The most common question I receive is “What macronutrient ratios should I use?” This is a loaded question because macronutrient ratios depend on you! The “perfect amount” of carbs, protein, and fat comes down to individual body composition and goals.
There are a few awesome resources you can use to determine where your baseline should be. Remember, macro-tracking is a bit of trial-and-error in the beginning and adjustments need to be made every few weeks until you find what works for you.
This awesome picture gives you a pretty good baseline of where your macros should be depending on your goals. For most women, the goal is fat loss which would be a lower carb, higher protein ratio. (Lower carb. Not “low carb.” Carbs are important and you need them.) If your goal is to build a little bit of muscle, you want a higher carb, moderate protein ratio.
Remember, these numbers fluctuate depending on how your body responds to carbs and fats. Ratios are also dependent on how often (or how hard) you are working out and what you need to recover properly.
While I assess each client individually based on their body type, goals, and metabolism the general recommendation is 1g-1.1g of protein per pound of body weight. Most people do well with fat set between 20-30% of their diet and the remainder of your calories should come from carbs.
In order to set your macronutrient ratios, you first need to determine your total caloric intake. This begins with determining BMR (basal metabolic rate) and TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure.)
Female: 27 years old, 130 lbs, 5’5
BMR For Women: 665 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) – ( 4.7 x age in years )
665 + (565.5) + (305.5) – (126.9) = 1,409 calories per day is the minimum this person should consume.
Male: 33 years old, 185 lbs, 5’8
BMR For Men: 65 + (6.2 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
65 + (1,147) + (864) – (224) = 1,852 calories per day is the minimum this person should consume.
Next, calculate your TDEE. TDEE is the amount calories your body burns in a 24 hour period. (Sleeping, working, exercising, playing, and even digesting food.)
- Lightly Active = BMR x 1.3-1.4
- Moderately Active = BMR x 1.5-1.6
- Very Active = BMR x 1.7-1.8
Female: Very active
1,409 x 1.7 – 1.8 = 2,393 calories per day. This is the amount this person would need to eat to maintain their current body weight and composition.
Male: Moderately Active
1,852 x 1.5 – 1.6 = 2,776 calories per day.This is the amount this person would need to eat to maintain their current body weight and composition.
Setting Macronutrient Ratios
Now, let’s put everything together.
Using what we know about macronutrients from above and using the same female from our example, let’s set a fat loss goal.
Remember, macronutrient ratios must equal 100%. There are three macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Each gram of fat provides the body with 9 calories. Each gram of protein provides the body with 4 calories. And each gram of carbohydrates provides the body with 4 calories.
- If the goal is fat loss, a person should eat 300-500 calories LESS than their TDEE and focus on a higher protein, moderate fat, lower carb diet.
Goal: Fat loss
TDEE – 500 calories (about 1 lb of fat loss per week) = 2,393 – 500 = 1,893 calories per day
- Protein (1g/lb – 1.1g/lb): Approximately 130-143 grams of protein.
- 143 x 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) = 572
- 572 / 1,893 (total caloric intake) = .30 or 30% of calories should come from protein. I would round to 35% because I find that many people do well with slightly higher protein.
- 1,893 x .35 (35% protein) = 662.5
- 662.5 / 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) = 166 grams of protein per day.
- Fat: (20-30%) Let’s start at 25%
- 1,893 x .25 = 472.5
- 472.5 / 9 (9 calories per gram of fat) = 52.5 grams of fat per day.
- Carbs: We now have 35% and 25% of our macronutrient ratios “used up.” That means we have 40% left for carbs.
- 1,893 x .40 = 757.2
- 757.2 / 4 = 189 grams of carbs per day.
Now that you have these numbers, how do you go about tracking? See my article on Navigating MyFitnessPal to get an idea of how to customize the application.
Remember, macro-tracking this is a tool. The idea is to be flexible with yourself, your diet, and your nutrition. The point of flexible dieting/macro-tracking is not to stress over the numbers or become obsessive. Coming within 1-3 grams of your macro goals each day is okay.
Macronutrient counting is like a puzzle. It takes some time and dedication to really get a feel for it. Eventually, you will know what foods “fit” and how to make simple swaps and changes.
It’s well established that weight gain results from an imbalance between how much energy we consume and how much we expend. Basically if we eat more than we burn, we gain weight. That is why eating below your TDEE is optimal for fat loss, eating at your TDEE is optimal for maintaining body weight, and eating above your TDEE is ideal for gaining weight.
When macro-tracking or “flexible dieting“, it doesn’t matter which foods you are choosing, as long as you meet your caloric goal and macronutrient ratios. Many people think this means you can fill your diet with junk foods. Honestly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. You are going to be hard pressed to meet your macro goals of 166 grams of protein, 52 grams of fat, and 189 grams of carbs by eating cookies, cakes, poptarts, and fruit roll ups. What you can do, is focus on healthy and nutritious foods to meet most of your numbers and work in small treats as you want or need.
Keep it simple. There’s no need to overcomplicate the process. The simpler you choose to make dieting be for yourself, the smoother the ride will be.
Don’t feel like calculating your own numbers? Get a personalized macro consult!
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Should you count macros?