How To Determine The Best Macronutrient Ratio For Your Goals

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How to Choose the Right Macronutrient Ratio for Your Objectives

Macronutrient profiling (the customization of ratios to fit an individual's health or fitness goals or needs) and the term “macronutrients” (or macros, as some call them) are hot topics in the health and fitness industry these days. But what do these terms imply for you and your customers? As it turns out, the macronutrients one chooses can have a significant impact on achieving specific goals (endurance, strength, fat loss, weight gain, etc.).

“Macro” is a Greek word that means “large," and it refers to the size of a nutrient and its importance in energy balance in the context of nutrition. This balance can be defined as “energy in” (calories consumed through food and drink) versus “energy out” (calories expended through exercise) (calories being used in the body for daily energy requirements). Energy (or calories) is at the heart of nutrition and health, and the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide the foundation for this energy.

Rather than total calorie counts, a macro-based diet considers the percentage combination or ratios of carbs, proteins, and fats in a person's diet. Traditionally, these have been calculated as a percentage of total calories, falling somewhere between the USDA guidelines:

  • Carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of the diet.
  • Protein content ranges from 10% to 35%.
  • The percentage of fat in the body ranges from 20 to 35 percent.

However, because these guidelines provide a wide range for each of the macros, how do you know which ratio or range is best for an individual's needs and goals? Recent research and position stands have significantly narrowed these ranges. Below is a rundown of some basic macronutrient recommendations, as well as some strategies for educating clients about their specific nutritional requirements.


Carbohydrate

  • Fuels the body and the brain during high-intensity exercise.
  • Protein is saved (to preserve muscle mass during exercise)
  • 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate Active People (General Fitness Program)

Total carbohydrates: 45–55 percent [3–5 grams per kilogram of body weight (g/kg) per day]

1 to 2 hours of moderate to high-intensity training per day, 4 to 6 days per week)

Total carbohydrates: 55 to 65 percent (5 to 8 g/kg per day)

1–1.5 g/kg after a workout (3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein)

Weight Loss or Body Fat Reduction


45 to 50 percent total carbohydrates (3 to 4 g/kg per day); choose lower-glycemic carbohydrate sources, especially later in the day (5 g/kg post-workout); choose lower-glycemic carbohydrate or low-fat carbohydrate/protein sources like fruit or cottage cheese.

Protein


  • Body tissues are built, repaired, and maintained with this substance.
  • Metabolic, transport, and hormone systems are all affected.
  • Enzyme component that regulates metabolism
  • 4 calories per gram of protein
  • Individuals who are active (General Fitness Program)

Total protein in the range of 10% to 15% (0.8 to 1.0 g/kg per day)

1 to 2 hours of moderate to high-intensity training per day, 4 to 6 days per week)


Weight loss or body fat reduction


25–30% total protein (1.5–2 g/kg per day); a protein intake of 25–30% of calories has been shown to increase metabolism by up to 80–100 calories per day when compared to lower-protein diets (Westerterp-Plantenga, 2008)


Fat

a source of energy

It safeguards vital organs.

Insulation

Vitamins that are fat-soluble are transported.

9 calories per gram of fat

Individuals who are active (General Fitness Program)

Total fat content of 25 to 35 percent (0.5 to 1.0 g/kg per day)


1 to 2 hours of moderate to high-intensity training per day, 4 to 6 days per week)


Total fat content of approximately 30% (0.5 to 1 g/kg per day)

To allow for better digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and proteins, choose minimal to low-fat pre- and post-workout nutrition (Kreider et al., 2010)

Weight loss or body fat reduction

Total fat content of 20 to 25% (0.3 to 0.5 g/kg per day)

To support your immune system and metabolism, eat more unsaturated and essential fatty acids (fish oils, nuts/seeds, vegetable oils, etc). (Kreider et al., 2010)


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