The Myth of the Best Macro Ratio

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'm an online nutritional and training coach living in Tokyo, Japan. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, racing around Suzuka circuit, or staring at watches I can't afford. (Read more about me →)

41 Comments on “The Myth of the ‘Best’ Macro Ratio”

  1. 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. 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.

  2. 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. 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.

  3. 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. “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.

  4. 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. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Pingback: How to Calculate your Leangains Macros | RippedBody.jp

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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. That’s the problem right there – reading too much and too widely instead of going with one thing that you trust and forgetting the rest. Unbelievably common. I call it shiny object syndrome.

  10. Hi,
    Great information. I have a question that I can’t locate the answer to on your site. I’m 30 year old male..6 ft, 242 lbs. I’m a bigger guy and I know it’s not completely accurate I used one of those hand held body fat % calculators and got 28%. I want to lose weight. Using the BMR calculators I came up with roughly 2100 k/cal day. My end goal is 200lbs.

    My question is. Do I aim for 1600 k/cal day? And how do I calculate my macro and micro intake for that 1600 k/cal for weight loss?

  11. Andy, it looks like most of your clients are already somewhat lean, or they are mesomorphs who respond incredibly well to just about any diet and exercise. Do your training/diet tips work just as well for people who are endomorphs and have 30%+ body fat, or do you think another way of eating/training is better for them?

  12. Hello Mr.Morgan ,
    if i am 181 pounds, should i be consuming 181G of protein?. how do i calculate my carb and fat intake?
    i understand on lift days consume a higher amount of carbs, and on non lift days consume a lower amount.
    i am very familiar with counting my macros and the only time i had an extremely nice body was when i was on steroids, now that i am natural i am having a hard time getting this little bit of fat off.
    My daily macros at the end of my day. is

    fat-52.2 g
    carb-109.4 g
    pro-228 g
    total cal-1823

    this has got me results but i am, still not shredded, i train about 6 times a week but lift about 3 times a week. currently getting ready for BUD/s so lots of cardio and calisthenics on my free days.

    My goal is to be 175 i am almost there, i just cant get that lower ab fat to come off, i have a 4 pack.

    1. Ryan, how many of my other articles have you read? Click through the menus and you’ll find what you’re after.
      Getting through BUD/s qualifies you to apply, but doesn’t guarantee you a place in a team. You’ll need to exercise initiative for that – special forces is not regular army where you simply take orders. Don’t make this mistake, carry this lesson with you and good luck during those weeks.

  13. Hey Andy, long time reader, first post though.. 🙂 thumbs up for the great job you consistently providing!

    What about “golden protein ratio”? Anything between 80 to 120g of protein a day for an average person is enough to build a great body and physique – claims popular author of “ever-other-day” IF appraoch in the book about protein intake.
    What is your take on moderate approach to protein? Have you ever experimented with this or tried less than usual 1kg-meat/day with one of clients?

    Appreciate your comment and time.

  14. Hello Andy.

    I’ve got a quick question, I’ve already surpassed my ‘goal weight’ determined by Martin’s Height in cms – 100 = Weight in kg formula.Already through 5 months of leangains style cutting;I’m tempted to cut right through this month as well..But I’ve got concerns.

    My goal weight would put me at 67.5kg, already sitting at 66.6kg but I’m nowhere near the 15% BF mark even.Cut then bulk or recomp is what I want your opinion on.Also lifting experience is 5 months only,compounds being the cornerstone of my workouts done thrice/week.I didn’t take diet breaks because of the calories cycling protocol and maybe the newbie effect,I didn’t feel deprived in any way.

    Love your work.Thanks!

    1. Dragon Slayer, appreciate the comment/question. Please do me a favour and use your name when asking questions from now on so I don’t feel so awkward answering.

      Martin’s formula is maximum genetic muscular potential (no drugs). Getting exactly there requires not only dedication but luck of the gene pool. Making huge changes is doable for anyone though and getting anywhere near close is a very good effort. Setting your target at that point it good, but it is a lofty goal and required years of dedicated effort to get to. The fact that you have to cut a level leaner than your end target weight initially is simply how it is for everyone but doesn’t change the plan. You can try a recomp, but there will be limited effect for non-beginners and you may be past that stage.

  15. Thank you for your answer!
    I ment body type like in this sentens

    ” 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 ”

    I thought I missed somthing in the text, but now when you linked the other page: 12 week – What you can… I think I got it!

    A big thanks for the time and effort you putting in on this site! It is a goldmine! =)

  16. I read in an article here (on this website) that to lose weight and fat I just need to eat less calories than I consume, well I eat less calories (Age:21, Weight:70kg, Height:174cm, i think my body fat percentage is between 22-25% and I started 10 days ago a diet, in-out=1300 calories) but in the same time 30-40% of my calories are from fat, sometimes as low as 15, sometimes as high as 50! but in general between 30-40. So should I fix my ratio to lose fat?

    1. Hi Wael.
      If your protein intake is high enough then any deficit will lead to fat loss (i.e. muscle mass retention, rather than loss of both fat and muscle) assuming sufficient training intensity. The problem is that sufficient training intensity may be difficult to achieve with such a de facto low carb intake that the low-calorie diet with a high fat intake will lead to. So, you may want to reduce your fats and or increase your calories and of course, be patient.

      This is of less relevance to a complete beginner because they will gain muscle in a calorie deficit almost regardless of how they’ve set things, and from what you’re saying this is probably you.

      Have a good read of the tracking article. The mistake you’ve made here is to try and gauge progress over such a short period.

      Click the start here button on the menu bar and consider reading that guide also.

      1. Thank you for the useful reply
        Will check that out for sure!
        In rest days I will try to raise protein and in workout days raise carbs.
        Thanks again, Andy!

      2. …forgot to mention,
        After I read the article you just linked I decided to raise my calories to about 1600 per day.
        Do you reccomend protein shakes? Pr should I try to get my proteins from food only?
        And thanks again!

  17. Im sorry I might have missed it or maybe i didn’t understod it when i read it, but how do you know which bodytype you are? 🙂
    I hope you understand my spelling, swedish is my main language 😛

    1. ‘Bodytype’ as in what sense David? You talking the theorised meso, ecto, endomorph categories (which really is classifying people by genetic pre-disposition), or physical condition currently? If the latter then I’ve covered that in an old article, ’12 Weeks: What You Can Expect to Achieve…’ which I’m currently re-writing. If the former then it’s simply not worth worrying about cause there’s nothing you can do about your genetics, some things may come quicker or slower for you compared with average but that’s just the genetic lottery – the tactics don’t change.

      Most people whose first language is Swedish speak better English than the English. – Seriously.

  18. I wanted to get your opinion on a Fruitarian Diet. I’ve seen a lot of videos and read articles and seen youtubers who claim they eat like 30 bananas a day and their macro split looks something like 80/10/10. How is that even possible? Do you know anything about this?

    Thanks, Andy.

    1. Hi Josh.
      It’s possible because the body is exceptionally adept at making the most of what you put into it. Some people succeed in spite of themselves – some people will get away with it and others will simply flounder and that’s down to genetics.

      The proponents are those that have thrived (or feel that they have), love the attention, and fall into the trap of “it worked for me so it’s right for everyone”. This pretty much explains why you have so much nonsense online that strays from what the bulk of the research points towards as being optimal.

      Whenever you hear something extreme, it’s nearly always science taken out of context, if not total BS. I’ll have a guest article on the website from Alan Aragon next month titled, “How not to be bullshitted” or something like that, which you should enjoy.

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