You’re trying to lose some fat, but you find conflicting views on counting your macros everywhere you look for helpful information. You can’t seem to figure out the proper macronutrient ratio that will help you lose weight.
The truth is that there’s no ironclad law when it comes to planning your macros. No macro ratio can give you results if you’re eating too many calories or too few. However, your macro ratios are still an important consideration. So here’s everything you need to know about how to count macros.
What Should My Macros Be?
Your “macros” are your caloric intake from macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat). In most cases, these foods should be eaten in a ratio of 45-65% carbs, 10 to 35% proteins, and 20 -35% fats (15). The balance between those macros determines if you’re eating for cutting or bulking/ gaining muscle mass or losing fat.
However, there’s no one-size-fits-all macro split for cutting. Your body type, metabolism, and weekly physical activity level all impact your ideal percentages at a given time. Bear in mind that you won’t use one macronutrient ratio forever. It may change if and when your body weight or body fat fluctuates, or if you run into any plateaus.
According to ISSA guidelines for cutting this is the protocol you want to follow (4):
- A calorie deficit of 10-20% from your TDEE.
- Protein intake of 1 g/lb of lean body weight.
- Carbs with remaining calories coming from fats.
Just like your body is different from someone else’s, so are the macro requirements for you. Before settling on a macro split regimen, it is important to understand which macronutrient ratio will work best for your body type. Based on ISSA recommendations, there are 3 main types of ratios based on body types:
If you’re an ectomorph, you have a lean, hard-gaining body type. You’re naturally thin with a high metabolic rate and have a high tolerance for carbs. A good starting macronutrient ratio for you would be 25% protein, 55% carbs, and 20% fat.
If you’re a mesomorph you have an athletic, well-toned physique that gains muscle easily on a diet rich in protein with moderate carbs. You have a moderate metabolic rate. A good macro split for you would be 30% protein, 40% carb, 30% fat.
If you’re an endomorph you have a round figure. You have a low tolerance for carbohydrates and a slow metabolic rate. An ideal macro split would be 35% protein, 25% carbs, and 40% fat.
How To Calculate Macros For Cutting?
When doing a recomp (cutting) diet, the main goal is to lose body fat while maintaining as much muscle as possible (2). Most people lift weights regularly to avoid going into a catabolic state where their muscle gets eaten up for energy. Your goals are to lose fat, preserve your muscle mass, and have a balanced diet to avoid getting sick from having too little carbs or protein.
You’ll notice that most macro split recommendations are called “starting macros” This is because the best way to determine your ideal macro split for cutting while retaining muscle is by trial and error over several weeks. You’ll keep adjusting the ratio as you go.
Start by finding your ideal macro ratio using a macro calculator found on several fitness sites. All you need to do is enter some basic information and it will tell you exactly what percentage of calories should come from protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Then, begin your trial and error by following these steps:
- Measure your weight once per week.
- Track daily macro intake.
- After at least 2 weeks’ notice the results.
- If you lose fat but maintain muscle mass over several weeks it’s a sign of good macro-management. In that case, try to learn what happened and how you can improve your ratios for future meals and workouts.
- If you’re not losing enough fat, then consider reducing calories or increasing exercise until results are seen.
- Maintaining the same workout routine without seeing improvement could also be due to poor recovery from workouts (recovery is known as hypertrophy) so make sure sleep, diet, and supplementation are adequate before changing your macros (12).
- Give it time; don’t change ratios more than once every 2 weeks.
- Once you get in touch with the best ratio, then consider increasing calories by 5%, because it’s quite difficult to maintain a caloric deficit over long periods.
This increase in calories doesn’t mean that you can eat anything you want as long as it fits your macros. You still need to follow the basic rules of healthy eating: avoid too much junk food, sugar, and processed foods as much as possible (8).
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Counting Calories Vs. Counting Macros
When it comes to losing fat, how much you eat matters more than the amounts of macronutrients. Several studies have proven that any reduced-calorie (low-carb, low-fat, etc) diet can cause similar amounts of weight loss in the long term (5).
So, the key to fat loss is a calorie deficit. Without this, no macro ratio will work.
However, not all calories are the same. Calories from different food sources have a different impact on satiety, metabolic rate, and hormonal responses (13). And this is why you need to consider your macros.
Think of it this way: to get 100 calories from broccoli, you’ll have to eat four cups (340 grams) of it. On the other hand, to get 100 calories from doughnuts, you’ll only eat one-half of a medium-sized glazed doughnut.
If you manage to finish four cups of broccoli in one sitting, you’ll be full of all the fiber. Plus, you’ll have gotten all the nutrients contained in these veggies. However, to get full of doughnuts you’ll have to eat more than one-half. Even worse, you’ll be filling up on refined carbs and fats.
So, although calories determine weight loss, they differ in how they affect your health and ability to lose weight. It’s why simply counting calories is not enough, you have to go the extra mile to choose healthy sources of these calories, And this boils down to finding the best macro split for your body type.
Meal Prepping To Hit Your Macros
Knowing your macros is only half the battle, you also need to eat a diet that helps you hit them. Meal prepping for a macro-based diet is not easy — it takes a fair amount of strategy and commitment.
That being said, if you are serious about reaching your goals and getting results consistently, meal prepping is what’s going to separate the protein shake crowd from the shredded one.
Meal prepping provides a number of benefits that help you reach your goals and lose weight (11). You’ll have no excuses to eat junk food because you’ve stocked up on healthy meals and snacks. More importantly, you’ll have less stress by planning out meals in advance, this makes healthy eating less frustrating and easier to stick to for the long term.
Here are some of our best strategies for hitting your macros with ease:
Get Your Portions Right
Meal prepping on a macro diet can make keeping your portion control in check and calorie control even more manageable. Consider buying a food scale or use a food tracking app to be as precise as possible and learn the exact portion sizes that match your individual needs.
Note that your portions can change based on your activity (10). You can adjust carb and protein portions around your workouts, eating more food when you are more active and a lighter meal on rest days or not moving around as much.
Here are some portion control tips for your meals:
Pack Each Meal With Veggies
Choose greens that you enjoy eating; they help minimize hunger pangs and keep you feeling fuller longer so you don’t go overboard on the rest of your food (3). Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, or dark leaf varieties can be especially beneficial and easy to prepare in advance.
Choose Lean Proteins
Include foods with lean protein in each meal. Aim for about 30 grams of healthy protein per meal (14). Keep it as clean and lean as possible; trim the fat off your meats or remove the skin when preparing chicken breasts. Turkey, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, dairy (in limited amounts), nuts, and seeds are all great sources to use throughout the day.
Use Whole Grains
Whole grains are a great addition to each meal. They’re naturally rich in fiber, which will help you feel full, and have been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels after eating (6). Stick with whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, or whole-grain pasta.
The Fats You Add To Your Meals Should Be Healthy Ones
Healthy fats can include foods like avocado, olive oil, and nuts (1). Incorporate these into your meals for extra satiety and nutrition (especially if you’re using them as snacks between meals). Fish oils, flaxseed oil, and walnuts are all great options for boosting Omega 3’s in your diet too — something that is important when following a low carb diet since carbs take the place of Omega 3’s in the body.
Minimize Heavy Sauces And High Sugar Dressings
Try to keep your meal prep as simple as possible by minimizing the amount of high sugar dressings that you use, even in the sauces. Dark chocolate is a great addition and can be used to sweeten sweeter veggies like steamed beets or cauliflower.
Consider Volume Eating
Your portions should be just enough so that you are satiated. Too little will leave you starving, and too much will result in overeating. One way to get full without eating too many calories is by volume eating. Volume eating is eating large portions of low-calorie foods, e.g. vegetables.
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Split Up Nuts Into Single Servings
Nuts contain a lot of calories, but don’t let that scare you off because they are also rich in protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals (7). Just remember not to overdo it! Since the serving size is pretty small, split it into 4 individual servings by using sandwich bags. This allows you to still enjoy each snack portion without overeating.
When preparing single-serve containers, add some fresh berries to give it a little extra flavor, which is not only delicious but also satisfies any cravings you may be having for something sweet.
Choose A Method That Works For You
Meal prepping doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the kitchen every day planning out meals (although if you want to do it this way then go for it). You might find that batch cooking on weekends works best for you (9). Prepare one “big” meal at the beginning of each weekend and then split it into individual containers throughout the week when we are ready to eat them e.g chicken burgers with salad and sweet potato fries, so you can then have one meal that is ready to go.
Stock Up On Staple Foods When They Are On Sale
A macro-based diet can be expensive to stick to when shopping at regular grocery stores, so search for sale items on things that are commonly used in your recipes and stock up when they are available.
Food like chicken, peanut butter, ground beef & cheese freeze well when packaged properly in air sealed containers or bags. Pick a few staple flavors of your favorite protein sources and then mix them up by cooking different sauces with them (ex. BBQ sauce mixed with ground beef) so you have less repetition on what you’re eating throughout the week.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to the best macro split for cutting bodybuilding, there’s no single answer because each person has different nutritional requirements based on their goals (lose fat fast vs slow & steady), genetics, activities level. But once you find a macro split works, commit to it as much as possible. By tracking your food intake closely, measuring results, and changing ratios if needed, there’s no reason why you can’t have success on your quest for a leaner body.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Body Recomposition: Can Trained Individuals Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time? (2020, journals.lww.com)
- Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies (2015, journals.plos.org)
- Counting Macros: A Reliable Way To Lose Weight? (n.d., issaonline.com)
- Effects of low-carbohydrate vs low-fat diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Nut Consumption (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Healthy diet (who.int) (2020, who.int)
- Home Meal Preparation: A Powerful Medical Intervention (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Just Enough for You: About Food Portions | NIDDK (2016, niddk.nih.gov)
- Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Recovery from Exercise: Skeletal muscle and resistance exercise training; the role of protein synthesis in recovery and remodeling (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Utilizing Dietary Nutrient Ratios in Nutritional Research: Expanding the Concept of Nutrient Ratios to Macronutrients (209, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)