A macro ratio expresses the share of total energy that comes from each macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates and fat) in a food, meal or diet. E.g. the American diet is 15% protein, 50% carbs and 35% fat.
Macro ratios are an excellent way of gaining a quick and simple understanding of where the energy is coming from in a food, meal or diet. Although they are a great tool serious macro based diet design tends to be done in grams per unit bodyweight.
The post will get you up to speed in a hurry. We’ll cover foods, diets, physique athletes and finish with a simple tip.
The macro ratio of foods
Understanding which foods are rich in different macronutrients is a useful skill many people lack. In the graph below I’ve listed five protein rich, fat rich and carb rich foods in terms of their macro ratio.
In each category you can see the macro ratio, what percentage of total calories comes from that macronutrient.
The purest macro foods in our list are chicken breat (90% protein), olive oil (100% fat) and sweet potato (95% carbs). Having a list of go to protein, fat and carb sources you like can useful in terms shopping and planning meals. Physique athletes that track their macros often gravitate towards purer macro source as it makes hitting their numbers easier.
Let’s talk about diets!
The macro ratio of diets
Humans have an incredible ability to survive on diets with different macronutrient ratios. And if you want to understand the vast array of different diets around then macro ratios are a pretty good place to start. In the graph below I’ve compared rough estimates for the macro ratios of different diet approaches.
When most people talk about diet macro ratios they tend to be defined by where they sit on the carbohydrate spectrum. In these example the Ketogenic, Atkins and Low Carb diets are classified as low carb (<20%). Paleo, Mediterranean and Zone are in the moderate carb group (20-50%). The typical American, Vegetarian and Ornish diet are high carb diet (50%).
Global food supply is something like 63% carbohydrate, 26% fat and 11% protein, though food losses probably affect this a little, so it isn’t a perfect representation of what the world eats.
Next up lets talk macro ratios for physique athletes.
Athletes don’t use ratios
Although this post is about macro ratios, is worth pointing out that physique athletes prefer to set macros using bodyweight multipliers. It’s really not complicated. The following waterfall chart gives you an idea of how that would look for fat loss.
They just start with the totally calorie allotment, then set protein, then fat and finally carbs. In the example above the diet begins at 2,600 calories, protein is set at 220g, fat at 80g and carbs at 250g. As the diet progresses its understood further adjustments will be needed to progress. These adjustments might take the for of a 25g cut in carbs, or a 10g drop in fat.
Now for a simple tip.
Eating more protein
If you’re interested in weight loss, but not prepared to go down the tracking route, eating more protein is probably the simple tip you can use to get things moving. Protein is the body’s building block. Its the most filling macro, is muscle sparing and has a high thermic effect (energy used up in digestion). This makes it a dieters best friend.
The clearest research I’ve seen evidencing this effect comes from a 2005 study which showed a spontaneous calorie reduction of 440 kcal/day when the share of protein in the diet was increased to 30% from 15%.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this study was that the satiating effects of higher protein seemed to endure despite falling leptin and rising ghrelin concentrations, hormone changes you would expect to produce a surge in hunger. Suggests higher protein diets might also help keep weight off too.
You don’t need to hit 30% protein to benefit form this effect. Just try adding a palms worth of protein to your main meals!!
For more simple tips check out our Five Simple Strategies PDF.