7. Macronutrient ratios
Proteins, Carbs and Fat ratio for every meal.
Date: 4/9/2009 9:47:09 AM ( 10 y ) ... viewed 9155 times
Why a calorie is not just a calorie
One misconception about fat loss is the conservative scientific view that "a calorie is just a calorie" and the only thing that matters is calories in versus calories out. If fat loss were that simple, then you could eat anything you wanted and you would still lose fat as long as your calories were below maintenance. For example, you could eat nothing but Hershey's bars and drink nothing but Coca Cola and if you were 100 calories under maintenance, you'd lose weight. Common sense alone tells you this isn't true.
If a calorie is just a calorie, then three diets at the same calorie level, the first composed of 100% protein, the second 100% carbohydrates and the third 100% fats, would all have the same effect on body composition. Believe me, a diet consisting of 100% tuna fish (lean protein) will not have the same effect as a diet consisting of 100% potato chips (fat and carbohydrate).
Calorie balance is the most important issue in fat loss but there's more to it than that. Other variables include the thermic effect of food, the effect of each food on hormones and blood sugar levels and the macronutrient ratios of each meal.
Calculate your calories first, then split them up into the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat
The first step in developing your own custom-tailored fat loss program is to do your calorie calculations. Only then should you divide up your daily allotment among the three macronutrients; carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Many authorities suggest calculating how many grams of protein, carbohydrates and fat you need based on bodyweight and then the calories will take care of themselves. There's some merit to this method if the gram recommendations are figured properly for your personal needs, but the shortcoming of this method is lack of precision; it can only give you a ballpark estimate.
For example, a common guideline for protein consumption is one gram per pound of body weight. The problem with this method is the same one we discussed with calorie calculations based only on body weight - it doesn't account for training and activity levels. Always calculate your calorie needs FIRST (based on activity, goals, body weight or lean body mass), then once you've figured out your calorie needs, you can divvy them up like you'd slice up a pie.
Dividing your calories into the right ratios can have a profound impact on your body composition. As in the tuna fish and potato chip example, two diets of equal calories can have totally different effects; one 2400-calorie diet can get you ripped and another 2400-calorie diet can get you fat.
The first rule of macro nutrient ratios: Always eat proteins and carbohydrates together
Before we get into specific ratios and percentages, you must first understand the most basic rule of nutrient ratios: Your diet should never consist primarily of one food type or one macronutrient type; there must be a proper balance 'between proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Without even doing any sophisticated number crunching, you'll always be in the ballpark simply by having a serving of lean protein and a serving of complex carbohydrate at every meal. If you frequently eat carbohydrates or proteins by themselves, your ratios will be "out of balance" and your results will be compromised.
The myth of "food separating" and why it's not effective for improving body composition
A common myth in the diet world says that you should never eat certain carbohydrates and proteins together in the same meal. This diet fad is known as "food combining" (Actually, it would be more accurately described as "food separating," referring to the belief that certain combinations of foods, such as meat and potatoes, shouldn't be eaten together). Popularized by a number of best selling diet books, this fad still attracts followers to this day.
Arguments for separating proteins and carbohydrates usually go something like this: Protein digests in an acidic medium of pepsin (a digestive enzyme) and hydrochloric acid, while carbohydrates digest in an alkaline medium. Therefore, when protein and carbohydrates are consumed together, they can't be fully assimilated, resulting in poor digestion, incomplete absorption of nutrients and gastrointestinal disturbances. One "food combining" diet book even went as far as to claim that by eating large quantities of fruit alone, the fruit enzymes would prevent the calories from being stored as body fat. It's also been suggested that poor digestion from improper food combinations will weaken you, sap your energy and stress your immune system.
I know several people who say that these programs removed their gastrointestinal distress and made them "feel" better. However, I don't know a single fitness champion who successfully uses "food combining" diets to achieve low body fat or excellent muscular development (Although there are some who get paid to say they do). If muscles and low body fat are your goals, then lean proteins and complex carbohydrates should always be eaten at every meal.
The ultimate meal combination for burning fat and building muscle
A meal is not a meal if it doesn't contain a complex carbohydrate and a lean protein. Occasionally, eating a piece of fruit, a nonfat yogurt, a cup of cottage cheese, a protein drink, or another carbohydrate or protein all by itself is fine, but that doesn't count as a full meal, it only counts as a "snack."
The ultimate meal combination for burning fat is a lean protein, a starchy carbohydrate and a fibrous carbohydrate eaten together at the same meal
Here are three examples of the "Ultimate meal combination"
Brown Rice (complex carb)
Mixed green salad (complex fibrous carb)
Salmon (lean protein)
Sweet potato (complex carb)
Broccoli (complex fibrous carb)
Chicken breast cutlet (lean protein)
Oatmeal (complex carbohydrate)
Egg white omelet with one yolk (lean protein)
Grapefruit (natural simple carb - optional)
8 reasons why you must eat lean proteins and complex carbohydrates together at every meal to maximize fat loss and muscle growth.
To gain muscle and lose fat, it's not only unnecessary to separate carbohydrates and proteins - it's counterproductive. Here are 8 convincing scientific reasons why. Read them and then you be the judge of whether you want to eat a meal without your protein and carbohydrates.
I) To maintain positive nitrogen balance, a state where you are retaining more protein than you excrete, resulting in a net gain of muscle tissue; you must consume protein approximately every three hours. Proteins cannot be stored like carbohydrates. This requires protein feedings with every meal. Eat carbohydrates by themselves without protein, and your body must break down muscle to get the amino acids it needs (You "eat up" your own muscle tissue!)
2) To get the protein (amino acids) into the muscle cells efficiently requires insulin. Insulin is secreted most readily in response to eating carbohydrates. Therefore, a moderate (but not over-sized) portion of carbohydrate should be eaten with your protein to facilitate the uptake of the amino acids into the muscle cell.
3) Eating carbohydrates by themselves, especially the simple variety causes a rapid increase in blood sugar. Peaks in blood sugar are always followed by valleys in blood sugar (also known as "hypoglycemia"). Cravings, hunger and fatigue usually follow. If you get hunger or bad cravings, it could be because you're eating too many simple carbohydrates by themselves (Fat-tree snack foods, etc.).
4) Quick elevations in blood sugar caused by eating carbohydrates by themselves cause a large release of insulin to remove the excess glucose from the bloodstream. A slow, moderate output of insulin is desirable; a large release of insulin is not. High concentrations of insulin in the bloodstream are lipogenic; they promote the storage of body fat as well as prevent stored body fat from being mobilized.
5) The body's stores of muscle glycogen are very limited (Between 300 and 400 grams). If your glycogen levels become severely depleted, your training will suffer. Advocates of very low carbohydrate, high protein, high fat diets claim that your body will learn to function on fat and protein and they make convincing scientific-sounding arguments to back up their position. However, if you were to ask any fitness champion or professional athlete how a low carbohydrate diet affects their training, virtually all of them would tell you that it reduces their energy, lowers their intensity, and makes it difficult to get a pump.
Even on carbohydrate restricted programs it's important to get some carbohydrates or your workouts will suffer badly. If you cut out your carbohydrates completely or separate your protein and carbohydrate feedings in a food-combining diet, your glycogen stores will be compromised. You need a slow and moderate, but steady flow of complex carbohydrates throughout the day. Eating too many carbohydrates at once can cause fat storage, so the ideal way to consume them is in moderate portions at every meal.
6) Protein eaten with every meal slows the digestion of the carbohydrates, resulting in steadier blood sugar and energy levels and a more moderate output of insulin - without the ups and downs of eating carbohydrates by themselves.
7) Eating fiber-containing carbohydrates at every meal slows the digestion of the carbohydrates, resulting in a steadier blood sugar level and more moderate insulin output.
8) Eating protein at every meal enhances the thermic effect, which helps to speed up your metabolic rate. A meal consisting of only carbohydrate is less thermic than one containing a lean protein and a complex carbohydrate. A meal or snack that's high in fat without protein is the least thermic of all (sugar and fat, i.e., donuts, pastries, potato chips, etc).
What are "macronutrient ratios?"
We're now ready to get into the nitty gritty of macro nutrient ratios (Also called "nutrient ratios"). The first thing you should know is that nutrient ratios simply refer to the percentage of your total daily calories that come from protein, carbohydrate and fat. For example, 60-30-10 or 40-30-30 are nutrient ratios. A nutrient ratio of 30% protein on 2400 calories per day would be 720 calories of protein (.30% protein X 2400. calories = 720 protein calories).
Developing nutrition plans based on ratios of protein, carbohydrates and fats has been practiced for decades among athletes, models and fitness professionals.
No single ratio is "the best" and no single ratio will work for everyone 100% of the time
Many dieters are tempted to believe that there is one perfect or "magical" ratio that will be the answer to all their body fat problems. Contrary to what some "diet gurus" would like you to believe, there is no single best ratio.
√ No ratio has any "magical" fat-burning or muscle-building properties.
√ No ratio will override the law of calorie balance. Any impact nutrient ratios have on your body fat level is minimal compared to the effect that calorie levels have on body composition.
√ No nutrient ratio will prevent you from going into starvation mode if your calories are too low.
√ No nutrient ratio will prevent you from accumulating body fat if your calories are too high.
√ No nutrient ratio will allow you to gain muscle if your calories are too low.
√ No single nutrient ratio will work for everyone. Optimal nutrient ratios depend on goals and differences in body types and carbohydrate sensitivity.
Calories are always the most important factor in fat loss and the first factor you should consider. Only then can you accurately calculate the optimal ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat specifically for your unique needs.
Any program that suggests only one ratio for everyone is completely ignoring the concept of nutritional individuality. Clearly, your ratios must be customized, but as you will learn shortly, there is a sensible place where everyone can start.
Basic definitions of high, low and moderate macronutrient percentages
Drawing a rigid line between ratios is difficult, but for the purposes of our discussions, let's clarify what we mean when we're talking about high, medium and low carbohydrate, macronutrient percentages.
Very high carb = 65- 70% +
High carb = 55-60%
Moderate carb = 40-50%
Low carb = 25-35%
Very low carb (ketogenic) = about 5-15% or 30-70 grams per day
Very high protein = 41-50%+
High protein = 31-40%
Moderate protein = 25-30%
Low protein = 15-24%
Very low protein = less than 15%
Very high fat = 40% +
High fat = 30%-39%
Moderate fat = 20-29%
Low fat = 10-19%
Very low fat = less than 10%
With such a wide range in each category, how do you know what percentage is best? One tip is to avoid the extremes. Extremely low or extremely high ratios of anything are usually not the best approach. There are exceptions of course: a wrestler trying to make weight before a contest and so on.
Some endurance athletes perform best on very high carbohydrate intakes of 60-70% of their total calories. Carbohydrate sensitive people sometimes have no choice but lower carbohydrate intake to 30% or less of their total calories. These cases are the exceptions rather than the rule, however. Moderate to high complex carbohydrate, with moderate protein and low fat is generally the best approach. Modifications can then be made to this baseline as your needs require.
High carbohydrate, very low fat
In the 80s and 90s, most diet programs called for very low fat, low protein and extremely high carbohydrate. The Pritkin diet, which recommended 70% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 10% fat, is one example. Other programs falling into this category are the Dean Amish’s "Eat More Weigh Less" program, Robert Hass's "Eat to Win"
If the right types of carbohydrates are eaten, this is probably a healthy way to eat, but it's so lopsided in favor of carbohydrates, you can't really say it's "balanced" and this approach definitely isn't for everyone. When it comes to shifting body composition from fat to muscle, many people simply don't respond well to high carbohydrates, no matter how carefully they are chosen. Very high carbohydrate, low fat diets are also a bit light on essential fats, and the protein levels are too low to support serious training. Some extremely carbohydrate-sensitive people actually see increases in cholesterol and triglycerides when their carbs are too high.
Very low carbohydrate / high fat, high protein
On the other end of the spectrum you have the very high fat, high protein, very low carbohydrate diets. The Atkins’ Diet is the most popular. Others include Protein Power, The Carbohydrate Addicts Diet, Sugar Busters, The Ketogenic diet, The Anabolic Diet and a whole host of other programs that impose strict regulations on the amount of carbohydrate you can eat.
The basic assumption of the very low carbohydrate approach is that carbohydrates cause fat storage because they increase insulin production. Insulin is portrayed as an evil fat-storing monster that makes everything you eat turn into fat. The objective of these programs is to control insulin by cutting out carbohydrates and this will supposedly cause rapid body fat loss.
There is some truth in these arguments, but unfortunately, the information has been distorted and taken to extremes. Contrary to what certain diet "gurus" tell you, carbohydrates are not fattening. What's fattening is eating more calories than your body can use at one time. Insulin can be a double-edged sword, but insulin control can be easily achieved without extreme measures.
It's true that some people lose weight more quickly on a very low carbohydrate diet, but that's not the same thing as saying carbohydrates are fattening.
Very low carbohydrate diets work almost all of the time for all body types. The problem is they also fail to keep body fat off permanently almost all of the time. It's nearly impossible to stay on low carbohydrates for a long time (nor can I figure out why you would want to). It's also up for debate whether the very high saturated fat levels allowed in these programs are healthy or not.
Most people will lose fat simply by adding a regular exercise routine to their schedule and by "cleaning up" their diets. A "clean" diet means you've mastered all the nutritional basics like eating small frequent meals, controlling portion sizes, cutting down on saturated fats, avoiding sugar, drinking plenty of water and eating lean protein at every meal.
Moderate carbohydrate restriction will usually speed up fat loss, but a very low carbohydrate diet is not the ultimate answer to permanent fat loss. At worst it's unhealthy and causes muscle loss. At best it's a temporary tool that should only be used for short periods for specific fat loss goals.
Here is where you begin
If fat loss is your number one goal and you want to achieve it the healthy way without losing muscle or energy, then you can't go wrong with 50-55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15-20% fat as your starting point.
These numbers are not intended as a rigid prescription; for fast metabolism types, 55% carbohydrates or the classic 60% carbohydrates works well. For others, 45% carbohydrates is a better place to start. Your ratios might need to be adjusted slightly depending on your body type. But before you can make any adjustments for your body type and goals, you must first establish a starting point or "baseline."
The starting point for an effective fat-burning and muscle-building diet, often called a "baseline diet" is 50-55% carbs, 30% protein, and 15-20% fat.
The most important lesson you will ever learn about dieting to lose body fat
Whenever you want to master a new subject or learn a new skill, the first thing you MUST learn is the basics. If you have a shaky foundation, then nothing else you do will matter.
The most important lesson you can ever learn about nutrition and fat loss is to master the fundamentals first.
The problem with most people is they are always looking for the newest, latest, greatest craze, but they are overlooking the fundamentals. Why? Because fundamentals are boring. Fundamentals are basic. Fundamentals aren't glamorous. Fundamentals aren't marketable. Fundamentals are also responsible for 80% of your results! It doesn't make any sense to try and squeeze out the last 20% when you haven't even captured the first 80%. But that's exactly what most people are doing - looking for the secret ratios or diet plan, all the while missing the simple and obvious factors that will make the biggest impact on their physiques.
Establish a baseline and master the fundamentals first. Then experiment and adjust as needed
If you want to experiment with various types of diets and macronutrient ratios to satisfy your curiosity and see what works best, by all means do so. But not until you've mastered the fundamentals, established a baseline and measured the results first! And if the baseline diet produces good results for you, don't change a thing - no matter what "new" trend comes along.
Most diet programs begin with some kind of "quick start" crash diet program that is extremely restrictive. That's because the creators of these programs want you to see quick weight loss right from the beginning. However, unless you already understand the fundamentals of fat-burning nutrition, it makes no sense to attempt going on an extremely difficult regimen such as a bodybuilding contest diet or a very low carbohydrate ("ketogenic") diet. You'll never stick to it.
I like high protein, low carbohydrate diets at certain times for certain purposes. But a big mistake a lot of people make is trying a strict bodybuilder's pre-contest regimen or some unique twist to their macronutrient ratios before they even clean the junk out of their diets or master the fundamental of eating complex carbohydrates and lean proteins every three hours. If you're still skipping meals and eating junk such as sugar and sweets, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and saturated fats, you're not ready for an "advanced" program. Go back and master the basics first.
The only way you'll ever know what the ideal plan is for your body type is to get on a good baseline diet first, monitor the results closely, and then make adjustments based on your results. In other words, don't try anything drastic like a mostly protein diet until you've exhausted all your other options and you're reasonably certain that you're very carbohydrate sensitive.
No single nutrition program will work for everyone
One place where programs go completely wrong is by rigidly prescribing one nutrient ratio for everyone. By doing so, they fail to account for differences in individual goals and body types. We now know for a fact that there is no single nutrient ratio that is perfect for everyone.
The correct meal ratios can vary greatly depending on your goals and on the type of training you're doing. Nutrition is a highly individualized issue and the same diet will not work for everyone. Bodybuilders, for example, need a higher ratio of protein than people who are sedentary. A marathon runner would never consume the same ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats as a bodybuilder or fitness competitor getting ready for a contest. An endurance athlete might do well consuming up to 60% of his or her calories from complex carbohydrates to maintain glycogen stores for training. The pre-contest bodybuilder would probably be better off with as little as 25%-40% of his or her calories from carbohydrates with a higher ratio of protein to help stimulate thermo genesis, mobilize more body fat and reduce water retention.
Adjustments for nutrient ratios by body type
The mesomorph could probably follow any nutrient ratio and still get results. I know some mesomorphs on the 50 - 50 diet; 50% McDonalds and 50% pizza. They still grow muscle like weeds and have ripped abs. I'm not endorsing this approach, just making a point. If our gifted mesomorph friend would go with 50-55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15-20% fat, he would get even better results.
An ectomorph should almost never restrict carbohydrates. The ectomorph usually isn't concerned with losing body fat. Usually their goal is to gain muscle, and for gaining muscle, a diet composed of50-55% complex carbohydrates with 30% protein and 1520% fat would be ideal.
It's the endomorph that needs to pay the most attention to nutrient ratios. Endomorphs are often insulin resistant and carbohydrate sensitive, so the high carbohydrate approach is usually out of the question. A better starting point for an endomorph might be around 50% carbohydrates. Then based on results, they may need further reductions to about 40-45% carbohydrates. In extreme cases, a diet with 25-35% of calories from carbohydrates may work best, although only for short periods of time.
Adjustments to the baseline diet ratios for maximum fat loss
For short periods of time when maximum fat loss is desired, the baseline ratio of 50-55% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 15-20% fat can be shifted to a higher ratio of protein/fat and a lower ratio of carbohydrates. This increases metabolism through the thermic effect of food and it also controls insulin more effectively
The reduction in carbohydrates is most easily achieved by reducing your intake of concentrated, starchy carbohydrates (such as pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, etc.) at night and late in the day and replacing them with less calorie-dense fibrous carbohydrates (such as green vegetables and salads) using the calorie tapering method.
The 3-2-1 method for calculating nutrient ratios
A very simple way to estimate your nutrient ratios is to follow the 3-2-1 rule. Here's how it works: Imagine your plate divided into six sections like slices of a pie. Fill up three slices (3/6 or 50%) with natural carbohydrates like potatoes, yams, oatmeal, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fill up two sections (2/6 or 33%) with lean proteins like egg whites, chicken or fish. Finish with one section of fat (1/6 or 17%). This simple method puts you very close to the optimal ratios for a baseline diet and you don't need to be a math whiz to figure it out.
The spreadsheet method for calculating nutrient ratios: Number crunching on Microsoft Excel
The 3-2-1 method is a great way to estimate your nutrient ratios, but there's a much more accurate way if you're willing to put in a little effort. I've never found a method for creating menus simpler and easier than using a plain old spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel.
A spreadsheet happens to be the most accurate way to calculate your nutrient ratios, and you can use it to track your calories as well. If you don't have a computer or you don't know how to use a spreadsheet, you can do these calculations simply and easily with a calculator, a pen, a piece of paper and a few simple formulas.
Three conversions you need to know to determine your macronutrient ratios:
To calculate your ratios, simply take your total caloric intake for the day and multiply it by your desired percentage of each macronutrient. Then, divide the calories from each macronutrient by the calorie content per gram. You'll need to know these three facts to calculate your ratios:
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Example for a 2400-calorie-per-day diet
Carbohydrates: 55% (.55) X 2400 = 1320 calories from carbs 1320 carb calories/4 calories per gram = 330 g. of carbs
Protein: 30% (.30) X 2400 = 720 calories from protein
720 protein calories/4 calories per gram = 180 g. protein
Fat: 15% (.15) X 2400 = 360 calories from fat
360 fat caloriesl9 calories per gram = 40 g. of fat
An important thing to remember is that these aren't just ratios for an entire day; they're for each individual meal as well (With the exception of the late day meals if you are tapering calories). If you work on getting these ratios right for every meal, your ratios for the entire day will take care of themselves.
Couch potato nutrition vs. Fitness nutrition
Probably the most important reason to follow the 55 - 30 - 15 nutrient ratio as your baseline is because these percentages are designed for people involved in serious aerobic and weight training. Conventional nutritionists and dieticians will tell you that 30% protein is too high. They'll insist that the protein should be 15% and the fat 30%.
This is couch potato advice. It has nothing to do with you if you're training hard. If you're not training hard, you're not following this program properly. Your success is based on the combination of nutrition, cardio and weight training. If you're training hard, your nutritional needs are different than those of couch potatoes.
Trusting your intuition
The idea of adjusting your nutrition intuitively will upset some of the left-brained scientific types for sure, but with few exceptions, scientists are usually not the ones with the best bodies. The people with the best bodies are the ones who train hard, eat properly and pay close attention to their results and to what their bodies are telling them, regardless of what the latest research study says.
Most people are looking to be handed a prescription. They want a guru to come along, do all the thinking for them and say "HERE! Eat 33.54% protein, 47.92% carbohydrates and 18.54% fat - these are THE magical ratios." Well, allow me to share the real secret of nutrient ratios: There are no magical nutrient ratios! If you train hard, choose the right foods, eat frequently and monitor your calories, the chances are good that you'll get lean with any reasonable ratio combination.
No ratio should be followed as if by law. You should experiment to find what works best for you. Don't be afraid to do some "tweaking." Allow yourself some leeway in either direction. For example, if you're on the baseline plan of 55-30-15 and you're uncomfortable with the amount of protein, then drop the protein to 25% and bump the carbohydrates to 60% or the fat to 20% - and PAY ATTENTION to the results. If you think carbohydrates make you fat, drop the carbohydrates to 40 - 50% and increase the protein and/or fat by 5% (35% and or 20% respectively.) If you think you're extremely carbohydrate sensitive, gradually bring the carbohydrates down even lower and see what happens.
Macronutrient ratios alone have the ability to improve body fat loss through metabolic and hormonal control. They can also improve muscle growth and maintenance by providing a steady flow of amino acids to your muscles. However, the ratios aren't the "secret" to fat loss - calories are. Eat too much, you get fat, period -it doesn't matter if you're in the "zone" or not.
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