re eating a balanced, whole food diet full of eggs, meat, fish, nuts, and seeds, you’re probably just fine with getting in your required essential fatty acids. If you think you need to supplement, I use Carlson’s Omega 3 Oil. Flax oil can also be used.
Protein is the other essential macronutrient. The FDA recommends .8 grams/kg of body weight in protein grams. If you ask me, this is ridiculously low for an active individual. For a 150 pound person, that is only 55 grams of protein a day. I’m not sure how the FDA expects anyone to build muscle on 55 grams of protein a day.
Many bodybuilders recommend intakes of at least 1 gram/lb of body weight, all the way up to 2lbs in some cases. Again, I think these are extremes on the other side of the spectrum. Studies have shown additional benefits towards maintaining lean body mass at these levels, but there is no doubt a point of diminishing returns.
I prefer to set my protein intake to around .8-1 gram/lb of lean body mass. This helps differentiate between different body compositions at the same weight, as someone who has more muscle mass will generally have higher protein requirements. This usually comes out to between 20-30 percent of calories, depending on whether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain, or gain.
Which brings us to the most controversial of macronutrients – carbohydrates. No other nutrient has causes so much confusion. Believe it or not, you can be successful eating hundreds of grams a day, and you can be successful eating zero grams per day. The key is to find your individual level that you can live with – one that will ensure long-term consistency in your nutrition.
I don’t like extremely low-carb diets. I’m very active, and do a lot of high-intensity exercise. I need more glucose than the average person to fuel my exercise. Therefore, I typically eat around 200-250 grams/day. For someone that doesn’t do much activity at all, or has a sedentary desk job, their requirements will be lower. Athletes may need more.
Work Within a Macronutrient Ratio Range
What I recommend to people is this (note that these recommendations are for physically active individuals who partake in at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity 5 days a week):
- Set your protein intake to .8-1 gram/lb of lean body mass. To measure lean body mass you need to take body fat measurements. Body fat calipers are your cheapest and easiest bet.
- Set your fat intake to between 20-30% of your calories. I try not to worry too much where this lands. I just try to make sure my intake falls between those numbers. Trying to consistently eat an exact number of fat grams every single day is unrealistic.
- Fill the rest of your calories with low-glycemic carbohydrates. For someone trying to lose weight, this number is typically going to lie between 35-50% of your calories. If you are less active or think you are carb-sensitive, go with the lower number and eat closer to 30% fat. If you are very active and tolerate carbs well, aim for the higher percentage of carbs and go lower with your fat (20%).
If you fill your hypocaloric calorie intake with whole foods, add in vigorous activity 3-5 days a week, and then throw in the two magic ingredients – patience and consistency, I guarantee you will have no issues reaching your weight loss goals.