There is a lot of confusion on what the best macros for weight loss are. No one seems to have a straight answer. Should I eat a high protein diet? Are too many carbs bad? Do high fat diets really work? While all of these are legitimate questions, the ratio of macronutrients best for weight loss are not universal for everyone. Fortunately by looking at research and studies, we may better understand what macros the body needs to lose weight.
What Are Macros?
Macros or macronutrients describe the 3 main categories of energy the body consumes; carbohydrates, fats, and protein. These three energy sources are essential for human life- the body cannot function without them.
Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy for the body at 4 calories per gram. Once broken down into glucose they help many organs like the brain function, synthesize specific amino acids, and promote bowel movement.
Protein at 4 calories per gram grow the body, repair tissue, and protect lean muscle mass. It is made of amino acids (the foundation of protein) which is categorized as essential or non-essential.
Fat is the body’s main energy storage supply. It serves to cushion organs, create different hormones, absorb certain vitamins, and protect the cell membrane. There are multiple types of fat including trans, saturated, and unsaturated. At 9 calories per gram fats are the most nutrient-dense micronutrient.
How Important Are Macros For Weight Loss?
To be honest, any person can lose weight as long as they are in a caloric deficit. If the energy they consume is less than their TDEE (total daily energy expenditure), weight loss is inevitable. BUT macros play a role in the process and the results of weight loss- which are not the same across the board.
During dieting/ weight loss there are important factors that determine how much muscle mass or body fat you lose, gain, or maintain during the process.
This is why macros and macronutrient ratios are so important; because based on the ratios of carbs, fat, and protein in the diet you can have drastically different outcomes in body composition, even if you were to lose weight across the board.
Keeping track of the amount of macros you consume and controlling the ratio of each group in your diet will provide a massive difference in the long run. You’ll retain more muscle mass, curb your hunger, improve your energy levels, and most importantly lose more body fat during your caloric deficit.
For better results controlling your macros will be more important than calorie control alone.
Which Macro Ratio Is Best For Fat Loss?
This question has been debated for years. Just how there are billions of people on the planet, there are likely just as many ratios that work for each individual. But don’t despair! there are still general guidelines on how varying amounts of macros play into weight loss. By getting a better understanding of these factors, we can target the best direction for your own goals. This will improve both improve how much you lose and the quality of the weight loss itself.
Carbohydrates for Weight Loss
Each macro is a separate form of energy that plays a different role in the body. Learning what each does for the body will help deciding the right ratio for you.
- carbohydrates are the body’s go-to source of energy. If more are present than the body needs, it is stored in the muscles as glycogen or converted to body fat.
- fat serves as the body’s reserve energy source. When consumed it is either used immediately or stored away as adipose tissue.
- protein is the foundation for all lean tissue, used to upkeep cells, bone, and DNA. When consumed it either aids in protein synthesis, used as an immediate energy source, or in excess stored as body fat.
All macronutrients are indispensable to the body, but their abundance or scarcity in the diet can have varying effects.
Which Macro Ratio Is Best For Fat Loss?
For the better part of 30 years health professionals have fought over the topics of carbs, diet, and weight loss. Some swear by low- fat diets like the Mediterranean, others believe that a low-carb diet is the final solution. Information on carb intake can be confusing. Going by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates make up 45- 65% of your daily intake. Others experts suggest reducing carb intake to as little as 5%, some diets removing them completely as seen in the carnivore diet.
With all that said is there even evidence that reducing carbs actually helps with weight loss, and if so how much do you need?
Low Carbohydrate Diet
By far most research in low carb approaches have shown that low carb diets induce rapid induction of weight loss. Initial weight loss is due partially to water loss, but fat loss does still occur with adherence to a low carb diet(1). It’s important to note that as adherence to the diet wanes, the weight loss effects become similar to other dietary approaches after one year. Long term adherence to low carb diets can also be difficult and counterproductive. Significant reductions of carbs and increased fat intake could increase low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and greater mortality risk(3).
While slightly reducing the ratio of carbs may be effective, the type and quality of carbohydrates are just as important for lasting weight management.
These sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetable, or diary products offer fuel to the nervous system and energy for working muscles. They also protect protein from being used as an energy source (catabolism) while enabling fat metabolism.
Sticking to a moderate carbohydrate ratio (25-40%) is likely enough to supply the body with the necessary energy and promote normal bodily function while in a caloric deficit.
What Diet Percentage Should Be Protein?
Some studies have shown that protein-enriched diets can lead to greater weight loss compared to the standard amount.
When comparing the protein intake of 2 groups, one standard (0.8 g/kg body weight) the other high (1.3 g/kg body weight), researchers ran into some interesting numbers. Though both groups lost significant weight, the overall weight loss was 5.1 +/- 3.6 kg for the standard group and 7.0 +/- 3.7 kg for the high protein group. Waist circumference also decreased more in the high protein group (8.8 +/- 2.2 cm) compared to the standard protein group (6.5 +/- 2.2 cm). This doesn’t even include the decreased fasting insulin, triglycerides, total cholesterol and much more(2).
So as you can see increasing protein in the diet may be necessary for higher quality weight loss.
Other Benefits of Protein
As far as the best macro for weight loss, there are a few more reasons protein might be the most important:
Protein helps curb hunger. Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates which in turn reduces appetite. It also reduces the hunger hormone ghrelin and other appetite triggers like GLP-1, PYY, and CCK. When you feel fuller longer, in theory you’ll eat less, maintain a caloric deficit, and lose weight.
High protein intake maintains existing lean muscle mass during weight loss. In this article___ emphasizes the point that when there’s a caloric deficit (especially involving exercise), protein is the key to maintaining and growing new muscle mass. When the body doesn’t have carbohydrates available for energy, it will often use fat or break down muscle for fuel. However with the abundance of protein in the diet, even in a caloric deficit, the body is safe from catabolism.
When examining the changes in lean mass from varying dietary intakes, researchers discovered interesting findings. Participants whose intake averaged 0.62 g/kg of bodyweight saw 32% of total mass lost came from lean muscle(2). This goes to show you that having a macro ratio low in protein can have serious consequences on your body composition.
To lose a significant amount of weight while maintaining lean mass I recommend a higher amount of protein. Between 0.9 and 1.8 g/kg of body weight is a good start while in a caloric deficit. This number comes up to about 25-35% of your daily caloric intake.
Macros For Weight Loss and Muscle Gain
Burning fat while building muscle is ideal for those who want to fine-tune their physiques during the process. While this is achievable, it will require resistance training (weightlifting) and an even greater abundance of protein in the diet. This concept of body recomposition can be one of the most rewarding forms of weight loss despite the added effort.
The best macros for weight loss and muscle gain definitely require high amounts of protein, I’m talking 25-35%. Some studies suggest that protein synthesis in weight-trained athletes can support upwards of 2.0 g/kg of body weight! The ratios of carbs and fats may vary, but if the goal is to burn fat and build muscle simultaneously, don’t be shy with protein.
How Fat Is Necessary To Lose Weight?
Don’t be fooled: fat in the diet is essential for good health and longevity. However because fat is such a calorically-dense macronutrient (9 calories /per gram) it’s easy to take things too far.
For this same reason experts in the field have sworn by the necessity of a low-fat diet for weight loss. Many have claimed that high fat/ carbohydrate diets lead to passive overconsumption, positive energy balance, and weight gain in susceptible individuals. Therefor, reducing total fat intake will in theory considerably effect the total amount of calories consumed.
That is how the theory goes, however randomized trials fail to consistently prove that low fat intake is better for long term weight loss.
In all honesty the amount of fat needed on a daily basis varies with each individual.
This study documenting long term weight loss in relation to macronutrient amount says it all. Regardless of a diet with high or low fat intake, the difference in total weight loss was either slight or non-existent(4).
It’s important to remember: like carbs or any other macronutrient, it’s quality is just as important as its amount. Steering clear of processed foods and an excess of saturated fats is essential for losing weight and keeping it off. When you prioritize high quality, fiber-rich foods- macronutrient ratios play a secondary role for lasting weight loss.
For the sake of ratios, keeping fat intake to around 20-30% is a safe bet provided by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The Final Say
While there is no “perfect macro ratio” for weight loss, there is a ratio that works for your goals, activity level, and weight. It may take some trial and error, but you can settle on a percentage that works for you.
In general combined with a caloric deficit, an average fat (20-30%), average carb (30-40%), and high protein (25-35%) ratio is the best place to start in most cases.
Ratios aside, remember: It is super important that you eat quality, whole, nutrient rich foods. Macronutrient percentages aren’t going to do anything positive for your health if you fuel your body with garbage.
How Do You Find Your Macros?
The fastest way to calculate the macros is to use an online macro calculator.
Once your caloric needs, activity level, age, height, and weight are all calculated together you’ll be able to gauge how much of each macronutrient to consume on a daily basis. I personally start by taking the total caloric need and then breaking them down into my desired ratio percentages. With all that said and done I hope you find the right macro ratio for you to be a success on your weight loss journey.