The Myth of The Best Macronutrient Ratio
There is an idea out there a ‘best’ macronutrient ratio exists 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.
This idea is logically flawed. Here’s why:
- Our calorie needs are mostly determined by our weight, age, and activity levels. If we wish to lose weight we need to cut calorie intake; if we wish to gain weight, we must eat more.
- 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.
Your macronutrient ratio is determined by how long you’ve been dieting or bulking. It is not something Specifically to target.
Allow me to explain this with one quick and very simplified example.
Imagine a tall, experienced trainee that is losing weight at his target rate by consuming 2500 kcal each day. In five months, he will step onto the bodybuilding stage, and to get there it wouldn’t be unheard of for him to need to reduce his daily intake down to 1500 kcal to be stage-ready.
At the start of the diet, he’ll be consuming 250 g (1000 kcal) of protein, but by the end, he’ll be consuming almost half of that, at 150 g (600 kcal) a day.
Is that a problem? Hell yes!
Take a look at the red curve which shows the optimal protein intake when cutting is between 1.0 and 1.2 g per pound of body weight:
If that guy weighs 180 lbs, he’ll be consuming 1.4 g per pound at the start of the diet, but just 0.83 g per pound by the end. And so at the end of the diet, where protein is most important as it protects muscle mass from being broken down and used as a fuel, he’s eating the least.
Additionally, overconsumption costs unnecessary $$ and steals away our ability to have a higher carb intake.
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 your size, energy needs, goal, and then personal preference. The macronutrient ratio is just the result, and it will change as you diet, or bulk. So, let’s let the myth of the best macro ratio die.
Macronutrient Ratio FAQ
The macronutrient ratio of your diet has a significant effect on 1) Fat and muscle mass changes, 2) How you feel and perform, and 3) How easy your nutrition plan is to stick to.
However, the ideal macronutrient ratio will change over time because energy needs change a lot, but protein needs change little. This is crucial to understand if you’re to have success over the long-term in changing your physique. Here’s my guide to adjusting your macros as you diet.
Use this macro calculator to calculate your macronutrient ratio.
I recommend that people consume 1 g per pound of body weight, 15–30% of their calories from fat (depending on preference and whether they are cutting, at maintenance, or bulking), and the rest of the calories from carbs.
There is no ‘best’ macro ratio for fat loss because calorie needs decrease as we diet, but protein needs do not. Therefore it is best to set protein by body weight, not a macronutrient ratio, or you’ll end up under consuming protein.