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What is the Best Macronutrient Ratio for Weight Loss?

calories and nutrients concept diagramI’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 Macronutrient 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.

Fat

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

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.

Carbohydrates

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. Here’s a cheap pair I recommend.
  • 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.

  • http://www.jillripley.com Jill Ripley

    While I agree with most of this article, one point I would have issue with is suggesting someone could go with as little as zero grams of carbs per day. Carbohydrates fuel brain function among other things. Without carbs, we can not think straight. Yes, we all have our own ranges, but we do need an appropriate amount of healthy unrefined carbohydrates.

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Jill, I don’t recommend zero-carb diets, but some people do just fine on them. One correction though – your brain does not need carbohydrates, it needs glucose, and you can also get that from fat and protein. It may not be the most efficient process, but your body can still get its glucose requirements in the absence of carbs.

      • http://www.spoonfedcred.com Joe

        Hi Guys
        Living in such a carb-phobic society its great to see articles that explain that people do not all have the same carbohydrate requirements so thanks for that Coach.
        Some people need more carbs than others, and some people tolerate and metabolise carbs (and specific food sources of carbs) better than others.
        This is why i dislike low-carb diets and other misleading books such as wheat belly.
        Just because low- carb eating plan works for person A doesnt mean it works for person B, so to tell everyone to eat low carb is very misleading (but very profitable it seems- what a coincidence).

        Regarding brain function, I agree with you both to an extent.
        Yes with no glucose your body will adapt to breakdown other nutrients and use them as fuel for the brain, this is our body in survival mode, during starvation (so its last resort).
        The body works best with an optimal level of glucose, and this is definitely best sourced from carbohydrate foods.
        I agree with Jill, I dont think anyone can perform/function at their very best on a zero-carb diet.

  • Ashley

    Calorie Coach – hoping you can point me in the right direction. I’m 5’3″, 26, female, 124 lbs., 21.4 percent body fat. I have an extremely sedentary job + hour commute in the car everyday, but I’m working out hard (min. an hour day, weights/HIIT) to train for a fitness competition. I’m a complete newbie. Right now I’m in the process of losing weight – myfitnesspal has daily calories set at 1200. My trainer just started me on carb cycling (low: 50g and high:100g). Right now I’m fearful that I’m not eating enough calories & that 50g of carbs is just too low (been doing this 2 weeks). I DO NOT want to send my body into starvation mode. Thoughts? Possibly up the calories to make up for the workout? And does the gram of carbs even matter as long as the calories are right? Just a little worried.

    • Alejandra

      I want to know the answer to this :) :) Coach Calorie?

  • Kim

    Curious about these body calipers. My arms are actually very lean due to my job (dental hygienist). My fat area is tummy and hips. How can you get a true reading from using them on your arms? I can’t pinch hardly any fat on the back of my arms, but on my abdomen it’s a fist full. How does this work?

    • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

      There’s a formula that takes the sum of your skinfolds and calculates a body fat percentage, so it takes into account the different ways people store fat.

  • j

    I eat a diet high in carbs…there, I’ve said it!

    BUT: I eat only carbs from fresh fruit (white or orange melon, apples/pears, grapefruit, orange or plums for example) and green vegetables, (broccoli, green beans, cabbage…) with the random exceptions where I eat white cauliflower, mushroom, tomato or aubergine which I grill.

    What I don’t eat are the starchy carbs (potato, pasta, rice…etc). Question is, am I right to assume I’m eating a carb heavy diet? I do eat protein but this is 1-1.5g per kilo of my body weight, mainly in the evening and quite often just before falling asleep!

    I wasn’t really thinking when and what I ate was the reason I have to stick to 1200kcals or I gain weight: if I eat 1800kcals my weight veers on the overweight range, if I stick to 1200kcals I manage to maintain a BMI of 20 and that for my weight of 58kilos (height 170cm) just seems that daily calorie amount is quite low. Could if be I’m eating too many carbs or at the wrong time? I had always just assumed my body was just different from everyone elses and I didn’t need as much food -despite 6 hours cardio (running, spinning, gym cardio..), 1 hours yoga a week…I’ve been also told I have “above average” muscle in my legs-normal in my upper body by a few machines so I can’t even assume it’s a lack of muscle! I would love to eat more but can’t so just save my calories for green vegetables and count the calories of these, try to bulk my diet this way which means after counting protein I have no room for anything else. I don’t eat anything else because I just balloon when I do- a few years sat at a high weight for 18months waiting for my body to click-in and lower my weight….it never did so I just ate less and lost weight.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Have you ever eating 1800 calories for a prolonged period of time? If you go from 1200 to 1800 you are bound to gain some water weight in the process, but if you were to measure you body fat (which you should be) you are unlikely to gain any fat.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Obviously it’s a little too late for Ashley, but I’ll answer the question.

    I would do exactly as your trainer says. You entrusted him/her to help you, and now you need to trust the process.

    I may or may not do things the same way, but if you start altering things too soon, they will have no way to adjust (if they know what they’re doing).