Why The ‘Best Macro Ratio’ Doesn’t Exist

There is an idea out there that ‘golden’ macronutrient ratios exist that can transform a person’s physique. The idea was born in bodybuilding forums by people looking at someone else’s body transformation, asking their macro intake, then reverse engineering it to come up with a macro ratio that is assumed to be somehow special.

I’m not a fan of this idea. It’s logically flawed and here’s why…

Metabolism is adaptive. Calorie needs increase over time when bulking, and decrease over time when cutting.

  • When cutting it isn’t prudent to decrease the calorie intake by reducing all macronutrients equally, because protein intake is best set according to lean body mass due to the muscle preserving properties when dieting.
  • When bulking it is neither cost effective (protein is expensive), nor optimal (fat storage is more likely with higher fat intakes), to increase equally either.
  • There is a broad scope for personal preference between fat and carbohydrate intake to make up the remainder of the calorie balance for most people, outside of specific situations. But for most serious trainees, once fat intake (tolerance/preference) has been established, carbohydrate increases and decreases will be used as the prime energy balance manipulator.

Macro ratios are therefore a function of the stage of dieting, not something specifically to target.

Let’s explain this with one quick and very simplified example.

Take a macro ratio ‘P40/C40/F20’ that has been proposed as perfect for cutting (meaning that 40% of a person’s diet will come from protein, 40% from carbohydrate, 20% from fat).

  • Take a guy that can initially lose his target rate of fat loss eating 2500kCal per day. As the diet progresses over many weeks he finally needs to adjust to 2000kCal per day, and finally 1500kCal per day by the time he gets on stage.
  • At the start of the diet, he’ll be consuming 250g of protein at the end of the diet he’ll consuming 150g a day.
  • If that guy carries 70kg (154lbs) of lean body mass (LBM), he’ll be consuming ~3.6g/kgLBM of protein at the start, and ~2.1g/kgLBM at the end of the diet, which is an overconsumption of protein initially, and an underconsumption at the end.

Why does it matter if we over or under consume protein?

It’s suboptimal.

An overconsumption costs unnecessary $$ and steals away our ability to have a higher carb intake. An underconsumption when dieting can cost us muscle mass.

There is a similar issue with the other macronutrients also when you fix them as a ratio of the overall calorie intake rather than to lean body mass.

  • Fat is important hormonally and allowance should be set to lean body mass (and then adjusted per tolerance).
  • Carbs make up the remaining balance and are important for training intensity and recovery.

Nothing should be arbitrary.

Set your macros according to, 1. Your energy needs, 2. lean body mass, 3. body type, 4. then personal preference. Ignore macro ratios and let the myth die.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I am the founder of RippedBody.com, this is my sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire me to coach them, which I've been doing online, via email, for the last seven years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one nutrition and training coaching to help you crush your physique goals, let's start the conversation.

43 Comments

  1. viola says:

    Why in the given formula, 1- bf % is not included but is used in the example? Would 1- bf% be included in the formula with lbs. As well?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      What formula are you referring to, Viola?

  2. Julia says:

    Hi Andy!

    Thanks for the great information. I’m currently a 5’4, 122 pound female with 18% body fat. Despite being 18% body fat, I still have a lot of flab in my stomach and can’t seem to get it flat. 18% seems pretty low to still carry so much flab in my stomach. Any suggestions for us belly fat carrying individuals who are on the lower end of body fat?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hu Julia. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to control where fat is burned from to any meaningful extent. You just have to get leaner if you wish to shift the stomach fat.

  3. Andrea Herrera says:

    Your stuff is so great, and I can tell you have really researched and it’s sound and easy to read/the lay out is aweome. i am an “apple” shape female struggling with some love handles and the midsection obviously. I don’t want to do low carb because of my thyroid since it tends to struggle. I recently found an online diet plan/(wish I would’ve found you first) but she wants me to be on pretty low carb which I’m against. And yet many articles I read say that “apple” women need to do low carb, but isn’t it true that as long as the deficit is there and you get your necessary fat/protein, than carb ratio doesn’t matter as long as you do stay in deficit?

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Andrea, that’s right. If you could get hold of that Men in Black memory erase device and use it on yourself to wipe out everything you learned from the Women’s weekly magazines, you won’t go far wrong. Not that the same doesn’t happen in mens magazines, but it tends to be worse for the ladies.

  4. Khalid says:

    Dear Andy

    I had a question regarding macro setting while obese. I used your excel worksheet calculator (great stuff by the way!) and found the split according to LBM measurements using the navy method for BF%. I feel it is somewhat harsh starting off like that as on training days the split goes: 194 protein, 125 carbs and 72 fat, non workout: 194 protein etc. Now that being said would a macro split like that be beneficial for someone who is obese? do you recommend any other way for someone trying to lose up to 1 kg a week? (i can do it definitely with the calories set, but with macros its harder) is there a cap for carbs for an obese person not to go over? and a minimum cap for protein not to go under? I was thinking for personal adherence for example to try and eat between 150 to 160 grams of protein a day and with the remaining calories i eat whatever i want to fill them in terms of fat and carbs, do you recommend that? Or would that impede my weight loss target in the long run? I have to lose that 1 kg a week in respects to a job i am applying for a year from now, so that is a must but as i said i do not have a problem with the calories setting just the macros for now, and i know as i get leaner and closer to target weight i will have adjust accordingly to the macros for optimal performance. sorry for the rambling i just wanted to clarify my position better, and thank you for any response.

    Khalid

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      “I was thinking for personal adherence for example to try and eat between 150 to 160 grams of protein a day and with the remaining calories i eat whatever I want to fill them in terms of fat and carbs, do you recommend that? Or would that impede my weight loss target in the long run?”
      – Do that. Adherence is the most important thing. Your results will not be affected. You can always tighten things up six months down the line should you wish to do so.

      If the job is important to you then you will be successful. It just flips a mental switch when you have skin in the game like this.
      Merry Christmas Khalid and good luck in 2016.

  5. M G says:

    Hey Andy,

    Firstly, this website is amazing. There is so much information on here. I have finally signed up to your coaching however the waiting list is huge, so till then I need some advice via this comment section.

    1- Firstly, For the last few months I have generally been on a Low carb High Fat and Protein diet where my workouts were terrible. I lost fat but I lost strength. Everybody noticed that my arms were shrinking. I went step by step through your Diet guides and I ended up with approx 40% Carbs 40% Protein and 20% Fat, and it shocked me. I was always under the impression that having more then 20-25% of carbs will not allow body fat loss. I have not done serious lifting ever,but can having my carbs as high as 40% along with NO CARDIO and just heavy lifting help me reduce body fat and maintain muscle?

    2 -Secondly, after figuring out my calories and macros, what is the best way to go about putting this diet together? I find it very difficult to put a diet together when taking calories and macros into account. Any suggestions

    Thanks

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Mudi, thanks for the questions.
      1. Any calorie deficit will allow for weight loss irrespective of the macro composition of the diet.
      2. See here, The Complete Guide To Setting Up Your Diet This is going to clear up a lot of confusion you have at the moment.

      Thank you for the application also. As mentioned on that application page and responder, it’s going to be many months from here before your turn comes in the coaching queue. If there wasn’t a wait, I’d decline right now and ask you to educate yourself more on these things first. Really, the coaching isn’t particularly suited to novice trainees. So, get reading, put it into action, and I look forward to seeing how you have gotten on when your turn comes in the queue.

  6. Linas says:

    Hello, I have a question. When I weighing my food does it need to be raw or cooked? For example if I calculated that for my first meal I need 200 grams of chicken. Does it mean 200 grams of raw chicken or 200 grams of cooked chicken? Because 200 grams raw chicken, when you cook it it’s only 150 – 160 grams.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Linas, thanks for the question. Covered in this guide:
      How To Count Macros – A More Flexible Approach

  7. […] The Myth of the ‘Best’ Macro Ratio […]

  8. Kaiyuan says:

    Hi Andy, great site great info. Im currently on a slow/ lean bulk. Does it matter if my macros fluctuate between days (total calories remain consistent) providing that Im getting enough protein in? Thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      Hi Kaiyuan. For the beginner, no, not really. As people advance (and get leaner) the importance increases. More important than all that is to do what you find sustainable. If you haven’t read this article series, consider checking it out:
      How To Set Up Your Diet: The Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance for Fat Loss & Muscle Growth

  9. kay says:

    Hi Andy, I am looking at setting my macro split, at the minute I know under eating and not getting all the nutrients I need, weigh 53kg, 5″3 had a body composition results are good but not sure how got there, body fat 18%, am active go the gym 5 days a week, what to look toned and defined not to bulky, xx

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      See the link at the end of the article Kay.

  10. Phil Clark says:

    Andy,

    I have been reading through your training guides and have started on the Big 3 5 X 5 routine 3 days a week. I am loving the ease and simplicity, my form (especially in the squat!) have gotten much better, and slowly adding in the weight.

    Now it is macro time. I have been eating about 1700 calories a day, and my ratio targets are 30p/30f/40c but I am not seeing the progress I am hoping for. I have read a few articles in your diet/macro sections and I like the ease and simplicity of this approach (a theme with you, which is why I keep reading) and would like to know what are a good starting point for my macros for the day?

    I am currently 215 (down from 259!), 6′ tall, and a generally well muscled and my goal is to be about 205 – 210 and adding about 5 – 10 pounds of muscle. I know there is no magic number, but if you could suggest a starting point I could work from and tweak as I go that would ve very appreciated.

    Thank you again for your help thus far, I am grateful and showing some progress.

    1. Andy Morgan says:

      The guy for that is in the article linked at the bottom of this post Phil.

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